Monday, November 19, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Die Another Day

Cody watches as Pierce Brosnan goes out big.

When Die Another Day, the twentieth film in the Eon Productions Bond series, was released in 2002, it was a time of celebration for the cinematic 007. Like this year's Skyfall, it was an anniversary film, this one marking the 40th anniversary of the series that began with the 1962 release of Dr. No. The fact that it was the twentieth film was an added bonus, a nice round round number and it showed that even though the series had gone through a couple longer breaks than normal (mainly the six year gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye), they had still managed to average out to a new movie every other year, the average helped out by the fact that the first few had been released annually. It hasn't lined up as well for Skyfall, the missed years in the decade since DAD making it so that the 50th anniversary film is not the 25th movie but the 23rd.

The 20th film, like every film in the series that came before it, begins with the gun barrel shot, but in the spirit of celebration director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Mulholland Falls, The Edge) decided to add a little bit of flair - when Pierce Brosnan as James Bond fires his gun in the direction of the camera/gun barrel, a CG bullet flies down the barrel, the projectile filling the screen and causing a quick blackout before the optical blood begins dribbling down over the gun barrel image.

That bullet sets the stage for the rest of the movie to confirm that Tamahori is a fan of digital manipulation, whether it be for special effects or simply color grading, something which is now standard in filmmaking. The CG moments that follow came as no surprise to me upon first viewing, I had already seen Tamahori's Along Came a Spider and the very CG car crash that it opens with, so I was expecting it.

The pre-title sequence finds James Bond on a mission in North Korea. With a couple Korean agents as backup, he infiltrates the country by surfing to the coastline. The waves in this surfing sequence are real, unlike some coming later in the film, and standing in for Bond and his partners are a trio of surfers that includes Laird Hamilton.

Die Another Day is packed with callbacks to Bond history and they begin within the first two minutes. Once Bond is on land, he unzips his wetsuit to reveal he's wearing stylish wardrobe beneath, though it's no Goldfinger white tux.

Bond slides open a panel on the bottom of his surfboard and we see that it contains gadgets and C4. A knife handle contains a navigational beacon that draws a passing helicopter off course. When the helicopter lands in a clearing, Bond and his cohorts hijack it at gunpoint. Bond's clothes exactly match those of the helicopter's passenger, a South African man named Van Bierk, who's carrying a Samsonite case full of diamonds. (Is it a coincidence that the actor's name is Mark Dymond?) Van Bierk is taken away while Bond keeps the case and replaces him on the helicopter.

Bond's assignment is to assassinate Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (the character name a nod to the post-Ian Fleming Bond novel Colonel Sun, by Kingsley Amis/Robert Markham), who has a dream of someday taking over the whole of Korea and has a base right on - and hides weapons within - the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the 160 mile long, 2.5 mile wide buffer between North and South Korea, which the U.S. helped fill with over a million landmines in the 1950s. Moon and his soldiers travel the zone freely in hovercrafts that float right over the mines. Lately, Moon has been trading his weaponry for African conflict diamonds, his reason unknown. So Bond has chosen as his method of assassination to complete the latest diamond exchange, but hide beneath the diamonds C4 that he will detonate once the case is in Moon's possession.

When we're first introduced to Will Yun Lee in the role of Colonel Moon, he's using some martial arts moves to vent his frustration on a punching bag... a bag which contains his anger therapist, being punished for lecturing the Colonel. His workout/punishment session ends when Bond's helicopter lands at the base. Moon goes out to meet with Bond and the trade is successfully made - the diamonds are handed over to Moon, who in turn presents "Van Bierk" with RPGs, flamethrowers, automatic weapons, and ammunition.

Then things go bad. Moon's right hand man Zao (Rick Yune) took Bond's picture as soon as he exited the helicopter and sent the image off to a mysterious contact. As an expert checks the diamonds, Zao receives a picture message on cell phone in reply - a message that gives confidential information on Bond straight from the MI6 Security Service, blowing his cover.

Told that "Van Bierk" is a British assassin named Bond, Moon blows up the helicopter, calls Bond by his real name, and has his men take Bond captive. Bond catches a break when Moon gets a call from his father, General Moon, who says he'll be arriving at the base in five minutes. The Colonel is hiding most of his operation from his father, so he scrambles to get things put away before he arrives, which causes a good deal of distraction that Bond is able to add to by detonating the diamonds. The explosion of the case blasts diamonds into Zao's face, embedding the rocks in his flesh, and Bond makes a run for a hovercraft. While filming this dash, Pierce Brosnan tore the meniscus in one of his knees and had to take a week off to have surgery to repair the injury. This happened early on in the shoot, but if Brosnan had any pain in his knee after that it's not noticable in the film.

Bond manages to cause substantial damage to Moon's operation and a hovercraft chase full of gunfire, flames and explosions ensues through the DMZ minefield, as Bond attempts to complete his mission and kill Moon. The chase ends with Bond boarding Moon's hovercraft and the two men fighting aboard the vehicle with a dead man at the wheel. Moon uses some of the same moves on Bond as he dealt out to his bagged therapist, but then Bond speeds the hovercraft up and sends it over the edge of a cliff above a waterfall. Moon and the hovercraft plummet into the rough waters far below, while Bond manages to grab onto a bell in a cliff-side temple.

"Saved by the bell," Bond quips, and for that groaner he's immediately imprisoned. Well, maybe the line isn't the specific reason why he gets locked up, but he is captured by General Moon and put away to live in a dark, dirty cell.

The film makes the segue into the Daniel Kleinman-designed title sequence, which in addition to featuring the usual sorts of images seen in the Bond title sequences is also used to tell the story of the time Bond spends in his private North Korean prison. His captors regularly torture him, beating him mercilessly, dunking his head in ice water, a female guard called Scorpion Girl making scorpions sting him repeatedly.

The World Is Not Enough story crafters and co-screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade returned to receive sole writing credit on Die Another Day. Longtime production designer Peter Lamont was also brought back, as was Tomorrow Never Dies and TWINE second unit director Vic Armstrong. DAD was composer David Arnold's third Bond score in a row, though he was not involved with the title song by Madonna. The orchestra-meets-dance-electronica song is unusual for the series and got a mixed reception, but it was very successful, spending 11 weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.

TND and TWINE first assistant editor Andrew MacRitchie was promoted to editor on this one, a job he shares with regular Tony Scott collaborator Christian Wagner. Wagner brought to the film a very of-the-moment, adrenalized style and the use of tricks like speed ramping, overlapping images, and dramatic slo-mo.

For his cinematographer, director Lee Tamahori brought on David Tattersall, best known for the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Like Roger Spottiswoode's on Tomorrow Never Dies, Tamahori's credit does basically appear on a shot that is outside of the title sequence. Kleinman's images are done, Madonna's song ends, then Tamahori's name comes up over a shot of Scorpion Girl looking into Bond's cell. But since the credit doesn't appear after an obvious transition and images of the prison were used throughout the sequence anyway, this doesn't bother me like Spottiswoode's credit did.

When the title sequence is over, Bond has spent 18 months in captivity. He's filthy, his hair shoulder length, he's got a long, scraggly beard. But he hasn't lost his smartass sense of humor. General Moon has put him through a year and a half of torture not just because he killed his son, but also because he thinks Bond is witholding information on the identity of the Westerner who corrupted his son, someone he met while studying abroad at Oxford and Harvard. "Who made him betray his country and his name?" This is not information Bond has, but since whoever it is also blew his cover, he'd like to know who it was too.

One foggy day, General Moon takes Bond out of the prison, stands him in front of a line of arm soldiers, and tells him to start walking across a wooden bridge. Bond expects a hail of bullets to strike him in the back at any moment, but he soon realizes that he's not being executed, he's actually part of a prisoner trade between countries. Halfway across the bridge, he passes the man who's being brought in to North Korea in exchange for him - Zao, diamonds still embedded in the right side of his face. The two prisoners trade threats to each other, then continue on.

On the other side of the bridge, the group waiting for Bond is headed by NSA Chief Damian Falco and Robinson of MI6. As soon as he reaches the other side, Bond is sedated by a medical team and carted off on a gurney, taken to a hi-tech, secure medical evaluation and observation room on a ship in the Hong Kong harbor.

M visits Bond's room and catches him up on what's happening. After more than a year of MI6 denying Bond's existence, they had to pull him out of North Korea because a signal from the prison he was in revealed the name of the top American agent in the North Korean High Command, leading to the agent's execution. It was believed that Bond had cracked under interrogation and was giving information. Zao was captured after killing three Chinese agents in an attempt to blow up a summit between South Korea and China, and the trade was the only way to extract Bond. Bond and M both agree that his freedom came at too high a price, it would be better for him to die in prison than to let Zao go free. M suggests that he could've popped the cyanide pill that is issued to all agents, but Bond says he threw his out years ago. He is determined to get back to work, track Zao down and find out who the traitor who keeps revealing identities is, but M has different plans for him. He's to be taken to an evaluation center in the Falklands, where he'll be held indefinitely. His 00 status is rescinded, he's "no use to anyone now."

His licence revoked (again), Bond has to rogue, as he did in Licence to Kill. He escapes the ship with the use of a trick he employed during his torture sessions - through concentration, he lowers his heart rate. He takes it so low that he flat lines, and when medics rush in to revive him, he wills his heart to beat at a normal pace again, knocks the medics around and exits the room. He jumps off the ship and swims to the Hong Kong shore, arriving at a yacht club.

It's a great moment when the barefoot, long-haired, castaway-bearded, soaking wet Bond, wearing loose hospital clothes, his shirt completely unbuttoned, walks across the lobby of a high class hotel the same way he would if he was clean-cut and wearing a suit, going up to the front desk and asking for a room. The receptionist finds his appearance questionable, but the hotel's manager, a man named Chang, recognizes Bond and gives him a room. The Presidential Suite.

Bond gets back to normal - gets a nice wardrobe, cuts his hair, shaves, has a nice meal and a bottle of '61 Bollinger. Compliments of Chang, a lovely masseuse named Peaceful Fountains of Desire shows up at Bond's door. A masseuse who carries a gun in a thigh holster.

In earlier drafts of the script, Die Another Day was supposed to feature a cameo by Michelle Yeoh reprising her role as Chinese People's External Security Force agent Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies. A deal couldn't be reached with Yeoh, so Wai Lin was replaced by Chang, who is a Chinese Intelligence agent in addition to being a hotel manager, and it's doubtful that she would've done what Chang does - when Bond discovers Peaceful's piece, he tosses a heavy ashtray through a mirror, the mirror shattering to show that Chang and some sidekicks were filming Bond through the two-way glass, much like SPECTRE filmed him with Tatiana in From Russia with Love.

It's not quite clear what Chang was hoping to get out of filming Bond, it doesn't seem that he wanted to stir up a sex scandal like SPECTRE did because Peaceful says she's "not that kind of masseuse" when Bond gets touchy with her. If he was expecting Bond to spill national secrets to the gun-toting masseuse, he doesn't know him too well. Regardless, Bond assures Chang that he's not in Hong Kong to do anything to take back the city for England, then he asks the man for a favor. Chang can get payback for the deaths of the three agents Zao killed by helping Bond get into North Korea to go after the diamond-faced terrorist. Chang makes some calls and secures Bond a plane ticket, but not to Korea. Word is that Zao is now in Havana, Cuba.

In Havana, Bond awakens a sleeper agent contact named Raoul by walking into his cigar shop and telling an employee that he's there to pick up an order of Delectados for Universal Exports. When the employee says they haven't made Delectados in thirty years, Bond says "Check with your boss" and does a casual point at the man's telephone. Earlier, Bond pointed at M when asking her, "And what do you think?" I've nitpicked Brosnan's performance before in these articles, so here's another - I wish he wouldn't do this pointing business.

Raoul is played by Emilio Echevarria, who makes his character memorable and very enjoyable to watch during his brief screen time. Raoul is able to pinpoint Zao's location to an island called Los Organos, where there's a "strange clinic" run by a Doctor Alvarez, an expert in gene therapy. While in Raoul's office, Bond picks up a copy of the book Birds of the West Indies, written by an ornithologist named James Bond. Ian Fleming owned a copy of his book, and when trying to come up with the blandest name possible to give the literary spy he had created, he looked at the author's name on the bird book and found the perfect choice. Bond is also inspired by the book in this film, picking up a pair of binoculars and heading to Los Organos under the cover of being an ornithologist.

Bond drives the 1957 Ford Fairlane Raoul scores for him to the coast and gets a room at a beachside hotel. Enjoying a cigar and a mojito in the outdoor bar and dining area, Bond witnesses a busboy deliver admittance papers to the Alvarez Clinic to a very unpleasant man named Krug, who thanks the busboy by pointing a gun at his testicles and ordering him to round up some women to take to his hotel room.

Grabbing his binoculars and looking out to sea, Bond at first looks over Los Organos, but then his attention is caught by an attractive woman swimming toward the beach. In a shot meant to be an homage to the first appearance of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in Dr. No, the woman walks up onto the beach in her bikini, a knife holstered on her hip.

The woman and Bond introduce themselves to each other. Played by Halle Berry, who won her Best Actress Oscar for Monster's Ball during production, she is Giacinta Johnson, Jinx to her friends. She's bad luck, born on Friday the 13th. Bond has very good luck with her, it doesn't take much for him to talk her into his bed. We see much more of their coupling than we usually see of Bond's bedroom activities; passionate kissing, a bit of riding, moans and sighs, sweaty skin, fruit sharing. It's been at least 18 months since Bond was last with a woman, that's like a lifetime to him.

Jinx gets up before Bond the next morning and catches a boat over to Los Organos. Bond follows by knocking Krug out, putting him in a wheelchair, and rolling the man onto the boat's next trip, acting as his caretaker and getting a pass to the island with Krug's admittance papers. Once on the island, Bond ditches Krug and starts sneaking around the clinic. Passing through one room, he helps himself to a couple grapes from a bowl, a callback to Sean Connery doing the same in Thunderball.

Through a secret passageway, Bond discovers there are some strange doings going on at the Alvarez Clinic. Meanwhile, Jinx is learning all about it from Doctor Alvarez himself. In the hidden area of the clinic, Alvarez provides patients with DNA replacement therapy. First, the person's bone marrow is killed off, their DNA slate wiped clean. Then, new DNA harvested from healthy donors is introduced. These "donors" are actually murder victims: orphans, runaways, "people that won't be missed". Alvarez considers himself an artist, the new person created from this DNA replacement is his artwork. Jinx has come to Los Organos as a prospective patient, but she's actually there to shut Alvarez's operation down. And she does so by firing two shots into the doctor's chest.

Zao is in the clinic, undergoing DNA replacement therapy and about 50% along on the process of being changed from a Korean into a white man from Hamburg, Germany. At this point, Zao is completely hairless, his skin very pale and his eyes a light shade of blue. Even though he's going through with this change, the diamonds are still stuck in his face. It seems very odd that those wouldn't have been removed at this point, left to still be there even after he's totally made over with the German identity. But he's not going to make it that far anyway.

Bond and Zao have a scuffle in the therapy room, Bond tearing off the bullet-shaped necklace the henchman is wearing before Zao is able to escape. Zao, Bond, and (after destroying Alvarez's files) Jinx all make their ways out of the clinic. Sprinklers go off, rooms explode, walls are blasted through. Zao catches a ride on a helicopter, Jinx does an impressive backwards dive off a high cliff and into the ocean below, where she's picked up by a waiting boat. Bond is left alone with his gun in his hand... and Zao's necklace, the bullet pendant containing diamonds.

According to Raoul, the chemical composition of the diamonds Zao had points to them being conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone, but Bond spots something strange inside of them. A "G.G." lazer signature, meaning the diamonds came from the Graves Corporation in Iceland. A man named Gustav Graves discovered diamonds in Iceland about a year earlier and has since become a very rich, popular public figure in England.

News of Bond's escape in Hong Kong and adventure in Cuba has gotten back to NSA Chief Damian Falco, who chews M out in a video conference and accuses her of helping Bond get away. If she doesn't fix the situation, he threatens to do it himself.

Bond catches a British Airways flight back to London, on which Roger Moore's daughter Deborah Moore appears as an air hostess who serves him a martini on a wobbly tray. "Lucky I asked for it shaken." While enjoying his martini, Bond leafs through a magazine featuring an interview with Gustav Graves, giving us the first look at the character played by Toby Stephens. In the interview, a quote from Graves reads, "Diamonds are forever, but life isn't." and the interviewer's name is given as Gregg Wilson. The full name of producer Michael G. Wilson is Michael Gregg Wilson, but Die Another Day also marks the first Bond movie credit for another Gregg Wilson, Michael G. Wilson's son, who worked as a development executive on this film, joining the family business and starting to work his way up the ranks.  In a rare choice for the series, Bond's flight back home is accompanied by a needle drop song with no source within the scene, "London Calling" by The Clash filling the soundtrack.

Gustav Graves is also on a plane, but he bails from his while over London to make a showy entrance to his knighting ceremony, making a safe landing in front of the press with the aid of a Union Jack parachute (hello, The Spy Who Loved Me). Graves is considered a self-publicizing adrenaline junkie, but he prefers to be called an adventurer. He's a man who is said to never sleep, considering it a waste of life, and he's got a huge space project called Icarus in the works. It's top secret for now, but all will be revealed soon.

Bond is witness to Graves' chat with the press, and he follows the man to a club called Blades, which shares the name of a gentlemen's club in the Fleming novels. Graves is rumored to be trying out for the British Olympic fencing team, and at Blades he's fitting in a match. Madonna has a cameo in this scene as a fencing instructor named Verity, whose protégé Miranda Frost is "the finest blade in the club" and also Graves' publicist. Frost won a gold medal for fencing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, a medal that defaulted to her after the opponent who beat her overdosed on steroids.

Verity shoots down the rumor that Graves has Olympic aspirations - he only plays for cash, and has won so much that nobody other than his publicist is willing to spar with him. Bond is. After introducing himself to Graves - "Bond. James Bond." - who momentarily seems to think they've met before, Bond agrees to play against the man with stakes of $1000 a point, first to deliver three hits wins.

The score is 2 - 0 in favor of Graves when Bond offers to up the stakes: forget the $1000 a point bet, they'll play for a Graves diamond that Bond picked up in Cuba. Graves comments that his diamonds get around, as "diamonds are for everyone." When Bond points out that it's chemically identical to a conflict diamond, Graves merely replies, "Then you're about to lose something very precious." And the fencing resumes, with heightened intensity.

When Bond slices Graves' wrist, Graves gets quite angry and decides to up the weapons along with the wager. The fencing weapons are tossed aside for heavier swords and to win they'll now have to draw blood from their opponent's torso. The swordfight that ensues, taking Bond and Graves throughout the club and its grounds and causing property damage, during which they switch sword types a couple times along the way, is my favorite bit of action in the film. There's something about a cinematic swordfight that I find highly entertaining to watch, whether the blades are wielded by swashbuckling pirates, or they're lazer weapons in the hands of space-travelling knights in a galaxy far far away, or the fight is between James Bond and a toff with a toothy grin and anger issues.

Though the fight includes punches and kicks and blood is drawn, when it ends Graves just laughs it all off, writes Bond a check, and invites him to attend his Icarus science demonstration in Iceland that weekend. When Graves departs, an envelope containing a large, old key is delivered to Bond.

That key unlocks a door on Westminster Bridge, right down the road from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Through the doorway, Bond goes down into a long abandoned subway station turned MI6 bunker, where he's met by his boss M. The recent tragedy of 9/11 gets a reference during their conversation, with M telling Bond that the world has changed while he's been away. He replies that it hasn't changed for him. They have no real info to trade on Gustav Graves, just the official bio of an orphan raised working in Argentinian mines learning engineering, finding diamonds in Iceland, and giving half of his riches to charity.

Bond catches M up on everything - chasing Zao, the destruction of the Cuban "beauty parlor" that M previously didn't believe actually existed, finding Graves diamonds in Zao's possession. Bond's suspicion is that Graves' company is a front for laundering conflict diamonds. M trusts Bond's instincts on Graves and authorizes him to continue his investigation, but they have to tread carefully because Graves has political connections.

His 00 status reinstated, Bond heads back to his office at MI6 headquarters, a room we've only seen before in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. While sitting at his desk, having a drink and cleaning his Walther, Bond hears odd noises from the hall and heads out to investigate. Black-clad, heavily armed terrorists have infiltrated the building and the bodies of employees are all over the place. At her desk, Moneypenny is dead with a gunshot wound in her forehead, a sight that made audience members gasp when I saw this film theatrically.

Bond moves through the halls, dispatching terrorists as he goes, and ends up in a standoff with one who is holding M hostage with a gun to her head. After a quick evaluation of the situation, Bond fires a shot into the hand the terrorist has on M's shoulder, wounding her as well but enabling her to get away from the man, allowing Bond to fire kill shots into the man's body.

Time slows down and then freezes as the dead man flies backwards from the shots, then the Quartermaster - played by John Cleese, who was introduced as the Desmond Llewelyn Q's replacement in The World Is Not Enough - appears out of nowhere and walks toward Bond, chastising him for wounding M. The Quartermaster takes a pair of glasses off of Bond and we realize that the MI6 invasion scenario was just a virtual reality exercise to make sure Bond's skills haven't gotten rusty during his time away, a hi-tech upgrade to the firing range. Bond is actually still down in the subway station, and gets led around the place by the Quartermaster, who equips him with some new gadgets.

The scene that plays out between Bond and the Quartermaster is all about Bond coming to accept this man as Llewelyn-Q's successor. Bond acts juvenile, makes quips, takes nothing seriously, while the Quartermaster gets annoyed and insults him. Bond called the character R in the previous film and at the beginning of this scene he refers to him as "Quartermaster", at the end of it he finally comes around to calling him Q.

One room the new Q takes Bond through is full of props from the earlier movies, from the Acrostar and alligator boat from Octopussy to the Thunderball jetpack and even Rosa Klebb's blade-tipped shoes from From Russia with Love. Brosnan goes so far as to sniff a shoe and put his fingers on the blade, not disturbed by the fact that the blade was dipped in poison back when Klebb was kicking it at his shins.

The gadgets Bond is given this time includes a ring that, with a twist, becomes a sonic agitator that emits a high frequency noise powerful enough to shatter bulletproof glass. He gets a new watch, which Q comments is his 20th. One for every movie. There was a line written in a draft of the TWINE script where Q would've given Bond a watch and commented that it was the 29th he had been issued. Perhaps a typo and it was supposed to be 19th? Either way, the DAD line is a version of a line that was dropped from TWINE.

Q saves the biggest gadget for last, and when the presentation begins Bond repeats a line he spoke to Q in Goldfinger, "You must be joking." Like his predecessor, this Q never jokes about his work. This gadget is Bond's latest car, an Aston Martin Vanquish that has been redubbed the Vanish by Q Branch. Loaded with all the weaponry we're used to seeing in a Bond vehicle, this car has a new feature that draws a line for some fans, going into territory where some viewers are not willing to follow. Adaptive camouflage. The car is covered with tiny cameras, cameras on each side projecting the images they see onto a light-emitting polymer skin on the opposite side. Basically, this makes the car invisible to the casual eye. That's too ridiculous for some to accept. I don't like when things stray too far into the silly and over-the-top, as this movie is about to, but I personally don't mind the "invisible car" so much. The adaptive camouflage technology is something that is being worked on in real life, Q Branch has just been able to successfully implement it here. This isn't a big deal to me here, but probably would be in other installments in the series. It would certainly seem wildly out of place in some of them, but it fits into DAD.

Miranda Frost is revealed to be an MI6 agent when she reports to M's office. Frost worked in Cryptography for three years, but has been undercover as Graves' publicist, a job she volunteered for, for three months and hasn't been able to dig up any dirt on him, he appears to her to be clean. Notifying Frost that Bond will be going to Iceland, M asks her what she knows of the 00. Uncomfortable with the idea, afraid that he could blow her cover, Frost describes Bond as, among other things, a danger to himself and others.

In the press, a lot has been made of the fact that M calls Bond a "blunt instrument" in Casino Royale '06, as if it describes a new idea of what the character it is. The description didn't get as much attention when it was used in Die Another Day, as Miranda Frost calls Bond "a blunt instrument whose primary method is to provoke and confront." The "blunt instrument" description of Bond actually originates from Ian Fleming, who said his character is a "blunt instrument wielded by a government department."

Despite Frost's uneasy feelings, M believes that Bond's methods are just right for this situation, and since Frost will be in Iceland as well, she'll be able to keep things from getting out of hand.

Die Another Day sort of feels like two movies in one, split almost exactly in half, and a lot of viewers - myself included - feel that it falls apart in the second half. Many cite Bond's arrival at Graves' ice palace in Iceland as the point when it starts going downhill and I agree that's the scene, but since the ice palace itself is a great location for a Bond movie, I like to narrow it down further to a certain exchange that happens outside the palace as Bond exits his Aston Martin. The head of security is a large man played by Kiwi actor Lawrence Makoare, best known for playing Uruk-Hai and Orcs in the Lord of the Rings movies. Makorare's character introduces himself to Bond as "Mister Kil" and Bond replies, "That's a name to die for." With that, emergency lights start flashing, alerts start going off, the movie is in freefall.

While guests gather at the palace and hit up the bar for drinks (Bond of course visits the bar and orders a vodka martini, "plenty of ice"), Graves spends time racing his rocket car around on the frozen lake and icy grounds surrounding the palace. He reaches 324 mph in the rocket car, then orders his Igor-like mechanic Vlad to fix the recurring mechanical issue with the car's second thruster. Graves is a man who keeps busy with thrilling hobbies, saying that living on the edge is the only way to know who you really are, "under the skin". And since the rumors are true that he never sleeps, he's forced to live his dreams.

Built next to the ice palace is a bio dome, which houses both Graves' living quarters and the entrance to the diamond mine, with a tropical atmosphere and even an artifically heated thermal pool cut into the surface of the frozen lake. Graves is relaxing in his living quarters, wearing some sort of electrical mask, when a hooded figure arrives at the palace and strides into the bio dome.

When the figure removes his hood, he's revealed to be Zao, still in his half-baked DNA limbo stage, diamonds still stuck in his face. Zao is no threat to Graves, the men are close friends who have known each other for many years. When Zao tells Graves that "General Moon still mourns your death", we realize the reason why Graves keeps making comments about knowing Bond from somewhere and being someone else under the skin - Graves is Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. He survived the hovercraft crash and spent Bond's 18 months of captivity getting his DNA changed to that of a British man and building the public persona of Gustav Graves. The diamond mine isn't even real, the Graves diamonds are the conflict diamonds that Moon collected.

As a side effect of his DNA makeover, Graves has permanent insomnia. The mask he wears is called "the dream machine" and he has to wear that for an hour at a time. He says it keeps him sane, I don't think it's working.

Waiting for the big demonstration, Bond interacts with Frost a bit and also discovers that Jinx is a fellow guest at the ice palace. Jinx - who now introduces herself to people as "Miss Swift" - and Bond trade some double entrendre-heavy banter, with Halle Berry delivering her lines as if she's performing directly to a laughing audience. With some of these lines, I think she'd like to be sitting next to every viewer to give them a nudge in the ribs as well.

After night fall, it's time for the demonstration, and everyone gathers outside to watch Graves unveil his Icarus project. Standing at a podium and working controls within a large case, Graves reveals that Icarus is a satellite in orbit around the Earth, able to catch rays from the sun around the edge of the planet and reflect them down directly onto the ice palace. In an instant, the dark night becomes a very bright day. Everyone puts on sunglasses except for Bond and Jinx. Graves passes off his light-focusing satellite as a sort of second sun, shining like a diamond in the sky, a way to enable certain areas to grow crops all year. He tells the crowd, "You have no idea how much Icarus is about to change your world." We and Bond know it's a threat.

The control case is packed up and taken by Kil and Vlad into the bio dome, and this is where Bond is first able to put his car's camouflage to use - he turns his car "invisible" and drives through the open gate in front of the bio dome. The camouflage wouldn't do any good if the people at the dome were really paying attention, since they'd still notice the tire tracks magically appearing in the snow. Luckily for Bond, the security is not that good.

Bond does some snooping around outside the dome, looking through windows, but the most knowledge he gains from this is finding out the thermal pool exists. Eventually, security guards do notice Bond's presence, intruder alert alarms go off, and Bond gets away from the dome by opening a pressure valve, steam blasting a couple guards to the ground and knocking a hole in the chain link fence.

Bond heads off through the parking lot as security guards look around the place, and Frost reveals to him that she's an MI6 agent when she pulls him aside and starts kissing him to deflect suspicion. Frost says she knows all about Bond, "Sex for dinner, death for breakfast", the second part of that quote being the title of a chapter in the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond's charms quickly melt Frost's defenses and they decide to continue the charade of being lovers in his room.

While Bond and Frost go to bed, a leather-clad Jinx is infiltrating the bio dome, making her entrance from the top and sliding down to the ground on a retractable cable. Entering the living quarters, she gets captured by Graves and Zao, knocked out with a zap from the "self defense mechanism" Vlad made for Graves, an electrical glove with a 100,000 volt limit.

Luckily for Jinx, Bond and Frost have just made it a quickie, after which Bond gets out of bed and sets off to infiltrate the bio dome. He does so by a cutting a hole in the lake ice with his watch's lazer beam, something his GoldenEye watch would also be able to do, swimming beneath the ice with the aid of the same sort of rebreather he used in Thunderball, and surfacing inside the dome through the thermal pool.

By the time Bond catches up to the tied-down Jinx, Zao has unsuccessfully attempted to torture information out of her with the electric glove and has left her to be offed by Mister Kil with the fake mine's real lazer cutters, a callback to the lazer threat in Goldfinger. Bond and Kil have a fight with lazer beams slicing all around them, and it's Kil who ends up on the wrong end of one.

Kil killed, Bond gets Jinx loose of her restraints while she confides in him that she works for the NSA and is on the trail of Zao. Informed of the presence of Zao and a dream machine from Cuba, Bond connects the dots and figures out that Graves isn't who he appears to be. He gets Jinx out of the dome and goes to confront Graves in his living quarters.

Bond's confrontation of Graves is when the title of the film gets quoted - "So you live to die another day, Colonel." Like Tomorrow Never Dies, the title of this movie has nothing to do with the works of Ian Fleming, and while TND's was inspired by The Beatles, this one is a play on a saying that goes back to 338 B.C. and Athenian statesman Demosthenes, whose quote "The man who runs away may fight again" eventually became "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day."

Graves admits that he is truly Colonel Moon, telling Bond that he's left him alive so long because he's enjoyed watching him flail around in ignorance, and says that the details of the Graves persona were somewhat based on Bond, specificially the "unjustifiable swagger" and "crass quips" that conceal inadequacy. Miranda Frost joins them mid-conversation and points a gun at Graves.

While the title isn't Fleming, the story is, in broad strokes, based on his novel Moonraker: an enemy of England is injured in a battle and forced to change their appearance, resurfacing with a false identity that they use to become a popular public figure in the UK. The Icarus satellite replaces the novel's Moonraker rocket as a scientific endeavor that's actually a weapon of mass destruction. In earlier drafts of the script, writers Purvis and Wade even went so far as to name the female MI6 agent played by Rosamund Pike after Bond's love interest in the novel, Gala Brand, whose name was left out of the Moonraker film in favor of the non-Fleming Holly Goodhead. Then, changes were made to the character that made it inappropriate for her to carry the name Gala Brand, and Brand was again put on the shelf while the character was renamed Miranda Frost.

The change was, the character is a traitor. Frost moves her gun away from Graves and turns it toward Bond. She's the person who betrayed Bond and blew his cover in North Korea. She has known Moon since they were on the fencing team together at Harvard, and he earned her undying loyalty by killing the opponent who beat her at the Olympics.

Now that everything's out in the open, Bond opens fire on Frost and Graves, shooting them down right there. Or, he would if the gun didn't just click empty. Bond kept his gun under his pillow while he was in bed with Frost, giving her opportunity to remove the bullets.

The bad quips go into overdrive in the second half of Die Another Day, with a prime example being the exchange between Zao and Bond with the diamond-faced henchman enters the room. Bond tells him, "I've missed your sparkling personality" and Zao responds by hitting him in the gut. "How's that for a punchline?" Painful in several ways.

Frost is about to execute Bond - "It really is death for breakfast" - when he uses the sonic ring to bust through the room's glass floor, then escapes from the dome with the retractable cable that Jinx left behind. With henchmen firing machine guns at him, Bond gets into Graves' rocket car and speeds away from the palace.

Bond's escape has only given Graves extra purpose in the private demonstration of the true power of Icarus that he has arranged for some visiting military allies from North Korea. As the Koreans watch, Graves manipulates the Icarus controls to lock the satellite onto the rocket car's heat signature and concentrate the sun's power into an intense, firey beam that blasts down to the ground, burning or melting everything in its path. The beam chases Bond across the ice until he's forced to drive the rocket car right off a cliff, catching onto the edge of the cliff by disengaging the car's speed anchor. As Bond and the car dangle on the side of the icy cliff, Graves doesn't just blast the beam down the edge, instead he cuts a huge chunk of ice off of the cliff.

The broken ice crashes down into water below, causing a huge wave, which Bond survives by performing some improvised kite surfing with the rocket car's parachute, using a panel door as his surfboard. Bond kite surfing to safety while surrounded by a massive CGI wall of water is the most harshly criticized moment of the film, and the CGI involved has not aged well at all.

When Bond is back on icy ground, we're presented with another problem the lengthy action sequence set around the ice palace has - Bond keeps leaving the palace just to go right back to it. This time he uses the parachute to clothesline a henchman off of a snowmobile, which he uses to drive back to the palace.

Graves, Frost, and the Koreans leave in a personal cargo plane, with Zao staying behind to make sure Bond is dead. Jinx is trapped in the ice palace while Icarus blasts some heat down onto it, causing the place to melt around her and fill her room with water. Bond gets into his still-invisible car to get a thermal imaging read on the palace to locate Jinx within it, but the adaptive camouflage is so convicing that another henchman drives his snowmobile right into the side of the car, giving away Bond's location to Zao.

Bond isn't the only one with a gadget-packed car, Zao has a Jaguar XKR that is also loaded with rockets and machine guns, among other things. A chase/battle between the equally matched hero and villain gadget cars ensues, something that was meant to happen in The Lost Dalton Film. The action takes Bond and Zao out across the frozen lake and then, of course, back to the palace.

Like the Aston Martin in The Living Daylights, Bond's Vanquish has spikes that come out of the tires for icy conditions, and the Goldfinger ejector seat gets a callback when the Aston Martin gets flipped over onto its top. As the car slides along the ice, Bond opens the sunroof, hits the passenger ejector seat button, and the force of the ejection flips the car back over onto its wheels, the flip also happening just in time for the car to avoid a rocket fired by Zao.

The car fight continues on, and ends, inside the palace, a suggestion director Lee Tamahori made because he didn't want to just use the location for dialogue scenes. It's one Tamahori addition that I think was a good idea.

Zao is defeated, Bond saves Jinx from a cold, watery death and revives her in the thermal pool, and the agents leave what remains of the ice palace, heading for a meeting with their superiors at a U.S. command bunker on the South Korea side of the DMZ, where they're at DEFCON 2 while they wait to see what Graves is up to, and where producer Michael G. Wilson has his cameo as a General. Wilson was also briefly in the background in Cuba.

M and Damian Falco have some words over Falco's approach to the situations that have played out. Falco was giving her a tough time about Bond's escape and blaming the destruction of the Cuban clinic on him to keep attention off of Jinx, because if Frost had gotten word of the NSA agent she would've passed it along to Graves. M says they would've figured out there was a mole at MI6 earlier if Falco had told her about Frost and Moon's Harvard fencing days... but M is the one Frost worked for, wouldn't she have better knowledge of her history than Falco?

Graves is currently at a North Korean air base, so while Icarus is taken out by an anti-satellite missile, Bond is going to go into the North to take out the villain personally. Falco doesn't want to leave this mission entirely in the hands of the British, so he tells Jinx she's going along with him... and when he gives her this order, he points at her hardcore, so maybe I was wrong to criticize Brosnan for the pointing he did earlier, maybe Tamahori requests it from his actors.

Bond and Jinx infiltrate the area of the North Korean base with the use of single person aircraft called Switchblades, invisible to radar, which they separate from at a certain point and parachute to the ground.

When the ASAT missile is fired at Icarus, the shot of the missile being launched from a Navy ship is actually manipulated stock footage from Tomorrow Never Dies. The missile does not hit its target. Icarus has automatic self defense capabilities and blasts the missile apart with a sun beam.

Bond's side of things was meant to be simple, too. He and Jinx get set up outside the air base fence and Bond is just going to assassinate Graves with a sniper shot as he gets back onto his cargo plane. But, Bond's perfect shot is blocked by a passing truck, so he and Jinx have to board the plane for the climactic action sequence.

The plane sequence was not in the script when the movie started filming, at which time there was thought given to having the movie end with an action sequence set at an indoor beach that might have been filmed in Japan. In previous drafts, there had been a sequence written for earlier in the movie where Bond and Jinx would be on a smaller aircraft that would fall apart while they were flying in it, but during production Tamahori decided to take that dropped idea, move it to the end and make it much bigger.

Aboard the cargo plane, Graves puts on a robotic suit that Vlad has made for him, along with his electric glove. The Icarus controls are part of the suit, replacing the large case they were in earlier. As the plane flies along, Graves has Icarus blast its concentrated beam of sun power down onto the DMZ, blowing up the minefield and clearing a path for hardliners in the North Korean military to begin an unauthorized invasion of the South. They won't need hovercrafts anymore. And when the South has been taken, Japan is next. They won't be stopped. If enemies fire nuclear missiles on them, Icarus will just blast them in the sky.

As the plane flies along, Graves has a disastrous reunion with his disapproving father before we get the final confrontations between villains and heroes - Jinx in a duel of blades with Frost and Bond vs. the robo-suited Graves - finishing with Lee Tamahori's modern, CGI-slathered version of the Icarus legend. (And it was he who named the satellite.)

I've always been ambivalent about Die Another Day, ever since I saw it on opening day. The theatre I went to that late November day in 2002 was, oddly, giving out samples of the new on the market Halls Fruit Breezers throat lozenges with every ticket sold. I was sort of in need of one, so that worked out. Even upon first viewing, DAD felt like two different movies to me. The first half was great, it was taking risks, putting Bond in new situations, the idea of the character being imprisoned and tortured for over a year was previously unthinkable. The stuff with him going rogue and heading off to Cuba, meeting up with a well-acted and likeable ally in the form of Raoul, driving a 1957 Ford Fairline and doing some good old investigating, I loved all that stuff. Then things went completely off the rails with bad dialogue and space lazers.

Despite being bothered by the second half, DAD was the first Bond movie that I went to see in the theatre twice. The first viewing I went to with my mother, the second I watched while she and a friend saw 8 Mile in a different auditorium in the same theatre, then her friend left and she and I made it a double feature day for both of us by seeing Steven Soderbergh's Solaris. After my first viewing of DAD, I had been left feeling like the movie had made a major tonal shift in the middle - the first half had been risky and down-to-earth, the second outlandish and goofy. On second viewing, the transition was smoother, and I began to see that even the more grounded half of the film still had a lighter tone and was presented in a rather candy coated way, and the outlandish elements were present early with the gene therapy.

I had issues with DAD, but at the time of its release I was mostly satisfied with it. Over time, my opinion on it has leaned further and further toward negative. The movie has its share of great moments, but it has more than its share of painful ones as well.

You can pick apart the elements of the movie, say it doesn't work because this is in it or that happens, but I think the source of its problems is the director. I don't think Lee Tamahori really understood Bond. People will often say that, at least until the recent hirings of directors like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes, the Bond series is a producer's franchise, that it doesn't matter who the director is, EON is always in control. While Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are certainly guardians of the brand and the character, I think they give their directors more leeway than they are often given credit for. The directors of the Brosnan era films each had their own specific visions for their movies, and when you hear Tamahori saying things like he considered having Zao get attacked by a killer whale at the end of the ice palace sequence, it's pretty apparent that he saw Bond as being a live action cartoon, and that's what he set out to deliver.

Tamahori was the decision maker behind some big changes, the events of the second half of the film seem to be very much on his shoulders. Everyone was in a fun, celebratory mood going into this one, it being the 40th anniversary film, and I think that enabled Tamahori to go way over the top. The second half feels like he just threw the script out and got carried away playing with all the big toys he had been given. Screenwriters Purvis and Wade have expressed displeasure with how the movie turned out, saying what they had in mind for the tone of the film was more like a 3 or 4 on a scale of 10, but Tamahori turned it up to 11. And the invisible car was not in their script.

In the end, after Moneypenny is seen attempting to release twenty films of sexual tension with the aid of the virtual reality glasses, we leave Bond and Jinx in a small Buddhist temple, playing with diamonds and exchanging some appalling lines. This is the last we see of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, as Die Another Day marks the end of his era.

A period of uncertainty about the future of the series seemed to follow the release of DAD. While it was always a given that James Bond would return, exactly how he would return would take a while to figure out. For a year, instead of focusing their attention on developing Bond 21, EON tried to get a Jinx spin-off movie off the ground. Halle Berry was going to return, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had a script written, and the project had a very interesting director signed - Stephen Frears, director of The Hit, The Grifters, High Fidelty, and Dirty Pretty Things. Then in late 2003, the project hit creative differences and was scuttled.

The idea was then to start filming Bond 21 in 2005, and at a point the decision was made that the movie would be an adaptation of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, which EON had gotten the rights to do in a trade between MGM and Sony in 1999.

At first, it looked like Pierce Brosnan would be returning to make Casino Royale his fifth movie in the role of Bond. He and EON were in negotiations, but they never could come to an agreement of terms and pay, so in early 2005 it became official that Brosnan would not be coming back. A lot of people were very upset by the news that Brosnan wouldn't be Bond again, and some of them somehow got the idea that he was a victim in this process, a view that some carry to this day. There's a misconception that he was dumped from the role, fired, but the fact is that he had fulfilled his contract. He was signed for three movies, which he fulfilled with GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World Is Not Enough, with the option for a fourth, which was picked up with Die Another Day. A new contract would've had to have been negotiated for him to do another movie, an attempt was made, it didn't work out. Brosnan got grumpy in the press during the process, but he wasn't a victim, there was nothing unfair about it.

With no Bond actor signed on, development on Casino Royale continued, taking a different path...

1 comment:

  1. No surprise here - I like this movie more than you do. I don't mind the Aston Martin Vanish - there is a YouTube video showing an actual adaptive camoflage care rolling down a city street in a commercial - no visual effects - so ten years later we have the car. I hate everything from the moment the ice pounds into the water until the live action Brosnan drops off the parachute. The lack of any human stunt activity in that all CGI action sequence was appalling. It was the end of an era. And I'm going to take up a bit for Pierce Brosnan here. Yes, he was made out as a victim, but here's the thing - he'd been pushing for Wilson and Broccoli to open up and take chances since he took over the role. He kept not getting any real response. They finally loosened up a bit for this movie. Then the word was in the wind that they were really going to take the series in a new direction with Casino Royale - and despite working with them for that new negotiation - Brosnan didn't get the chance to show what he could do with a movie like CR. It's too bad - I wish he could have - but at the same time I can't fault the producers for the decisions they've made from that point to now. And here we go with a four year wait for the next movie. *sigh*