Monday, 13 May 2013

How dangerous are Skyfall's komodo dragons?

Visit London Zoo and you have the chance to meet, and even adopt, one of the stars of Skyfall, but I wouldn't ask for his autograph. Raja the komodo dragon makes his screen debut in a scene in Macau's Golden Dragon Casino. The reptile was measured and filmed in his London enclosure and recreated in the casino's komodo dragon pit using the magic of CGI. In the scene, James Bond falls into the pit and fights off a casino thug before escaping by jumping on to the back of a komodo dragon and leaping to safety. Meanwhile, a second komodo dragon rushes out from the shadows, grabs the thug by the leg and drags him away and presumably eats him.

To me, the scene, incorporating a bizarre death by exotic animal, captures the essence of the Bond films. Raja the komodo dragon takes his place alongside, among other animals, the piranhas of You Only Live Twice, the sharks of Thunderball, the alligators and crocodiles of Live and Let Die, and the scorpion of Diamonds Are Forever in the Bond villain's menagerie of dangerous animals. Indeed, director Sam Mendes had Bond step on to the komodo dragons in tribute to the scene in Live and Let Die in which Bond uses the backs of crocodiles as stepping stones.

But seeing the komodo dragon reminded me of the decision to replace the giant centipede that crawls up Bond's body in the novel of Dr No with a tarantula in the film version. Raymond Benson suggests in The James Bond Bedtime Companion that the producers felt that the threat posed by the centipede, not the most well-known of creatures, would have been lost on most audience members, whereas tarantulas are popularly perceived to be deadly (although one can imagine practical problems filming with a centipede). In reality, giant centipedes are about as dangerous as the most venomous species of tarantula; both are harmful to humans, but neither is (usually) deadly. As for the tarantula in Dr No, it appears to be the pink-toed tarantula, which is venomous enough to kill frogs, but not James Bond.

In the same vein as the centipede, I wonder whether the impact of the komodo dragon scene is reduced, and that the peril faced by Bond not fully appreciated, because of uncertainties about how dangerous komodo dragons actually are to humans. In fact, while cases of komodo dragons attacking, let alone killing, humans are rare, they are by no means unknown. In their native habitats on the islands of eastern Indonesia, komodo dragons hunt small and domestic animals, such as snakes, chickens, goats, cats and dogs, and occasionally larger animals, including water buffalo. And in areas of human settlement or activity, attacks on humans have inevitably been recorded. Recently, two workers at Komodo National Park were bitten by a komodo dragon that entered a park office. The men were immediately transferred to hospital; the saliva of Komodo dragons is toxic, and if bites are untreated, septicaemia can set in. Worse cases were recorded in 2007, when a boy of nine was mauled by a komodo dragon in Komodo National Park, and in 2009, when a farmer was mauled after falling from a tree. Tragically, both died later from their injuries.

So to answer the question posed in the post’s title, the komodo dragons in Skyfall do pose a threat to James Bond, and deserve as much respect as a dangerous animal as do sharks, piranhas and crocodiles.

7 comments:

  1. I saw a Komodo dragon for the first time in my life during a visit to the "London Zoo" in May 2010. Little did i realize that i was viewing a celebrity Komodo dragon "RAJA" who would later be a model for a "James Bond " film.In Mumbai i recently saw a documentary on lizards in which "Raja" was shown, the model tame komodo dragon of the "London Zoo".I was surprised at the manner in which the zoo keeper Mr Grant.Kother handled "Raja" akin to a pet cat or dog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very interesting and informative little piece, Edward. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments on this and other posts. I really appreciate it. Glad you liked the posts. Looking forward to reading the upcoming articles on your blog. The titles are whetting my appetite, and I enjoyed reading the ones already posted (including the post on Bond and religion).

      Delete
  3. My pleasure, Edward. Yes, I saw your comment on Musings on Bond and Religion - very much appreciated! I had some free time so I thought I'd read more widely on your blog and post a few comments of thanks and encouragement. I'll have to invest in your books, too. There should be something up this week as I'm off work this week and have had a few articles on the back burner. If only I was as prolific in getting articles out as you are! Ah, well!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very impressive, thank you for posting!
    Referate

    ReplyDelete
  5. Personally I find the truth about exotic animals awfully depressing; as a boy I knew that Deadly Tarantulas and Man Eating Tigers were to be respected and avoided. How dull life!; I've seen all sorts of hairy beasties at point blank and half of them leg it or slink off at the merest hint of pasty Englishman... apparently when His Serene Majesty King Connery whacks his shoe down cinema audiences laughed... I prefer to see the scene as my nine year old self. The chilling presence of dread danger is far too enjoyable for Bond to just brush the spadider off and give it the glass and card ride... as for Skyfall, I did wonder if that was a nod and a wink to Roger Moore's shoes getting ruined by a crocogator... I just didn't believe the baddie would get eaten by the Komodo until I forced myself to pretend...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. Sorry for the late response. I'm on holiday at the moment. I enjoyed reading your comments, and will try to provide a more thoughtful reply in a few days' time.

      Delete