Review: The Davinci Code
Casino Royale  (2006)
[PG13] Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Neal Purvis,  Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, Ian Fleming (novel)
We normally don't say much about James Bond movies because, frankly, we don't expect much from them, at least, not from a physics standpoint. The movies are mostly pure fantasy, albeit male fantasy—the hottest cars, poker hands, and women depicted in the coolest of locations, and, have we mentioned, served up with the most exacting of Martinis.

As for the Bond spy gadgets, we'd categorize them as mostly whimsical plot devices that are either impractical or unworkable, but who wouldn't like to have an ejection seat that would send one's passenger flying out the car's roof if he or she proved undesirable. For that matter, who wouldn't have liked to, at one time or another, had a license to kill. Okay, killing isn't nice and of course we're all goody-goody, so it's not as though we're saying we'd have used it, but it would have been cheery to know we could have.

Unfortunately, Bond movies seemed to have run short on cleverness and begun compensating with an ever increasing spiral of special effects. These too seem to have run their course leaving  Bond with the appeal of a day-old glass of Champagne, which brings us to the current Bond installment.

What do you do when the fantasy has gone flat? Answer: pump it up with some reality. Well sort of, it's a highly stylized reality with just about all the usual movie physics clichés. Bad guys firing submachine guns endlessly without so much as nicking anyone, characters repeatedly jump from 20 or more ft without so much as a twisted ankle, people running on foot routinely catch up with various motor vehicles, and an indestructible, indefatigable good guy. The list could be quite lengthy.

For those who expect it, the movie does have its share of amazing but highly unlikely specially effects scenes such as the gun battle inside a collapsing building. And, yes the gismos are there but not with the usual whimsy. Clearly some of the constants in the formula have been altered.

When engaged in what has to be one of the highest speed chases ever filmed, at least for a foot race, Bond chases a bad guy to a high rise construction job. Desperate to escape, the bad guy naturally runs to the top of the highest possible structure, a horizontal crane boom from which there is no escape, but then does so in a series of improbable but spectacular leaps to nearby structures*. Bond follows and eventually catches up. The scene is reminiscent of a Jackie Chan movie, superbly choreographed and not especially practical yet grounded in real physics.

When Bond steps up to the gambling table in this movie he actually loses, and when he eventually does win, it's by a combination of psychology, mathematical analysis, and luck, not just because he's Bond. The new sense of reality actually makes the scene dramatic. Could Bond's new gritty sense of realism extend to other venues? Are we about to see some improvements in Hollywood's movie physics that lead to better movies? Who knows, but Bond's new infusion of realism has definitely freshened his Martini.




*A few readers have pointed out that the bad guy in the chase could be a Parkour (PK) practitioner. Parkour was founded  by David Belle and is an art of escape characterized by efficiently overcoming barriers while running at high speed. Its practitioners are often videoed while making incredible death defying leaps. Still, as a strategy running to the top of the highest point on a structure from which there is no apparent escape only makes sense if the PK practitioner knows ahead of time that there actually is a way to escape. Even then it makes little sense unless the PK guy is attempting to escape from a nearly equally matched pursuer and has practiced the escape route ahead of time.  Otherwise, it seems like the pursuer would have a built in advantage: he would know if a jump is humanly possible before he attempts it. With an unequally matched pursuer, a death defying escape from the highest point on a tall structure would be an unnecessary risk. It would be easy to lose him with less spectacular maneuvers.

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