Can lasers be weapons other than in films?

They're a staple of spy and space thrillers, but is this application for real...
20 September 2022



There is a classic scene from Goldfinger involving a laser and James Bond strapped to a table. But, whilst high powered lasers already exist, would they be an efficient method of dispatching spies?


Kathryn Harkup answered this question...

Kathryn - I think lasers, they are almost synonymous with spy movies. Everything's better with a laser attached, surely. But in 1964 or 63, whenever they were filming Goldfinger —the original book had a buzz-saw that was threatening the life of James Bond. And that was a bit hackneyed, I think even when Ian Fleming wrote about it. So they wanted to update it. And in the 1960s lasers were a new thing. They are now common every-day objects — lasers are everywhere. But in 1964, they needed an explanation, because the majority of the audience had never seen one before. They understood the concept of a death ray, that's kind of a common trope in science fiction, but not a laser specifically. So they gave dialogue to Auric Goldfinger to say it is a concentrated beam of light that can melt through metal and it can project a spot on the moon, which is absolutely true.

And of course, to show it on-screen, you have this brilliant red line heading towards Sean Connery's nether regions, which of course you wouldn't see because metal cutting lasers are invisible,. But having an invisible beam travelling up a metal sheet makes no sense in a cinematic situation. So of-course you put a red light on it. So the whole concept of red lights and laser beams, I think it is a wonderful combination of ultramodern cutting-edge science, literally. But also a trope that an audience understands. And so it symbolises the old and the new very, very nicely throughout the James Bond franchise.


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