(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) This is one of those occasions when a blockbuster film gets the science wildly wrong. Central to the plot of the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day is the ability of one of Bond’s foes, the North Korean Colonel Moon, to radically alter his appearance and resurface as upper crust caucasian Gustav Graves. The change is achieved, as Bond (Pierce Brosnan) tells M (Judi Dench), by “Gene therapy – new identities courtesy of DNA transplants”.
This is, of course, nonsense. Although gene therapy has the potential to correct diseases resulting from a faulty copy of one gene there is never the scope to carry out such radical alterations as portrayed in this film. Indeed, even the more limited aspiration to use gene therapy to cure relatively simple diseases has had a chequered history (see, for example, the BioethicsBytes notes on the Horizon programme Trial and Error, and news stories about leukaemia risks from one gene therapy method).
Are there any clips worth using in teaching about gene therapy? Despite the fact that the content is way off beam, I use clips from the film as an engaging introduction to a lecture on the science and ethics of gene therapy. The quote from Bond to M actually comes quite late in the film, long after the clinic where the work was supposedly being carried out has been destroyed. If you have the technical capability it is worth trying to show the section 59.33 to 59.46 where M and Bond are talking (from “now tell me about this cuban clinic…” to “… didn’t know it really existed) directly before the earlier footage, 40.49 to 41.45, where Bond visits the clinic at about the same time Jinx (Halle Berry) sees off the surgeon with the words “… famous after they’re dead”.