January 14, 2012 2 Comments
Title: Tomorrow Never Dies
Year: 1997. Tomorrow Never Dies was a breakthrough artistic achievement that forever changed pop entertainment. It’s been called “a masterpiece,” the producer declared it could “never be recreated,” and one of the two writers said it’s like “the Dalai Lama chanting from a hilltop.” Wait a second, Oh man, I got confused. I’m talking about “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the last track on 1966’s Revolver that broadcast an end to the mop-topped Fab Four and established the Beatles as true innovators of music. My bad, Tomorrow Never Dies is actually the opposite of all that and is in fact a step backwards for the Bond franchise. Yah, sorry to get your hopes up but mine were pretty high for this film as well coming off the superb GoldenEye (1995). Tomorrow Never Dies is not as dreadful as its title (which is bad even by Bond title standards) but more like a stopgap film. Picture an odds and sods record put out to keep the fans quite and fulfill contractual obligations and you get the idea. All the things we want to see Bond doing are here, they’re just not done all that well. It’s almost as if everyone at EON took a great deep breath after proving Bond could be relevant in the 90’s with GoldenEye and decided to coast. As plugged in as he was in the last movie, here Bond is out of sync with the world around him. I’m reminded of another film about a man out of time that came out in 1997, and I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, because what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, or maybe His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. The running gag of The Big Lebowski (1997) is that The Dude, while appearing completely oblivious to everything going on around him, is in fact 100% tuned in, thanks mostly to keeping his mind limber. He is not the 60’s culture casualty that can’t function in the 90’s as he first appears to be (That would be Walter) but he is, as The Stranger said, a guy who fits right in there. And that’s the geniuses of the film, The Dude is so much a part of what’s happing while, Zen like, not actively participating that any lines between the character and the LA of the film are invisible. Dude and his world are in fact one while everyone he encounters is out of sync in one way or another and therefore become a complicated strand on old Duder’s head. The opposite can be said of the Bond character in Tomorrow Never Dies. He is a 60’s product who never feels like he’s part of the modern world he inhabits. 007 simply moves from point A to point B as dictated by the script. The plot, as it is, exists as an engine to move Bond forward while he is simply a passenger on the train, watching it all go past his window. This is the difference between “character driven” and “plot driven.” Both can be effective means of story telling. Hitchcock characters for example do what the plot demands because it demands them to, but if you’re going to go plot driven, you better have a damn good story. Sadly, for Bond’s 18th adventure, as Jackie Treehorn once lamented, “standards have fallen.”
Film Length: 1 hour and 59 minutes
Bond Actor: Pierce Brosnan’s early life is like something straight out of Dickens. Born in Ireland, Pierce moved to England at a young age (hence his accent) to live with his grandparents after his father left and his mother could not afford to keep him. When Pierce was 6, his grandparents died and the young boy floated between relatives and boarding houses until at 10, his mother was finally able to take him back. While a teen in London he became interested in acting and eventually moved to New York with Broadway dreams. He got some smaller roles and met his future wife, actress Cassandra Harris, who was in For Your Eyes Only (1981) and introduced Pierce to Cubby Broccoli. He then landed the lead on “Remington Steele,” a role that would make him known while costing him his first shot at playing Bond in 1987. Tragedy continued visiting Brosnan when in 1991 he lost Cassandra to ovarian cancer. (He was remarried in 2001 to Keely Smith.) Brosnan is undoubtedly an incredibly handsome man but he is far more then a pretty face. When called upon to do so, he can play hurt and vulnerable in ways that suggest he’s pulling from his difficult life. You got ta pay you’re dues to sing da blues and Brosnan has done so in spades. Tomorrow Never Dies gives him exactly one opportunity to do some dramatic acting and he makes the most of it. Circumstances are such that one of Bond’s old flames is now married to the main baddie. Having laid his cards on the table at a party earlier in the evening, Bond now waits in his hotel room wondering who will show up, the girl or an assassin. Or will they be one in the same? 007 sits in chair, facing the door, drinking straight vodka from a glass he re-fills with a bottle that rests at his side. This is not martins at a glamorous dinner; this is a man drinking for answers. When the lady does show up the two cut right to the case and old wounds are reopened. Pierce plays the scene as a man who has been hurt and has drank just enough to wash away the filters of politeness. This is not a shouting drunk but a confrontational one. Brosnan plays it perfect and it gives us a peak behind the Bond curtain. I wish we had more moments like this and as it turns out, so dose Pierce. That said, he’s a mixed bag for the rest of movie. He has a few great moments where he gives what I call the “Indy Smirk.” One of the best things about the almost perfect Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is all those little, subtitle smiles Indy allows himself in his prouder moments. Recall the “Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip” scene. After Indy misses the jump over the pit he is hanging on the ledged when he finds some roots sticking out the ground. He grabs them, begins to pull himself up, and smiles. With this smile he seems to be thinking “Wow, I’m going to get out of this after all.” Then, the roots get pulled loose, he beings to slip, and the smile instantly becomes concern and panic. Ahhh, when Harrison Ford used to act. Anyway, there are moments here, like when Bond “returns” his rental car by smashing it through the front window of the Avis shop, where Brosnan embraces the absurdity of the moment gives himself the “Indy Smile.” But then there are other points where it is clear the actor is simply hitting his marks. Peirce was accidently hit by a stuntman during production resulting in a knee injury and a scar on his top lip. Perhaps Peirce was “playing hurt” but I think his flat performance is thanks to more then an injury. There is something about the role of James Bond that beats actors down. You can see it on Brosnan’s face in his interviews on the DVD extras for this movie. All the enthusiasm from the last film is gone. He looks worn out and answers the questions like he’s giving the correct answers at a job interview. After only two films, the shine has worn off for Pierce. That all said, after we watched Tomorrow Never Dies the wife declared Pierce is her favorite 007 and a far better action hero then any previous Bond, so what the hell do I know? To quote my friend Brian Pappis, “It’s good if you like it.”
Director: Roger Spottiswoode. Who? Let’s look em up … Yikes. To glance at his IMDB director credits is to see a man hell bent on destroying A-List actors’ careers. He got his start as an editor for the late, great Sam Peckinpah and like John Glen before him Spottiswoode should have stuck with cutting. His directorial debut was the second rate John Carpenter rip-off Terror Train (1980) which even stared Carpenter’s “queen of scream” James Lee Curtis. Spottiswoode went on to firmly establish himself as a hack-for-hire and Carpenter sloppy second aficionado by directing Kurt Russell in Best of Times (1986). He helmed Turner & Hooch (1989) with a pre A League of Their Own (1992) Tom Hanks staring opposite a dog, the very definition of carrier suicide, the unwatchable Air America (1990) staring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr., and he put the final nail in Sly Stallone’s career coffin with Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992). What did EON see in this cat? Martin Campbell was asked back but turned the job down not wanting to do two Bond films in a row. I suspect Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson weren’t necessarily broken up about his decision to not return. Everything I’ve read and seen about Campbell says he’s an incredibly strong personality with a stronger vision and not easily controlled. With Cubby gone, his daughter and her husband were now running the biggest and most profitable show in town, and I think they felt the need to flex their muscle. Take this quote from Brosnan. “That was always the frustrating thing about the role. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson play it so safe. The pomposity and rigmarole that they put directors through is astounding…” Based on that and other things I’ve read, I’d imagine Broccoli and Wilson wanted someone they could push around and impose their own vision upon sitting in the director’s chair. All they needed was a guy who knew his way around a film set enough to not trip over the cables and deal with all that annoying “techie stuff.” Indeed, this is a Bond film with no vision at all except to promote “the 007 brand” and push products like BMW in the process. It a movie where the trailer plays better then the film. It hits all the marks but does so as an exercise in hitting the marks. OK, make sure Q makes the joke about getting the car back in one piece and perhaps we should make sure he says BMW again, just to make sure the audience gets it. I’m not sure how handcuffed Spottiswoode was but he’s managed to make a lower case “b” bond film. For a former editor its unreal how bad he is at creating a scene. Establishing shot is a dirty word to this man and pacing is non-existent. With few exceptions this is a film that gives the audience only what’s necessary, unless setting up a bad joke, and hurdlers gracelessly onto the next bit of business. I had no idea where I was or what was happening in the climatic boat battle. The set was black and everything is so dark that all sense of perspective is lost, a pity since everything is taking place on what is clearly a huge set. Stuff was just exploding everywhere, missiles were being shot into the deck of a boat, and yet not one leak was sprung. At other moments, in the middle of action, Spottiswoode would insert a slow-mo shot for no reason what-so-ever. I’m not taking about slowing the film down in an attempt to emphasize something; it was just random shots out of a sequence. This happens several times in the film with no continuity as to when or where it will happen. All I can think is the shots weren’t long enough to fill the hole so he simply extended them in edit. It’s like no one storyboarded this thing and if they did, they did so poorly or Spottiswoode didn’t stick to the game plan. The entire enterprise has a slapdash “lets fix it in post” feel, remarkable when you consider the budget. There are great moments in this movie and a few of the action set piece are quite well done but I can say without a doubt that this is the most poorly directed Bond film up to this point.
Reported Budget: $110,000,000 estimated. Wow, that would be nearly double the last film which was made just two years previous. This ridiculous jump, as far as I can figure out, was courtesy of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who had taken over MGM (for the third time) shortly after GoldenEye was released. Kerkorian’s dream was to get MGM listed on the NY Stock Exchange and he saw James Bond has one of his blue chip assets. In a move that could have been dreamt up by Elliot Carver, the billionaire media mogul baddie in this film, Kerkorian ordered that the new Bond film’s release coincide with his big IPO. Kerkorian threw money at the project to rush it along and with the 9 digit budget came immense pressure on Broccoli and Wilson to deliver on time. Shit, as they say, roles down hill and Spottiswoode was handed a compressed production schedule forcing him and his crew to work quicker then they would have like in order to meet the tight deadline. “Ars Gratia Artis” indeed.
Reported Box-office: $125,332,007 USA and $335,000,000 worldwide. I’m not so sure the investors were doing cartwheels over this one. To be fare, Tomorrow Never Dies happened to open on the same day as Titanic (1997) so that little movie sucked up a bunch of the box-office. Good enough for #10 in the US, Bond was also good enough to fight off other Bondesque entries like The Saint #28, The Jackal #33, and The Peacemaker #55. However, take away the Bond name and I feel this movie would be just as forgettable as those other offerings. This movie is about branding and product, which is fine I guess but if you keep adding water to the martini, people will eventually notice the lack of punch. 1997 also saw the release of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. A dud at the box-office (#36) the film gained a huge cult following on video and the rest, as they say, is history baby. Forget the two horrendous sequels for now, the first Austin Powers film is fantastic and a better made movie then Tomorrow Never Dies. That is to say, the Bond parody is better then the genuine article, providing the short and dirty answer for exactly where the Bond brand was in 1997.
Theme Song: “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow. I feel for Sheryl Crow, I truly do. I’d imaging two days with Lance Armstrong would be the longest two months of your life. “Hi, I’m Texas born Lance Armstrong and your not. Let me first say I never did steroids. Indeed cancer ate away most of my lungs but I can still climb mountains and win Le Tour 37 times in a row. I, Lance Armstrong, am living proof you can beat cancer. If you want to help you can buy my armband to support cancer research and what? My girlfriend has cancer? Tell my press agent to tell Sheryl I’m dumping her. LIVE STRONG!” So yah, that’s terrible, truly sorry Sheryl. However, when it comes to Sheryl Crow as a performer I don’t particularly care for her brand of benign L.A. pop. I know she gets respect from everyone from Keith Richards on down but every time I hear her whine “All I want to do is have some fun…” I need to listen to Lou Reed’s “Berlin” just to cleanse my palette. So, with my personal taste in mind, this song sucks. Problem one is Crow who is doing her best torch singer impression and simply can’t pull it off. She also co-wrote the tune that I swear to God has the following lines “martinis, girls, and guns, it’s murder on our love affair. But you bet your life every night, while you chase in the morning light, you’re not the only spy out there.” It’s perfect in a way for this film; a checklist for dummies on what James Bond is all about. The end credit music manages somehow to be more embarrassing. It a remix of the classic Bond theme done by Moby which actually samples Connery saying “Do you expect me to talk?” and Goldfinger’s famous reply.
Opening Titles: Bond audience, meet CGI. Even the gun barrel looks all kinds of digital. The credits are kind of clever in that they embrace this new form of film making head on. The sequence starts with some binary code inside some circuitry that gives way to morphing women and black and white negative images. We get TV scan lines and x-ray images all layered one below the next implying we are going deeper, behind the tech, into the internet, pulling back the curtain to see what makes it all tick. Great idea but a false promise, the film that follows is all surface and gloss. Oh, and martinis, girls, and guns. Plenty of that.
Opening Action Sequence: Speaking of digital, the first DVD I ever saw happened to be this movie. My best friend growing up moved to Seattle and I went out to visit him. Let’s call him Tom. Tom had gotten a place in Capital Hill with another mutual friend who had been in Emerald City for a few years. Let’s call him Jonas. It was my first time in Seattle and it was one of those magical trips I’ll never forget. It had to have been 1999 because the Billy Bragg / Wlico record Mermaid Ave. had just been released and it became our non-stop soundtrack for the trip. Tom and I went out to The Comet and The Elysian my first night in town and proceed to limber our minds. When we returned to the apartment Jonas, who is one of the biggest movies guys I know, told me he had recently gotten a DVD player. Did I want to check it out? Hell and yah! He had a bunch of movies but said the best thing to watch to see the true superiority of DVD over VHS when it comes to both picture and sound was the latest James Bond. The opening alone he promised would blow my mind. The jump from VHS to DVD, and this was before HDTV, was truly life changing. When is the last time you’ve watched a VHS? The colors blur, blacks get crushed, any kind of background is non-existent, and the audio sounds like your listen to everything though a soup can string phone. As for the DVD, the shots of the missile screaming forward, the sound of the jet engine blowing over a jeep, the vivid red and orange explosions on the white snow covered mountain background; I couldn’t turn away. Needless to say the first two things I picked up when I returned to New York were a DVD player and Mermaid Ave. Thanks for the memories Tom and Jonas. As for that opening, Bond is spying on a “terrorist arms bizarre” which I picture would be something like “The Rockaway Flee Market” in North Jersey where as a kid I could buy anything from a butterfly knife to nun chucks to Chinese stars. M and her MI6 crew are watching the goings on from headquarters, which is nice because they can provide the commentary. Look, that’s the dude who was responsible for the Tokyo subway attack. And wow, that guy looks just like Ricky Jay, who according to MI6 “practically invented techno terror.” Henry Gupta is his name and he started as a radical at Berkeley in the 60’s now works for highest bidder which is perfect; he’s a sellout just like the rest of the baby boomer generation. Sorry Mom and Dad, you know its true; your generation ruined it all. I digress, turns out Gupta is spotted holding a missing American encoder which controls this new fangled GPS. Yes, there was time when GPS was a military tool and not a toy used to check into Starbucks on Four Square. Enter Admiral Roebuck, one of the most annoying characters in a Bond film since Sheriff J.W. Pepper. We will get to him a moment but for now he decided to blow up the flea market and take out half the worlds terrorist in one shot. M protests, he ignores her, and well after the missile is launched, Bond sends back photos of a Russian jet with nuclear warheads on it sitting right in the middle of the targeted zone. “Can’t your people keep anything locked up?” the Admiral asks a Russian who happens to be in the war room (But he’ll see the big board!!!) So, Bond must get in the plane and take off before the missile hits the sight. This involves him getting into the cockpit and destroying half the base before he even takes off. It’s exciting and well edited but it also never quite gets going because we are constantly cutting back to M and crew watching on the monitors like a room full of fans waiting to see if the game winning felid goal is good. Bond ends up playing chicken on the runway with another jet and the two take off, just missing each other, as the entire bizarre goes boom. It’s a good thing Bond knows how to pilot a Russian MIG because he instantly finds himself engaged in a dogfight having to not only deal with his enemy but also the surrounding mountains and Oh, that guy in the back of his plane who just woke up and is strangling Bond with some kind of lanyard. Making like Jack Nicholson’s least favorite waitress, Bond holds the yolk “between his knees” to keep flying while he fights the backseat dude. It’s around this time Bond remembers the “look at the birdie” scene from Top Gun (1986) and flies his plane directly under the second MIG. A quick hit of the eject seat and his passenger flies up into the other plane’s back seat and then the plane spins off and blows up. “Ask the Admiral where he’d like his bomb delivered.” If the writing here feels a little passionless and utilitarian that is by design, it’s what this sequences feels like as well. The open stands on its own rather well and works on an action level but it fails to bring us into Bond’s world. The GoldenEye open had amazing stunts but more importantly it transported us to the time and place where the action was happing. Here we feel like M, removed and just watching it all on the big screen. But damn does that DVD look good.
Bond’s Mission: We join the HMS Devonshire, a British frigate dealing with two MIG’s they believe to have hostel intent. Jesus, this is Top Gun. Anyway, the Chinese MIG’s insist the ship is in the South China Sea while the boat’s radar shows them to be in international waters. The Brits are mistaken but since they have a satellite fix telling them otherwise they continue to rattle the saber. See, if just one of these alleged “sailors” knew basic seamanship he could break out his sextant and put the whole matter to rest. Alas, standards have fallen in the Royal Fleet. Turns out Henry Gupta escaped the missile attack on the terrorist swap meet with his decoder (How? We have no idea) and is now helping an Aryan named Mr. Stamper screw with the GPS system on the Devonshire. Stamper and Gupta are not far off the bow of the Devonshire aboard a “stealth boat,” kind of a catamaran crossed with the Bat-plane. True, it’s the most astatically unpleasing mode of transport since the AMC Pacer but it allows the baddies to lurk about in the dark seas undetected. The stealth boat then launches a torpedo that looks more like one of those tunnel digging rigs with the several spinning rock cutters on the front and sinks the Devonshire. We are treated to all the Hollywood sinking boat shots that truly terrify me but amidst the exploding bulkheads and trapped crewmen drowning we get our first of the random slow-mo shots for no reason. Kind of sucked me right out, reminding me I was not on a sinking ship but sitting in my living room so I took another sip o Yuengling. Meanwhile these poor bastards are drowning and even worse they radio back the wrong position thanks to the tomfoolery with the GPS so any chance of being saved is erased. Not that it would matter; Mr. Stamper shoots and kills all the survivors with “Asian ammo,” whatever the hell that is, so that the Brits would think the Chinese sunk the ship and killed the sailors. Stamper works for a media mogul who set the Brits and Chinese against each other with the hopes of starting WWIII. Back at the Bat-cave, M has this all pretty much figured out, well at least the “who” bit, and here comes Admiral Roebuck. The first issue is the MI6 war room. So effective in the last film, here the space works against the M scenes. Throughout the movie Spottiswoode proves he has no clue how to shoot large spaces and since the MI6 room is very big and very dark the characters just kind of float in a limbo. The scene would be so much more effective if taking place in say M’s old office, with M behind the large desk giving the proper weight to what’s being disguised, mainly should they start WWIII. Instead the players look like four co-works standing outside a freight elevator taking a smoke break. So, England is on the brink of war and the PM has M, the head of MI6, and Admiral Roebuck, some kind of military muckety-muck, standing before him in this void of a space. M wants to investigate further and Admiral Roebuck wants to drop the bomb. We remember how well Roebuck’s “drop the bomb” strategy worked out at the terrorist bizarre five minutes ago but somehow no one in the film recalls the Admiral’s colossal blunder. No matter, the Admiral’s function in the film is to make the wrong decision every time. He is a useful idiot (useful as far as creating easy if unnecessary tension) who is one of the laziest of lazy plot devices. I became keenly aware of this character thanks to Siskel & Ebert’s review of Die Hard (1988). A split, Gene liked the film’s action well enough but Roger couldn’t get past the police chief played by Paul Gleason. Ebert’s point; how did this guy get to be in charge? All he does is make wrong choice after wrong choice putting everyone in further danger. He ignores Sgt. Al Powell, who’s been on the scene from the get go, and blindly plows ahead when all evidence suggests he ought to do the opposite. Now, it is true M can’t give up the name of the media mogul she suspects is behind everything because of his ties to the PM. I also like the idea of the military and MI6 chafing when it comes to dealing with an extremely volatile situation but none of those arguments are made here. Instead, we get chirping and snipping until the Admiral calls M out for not having “the balls for the job.” She and Bond just bailed you out ass hat! And besides, we got the M-doesn’t-have-balls-joke in the last film and that time it was, you know, funny. So now we have an exasperated PM delivering a line out of countless Dirty Harry rip-offs, “Tell your man he has 48 hours.” So, Bond has two days to prove M’s theory and stop WWIII. Giddy up.
Villain’s Name: Elliot Carver AKA The Emperor of the Air. The first time we see him is in an extreme close-up, only one of his eyes is visible. The other is hidden behind the reflection of a newspaper headline on his spectacles. Indeed, Elliot Carver is the kind of guy who doesn’t wear glasses. He wears spectacles. He is an all powerful media baron capable of “swinging an election with a single broadcast” and now he needs a big ongoing story for the launch of his new 24-hour news network. A war would do nicely. Much like Charles Foster Kane, Carver has the power to tell people what to think. Carver, like Kane, is said to be based on William Randolph Hearst who Carver even quotes at one point “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” Hearst said his famous line during the build up to the Spanish-America War, a war many feel was pushed along by Hearst and his main competitor Joseph Pulitzer in 1898. I remember when Tomorrow Never Dies came out one of the criticisms was a media CEO is not a diabolical enough villain for a Bond picture. I don’t think that’s the issue, I think the problem is Michael Wilson, to quote Admiral Roebuck, doesn’t have the balls for the job. To use a 100 year old war started by newspapers in the age of 24 hour news cycles is disingenuous at best when you consider the fact that a real life, living, breathing, Elliot Carver was controlling the media in the UK as the film was being made. Elliot Carver should be Rupert Murdoch. If anyone who was making this film was honest with themselves, Elliot Carver would be Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, in 1997 Murdoch’s FOX News had yet to sway the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election when candidate Bush’s first cousin, John Ellis, the “freelance political advisor” at FOX, called Florida, a state where his other cousin Jeb Bush was governor, a win for Bush when every other network had given it to candidate Gore or saw it was too close to call. Also true Murdoch had yet to be exposed for the vial phone tapping scandal that very well may have cost a kidnap victim her life. (The investigation is still on going as of this writing.) But in England, where Murdoch and his minions openly pulled the strings of members of British Parliament and had a standing invitation to 10 Downing Street, the head of News Corp. was known to be a villain, and a powerful one at that. Perhaps EON, like the PM standing before M in the war room, couldn’t take on Murdoch head-on. In fact, Michael Wilson casts himself in the film as one of Carver’s puppets (“consider him slimed sir”) making it almost too easy to see the producer as fearful of Murdoch’s wrath. This is a franchise that prides itself on up-to-the-minute ripper-from-the-headlines plot points (Bond was the first movie to ever show a laser!) yet here they go back to a war most people have never even heard of for their inspiration?
Why go after someone that can really hurt you, much easier to pick on a guy who’s been dead for 75 years. The idea of Murdoch as a Bond villain is spot on, but Carver is no Murdoch and I can’t help but see the character as an opportunity missed. Taking it the next logical step, I can’t help but see the opportunity being missed because of a lack of courage … and balls.
Villain Actor: Jonathan Pryce. For me, Price will always be Sam Lowry lost and losing it in Brazil (1985). He’s a fantastic actor who does what he can with the role, like when he mocks an Asian woman’s kung fu, but ultimately he’s flat. I can’t pin it all on Price, the script doesn’t help and unfortunately for him, Carver is one of the less memorable Bond villains. Not because the idea of a media mogul is a bad one, but because the film refuses to pull the trigger and make him a compelling villain with true motives.
Villain’s Plot: Carver (like Murdock) is a newspaper man at heart. Even at his elevated position, Carver e is constantly writing and rewriting headlines. Now, he is launching himself into the 24-hour cable news world and that is given as his reason for starting the war. I don’t buy it. Yes, he wants eyeballs on his news network and indeed, ratings are nice. After all, the first Gulf War put CNN on the map in 1991. However, it’s not really about ratings for guys like Murdoch or Hearst or Carver, it’s about power. It’s not about delivering the news but shaping a worldview. I’m a Mets fan….done laughing? No really get it out, it’s cool. OK, so as a Mets fan I hop the 7 train to Citifield as often as I can. Like most ballparks there are a bunch of advertisements hanging all over the outfield. One of the ads is for FOX Business Network. The only other word on the billboard other then the name of the channel is POWER. Not information, not accuracy, not timeliness, but POWER, in huge letters right over Jason Bay’s head. Carver talks about ratings, saying he wants exclusive TV rights in China for the next 100 years so he can have one billion people watching and he stops there. This is 100% wrong. It’s the fact that those one billon people live in a closed society with a government controlled internet and will have no choice other then to believe everything Carver tells them. The China deal is about having a pipeline to control the country that controls the largest Army on earth. It’s about being a modern day Joseph Goebbels. It’s about having absolute power. The film only needed to go half a step further to say all of this. Shit, Bond films love to have the villain make grandiose speeches. All you would need is a little something like “Ratings Mr. Bond? Ohhh, I’m afraid you’re thinking too small. The problem with the press is we are given too much freedom. Freedom to say whatever we want! Freedom to control the message and to control the message is to control the people. Say, I want to cover up Golden Saks shady sales of toxic loans. Done and I get a little kickback for my trouble while the people do their business as usual. Or, say I want to suppress that nasty torture bit at Abu Ghraib, claim global warming is a hoax, or even declare evolution itself is a myth, all I need to do is say it enough times and people will accept it as fact. If I want people to think Kim Kardashian is happily married and doing charity work in Calcutta, so be it! I can make the sky green and the grass blue and everyone of those people out there will not only believe me, they act according to my whim whhahhahhha!” Done and done. With a little bit of dialog Carver is a king maker and a Kardashian defender; in other words a true threat to the free world.
Villain’s Lair: I have never seen a TV studio that looks like Carvers. He hold his opening party in space that is the most “set” looking set in a Bond film since Blofeld’s volcano in You Only Live Twice (1967). The place looks like a Euro-trash disco which is OK I guess, this is after all Hamburg, but later when everyone clears out Carver is in this space with absolutely no one. Have you ever seen a 24-hour news gathering operation? It makes those shots they show of traders on the floor of the NYSE in films look organized. In fact, no one works at Carver’s TV station, the paper, or anywhere in Carver’s empire, unless they are employed in security. It’s one more example of the film beginning lazy, not well thought out, and once again exposes our director as unable to handle the large sets that dominate Bond films. Take the other space where Carver spends his time, the stealth boat. The interior is again a dark, huge, soulless room but at least there are a few people turning knobs to give the appearance of a crew. By the by, we are told the boat can hit 48 knots which is 55.2 MPH. Not bad for a craft with no discernable propulsion system.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: I like his smugness. He not only assumes he is the smartest guy in the room; he disregards everyone, including his wife, unless he can use them for something. His arrogance is boundless “I will reach and influenced more people on this planet then anyone in history save God himself, and all he managed was a sermon on the mountain.” That’s good stuff and something that Carver no doubt believes. Indeed, his company is not only run as a dictatorship, it looks like one as well, what with his image everywhere, looking down on his kingdom like big brother. It’s a little odd, I can’t picture Les Moonves draping a 20 story banner of his face on Black Rock but then again, he is the boss of the extremely Bond villain sounding company Viacom so it might happen one day.
Badassness of Villain: Citizen Kane (1941) is essentially about a quest to find out why newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane did what he did. Kane is a villain who ruined many lives but he wasn’t a bad man as much as he was misguided and empty. Kane didn’t realize he was destroying everything around him to fill the large emotional void left by his father until it finally destroyed him. Carver on the other hand is the boy running around on his sled. He’s got a toy, this media empire, and man wouldn’t it been neat to start a war. He does it because he can. We over hear him delivering an amusing anecdote at his party where he denies spreading the rumors of mad cow disease to get back at a beef baron who stiffed him 100,000 pounds at a poker game. However, he didn’t dispute that he received 1,000,000 from a French cattleman to keep the stories going for another year. I guess he’s saying he’s for sale for the right price? I’m not sure. He displays such detachment I don’t know if he is so much badass as much as soulless. He orders 17 British sailors to be shot as you or I would order a ham sandwich. He barely blinks after having his own wife killed and is more concerned with writing her obit. The only moment we see a hint that perhaps this man is human is when Bond breaks into his safe to steal the American decoder. There, locked up with this most powerful tool, are baggies of dope, a few syringes and some porn. What does this man do when he’s alone?
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Someone like Carver needs a good #2, a buffer between him and his evil deeds. Murdoch, for example, has Roger Ailes. I know for a fact that when Ailes had his office on the second floor of the FOX News building in Manhattan it was encased in bomb proof glass and was as accessible as Ft. Knox even for his own employees. (He has since moved to higher floors in the same 6th Ave. building.) The man has several security men as well as members of the NYPD walk him to his car parked in the underground garage and he is never, ever seen in public, especial in New York City. He fears not only al-Qaeda but, and I’m not making this up, the homosexual plot against him. If that’s not a Bond villain then I don’t know what is. Mr. Stamper is no Roger Ailes. He functions in the Jaws role as a henchman; an enforcer who gets physical while the villain waxes philosophical. He’s fine but not all that memorable. The other two henchmen on the other hand are by far the best things about the movie. The underused Ricky Jay, who is hands down the most interesting man in Hollywood, plays Henry Gupta. His credits and accomplishments are so vast I will not get into it here but only to say that in the same year this film came out he also played the porn film cameraman in Boogie Nights (1997). His bitching about the integrity of his shot and lighting to Burt Reynolds “there are shadows in life babe” is movie magic. Please allow me once again give an example of Spottiswoode’s complete lack of understanding of what makes a good film. On the DVD extras there are some outtakes. One of them features Ricky Jay, as Gupta, doing his famous trick where he throws playing cars so hard they slice fruit and even become imbedded in hard surfaces. The scene is a visual nod to Oddjob’s hat trick. It also adds a human level to Gupta, despicable baby boomer that he is. It lasted all of 15 seconds. It was cut…for time. Thank God for Dr. Kaufman played by Brooklyn born character actor Vincent Schiavelli. In a film allergic to detail and nuance, Kaufman embraces both. Dressed in a suit two times too big, wearing a wispy mustache, and speaking in a cartoon evil German accent, he is a hit man of the highest order. He enters Bond’s hotel room and sits in a chair. A dead woman is on the bed next to Bond. Kaufman killed her and now plans on framing Bond after he kills him to make it look like a murder/suicide. “I am an outstanding marksman’s take my word, yah?” Bond points out the hit man is standing in the wrong spot, it will not look as if Bond killed himself due to the trajectory of the built. “Believe me Mr. Bond I could shot you from Stuttgrad un still create ze proper effect.” Just then the doctor gets a call on the radio. It turns out Stamper and his goons are having trouble breaking into Bond’s BMW which contains the decoder. “Did you call ze auto club? OK, ya I ask. This is very embarrassing, they want me to make you unlock ze car, I feel like an idiot. I don’t know what to say.” It’s fantastic, a professional being thrown off his game by incompetent accomplices. Of course this gives Bond an opportunity to turn the tables and in short order he is pointing the gun at the doctor. “Please, I’m only a professional doing a job.” “Me too” says Bond as he pulls the trigger. Kaufman is only on screen for about three minutes but he absolutely steals the show and goes down in the annals as one of the best Bond villains.
Bond Girl Actress: Michelle Yeoh. I instantly recognized her as Yu Shu Lien from the wonderful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), one of the best films of that year. Already a star in Asia, this was one of her first English roles and as many times as I write that for various Bond women, I never tire of it. Bond films catch a lot of flack, more often then not deservedly so, for being misogynist. Fare enough, but then they must also be praised and given credit for going out of the way to cast different nationalities and different forms of beauty in the Bond girl role. At least a dozen actresses have waltzed through Hollywood’s front door on a red carpet thanks to being cast as the Bond girl. The other lady in Bond’s life in this movie is Terri Hatcher who unlike Yeoh is right off Hollywood’s A-list.
Bond Girl’s Name: Colonel Wai Lin of the Chinese People’s External Security Force outranks Commander Bond of the Royal Navy. In the press materials for every Bond film someone, typically the director or leading lady, says something like “This time it’s not your typical Bond girl.” This maybe the first time they are correct. Yes, Triple-X was a Major in the Russian military and Dr. Goodhead was a CIA agent but they always kind of took a back seat to Bond when the bullets starting flying. Not Wai Lin. She has a hand-to-hand combat scene all to her own in which she kicks some serious baddie ass before Bond waltzes in at the very end. She also has her very own Q lab, a Saigon bicycle shop that with a few key strokes on her Chinese character keyboard (red of course) turns into a spy’s paradise complete with a fire breathing dragon statues that could double as Benihana lobby décor, a fan that sprays deadly darts and more guns guns guns then the parking lot at a Virginia NRA convention. Much like 007 and XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me(1977), Bond and Lin are forced to overcome the political divide between their two governments and work toward the greater good. In one of the few displays of wit in the movie, Bond and Wai Lin spend a good portion of the film literally glued together at the hip thanks to a pair of handcuffs. The central set piece of the film involves the two escaping Carver’s men on a motorcycle. They are cuffed left hand to right so in order to operate the bike Bond has one hand on one handle while she controls the other. “Pop the clutch.” The motorcycle chase thorough the market streets of Saigon starts out exciting enough but by the time it was halfway over I started thinking about video games. Now, I hate when someone says an action sequence or a movie is like a video game. Typically what they mean by the criticism is to say the movie is all action and no soul. This is very unfair to video games as anyone who has ever played Portal or Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption or Mass Effect or countless other video games will tell you.
At this point, technology is such that video games are able to create worlds and characters as rich as any found in film or literature. When I say I was reminded of video games during the chase I’m referring to the “structure” and “build” of the sequence. Form the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong until now, video games have worked best when they incorporate some kind of leveling up as the player progresses through the game. Complete level one and the level two may be faster, the enemies may be more powerful, the environment may throw you a few more curve balls, or maybe all three. The idea is that as you advance, things get harder. This is done to avoid repeating the same thing over and over and keep the player involved. This form of storytelling of courses goes back to the Greeks, with each increasingly difficult trial the hero proves his worth and gets closer to the goal. Films build to the final showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist so this is not new. But this leveling up typically walks hand in hand with another video game staple, which is the game will provide the solution to any problem, always. Otherwise, you couldn’t finish the game, which is designed to be played and eventually won. (That is unless you’re playing Dark Souls in which case all bets are off and you’re on your own.) So, if you need a gun, look around the board long enough and you will find a gun. Need to cross that river, sure as shit you will find something in the environment you can fashion into a bridge. Back to the motorcycle chase, the whole thing happens on city blocks that look like they were designed for Mario Cart. There are ramps and levels and pop up obstacles that exist only to make Bond and Wai Lin deal with increasing difficult driving conditions. But whenever they need to get up onto a roof, there is a board perfectly positioned to act as a way upward. They need to jump from one roof to the next and there is a ramp for their convenience. When they need to take cover to hide from a helicopter, there is hut they can drive right into. All of this of course builds up to what in video game speak is called a “boss battle.” Everything you do in many games is a warm up to prep you for the finally show down with the baddest of badass baddies. This will at first seem to be an unwinnable fight, until you find the bosses weakness. There is always one. So here the motorcycle chase all builds up to the point where Bond and Wai Lin are trapped in an ally with nowhere to go. The helicopter is at the other side of the street and the two face each other like gunfighters in the streets of Tombstone. The helicopter pitches forward and starts to move in on Bond and Wai Lin, the blades making minced meat of anything they come in contact with. “Trapped” says Wai Lin, “never” answers Bond as they look around the environment and find the exact thing they need to beat the boss, a clothesline. Our two heroes grab the line, gun the bike toward the helicopter, slides under the blades and once safely on the other side, toss the line into the blades. As the chopper spins and explodes the environment once again proves the ideal solution, a washbasin large enough to fit two people. Our heroes jump in and hide safely underwater as the chopper explodes in a fireball overhead. To top it all off, none of this was necessary. Now in the clear, Wai Lin picks the handcuff lock with her earring, and she’s off and running. Like Dorothy, she had the power to go home the whole time. Then there is Paris Carver, I can only assume the long suffering wife of Elliot. She and James have a past that is wisely kept opaque. We do get a sold hint that way back when she was quite a handful. “He will have a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred…” “…and the lady will have a shot of tequila.” “Mrs. Carver will have some champagne from Mr. Carver’s cellar.” Perhaps they met on spring break. As discussed earlier, Bond’s best bit in the film is his drunken bedroom meeting with Mrs. Carver. But like almost everything in this film, what starts as interesting ends in cliché as these two talented actors have to deliver dialog like “Did I get to close?” as the music swells.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: This is one of the stranger films when it comes to Jimmy B’s sex life. First off, he not only sleeps with Carver’s wife, it’s an encounter that means something to both of them. They make love as opposed to have sex, if you will. Bond has banged the baddies babe before but (alliteration rocks!) sleeping with a man’s wife is a little different. Particularly if you care for his wife and you know he’s going to find out and more then likely kill her. Take For Your Eyes Only (1981) where Bond sleep with the baddies mistress, Countess Lisl von Schaff who was played by Brosnen’s future wife Cassandra Harris. She is killed by Locque and when Bond finally gets his revenge, he kicks Locque over a cliff in one of the more memorable moments in Bond history. Here in Tomorrow Never Dies, the grim reality of what Bond did and the outcome, a dead woman, is never dealt with in a direct way. Why not? Because that would require some work on the filmmakers’ part, so like so many other things in the movie, it’s glossed over and then dropped entirely. As for Wai Lin, she is all business and in a rather refreshing fashion, spurns every advance by the spy from the corrupt capitalist nation. Bond in fact never sleeps with his leading lady, which if I’m not mistaken is a first.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond to Paris Carver when they first come face to face “I always wondered how I would feel if I saw you again…” smack to the face. “Now I know.”
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Paris Carver to Bond shortly after the slap “Do you still sleep with a gun under the pillow?”
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2. Since he doesn’t get to have the Bond girl I guess they needed to throw in a blond at the top. The first time we see James after the open he is “brushing up on a little Danish” with his language tutor Prof. Inga Bergstorm at his alma mater Cambridge. Then there is the Paris meeting in Hamburg, which leads to her death. That’s it. True, after the stealth boat is distorted Bond and Wai Lin share a kiss while floating on wreckage but there is no position in the Karma Sutra that Bond and his marshal arts expert partner could pull of without end up at the bottom of the sea.
Number of People 007 Kills: In the days of yore, Bond had his trusty Walther PPK and we could keep track of where his bullets landed. Now, Bond prefers picking up a machine gun from a downed baddie and going to town. This is surely much more effective for the agent but its hell on the body count department. We will, in the interest of accurate reporting, do our best. In the open Bond gets into a cockpit and lets loose with both bullets and missiles. Many trucks, planes and crates of weapons are destroyed and our spotter counted three terrorist killed. Once airborne, Bond’s little ejector seat trick takes out two more baddies. After getting Paris killed, all be it indirectly but I think 007 bears some responsibility, he puts a single bullet into Dr. Kaufman. Bond breaks into Carver’s TV station where he gets his hands on a machine gun and shoots down at least one guy while escaping. This maybe a good place to note that Carver’s men have the aim of drunken imperial storm troopers on ice skates. Watching them shoot at Bond I was reminded of the scene in The Dead Pool (1988) where Harry and his lady are in a glass elevator, literally fish in a barrel. Two baddies with machine guns open fire on the elevator and unleash 300 or so bullets, not hitting either of the people trapped in the glass box. Harry then fires off three bullets to kill both men. We counted four guys in the chopper that Bond downed with the clothesline leading us to the climatic battle. While running around under the stealth boat (it’s like a catamaran) he knifes one baddie and once inside he once again gets an automatic weapon and takes out five. Another aside if I may, I don’t know much about guns. The last time I pulled the trigger on one I was 10-years-old shooting a .22 at Boy Scout camp. I was not very good at it. Anyway, my understanding is guns, automatic weapons in particular, have what is called a kick, or recoil, in which the gun moves backward with some force as the bullet leaves the chamber. This is why, I’m told, guns have a shoulder stock, so the shooter can steady the gun and absorb the kick with his body. Right. While ripping apart the stealth boat with bullets Bond waves the gun about this way and that as if he were Gene Kelly twirling his umbrella in Singing in the Rain (1952). Would this not at the very least hamper his aim and more then likely rip his arm off? Please feel free to comment if you are in the know. Anyway, when it comes to what weapons can do we should really be discussing missiles. Bond gets behind a missile launcher on board the stealth boat and starts to fire missiles at baddies who are on the boat. This causes them to jump off the catwalks they were perched on while large red fire balls flair up but no holes are ripped in the hull, no water comes rushing in, and in fact, the boat suffers little. Now, I know this is a movie but it must be consistent. Earlier we saw the Devonshire go down thanks to one projectile hitting it. We saw water rushing in and sailors getting blasted around thanks to the force of incoming water. Here, a piece of piping falls with loud clank. Mr. Stamper is undone by a missile but not as you would imagine. Bond traps the henchman behind a missile that’s about to launch and when it does Stamper disappears in a great ball of fire. Goodness gracious.
Most Outrageous Death/s: I couldn’t decide so we’ve got a tie. Turns out Carver’s got a huge printing press, not far from his TV studio which I’m sure annoys the audio engineers to no end. Bond is above the whirling LOUD machinery as reams of paper fly by underneath. He is struggling with a baddie who … $5 dollars to the one who gets it first! Right, falls into the press. The only reason this press exists, in a location it never would, is so we can see paper turning red with a man’s blood and hear Bond say “They’ll print anything these days.” For the other outrageous death we get the worst head villain demise since Mr. Big got really big in Live and Let Die (1973). Carver is on the bridge of his sinking ship. Bond physically confronts him and the two are struggling when Bond hits a switch to starts the tunnel digging torpedo a-whirling and heading for them. Both men turn around to see the torpedo coming. Bond holds Carver and himself in front of the approaching blades. “You forgot the first rule of mass media Elliot! Give the people what they want.” Bond then jumps out of the way of the torpedo, which is still coming. Cut to the torpedo still coming. Cut to a close up on Carver’s face as he looks at the torpedo, still coming. If the close up shot had been an extreme close up showing only one eye and the reflection of the approaching torpedo in his spectacles that would have been something. Not only would it reference the first time we saw the villain creating a nice little bookend but it would also indicate that Carver is so accustom to watching things happen on a screen that he is unable to react to events that are actually happening to him. A simple shot choice would have gone miles, however, no one involved with the production was thinking in cinematic terms so no, we get none of that. What we do get is Carver screaming, then raising his hands in front of his face, then another cutaway to see the torpedo finally reach him and cutting him up. We are left wondering why he didn’t step to the side.
Miss. Moneypenny: I really don’t enjoy continuing this negative tangent but here again I must. Moneypenny and M both are robbed of any humanity and function only as the plot requires. It’s incredibly frustrating because we’ve spent so much time with these characters at this point we want more from them then just function. Add the fact we have in Moneypenny and M two incredible actresses who are new to the series and showed such promise in GoldenEye and it all the sadder. Here poor Samantha Bond is reduced to chiding Bond over the phone for his sexual exploits. When she hangs up Judy Dench is standing behind her. “Don’t ask” says Moneypenny “Don’t tell” responds Dench. I can only imagine both women returning to their trailers depressed after that exchange.
M: M has one scene outside of dealing with the pain the ass Admiral and it’s a rather enjoyable one. Since Bond has only 48 hours to get his mission accomplishes he receives his briefing on the way to the airport. Bond and M get a full police escort through the streets of London which is super crazy cool. The two sit in the back of the car and discuss how to proceed as they wiz through the city, M with drink in hand. Awesome.
Q: Tomorrow Never Dies, the one where Major Boothroyd becomes a walking, talking billboard. He approaches 007 at the Hamburg airport dressed in a red Avis jacket. The gag, which wears thin before it even starts, is Q is a car rental rep. “Would you be needing collision?” horn blast in the sound track. “Accidents do happen.” “Fire?” Another horn blast. “Defiantly.” And so on. When they reach the garage Q becomes a used car salesman on Northern Blvd. “The BMW 750, the finest in automobile technology.” And if you put 20% down right now I can throw in the headlight stinger missiles free of charge. Some other stuff happened but I missed it, I was to busy wondering why a caged tiger was in the background of the shot.
List of Gadgets: Phish once sang “with the right device you can make a pattern grow, or you can tune up your car.” Or in the case of Bond’s new phone, drive your car. Way before Steve Jobs dreamt up the iPhone, a device that makes everyone James Bond, 007 had a mobile with a fingerprint scanner, a 20,000 volt security system and “this I’m particularly proud of, a touch pad remote control used to drive the car.” At least that’s what Q shows us, but say Bond needs to pick a lock? There’s an app for that. Bond also has a lighter that doubles as a detonator for a magnetic grenade, which is pretty cool.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: The BMW 750, the finest in automobile technology.
Other Property Destroyed: At one point Ricky Jay is walking through Carver’s media complex and for no reason at all points to a satellite sitting in what appears to be a lobby. “That’s a $300 million satellite so be careful. You break it you bought it.” The plot’s ludicrous, you can guess what happens next. Bond fixes the cable? In the open alone Bond destroys more military equipment then in any previous film including one truck which he blows over with a jet’s afterburner, which I thought was inspired. Carver has a room in his TV station set aside to beat people up in which is actually quite realistic. Bond trashes the room much to the delight of several Carver News associate producers. Half of a neighborhood in Saigon is wiped out during the motorcycle chase including one block lost to a fire works mishap and a shopping district chopped up by a falling helicopter. Bond and Wai Lin also rip a 20 story banner that must of cost a small fortune right down the middle. He also blows up the stealth boat. Something of an error on 007’s part considering the Chinese and British governments were both hip to Carver’s scheme and working in concert to get him. Also, I’m sure Q would have loved to get a look at the stealth boat to figure out the technology. But you know, the villain’s lair must be blown up and so it is. There is also an Avis rental shop and parking garage in Hamburg, which we needs to look at more closely.
Bond Cars: BMW 750. Before he picks up the baby blue beamer from Q we get a glimpse of the classic Aston Martin. But it’s really all about the BMW and the car chase in the Hamburg parking garage. After Bond kills Kaufman he enters the garage to see half a dozen goons milling about the car. Her breaks out the remote control phone, drives the car to him, jumps in the back seat and navigates through the multiple levels of the garage while being chased. The idea of a car chase that goes nowhere is a good one. So good, in fact, that one of the greatest films of all time is about just that, the classic The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). I have never seen a frame of any of the other 27 Fast & Furious films and I hope I never will. That said, I could watch Tokyo Drift 100 times it still wouldn’t be enough. I’m not kidding, I adore that film. Anyway, back to the “Hamburg Slide,” a compromised second draft of the “Tokyo Drift.” The car chase is a microcosm of why this film is ultimately flat. It starts with a great premise; have Bond driving, from the backseat, getting chased in a parking garage. We see the gadgets that Q pointed out perform as we would expect, the missiles take out the baddies and the guns do the same. The spikes getting dropped out of the back, while not pointed out by Q, work in the grand tradition of the oil slick/smoke coming out of the back of the Aston Martin. But then when Bond ends up running over the spikes, his tires self inflate. Then, the baddies put a chain up in front of the car, which suddenly becomes a Swiss Army knife. Bond pushes a button and whala, the hood ornament pops up and a cable cutter is underneath. Back to the video game thing; throw an obstacle out there and the environment, in this case with no context, will provide the answer. What purpose other then cutting the cable would the devise serve? Did Q sit up late and night and consider what would happen if say a dead elephant was in Bond’s way? Just as likely a scenario. Everything in this film exists in the moment it is needed and has no context to the rest of the goings on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to move Tokyo Drift to the top of my queue. After all, If You Ain’t Outta Control, You Ain’t In Control! Freaking geniuses.
Felix Leiter: Jack Wade is back and this brings a smile to my face. What started as a gag in the last film here becomes a running joke that I rather enjoy. That is, Wade just kind of appearing, unannounced, out of nowhere, ready to assist in anyway he can while at the same time taking pains to let Bond know he’s “not really here. The CIA has no involvement or official position in this matter what-so-ever.” It’s also cool that Wade’s wearing an even more obnoxious shirt then he had in the last film while Bond is in his dress blues. Wade and Bond quickly figure out the location of the sunken Devonshire, and since it’s in the South Sea of China, Bond has a little favor to ask Wade. In this situation Felix would have shook his head and said something like “ohhh no James, you remember what happened last time.” Wade on the other hand has our man suited up and jumping out of a plane in the very next scene. “He didn’t even say good-by.” I rather like Jack Wade.
Best One Liners/Quips: “I wonder if the CIA will be more upset that they lost it or that we found it.” M on discovering GPS decoder.
Bond Timepiece: Looks to be the same Omega model from GoldenEye which is handsomely displayed on the DVD cover.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Nothing really of note but it’s cool to see Commander Bond in uniform on occasion.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: After his vodka martini at the party he hits a bottle of Smirnoff in his hotel room for some serious soul searching. By the time Paris shows up the bottle is half empty so whatever the math is on that, there you go.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Nope, and you can’t win lest you put your chips in.
List of Locations: In the open, the French Pyrenees stood in for the unavailable Afghani location. London plays London as well as the parts of Hamburg that were not shot in Hamburg, like the parking garage and the exterior of Carver’s media complex. One of the most interesting shots in the film shows the waterways of Saigon while Bond and Wai Lin fly overhead bound for Carver’s CGI created tower. Ho Chi Minh City fell through so producers used Bangkok as a stand in for the Vietnamese local. Indeed, we go to these places but it’s all perfunctory. None of the locations feel real or lived in. Instead, I feel like I’m on vacation with Clark Griswold. Kids, look. The Grand Canyon, OK let’s go.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: He can expertly pilot a MIG through the mountains while engaged in a dog fight and holding the stick between his knees. The fact that he can drive the BMW with the remote expertly on his first try is fine; the banter between he and Q while he does so is not. The motorcycle skills have been well covered by this point, which leaves the Halo Jump. Halo, or High Altitude Low Opening jump, is a way to get into a hostile location while avoiding radar. The jump is from 29 thousand feet, the top O Everest for those keeping score, and requires a 5 mile freefall during which the jumper reaches a speed of 200 MPH before opening his chute as close to the ground as possible. I don’t know if people do this for real but if so it’s very, very James Bond.
Final Thoughts: The finally credit on screen for Tomorrow Never Dies says the film was done “In loving memory of Albert Cubby Broccoli.” The old man deserves much better then this, one of the weaker entries in the Bond cannon. I found this film to be the most frustrating Bond film yet. All the pieces were in place, and yet it never worked. While writing the review I often thought back to an episode of “The Office.” In the episode, Andy Bernard was contemplating becoming a critic. “Perhaps I could be a food critic. These muffins are bad. Or an art critic, that painting is bad.” My intent was not to be negative for the sake of being negative, but to explore why this film didn’t work. The point of this blog from the get go was to look at Bond films, which more or less have the same ingredients, and figure out why sometimes they work and other times they fall flat. I think Tomorrow Never Dies is a failure with many architects. The movie is Bond paint by numbers, checking off the boxes listed in the song, “martinis, girls, and guns.” I often think about the people working on bad films, at what point do they realize they have a turkey on their hands? “I remember starting the first day on that film in an aircraft, flying a jet and it was 102 degrees, and I’m wearing a helmet and sweater, and then I’m being strangled over and over again, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this bloody character is going to kill me.’ The press tour for that film was 22 countries. When I did it I knew the movie wasn’t up to speed; it wasn’t as good as GoldenEye (1995) and you have to bang the drum loudly to get the attention.” I found that quote by Pierce Brosnan on IMDB. He had given it after he was more or less fired from the James Bond role so perhaps there are some sour grapes delivered along with the quote but I have a feeling he’s being 100% honest. I’m reminded of a story George Clooney tells about promoting his 1997 film, Batman & Robin. He was sitting backstage waiting to go on Letterman when he realized he had to go on TV and lie. He had to talk about how great the film was to promote a product he knew to be garbage. He decided he never wanted to have to stand behind a project he didn’t believe in again. Take a gander at his IMDb page post 1997 and while you may not love all those films, this is not the trajectory of someone making easy choices. This is someone doing what they want and what they believe in. However, when you’re the lead in something so much bigger then you, like Batman or James Bond, you’re at the mercy of a large machine that creates such an inertia that the show, as they say, must go on, regardless of quality. I believe even EON, like Brosnan, knew the movie was not up to snuff. Roger Spottiswoode is a one and done Bond director. The DVD extras, typically packed with great insight into the thinking and techniques that went into the making of the Bond film, are quite sparse for this outing. (But we do get a Moby music video, so we’ve got that going for us.) Maybe part of GoldenEye’s greatness can be attributed to the six years of prep time. This movie feels rushed and incomplete and perhaps the every other year schedule for Bond releases works against the creative process. Add the fact the studio brass was forcing the issue with an accelerated production schedule and the problem becomes compounded. The film simply doesn’t come together even on the most basic level. Bond had 48 hour to prevent a war, yet we saw many nights and days pass and more front page headlines; the Devonshire sinking incident, Paris’s obit, the “Empire Will Strike Back,” Bond’s obit, etc., then could ever be written in the given news cycle. Bond runs around at the climax trying to prevent what? The missiles have been launched and the British government and Chinese governments are working in concert to get Carver. Bonds job was done, yet he hangs around and almost gets Wai Lin killed in the process. Everything done in this film, with a hand full of exceptions, has been done better in previous Bond films. It’s one of the worst directed Bond films to date (that damn slow-mo!) and everything is backed by wall to wall, over the top, thumping music broken up by poorly written one liners. I could go on and on but I already have. The movie has its moments here and there and is therefore not a total failure but to take a page out of Andy Barnard’s book, this film is bad.