Wednesday, September 26, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow never dies, but Cody wishes it never lied.

Soon after the massive box office success of 1995's GoldenEye, which marked both the debut of Pierce Brosnan in the role of James Bond and the return of the series to the big screen after a six year hiatus caused by script issues and lawsuits, the Bond family experienced a tragic loss. Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli, the man who had been a guiding force behind the films since they began in 1962 with Dr. No, passed away on June 27, 1996.

Broccoli had handed the producorial reins of the series over to his stepson Michael G. Wilson and daughter Barbara Broccoli during the making of GoldenEye, making them the heads of his Eon Productions. Wilson and Broccoli were determined to keep the next Bond film on track for a release meeting the traditional "new movie every two years" schedule, and so was their distributor, MGM.

Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, who had done work on the GoldenEye screenplay, was hired to craft the story for Eon's 18th Bond film after making a nine word pitch: "Words are the new weapons; satellites the new artillery."

Similarities to and elements from the outline that Michael G. Wilson wrote with Alfonse Ruggiero for The Lost Dalton Film, which would've been Timothy Dalton's third turn in the role of James Bond if a film had been made for release in 1991, were in and out of the script for the new film throughout the writing process. The original plot that Feirstein was working with, which may have been at least partially based on a treatment written by novelist/screenwriter of The Stepfather and The Grifters Donald Westlake, revolved around a villain's reaction to the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China, which occurred on July 1, 1997. The Lost Dalton Film would've also dealt with the transfer of Hong Kong, although in that case the villain wanted the transfer to happen early, while Feirstein's villain was unhappy that it happened at all. When it was decided that the Hong Kong handover was too current and would immediately date the movie, the villain's plot was changed, but a Chinese angle remained. As drafts went on, the character of a female Chinese secret service agent from The Lost Dalton Film outline was added into the new film, her name changed from Mi Wai to Wai Lin.

With GoldenEye director Martin Campbell declining to return for the next film, Terror Train/The Best of Times/Shoot to Kill/Turner & Hooch/Air America/Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot director Roger Spottiswoode was hired to direct. Spottiswoode put the script through more drafts by writers including Beverly Hills Cop writer Daniel Petrie Jr., who he had worked with on Shoot to Kill and Turner & Hooch, The Perfect Weapon writer David C. Wilson, and Star Trek II/IV/VI writer Nicholas Meyer, but Bruce Feirstein received the sole writing credit on the finished film.

Following Pierce Brosnan's rendition of the gun barrel, the movie opens on an airstrip in a remote, snowy, mountainous area on the Russian border. This is a meeting place for terrorists from around the world, where they gather to sell and trade weaponry. The place is packed today, but unbeknownst to the terrorists who are present, they're under surveillance.

A MI6 operative, codename White Knight, has set up cameras at the edge of the airstrip, the images being viewed on large monitors in an MI6 Situation Room. White Knight films everything that's up for offer - planes, a SCUD missile, an attack helicopter, mortars, rifles, mines, explosives of all sorts - while M and others on the MI6 payroll watch the screens. White Knight communicates to them through a headset being worn by M's Chief of Staff.

The original plan had been for Michael Kitchen to reprise the role that he had played in GoldenEye, Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, a character from the Ian Fleming novels and a good friend of the literary Bond's. When Kitchen proved to be unavailable, rather than recast the role, the filmmakers decided to create a new character, Chief of Staff Charles Robinson, played by Colin Salmon. Kitchen will return as Bill Tanner in the next film, but Robinson will be back as well, and ends up being featured in three of the four films of the Brosnan era.

Robinson is able to use the images of the terrorists to perform searches through the MI6 database, finding identification matches. Among the group is technoterrorist Henry Gupta, who is seen holding an encoder that could control a GPS/navigation satellite.

Also in the Situation Room is Admiral Roebuck of the Royal Navy, who knows just what to do about this weapons sale. Ignoring the protests of M, he orders a ship to fire a missile on the airstrip coordinates. With one airstrike, he'll be able to "take out half the world's terrorists". When the missile is launched, MI6's man on the ground has four minutes and eight seconds to get out of the area before it hits.

White Knight calls for the missile to be destroyed before it reaches the airstrip, and finally gets Robinson to realize why when his camera catches a shot of what one of the jets present is armed with: nuclear torpedoes. When the missile blows those up, they'll spread enough plutonium to "make Chernobyl look like a picnic".

When words gets back to the Navy ship to abort the missile, pressing the Destroy button does not detonate it. The missile is out of range. It's going to hit its target.

And so it's up to White Knight, who is revealed to be James Bond 007, to get those nuclear torpedoes away from the airstrip before the missile strikes. Bond fights and blasts his way across the airstrip, boards the jet, knocks out the co-pilot, and manages to take off just as the area goes up in flames... But Bond's troubles don't end there, he still has to deal with the co-pilot, who regains consciousness during the flight and turns out to be a terrible "backseat driver", and the fighter jet that took off right behind him.

After solving both of his problems with one ejector seat, Bond is finally able to fly off safely and let the title sequence begin. Designed by Daniel Kleinman, who had joined the series with GoldenEye, the title sequence is accompanied by the title song "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow.

Bruce Feirstein is who came up with the title of the film, which is the first title in the series that has absolutely nothing to do with the work of Bond creator Ian Fleming. The inspiration came from The Beatles, when Feirstein heard their song "Tomorrow Never Knows" while taking a lunch break from writing one day. He named a newspaper featured heavily in the script Tomorrow, and gave it the slogan Tomorrow Never Lies, which was also his idea for the title. Then the producers and director began to wonder if "Dies" would be better than "Lies". Eventually, everyone came to the agreement that Lies was the title to go with. A fax to MGM was dictated to an assistant, who made the mistake of typing the wrong version of the title. MGM was notified that the film was going to be called Tomorrow Never Dies, and so it stuck. Personally, I'd rather that mistake not been made, I much prefer Tomorrow Never Lies, it makes more sense. Tomorrow Never Dies is made even worse by the fact that the film after next has the similar (and also non-Fleming) title Die Another Day.

The title sequence introduces us to some crew members new to the series, including editors Michel Arcand and Dominique Fortin, production designer Allan Cameron, and composer David Arnold. Arnold would go on to do the music for every Bond film through 2008's Quantum of Solace. I think Arnold is a good composer, but he uses the Bond Theme too often in his debut. The second unit director is Vic Armstrong, who had previously done stunt work on You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and the non-Eon Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again. Armstrong would direct second unit for the rest of the Brosnan era. Director Roger Spottiswoode made a great choice for his cinematographer - Robert Elswit, who had just established a working relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson and would go on to work on the recent spy movies Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and The Bourne Legacy. (My horror fandom also demands that I mention he shot Return of the Living Dead II and the awesome 1986 rock 'n roll horror flick Trick or Treat.)

I don't like the TND title sequence very much, it may be my least favorite of the entire series. It even ends in an annoying way to me - the images fade to black, Roger Spottiswoode's credit appears, and then Spottiswoode's name remains on the screen as the next scene of the movie begins. That's unheard of, the director's name has never appeared over scene footage before or since, and this fanboy doesn't like that it happened here.

Spottiswoode's credit lingers over a shot of a Royal Navy ship, the H.M.S. Devonshire, on the South China Sea. A couple Chinese MiGs start flying low over the Devonshire repeatedly, one of the pilots warning the ship that it is in Chinese territorial waters, only eleven miles off the coast, and it will be fired upon if it doesn't turn around. The Devonshire disputes the pilot's claim and prepares to defend itself if attacked. Their satellite fix tells them that they're a safe distance into international waters.

Meanwhile, at the Carver Media Group Network headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, a man who we recognize as technoterrorist Henry Gupta is watching a computer screen with the Devonshire's satellite fix on it and typing away on his keyboard. In orbit around the Earth, a Carver satellite is positioned near a GPS satellite.

On the South China Sea, unnoticed by the players in the tense ship/MiGs situation, is a stealth boat that is invisible to radar. The stealth boat is full of black shirt-wearing henchmen, led by a hulking German with a bad blonde dye job, Stamper.

The next time the MiGs pass over the Devonshire, the stealth boat drops a remote controlled "sea drill", a coring device with three spinning saws on the front of it, into the water. The Devonshire detects the presence of the sea drill, but think it's a torpedo fired by one of the MiGs. The drill does slam into the side of the ship like a torpedo, but instead of exploding it "chews" its way into the ship, and is then able to be remotely piloted up through multiple levels of the interior.

As the compromised Devonshire sinks, the stealth boat fires a missile at the MiGs when they pass over again, blowing one of them out of the sky. The stealth boat then pulls up alongside the surviving Devonshire sailors who have abandoned ship and Stamper shoots all seventeen of them to death with a machine gun loaded with the same ammunition used by the Chinese Air Force. Their deaths are videotaped to be broadcast later. Divers are sent down to the Devonshire wreckage, where they swim into the Missile Room...

At the Carver Media Group H.Q., the man behind the business, Elliot Carver, types up the headline for the morning edition of his newspaper Tomorrow. "British Sailors Murdered". He has just staged an international incident.

Then it's time for Carver to have a satellite conference with his Media Group cohorts around the globe. One of the people featured on Carver's wall of monitors is producer Michael G. Wilson, making his traditional cameo. Carver celebrates news of riots, a flood, and a plane crash. He's pleased to hear that the new software the group will be selling to the public is full of bugs, which will force users to buy upgrades for years. He conspires to blackmail the U.S. President to get him to lower the cable rates. At the end of the meeting, he informs everyone about the Devonshire situation. They now have the perfect story with which to launch their twenty-four hour satellite news network tonight...

As we watch the man who is our villain this time around, one thing becomes very clear - as played by a theatrical Jonathan Pryce, Elliot Carver is a total ham. "There's no news like bad news." *raises eyebrow*

Bond's classic 1964 silver-grey Aston Martin is parked outside Oxford University, wherein James Bond is learning a new tongue, taking Danish lessons from Professor Inga Bergstrom (Cecilie Thomsen), who he has also seduced. Bond and Bergstrom are interrupted by a phone call from Miss Moneypenny, who tells Bond he needs to report in in thirty minutes. Knowing what Bond is up to, Moneypenny comments that he always was "a cunning linguist". When she hangs up, Moneypenny turns to find M standing behind her. She tells her boss, "Don't ask." M replies, "Don't tell." I groan.

M and Admiral Roebuck disagree over how the Devonshire situation should be handled. Roebuck trusts that the GPS information that the ship was in international waters is correct, the attack by the MiGs was unprovoked. He wants to send a fleet into the area to recover the ship and prepare for full retaliation. M is afraid that Roebuck's tactics will set off World War III. MI6's Singapore station picked up a mysterious signal on the GPS frequency, the positioning information may have been manipulated, purposely sending the Devonshire off course. M believes that the situation has to be investigated more thoroughly before any action is taken. The Minister of Defence isn't sure whether to take M's approach or Roebuck's.

Then Bond arrives with a copy of the Tomorrow newspaper with the murdered sailors headline. Tomorrow has more information than any members of the press should, and this headline is bound to escalate the situation. The Minister of Defence feels he has no choice now but to let Roebuck go through with sending his fleet into the area where the Devonshire went down. It will take forty-eight hours for the ships to get into position, so that's how long M has to do her investigating.

M and Bond discuss his mission as her car speeds through the streets of London, Robinson and Moneypenny riding along with them. Bond has found out that the bodies of the British sailors were only recovered off the coast of Vietnam three hours earlier. For Tomorrow to be able to publish the news so quickly, the Carver Media Group had to have known about the bodies before the Vietnamese government did. M knows that the mysterious signal on the GPS frequency came from one of Carver's satellites. They're on to something here.

Carver is having a party at his media center that night to celebrate the launch of his satellite news network, which will give him the ability to reach every human being on the planet... Except the Chinese, who refused broadcast rights. MI6 has arranged for Bond to be invited to the party. M is aware that Bond had a relationship with Carver's wife Paris years ago, before she was married, and suggests that he use that connection to get information.

M and Bond's relationship has changed greatly between GoldenEye and this film. In the previous movie, she was going on about him being a sexist misogynist, this time she suggests that he get in close with a married woman and "pump her for information." Sort of an uncomfortable moment. Then Moneypenny chimes in, "You'll just have to decide how much pumping is needed." Moneypenny, that's dirty! Bond replies, "If only that were true of you and I, Moneypenny." OK, I feel like this is crossing a line.

Bond arrives in Hamburg and is met at the airport by Q, who wears the red jacket of an employee of the Avis rental car service. Q is there to deliver his new car - a BMW 750, equipped with machine guns, rocket launchers, a GPS tracking system, and a remote control hidden within a cell phone, which also works as a tazer and a fingerprint scanner.

At Carver's party that night, Bond makes contact with his ex-lover Paris Carver, played by Teri Hatcher. He finds her standing alone on a balcony, and she greets him with a slap, still upset that he disappeared from her life long ago after telling her "I'll be right back." Bond and Paris trade some banter, during which she orders a drink for him from a passing waiter - "a vodka martini, shaken not stirred."

Bond is introduced to Carver as a banker (specialty: hostile takeovers), a Mr. "Bond. James Bond." Their first interaction is cut short when Carver's attention wanders to a woman who introduces herself as Wai Lin from the New China News Agency. She wasn't on the guest list, and she admits that she snuck in. Carver then seems to become uneasy when he spots Bond talking to his wife, so he goes over to them and breaks up their chat.

Bond and Carver's second interaction is reminiscent of scenes from earlier films where Bond drops lines into a conversation to get a reaction from the villain, like the casino scene in Thunderball where he keeps saying the word "spectre" to SPECTRE agent Largo. This time Bond references Carver's satellites, his "tools for information", and how they could be used for disinformation and manipulating the course of governments, people, "or even a ship." Bond also manages to work "lost at sea, adrift" into their exchange. Carver remains stonefaced, but Paris appears to realize what he's getting at.

Carver doesn't believe his wife's claim that Bond is a casual acquaintance who she met in Zurich, where he dated her roommate, and also didn't like those "lost at sea" gibes. As he prepares to begin his CMGN broadcast, Carver has a bunch of goons take Bond away to a soundproof room, where they proceed to beat him up.

After taking a few hard hits, Bond is able to turn the tables on his attackers and take them all down. Carver is giving quite a speech in the first minutes of the CMGN station, with lots of self-aggrandizing talk of power as well as reference to the trouble brewing in the South China Sea that could, if unchecked, destroy every human life on the planet. With the flip of some switches, Bond cuts Carver's speech short and knocks the station off the air.

Bond goes to his hotel room, where he sits in a chair facing the door, attaches a silencer to his Walther PPK, and does his best to wipe out a bottle of vodka while he waits for what Carver might send after him... But Carver would not be happy with who shows up.

Paris walks into Bond's room and quickly ends up in his bed. Pierce Brosnan is adding a new aspect to the character in this film: he now seems to have a fetish for biting womens' shoulders. He bit Professor Bergstrom's shoulder while they were fooling around earlier, and now he takes some nibbles on Paris's shoulder flesh.

Bond admits to Paris that he left her because he cared too much for her, she got "too close for comfort". Back at Carver's headquarters, her husband's suspicions that she had a deeper connection to Bond than she was admitting are confirmed when Gupta plays back security cam footage of Paris asking Bond if he still sleeps with a gun under his pillow. Gupta has also used his hacking skills to look up the history of this banker named Bond, and finds that it's all too perfect. It has to be made up. Bond is likely a government agent.

Paris tells Bond that her husband has a secret lab on the top floor of the CMGN building, which Bond is able to sneak into the next morning with his cell phone's special modifications. He's even able to crack a safe locked with a fingerprint scanner and retrieve from it the satellite encoder that Gupta got from the terrorist arms bazaar. Everything goes smoothly, until Wai Lin comes breaking into the lab as well, setting off an alarm.

Bond pockets the encoder and makes his escape from the lab, knocking over a $300 million satellite as he goes. With the aid of a rappelling cord that fires from her bracelet, Wai Lin has an easier time getting away from the machine gun-toting security guards that go after the intruders, while Bond has to be more physically confrontational on his way out of the building.

As he drives away, Bond gets a phone call from Carver. Carver says Bond has two items that belong to him - the satellite encoder and his wife, who is in Bond's hotel room. But Paris left the room before Bond did... Bond parks his BMW in the hotel parking garage, sticks the encoder in the glove compartment and activates the car's security system, then rushes to his room, where he finds Paris on the bed. Dead.

A tape of a pre-recorded news broadcast is playing on the television, the reporter saying that Paris's body was found in a hotel room along with the body of an unidentified man, who appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gun wound. That's when Bond realizes he has company in the room.

A gun is aimed at Bond by Doctor Kaufman, a pistol marksman and a professor of forensic medicine, an assassin who specializes in making deaths look like accidents and suicides. He could shoot Bond from a distance and still make it look like a suicide. He also gets a lot of "celebrity overdose" work. As played by the great character actor Vincent Schiavelli, Kaufman is a highly entertaining character, the scene with him is my favorite in the movie. Unfortunately, Kaufman only survives for a couple minutes of screen time before he's the one who gets killed in such a way that it looks like a self-inflicted gun wound.

Bond gives Paris's corpse one last kiss, then heads to the parking garage, where Carver henchmen have been working on trying to break into the BMW. Lucky for them, the car doesn't self-destruct like Bond's Lotus did in For Your Eyes Only, but the door handles are electrified and the windows are shatterproof.

Bond starts the car up with his cell phone remote control and has it drive a safe distance away from the henchmen so he can hop into it. Now a remote control backseat driver, Bond pilots the car all around the multi-level parking garage while henchmen do their best to stop him. They fire assault rifles, grenade launchers, even an anti-tank rocket at the vehicle, all to no avail, and Bond has plenty of weapons to use back at them. They string a steel cable across the lane, the BMW emblem on the hood turns out to have a saw hidden within it that cuts right through. The car holds up pretty well through all of this, though the bad guys' weapons are more effective on it once Bond is inside of it than they were before he got in. Those shatterproof windows get shattered pretty quickly.

Bond doesn't let the death of Paris keep him down for too long, this chase sequence puts a smile on his face.

Arriving at a U.S. Air Base in the area of the South China Sea, a Royal Navy uniform-wearing Bond is greeted by a Hawaiian shirt-wearing Jack Wade, the C.I.A. agent he worked with in GoldenEye. While the United States' official stance on the situation brewing between the United Kingdom and China is a neutral one, Wade is there because the U.S. also doesn't want to see this kick off World War III.

At the Air Base, Bond is able to talk with a GPS expert, who confirms that the satellite encoder Bond has in his possession could be used to send a ship slowly off course. Comparing an accurate GPS reading and the one given by the encoder Gupta tampered with, the expert is able to figure out exactly where the Devonshire really sank. Now Bond needs to check out the wreckage.

Bond figures that the best way for him to get to the wreckage, which is between the standoff of British and Chinese fleets, is to do a High Altitude, Low Opening jump, a HALO jump, from a plane into the water. Bond jumps at such a high altitude that he has to use his oxygen tank as he freefalls. After falling for five miles, Bond opens his parachute below radar level, two hundred feet above the water, then almost immediately cuts away his chute and plunges into the sea, landing in an area that is actually Vietnamese territorial waters.

Bond swims down to the Devonshire, enters through the hole made by the sea drill, and has a look around in the wreckage. In the Missile Room, there's a large empty space where one of the missiles should be. Once again, Bond's investigation is interrupted when Wai Lin shows up, swimming into the Missile Room in SCUBA gear. The Devonshire isn't sturdy in its resting spot and begins to tip over, almost trapping the two divers in the ship. The Devonshire isn't sturdy in its resting spot and begins to tip over, almost trapping the two divers in the ship.

Bond and Wai Lin swim up to the surface and find that the fishing boat that brought her to this location has been hijacked by Stamper and his henchman cohorts.

The Devonshire snoopers are flown by helicopter to a Carver building in Saigon, where Carver is waiting for them and typing up their obituaries. Carver reveals that Wai Lin works for Chinese People's External Security Force and discusses what he has in store for the two secret agents - prolonged, torturous deaths at the hands of Stamper, using methods taught to him by his mentor, the late Doctor Kaufman. Chakra torture, using implements to probe organs in the body's energy centers.
Carver does some monologuing, during which he quotes Bruce Feirstein's "Words are the new weapons; satellites the new artillery" pitch for the film. After Carver favorably compares himself to God, Bond paraphrases his "He's quite mad" line from Goldfinger, telling Carver that "You really are quite insane."

Like Bond did when he was strapped down under the lazer in Goldfinger, Bond and Wai Lin pretend that they know more than they really do. Wai Lin recognized a man while walking through the halls of the building, a General Chang, so they tell Carver they know what he and Chang are planning. Their words don't seem to do anything to delay their deaths, so they make an escape instead.

Handcuffed together, Bond and Wai Lin use a banner of Carver's face that hangs on the side of the building to slide down several stories, then bust through a window, hustle down to ground level, run outside and steal a motorcycle from the parking lot.

Thus begins the film's standout action sequence, Bond and Wai Lin riding the motorcycle at high speeds through the streets of Saigon, through buildings, even up onto the roofs of the buildings, through a roof and into an apartment, pursued by a helicopter and Range Rovers filled with henchmen armed with machine guns.

After the chase ends, the handcuffs are removed and Wai Lin attempts to ditch Bond. She goes off by herself and gets attacked by a group of henchmen sent by General Chang, but since she's a secret agent played by Michelle Yeoh, she's well trained in martial arts and quite capable of defending herself.

Like the early Roger Moore movies reacting to the popularity of blaxploitation and martial arts movies, Tomorrow Never Dies is partially a reaction to the newfound popularity of Jackie Chan in North America. The 1995 release of Chan's Rumble in the Bronx had caused a big stir and started his American movie career, and a U.S. theatrical release of Chan's 1992 movie Supercop had followed in July of 1996. Chan's co-star in that movie was Michelle Yeoh, and a year later, here was Yeoh taking down baddies with James Bond, and at times outshining him.

Bond catches up to her just as the fight is ending. Wai Lin reveals to him what the building they're in actually is - a Chinese People's External Security Force field office, like the MI6 field offices he went to all the time during the Roger Moore era. Bond had claimed in You Only Live Twice that he had taken a first in Oriental Languages at Cambridge, but when faced with having to use a Chinese computer keyboard, he lets Wai Lin handle it.

Wai Lin initially got involved in this situation by following missing stealth material from one of General Chang's bases to Carver's H.Q. in Hamburg. The assumption was that the material was being used to build a stealth plane, but it must've actually been used to create a stealth boat. The stealth boat sank the Devonshire, drilling into it so Carver and Chang could steal one of its cruise missiles. Carver said that the next step in his plan would happen at midnight, and Bond deduces that the next step will be to have the stealth boat fire the cruise missile into China, with the British fleet taking the blame. China will retaliate, and Carver will have full scale war imagery to broadcast. Good for ratings.

The field office includes an armory, with some Q Branch style gadgets that get set off during the scene, some purposely and some by accident. Messages are sent to the agents' employers to let them know what's going on, Wai Lin uses the computer to narrow down the possibilities of where the stealth boat could be situated, then she and Bond load up on weapons. Here Bond picks up a Walther P99, new on the market at the time of this film's release, and he will continue to use the P99 for his primary weapon for a few films, not fully switching back to the PPK until Quantum of Solace.
The agents charter a junk ship to search Ha Long Bay for the stealth boat. Standing in for Ha Long Bay is Thailand's Phang Nga Bay, an area that was previously featured in The Man with the Golden Gun. The ship takes Bond and Wai Lin out among the limestone karsts seen in the earlier film, near the "James Bond Island" where the villain Scaramanga had his hideout.

They don't locate the stealth boat until nightfall, at which time it's already starting to move into position for troublemaking and missile launching. Bond and Wai Lin's plan is to just plant mines on the ship that will make it visible to the fleets when detonated, but that doesn't work out. Wai Lin gets caught by Stamper, but she isn't killed, she's taken to Carver because he "likes an audience". Carver proceeds to share with her the final pieces of the puzzle, what the villains are really doing this for: the cruise missile will strike a building in Beijing where General Chang has called an emergency meeting of the Chinese High Command. After China and the UK fight it out for a while, and the Chinese Air Force has sunk the entire British fleet, Chang will take over the Chinese government to negotiate a truce, and Carver will receive exclusive broadcast rights in China for the next 100 years. Here's a man who's watching out for his company far beyond his own life expectancy.

Wai Lin being held captive so Carver can brag to her gives Bond a chance to raid the ship himself to help her out. The final confrontation between the agents, Carver, and his henchmen plays out inside the stealth boat and is full of gunfire and explosions. Wai Lin shows off more of her skills, Bond pulls off some trickery with a gadget watch, a grenade and a glass jar, and they find a new use for the sea drill.

Like the past few films, Tomorrow Never Dies has another original song playing over its end credits. This time, composer David Arnold did a song called "Surrender", with lyrics by Don Black (who wrote the title songs for Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man with the Golden Gun) and vocals by k.d. lang.

I had become a Bond fan during the build-up to the release of the previous film and had even braved a drive through a whiteout blizzard on the way to the theatre to see GoldenEye on opening day, but when Tomorrow Never Dies hit theatres, I was not there on its opening weekend. TND is the only Bond movie to be released after I became a fan that I didn't see opening weekend, and the reason was its release date. GoldenEye had established November as the month for Bond in North America, every film since GE has had a November U.S. release date except for TND. TND started production a little later than usual, it didn't start filming until April of 1997, so it came out later, reaching U.S. screens on December 19, 1997. It's pretty impressive that they still managed to get it out that quickly, but that wasn't the best date for it come out on.

I was fourteen years old, so my trips to the theatre were still taken at the whim of adults. That winter, the control of my theatrical viewings was primarily in the hands of my brother and my sister-in-law. While I wanted to see Bond, there was another movie released on December 19, 1997 that my sister-in-law wanted to see. James Cameron's Titanic. I had very little interest in seeing Titanic, I was so far out of tune with the general audience that year that I thought Titanic was going to be a box office disaster. I had read stories of it going over schedule and over budget and it was certainly going to be over long, it all seemed like a waste to me. Nobody was going to go see a three hour movie about a ship that sank almost a hundred years ago. Well, we know how that turned out. My sister-in-law got caught up in Titanic fever, and there was so much hype for the movie that I had to see what all the fuss was about, so it ended up that I watched Titanic on opening day instead of Tomorrow Never Dies.

Titanic was #1 that weekend and stayed at #1 for fifteen weeks, but Tomorrow Never Dies did good business in its shadow. I didn't get to watch TND theatrically until it was booked into the $1 theatre, at which time my brother and sister-in-law finally took me to see it.

At the time of my first viewing, I was disappointed, and was from the beginning. Something felt off about the pre-title sequence, I didn't like the title sequence, and it never won me over from there. I didn't like the story, I didn't like the villain, I didn't like Stamper and his dye job. The biggest problem was, I was judging it in direct comparison to its immediate predecessor, and didn't think it matched up to GoldenEye in any area. My brother and sister-in-law, who hadn't seen GE, did enjoy the film, which was a minor breakthrough for my sister-in-law because it was the first Bond film she had ever watched. I say minor because her liking TND only made her interested in watching Bond movies that starred Pierce Brosnan, she had no desire to go back and watch any Bond that came before him. I loaned her my VHS copy of GoldenEye, and when she returned it, I asked her "Did you like it better than the one we watched?", expecting her to say "Yes", because TND was so clearly inferior in my opinion. But she didn't, she preferred TND over GE. I had gotten her to watch two Bond movies, but I'm not sure if she's watched any that have come out since.

TND has a lighter tone than GoldenEye, which was director Roger Spottiswoode's intention going in. He wanted his Bond movie to be as funny or funnier than the more humor-slanted entries that had come before. Some of the joke lines make me cringe, but the movie mostly finds a good balance of being humorous without being too silly.

I think the lighter approach is better for Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of Bond. Though Brosnan would often talk of wanting to do a Bond film that was darker, more serious, examined the character more deeply, I think what Brosnan is best at is being the second silliest James Bond behind Roger Moore. As of these rewatchings for this series of articles, I think his performance is much better in TND than it was in GE. He's not doing the posing and face-making that was driving me nuts during GE, he's much more relaxed and natural this time around.

I'm not nearly as down on Tomorrow Never Dies now as I was in 1998. Although Pryce hams it up as Carver, the idea of a media mogul manipulating war stories for ratings is a clever plot, and the movie is full of action. TND is up there with For Your Eyes Only as far as packing the running time with action sequences, the breaks for story are short and rare, so it's an easy, enjoyable movie to watch.

Note: The 50 Years of 007 series will be going on hiatus during the month of October. The series will pick up again with The World Is Not Enough on Monday, November 5th.

1 comment:

  1. Well, until the last couple of paragraphs - this was also building up as a 007 overview I was less fond of than most of the others. I'm glad you like the movie more now - as it is my favorite of the Brosnan era. It's classic Bond - action packed, big over-the-top villain, superstrong henchman, and how can you say the Bond theme is overused? This is also Arnold's best score for the series - a blatant homage to John Barry that works very well for this Bond Superfan. I'm also glad the title changed - try looking at this as Tomorrow Never Lies in a list of all the Bond movie titles - it stands out - and not in a good way - like a sore thumb. Tomorrow Never Dies is Flemingesque doubletalk like You Only Live Twice. It works. That two films later they did go with a too-similar title is not this movie's fault - Wilson and Broccoli and company should have worked harder for a title in 2001.
    I saw this one at the first show on Friday December 19th, 1997 - I had started the morning coordinating the cast of Dawson's Creek through hair makeup and wardrobe - but was then allowed to steal away at about 11:45am - I think the show started at 12:10pm. I dodged all those people seeing Titanic - and after the last credit had rolled up the screen I dashed out and back over to Screen Gems Studios to work the rest of the day and into the night. This was the first Bond movie I purchased on DVD - in a packed special edition - before I even owned a DVD player! While I JUST added the Bond 50 Blu-Ray set to my video vault that original DVD is still in my collection - and to see why - here is a post from my blog - check out the last picture in the post...

    See you in November!