The Day James Bond Died
When Reality Collided With Hollywood
by T. K. Rogers

James Bond is the perfect Hollywood invention, the embodiment of what women fantasize as the ideal man, and men fantasize as themselves. Bond not only gets the beautiful girl but routinely defies certain death. When Bond steps up to the baccarat table to gamble, he wins, not by cleverness but by a type of superpower. Unlike comic book superpowers, his is not so much the ability to defy laws of physics, as the ability to defy probability.

Bond augments his superpower with a vast array of scientific gadgets in a veritable celebration of engineering possibilities. His movies stretch and sometimes blatantly ignore laws of physics, but it's done in good humor, and Bond is usually forgiven. Still, even adoring fans have limits. Parts of Moonraker, for example, had outerspace movie physics that reached a new height of silliness. They tarnished Bond's box-office future. Clearly a dose of reality was needed to sweeten the sour disposition of disillusioned fans and put them in the mood to swallow future Bond offerings.

The dose of reality was to be an underwater scene in the 1981 movie For Your Eyes Only. The moviemakers hired a top-notch submersible designer named Graham Hawkes for the job. Like Bond, Hawkes had often faced death and poor probabilities, but he had done it in reality. He too had a type of superpower—a degree in mechanical engineering. It gave him the understanding of physics and the confidence needed to defy death in ocean depths both crushing and claustrophobic. He could beat probabilities because he knew how to calculate them.

Hawkes is the type of person who once shut down his submersible's power as it ascended from a checkout dive, just to see the phosphorescent cloud of tiny sea creatures swirling around his vehicle in the otherwise pitch black ocean depths. The glow was so subtle that even light from a single LED inside his sub could obscure it. He describes the glow as a beautiful blue light which mirrored the eddies and turbulence around his submersible as it rose. Normally the pilot of a submersible is expected to call out depth readings at intervals as the submersible is raised to the surface. Since he couldn't see his instruments, Hawkes simply made up the readings.

Even today, over twenty years later, Hawkes is still the quintessential intuitor. He is obsessed with seeing what's under the waves, not for the purpose of attaining wealth or glory, but simply to learn and experience what it's like. His very thinking process has been modified by his obsession. Ask him how high Mount Everest is, and he'll tell you it's over 60,000 feet tall. His reference is the bottom of the sea, not its top. He views the oceans as a type of primary atmosphere which contains the vast majority of life on planet Earth. To him the fact that humanity doesn't really know what's in the ocean is like not knowing what one's face looks like in the mirror.

The deep-diving submersibles that Hawkes currently designs are no longer slow-moving turtles tethered to a surface vessel. They are fast and maneuverable flying machines capable of moving freely with no attachments to the surface. However, unlike aircraft, the winglets on Hawkes' current series of submersibles, Deep Flight, are designed to pull the sub downward rather than lift it upward. The sub is positively buoyant, so that it will rise to the surface in the event of a propulsion system failure.

On the maiden voyage of his prototype sub, Hawkes found he was unable to maneuver it well enough to keep up with a giant manta ray. Not one to rest on ceremony, he removed the sub from the water and chopped several inches off its fins using a hacksaw. Back in the water, he found to his satisfaction, that he could now match the ray's performance.

Hawkes plans not just to journey to the deepest parts of the ocean but to be the first human to look a living giant squid in the eye in the squid's home territory. Considering that the squid's eye is about fifteen inches in diameter, that should be quite an experience.

When the Bond moviemakers hired Hawkes they had no idea of what they were getting. At first he couldn't keep a straight face. Everyone would be in place for a scene and a frogman would swim up and clack the clapper board. It seemed so silly to Hawkes that it cracked him up. The moviemakers responded by putting a green light under his chin to make him look maniacal when he smiled.

Hawkes was also too cautious according to the director. He repeatedly asked Hawkes to attack the large clear bubble on the front of Bond's mini-sub as violently as possible. Hawkes had a large-sized drill attached to a manipulator arm on the front of his submersible, and the director told him to use it as a weapon. Hawkes repeatedly explained that he had "a real sub designed to dive to 6000 feet [1820 meters] and work on oil rigs". If he did as the director asked it would seriously endanger Bond. The director replied that it was okay. Fans would love it.

In the underwater sequence Bond, along with the usual beautiful girl, traveled to a shipwreck in a mini-sub. After arriving, Bond and the girl donned industrial-grade scuba equipment and left the sub in order to explore the wreck. Deep-water scuba divers breath a mixture of oxygen and helium. Nitrogen has to be replaced with helium since at high pressures nitrogen acts as an anesthetic. Helium makes the divers sound like chipmunks. Certainly, Bond could not be allowed to sound like a chipmunk, so he retained his usual baritone voice.

Once inside the wreck, Bond was attacked by a bad guy wearing a JIM suit. JIM suits look something like oversized twentieth-century suits of armor and are designed to allow the person inside to be at normal atmospheric pressure even when working in ocean depths.

After once again surviving certain death and prevailing against his attacker, Bond and the girl returned to their sub, removed their scuba gear, and prepared to leave. Here's where the real fun began. It was Hawkes' turn to attack and he'd been ordered to make it brutal.

Hawkes could see Bond and the girl through the window of their mini-sub. Hawkes lay in prone position in his own submersible with his head and arms inside a large plastic bubble. Before him were a series of push-buttons which controlled eight different thrusters. By varying the length of time he pressed a button he could regulate the push obtained from its thruster, allowing him to quickly change speed and direction. The director's commands rang in his ears as the cameras rolled. He extended the menacing mechanical arm with its rotating drill bit, pointed it straight at Bond, and held down the buttons for the forward thrusters.

Hawkes' submersible did not merely menace Bond. It smashed through the front of Bond's sub. Water slammed through the hole with explosive force and the whirling drill bit imbedded itself deep in Bond's right ventricle. A dark cloud oozed from Bond's chest. His luck had run out.

But wait, it was only a movie. In reality, Bond's sub was a water-filled movie prop at the bottom of a large tank. Bond was a stuntman with a special toupee of plastic hair designed to stay in place in a water-filled environment. Hawkes had "chickened out" and disobeyed orders. Just before impact he had not only released the forward thruster buttons but had pressed the reverse thruster buttons . The submersible did crash through the Hollywood prop and completely destroy it. However, thanks to Hawkes' change of heart, the wide-eyed stuntman's heart was shaken, not stirred, by the whirling drill bit. It stopped a few inches short. Still, the shoot was a disaster.

According to Hawkes, politicians and lawyers deal with adversity by tying to establish who is right, while engineers try to establish what is right. In Hollywood they simply re-shoot the scene. Fortunately there was a large round window in the side of the water tank where the scene was being shot. The moviemakers positioned Bond (now Roger Moore) and the girl in front of the window so it looked like they were inside a sub looking out. This time they deferred to Hawkes' judgment and he avoided crashing through the window. Perhaps even the moviemakers had realized that when reality runs into Hollywood illusion, sooner or later, reality breaks through.


Graham Hawkes' Bio

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