The Schiensh of Bond: Moonraker

BlogalongaBond – a Bond film a month until Skyfall is released (I hate The Incredible Suit so much right now).

I think the plots have been ropy for a while – they’ve mostly involved a crazed megalomaniac destroying life on Earth while allowing a subset of the beautiful and the vacuous to survive underwater/underground/underwater/in space, while Bond goes on a weird array of nonsensical trips to Switzerland, Japan and generic South America. Moonraker dispenses entirely with reason, logic and comprehensible plot, to cash-in on the late ‘70s obsession with all things space. George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, you have a lot to answer for.

But I realised what bothers me most is that Bond has the inability to die in precarious situations. Read on as I continue on the ill-advised task of whining about the Schiensh of Moonraker, subtitled WHY WON’T YOU DIE?

Bond fails to die pt.1 – jumping out of an airplane without a parachute

The film’s opening is rather promising: Roger Moore falls out of an aeroplane without a parachute. It had so much promise. That bastard Bond pulls a parachute of a defenceless henchman and leaves him to fall to his death. The odds surviving a fall from a plane are pretty slim.

According to Wikipedia, the higher someone falls, the more severe any injuries. The chances of survival increase if the faller lands on a surface with high deformity. Survival is also strongly dependent on anything that may slow descent; even a partially open parachute may mean the difference between life and death. There is a site called The Free Fall Research Page which lists accounts of survival from falls from height. There is a section dedicated to Unlucky Skydivers it’s rather astonishing how many people do survive. Many of them survive because their falls are broken by power lines, corrugated roofs etc. Some people are lucky enough to survive without such things breaking their falls – Bear Grylls survived a fall in the desert, but he was in pieces for months afterwards. From the accounts that exist, it would seem plausible that Jaws could survive a fall from a plane by landing on a circus tent. The fate of the anonymous henchman seems less certain, he almost certainly dies unless he has the good fortune to land on a barn.

Bond fails to die pt.2 – death by centrifuge

Shortly after his arrival at Drax’s lair, Dr Goodhead *headdesk* leads Bond to the high-G training centrifuge chamber thing. Scary Asian henchman turns the knob on the centrifuge up to 13 g. Dr Goodhead is good enough to explain that most people pass out at 7 g, and if the g is high enough for long enough, the poor sod stuck in the centrifuge will die. Bond, however, does not have the decency to die. Damn him.

Why does high g cause someone to black out? Well, it is all to do with blood flow to the brain. Normally, blood pressure remains fairly constant – it is carefully maintained in a narrow range by a group of autonomic reflexes. These reflexes adjust. For example when you go from lying down to standing up, your blood pressure needs to increase to ensure that your brain receives sufficient blood. Your reflexes are able to increase blood pressure to the required level. You may have noticed that occasionally, if you stand up too quickly, your vision will go fuzzy, or you may even faint. This is when your reflexes don’t quite compensate quickly enough.

In the centrifuge for high-g training and in instances of high g caused by high speeds, your blood tends to collect in your legs. Your reflexes compensate by raising your blood pressure up to a point, but this isn’t sustained. A second reflex takes over and blood pressure falls, in a similar manner to what happens during blood loss. The fall in blood pressure means that there is a decrease in blood flow to the brain which leads to gradual loss of vision, followed by loss of consciousness. If the blood flow to the brain becomes insufficient for longer than a few minutes, the brain will start to die. So close. Why won’t you die, Mr Bond?

Bond fails to die pt.3 – death by nerve gas

Bond goes nosing around a lab in Venice. Honestly, sneaking into a lab and carelessly jabbing at things at random without so much at a latex glove. Annoyingly, Bond nonchalantly shoves the most lethal chemical in the lab into his top pocket. In the process, he leaves a vial of the same toxic substance in a precarious position thereby killing a bunch of innocent scientists with his carelessness. Lab safety is in force for a reason. Now kids, never enter a lab without due supervision. And don’t touch anything. Health and safety is about other people’s safety as much as your own.

Q analyses the vial that Bond has stolen from the lab. He waves the chemical structure around. Bond observes that it is a “chemical formula of a plant” he is of course totally wrong. Plants have many components: DNA, proteins, sugars, cellulose. None of which are summarised by the chemical structure. What he means is “that looks like a plant-derived toxin to me, and by the way, I never told you about that degree I have in pharmacological chemistry”.

I have no idea what this is and I did chemistry A-level. I am, quite frankly, baffled that Bond knows. I can tell you that it is not DNA, a protein, an amino acid or a sugar. Fortunately, I just happen to know a lecturer in Forensic Toxicology. I handed him the formula for analysis.

Nerve agents come from a group of compounds called anticholinesterases and they affect the way that nerve signals are relayed in the body. Irreversible nerve agents contain a phosphate group and are classed as organophosphates. This compound above does appear to contain phosphorus atom, however, in an organophosphate, the oxygen atom (O) would be double-bonded to the phosphate atom (P) in the phosphate group.

Firstly, the drug is entirely fictitious, being impossible to make. Secondly, the DS doesn’t equate to a chemical element, it may be a molecule of sulphur (S) connected to a molecule of deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen; but why not use H, which is standard notation). They might mean Darmstadtium (Ds) and the capitalised S is a typo. Darmstadtium is very unstable existing for mere secong –  this is unlikely to occur in nature, though the chaps at Drax laboratories may have added this to the formula.

According to Wikipedia, effective organophosphates would have 2 lipophilic (fat-soluble) groups bonded to the phosphorus (this would enable the nerve agent to pass though the skin. In contrast – Drax’s nerve agent has a polar carboxyl group, although the three carbon rings in the middle (tricylohexane group) are very non-polar and may counteract this.

The poor unsuspecting scientists do appear to die in a manner consistent with nerve gas poisoning. The liquid (which is usually quite volatile) vapourises. When it is inhaled, it gets into the body where it interferes with the signals that go from the brain to the diaphragm and the victim can no longer breathe. They asphyxiate and DIE.

Bond fails to die pt.4 – death by cable car

Bond randomly bumps into Dr Goodhead *cough* on Sugarloaf mountain, followed by Jaws. Jaws being notable for having metal teeth, being rather large and being apparently very strong. Jaws attempts to kill Bond and Goodhead by biting through the cable suspending the cable car. It’s clear when you watch the film that the cable has already been cut before Richard Kiel “bites” through it. Fortunately for me Mythbusters have already dealt with this one. They found that even when applying 20,000 lbs of pressure, they were unable to cut through one inch of cable with metal teeth; they tried sharpened teeth as well as the blunt teeth Jaws appears to have in the film. It took a purpose designed hydraulic cutter to go through the cable. 20 tonnes of pressure could not possibly be applied through a set of human jaws.

Sadly, despite the efforts of Hugo Drax and his own ineptitude, James Bond fails to die.

That aside, here are the highlights of Moonraker.

Still, we’re halfway through the Moore, and it won’t get this bad until Die Another Day. BlogalongaBond is looking up.


Follow the Lemur wishes to acknowledge the help of the University of Dundee Centre for Forensic and Legal Medicine for their input on Drax’s deadly nerve toxin.


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  1. #1 by cholldorff on February 3, 2012 - 17:27

    I would have to assume DS to be a deuterothiol group, seeing as how Darmstadtium does not occur naturally. Plants however, are not able to actively distinguish between different isotopes. The weight difference between ¹H (regular hydrogen) and ²H (deuterium, also abbreviated ‘D’) might kinetically affect how it is processed within an organism, however the effect is likely to be small. There is always a possibility that naturally occurring deuterium would appear within the structure. However, deuterium only makes up for 0,0115% of hydrogen atoms and – if the structure were even possible – it would have 66 other places within the structure to bond besides that sulfur atom, which would mean that only roughly 1 in 5800 times the plant would attempt to build said molecule, it would end up with a deuterium isotope in the right place. Not very efficient … aside from the fact that whether that position was occupied by hydrogen or deuterium would most likely make no difference to an organism in the first place.

    You correctly pointed out the lack of a double bonded oxygen on the phosphorus atom (more precisely the lack of a _bond_ on the phosphorus atom, making it an impossible structure). This particular frame in my copy of the movie however is a bit blurrier, so before I found your blog I had attempted to figure out the structure on my own and came up with the following systematic name (assuming there were three ethoxy groups on the phosphorus):
    4-acetyl-5-((1S,6S)-6-((1S,2S)-1-deuteromercapto-4,4-dichloro-1-phenyl-2-((triethoxy(4-nitrophenoxy)phosphoranyl)thio)but-3-en-1-yl)-1-methyltetradecahydroanthracen-1-yl)cyclopent-1-en-1-yl 3-cyclopentylpropanoate


    Oh, and one final note: Judging from the size of the molecule alone, it is extremely unlikely to pass into the gas phase in any significant amount. Instead it will most likely be a solid.

    • #2 by cholldorff on February 3, 2012 - 18:28

      Small calculation error: It would actually produce 100 times less properly deuterated molecules – so only one in over half a million!

    • #3 by cholldorff on February 3, 2012 - 19:02

      …and Darmstadtium hadn’t even been discovered, let alone named when the movie was made 🙂

  2. #4 by Kaiser Of Crisps (@KaiserOfCrisps) on August 4, 2012 - 17:19

    Pretty much hits the nail on the head, especially the nonsense to do with the chemical structure of the plant-derived toxin! And don’t get me started on little things like how did that shuttle fly off the carrier-747 without any fuel (it’s carried along with liquid oxygen in the giant external tank that, for obvious reasons, isn’t needed when you’re carrying it on the back of a jumbo jet)? Why does Drax have a flame-pit for the launch exhaust of his shuttles that doubles as a conference room with heat-shielded retractable table and chairs? It’s not as if he’s short of space in his jungle city-base. Plus NASA/USAF spacemen who nip off into space with all the apparent ease and preparatory work of an intercity train carriage having the bogs cleaned before leaving Euston on a routine jaunt to Birmingham New Street… And how was Bond so sure that the other poison gas pods would be destroyed with the exploding space station? There were some pretty big chunks of it surviving intact – to say nothing of Jaws & Friend’s own pod, which 007 said would make it back to Earth (so why not the poison gas pods as well?)…

    One thing I’d take issue with in your post: describing the poisoned scientists as ‘innocent’. Hardly! They’re manufacturing the deadliest poison gas known to humanity for a private billionaire aerospace manufacturer (clearly they know it’s a poisonous substance because of their mortal panic when the vial breaks). That hardly makes them innocents abroad…

    • #5 by followthelemur on August 4, 2012 - 17:37

      I have this problem in films and tv series where people wander into science labs and mess with things. This drove me nuts in Prometheus.

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  1. The Schiensh of Bond: Quantum of Solace « Follow the Lemur

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