Bond Legacy: Die Another Day
Reader, I think we’ve known each other for long enough to be honest with each other. Hopefully you’ve come to understand my love of movie stats, my fondness for everything from Hitchcock to Haneke and my desire to see films shown in the best cinemas possible. So I hope that you won’t judge me too harshly when I make this candid admission: I saw Die Another Day twice at the cinema, and I didn’t think it was that bad.
I know, I know, I was young, I was foolish, I should have known better. Certainly there were parts that stuck out at the time as not working, most of them involving Madonna Louise Ciccone, but I thought it was a fun romp in the grand tradition of previous Bonds. Two things can be said about my film watching habits at the time: I was still very much resolutely watching blockbusters (I visited Leicester’s premier art house cinema, the Phoenix Arts, once in the seven years I lived there – the period when DAD came out – and that to watch a Michael Moore film), and that I still felt Bond worked best as an escapist fantasy with outlandish gadgets, mainly through my love of the Roger Moore films.
Ten years on, a lot’s changed, not least me. I don’t know if I have a completely refined palate now, but watching Die Another Day back in the context of my new appreciation for cinema, and after nineteen other, very varied Bond films, it’s clear that Die Another Day really isn’t much cop. Certainly, in keeping with the previous film there are some good and bad sequences, but the latter now significantly outnumber the former. It’s often said that the Bond series is more of a producer’s series than a director’s one, but Lee Tamahori brings a certain amount of visual style to the series’ 20th entry, most of it consisting of awkward editing and frustrating visual tricks. The well publicised reliance on CGI varies from middling to cringe-worthy, and whoever decided to leave the kite-surfing sequence in, rather than editing around it, frankly wants taking out and putting out of their misery with a Walther PPK. John Cleese just doesn’t work as Q (thankfully his only time in the role), and Halle Berry later managed the unfortunate distinction of becoming both an Oscar and a Razzie winner, and her performance here is nearer the latter than the former.
If only the film had followed the tone set by the pre-credits sequence. Still Bond yearns to be darker, but again the EON machine only has the guts to go dark for a brief period, and even the first film of the post 9/11 era can only stay solemn for the length of a TV sitcom episode, before descending into the level of humour and camp theatrics of a bad TV sitcom. After Brosnan hit the heights of his portrayal in the last film, this feels again like Bond by the numbers: not necessarily his fault, as even the darker scenes leave him very little to get his teeth into, but the performance of Die Another Day and more behind the scenes legal wrangling leave Brosnan as having made approximately one and a half very good Bond films in his tenure.
Despite that, Die Another Day has, for better and for worse, had an impact on the rest of the series.
1. No more gadgets, at least for a while
I did say, at the time of Live And Let Die, that I don’t have a problem with the invisible car. Not because it’s supposedly based on real military technology – a technology that only works at a distance of several miles – but that in a series that’s supposedly based on the same character being played by different actors, a fact confirmed by references to Bond’s past in earlier Brosnan films, a world where tarot and card reading is 100% successful and therefore real, and where a previously untrained astronaut can end up on a space station surrounded by hundreds of men in a giant fight with laser guns, a stealth car is not the most idiotic thing the series has ever done.
But the two things that stick in the mind of any reasonable person about Brosnan’s last Bond film are that awful, awful theme song and the invisible car. The musical choices continued to be reasonably eclectic under the rest of David Arnold’s tenure, but the one thing that Die Another Day seemingly killed off for the foreseeable future (as even the gadgets in Skyfall seem to go no further than the kind of personalised gun that Dalton had twenty years ago) is those wonderful gadgets. No more jet packs and sofas that eat people for a while, it would seem.
2. Dancing the anniversary waltz
Back in the days of Sean Connery, Bond was knocking one off on an annual basis. Over the course of time, that gap widened as the demands of post-production increased, but the first three year gap in Brosnan’s tenure was designed for an entirely different purpose; to give the opportunity to show off bond in an anniversary year, in this case the 40th year since films began and the golden anniversary of the first novel. Consequently there are references to every single previous Bond film, laced through like the Easter bunny started taking crack and went a bit mad with the Easter eggs.
Having not seen it yet, this is a little speculative, but I understand from reports that Skyfall also features a few nods to the past for the 50th / 60th anniversaries. Consequently, I would expect Bond films released in 2022, 2037, 2062 and 2962 to also draw heavily on their heritage. Feel free to check back in around ten / twenty-five / fifty / a lot of years to see if I was right.
3. Here comes the fuzz
And to think poor old Lazenby got the boot for turning up at the première in a beard. How times change.
Next time: Bond goes back to his roots – but keeps the blond hair – in Casino Royale.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough
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Bond Legacy: The World Is Not Enough
There’s a strong argument to be made that the two longest serving Bonds both peaked at the time of their third film. Certainly Shir Schean’s heart was never quite in it after Goldfinger, and Roger Moore also may have never been as good as he was in The Spy Who Loved Me. So it comes as somewhat of a relief that Pierce Brosnan, after two films of alternating rather too frequently between fierce Dalton-like toughness and a shit-eating grin that spews out cheesy puns and desperate innuendo, manages to truly nail his portrayal of James Bond, balancing the humour and the drama far more successfully. But, as students of basic physics will know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and for a stronger Bond we have Denise Richards as a Bond girl.
Denise Richards plays nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones, in a sentence so ridiculous I didn’t even manage to type it while keeping a straight face. Instead, I sobbed bitter tears of despair and regret into my keyboard at the thought of quite how good The World Is Not Enough could have been if it had nailed the casting. The Brosnan Bonds, now freed from the shackles of Fleming’s heritage, were starting to take few more risks, including injuring Bond in the pre-credits sequence and then not forgetting about it by the time the dancing ladies had stopped. They also had the first truly bad Bond girl in the form of Sophie Marceau, an equal match for Brosnan’s added bitterness and Robert Carlyle as a menacing henchman, but Michael Apted’s attempt at a Bond never quite knows how to gel the elements together.
There’s further misadventures with Robbie Coltrane’s dodgy (and dodgily accented) Valentin Zukovsky, but the elements just don’t get the correct weighting, and all of the good will built up by the solid first half goes crashing out of the nearest window without a bungee cord the moment that Denise Richards turns up and opens her mouth. It makes TWINE very much a film of two halves, and while the first is one of the stronger Bond entries, and easily at least the equal of Goldeneye in the Brosnan canon, the second half has only moments of greatness and ends on a joke so crashingly bad, even Roger Moore would have probably had second thoughts.
There’s some consideration to be made of the legacies, but for me The World Is Not Enough holds a particular place in my personal Bond history, alongside The Spy Who Loved Me (first Bond I can remember seeing on TV) and Goldeneye (first Bond I saw in the cinema); The World Is Not Enough is not only the first Bond film I owned on DVD, it’s one of the first two DVDs I ever owned. I received a DVD player as a Christmas present from my ever loving mother, along with TWINE and The Sixth Sense on DVD – handy, that – so I was able to not only skip easily to just the parts of the film that I enjoyed, and more quickly edit Denise Richards out of the film, but also try to see how much of The Sixth Sense held up the second time around. Which has nothing at all to do with Bond, but seriously, whatever happened to M Night Shyamalan? Such a one trick pony.
To the legacies, though, and The World Is Not Enough can count a decent number of firsts among its achievements, including being the first Bond film release by MGM after they had swallowed up the unfortunate United Artists, original studio of Bond, the first film to feature the Millennium Dome and the first Bond film made in Dolby Digital EX 6.1 – ideal if, like me, you have a 5.1 surround sound system at home that your wife never lets you turn on anyway because it scares the neighbours and bothers the cat. But the move to MGM hasn’t had a huge bearing on the series as a whole, and the O2 hasn’t had a huge career in the movies, although it has got a Cineworld with a giant screen in it. To my shame, I can only find one real legacy of The World Is Not Enough, but it’s enough to keep the run going.
1. The world’s least secret secret organisation
Apparently James Bond, and all of his mates, the spies – secret agents, supposedly – work in one of the most famous buildings on the modern London skyline. It’s the third time that it’s been in the Bond films, but it won’t be the last time we see a giant hole get blown in it in a Bond film, if the Skyfall trailer is anything to go by.
And that’s it. I blame Denise Richards.
Next time: Well, at least it can’t get any worse. It’s not like it was Madonna or anything. That would have been dread… oh. It’s Die Another Day.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies
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Bond Legacy: Tomorrow Never Dies
The Bond franchise had been many things over the years, but one it had suddenly and almost unexpectedly become after the success of Goldeneye was a guaranteed money maker. But, like a small American child slapped in too much make up and thrust uncomfortably into a beauty pageant and a series of commercials, Bond’s new parent decided to use their favourite offspring to try to boost their upcoming stock offering. MGM wanted Bond, and it wanted it quick; in the Sixties, churning out a Bond film a year was never an issue, but the requirement for more extensive post-production, and the lack of Fleming heritage to be able to call on, gave the second Pierce Brosnan Bond a somewhat troubled birth.
The difficulty of that gestation and the rush to get the film onto screens is right up there on screen for all to see. The opening sequence, self contained and with just a little set-up for the rest of the film, is a cracker and up there with the best pre-credits sequences of the whole series. It’s after another of Daniel Kleinman’s superb title sequences that things start to go rapidly downhill. The main problem with Goldeneye seems to have gotten even worse, with both Brosnan and the film itself unsure of the tone they need to pitch, and instead both end up veering more wildly between brutality and banality. The cheeky one liners which Moore tossed off feel ever more cheesy and uncomfortable emerging from Brosnan’s mouth, while the way in which everyone from Teri Hatcher’s weak Bond girl to a bunch of British soliders are casually slaughtered feels more Dalton era than anything else. Thanks to the unevenness of tone and the short development window, Tomorrow Never Dies never feels fully formed, but there are enough enjoyable moments to make it a modest success.
While legacies are becoming ever more thin on the ground in the rather stagnant Brosnan era, there’s still some fun to be had, not least from the Spot The Famous Face drinking game. If you can spot Julian “I wrote Downton Abbey” Fellowes as a minister, take a sip; the likes of Julian Rhind-Tutt and Hugh Bonneville in the navy also deserve a brief swig, but spotting Gerard Butler in a blink-and-miss-him scene on the boat deserves at least a mouthful and if you pick out Alex Reid outside Carver’s party as a German policeman, then finish your drink immediately. Spotting all of those famous faces might not make TND more enjoyable, but hopefully the strong drink will, and if not then Vincent Schiavelli’s entirely over-the-top henchman should still provide a few chuckles.
All this, though, is a distraction from the real business here, which is whether or not Tomorrow Never Dies has had a lasting effect on either the Bond movies themselves or action films in general. While the law of diminishing returns is definitely kicking in, Tomorrow Never Dies does mark a couple of key moments in the franchise.
1. You’re on your own now, 007
Tomorrow Never Dies is the first film in the entire series to take only the recurring characters: M, Q, Moneypenny, raging innuendo, etc. from Fleming’s novels or backstory. Admittedly we’d already reached the thin end of the wedge, as Licence To Kill was falling back on the short stories for ideas as well as the novels, and Goldeneye was simply the name of Fleming’s house, but Tomorrow Never Dies marked the first time that the films had to exist beyond what Fleming had provided, to prove that they really could stand on their own two feet.
Key to that is the idea that the legacy has provided, a framework to which it should be possible to stitch any appropriate story and turn it into a Bond film. Tomorrow Never Dies does that, but in a way that’s part of its problem: occasionally sticking too slavishly to a formula almost as a cinematic comfort blanket. It will be a few films yet before the Bond producers feel confident enough to start letting the series truly off the reins, but certain elements, for better or worse, will always be a part of Bond; hopefully, that in turn means that Bond will outlive all of us.
2. A man with a score to settle
A musical score in this case; after the catastrophe of the Goldeneye score from Eric Serra – which I still firmly believe is not only a fantastic score in its own right but also the worst Bond score ever, apart from the one bit he didn’t write – the producers were looking for someone to replicate the musical success of John Barry, who had scored eleven of the previous seventeen Bonds. Those which weren’t Barry scores, from the likes of George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch and Michael Kamen, had met with decidedly mixed success, so it needed someone who could not only write well for the blockbuster, but also understood the musical needs and heritage of Bond.
Step forward David Arnold, who had not only enjoyed blockbuster success and acclaim for his work on Roland Emmerich films such as Stargate and Independence Day, but had also put together a Bond album of cover versions called Shaken And Stirred, featuring everything from Pulp’s cover of All Time High to a Propellerheads version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Arnold scored every movie through to Quantum Of Solace, bowing out for Skyfall due to an unfortunate clash with his Olympic commitments, but in the five films he’s scored he managed to successfully mix the traditional Bond theme orchestral sound with his own music and innovation, even including his own motif (known as “Suspense” in four of his five films).
His work on Tomorrow Never Dies guaranteed him a decade of work on the series, doing just what Barry did so well, including in this case taking k.d. lang’s version of his own song Surrender and weaving its themes through the rest of the music, as well as another collaboration with Propellerheads on the music for the garage car chase. Here’s hoping that we’ve not seen the last of Arnold and Bond working together.
Next time: The World Is Not Enough, apparently. Well, that’s gratitude for you.
Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye
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Bond Legacy: Goldeneye
So ended the world’s greatest game of pass the parcel. After much to-ing and fro-ing between them, and with the various shenanigans and machinations of the past six years behind them, the baton finally passed from Timothy Dalton – who was first considered as early as 1969 – to someone who’d been in the frame since the early Eighties, and whose chance looked resolutely to have gone when he had to drop out before The Living Daylights. Maybe that sense of relief is what explains the shit-eating grin that Bond wears at random moments in Goldeneye…
Yes, Pierce Brosnan was the fifth man to inherit the on screen mantle of Britain, nay the world’s, greatest not-that-good-at-being-secret secret agent. His performance in Goldeneye, in the best Bond Legacy tradition, seemed to call on something from each of his predecessors in the role; he had the stern insistence of a man with an English accent who wasn’t actually British (Lazenby), the effortless sophistication and grace that make him look good in a dinner jacket, but also the belief he could handle himself in a fight (Connery), the hard-edged distance of a man that’s seen a lot of suffering (Dalton) and a louche theatricality with a one-liner that made him seem almost dangerously cheesy (Moore, although that maybe does a little disservice to old Rog).
For some reason, when attempting to capture what made the quintessential Bond film, Martin Campbell and the Broccolis made what everyone thought the stereotype of a Bond film was, rather than replicating an actual Bond film. Consequently the style and the stunts are all there, but so are the worst extremes of Seventies Bond, and there’s a moment with Bond and Wade in Cuba when their aside to camera feels closer to the music hall than it does to a classic Bond film. However, audiences lapped it up and this new Bond, serious one minute and leering the next, would largely provide the template for the Brosnan era, for better and for worse.
Goldeneye is without doubt the best of that era, thanks to a number of key elements. Sean Bean’s creepy smoothness as Trevelyan gave this new, modern Bond the ideal mirror in which to view himself, and their fight late on has a crunching physicality to it, a no-holds-barred approach that would also come to categorise the Bonds that followed. Isabella Scorupco might have been a Polish model turned singer turned actress, but she was still able to act rings around many Bond girls that had gone before her, and Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp (also a former model) camped it up delightfully; if you don’t enjoy her delivery of the line “He’s going to derail the train!” then you maybe need a little more joy in your life. But the key elements were the revitalisation of Martin Campbell’s direction and the knowing script that just about managed to avoid tipping over into self-parody. Just.
Thankfully, just like the sixteen films that preceded it, Goldeneye still has something to offer in dictating the path of what is to come.
1. No relic of the Cold War after all
The one doubt in everyone’s mind was whether, in a world without Russian enemies and with high-powered American action movies, Bond was still really needed. The relative failure of Licence To Kill in America and a few other territories had, somewhat unjustly, caused speculation as to if Bond could still cut it. In terms of box office and adjusting for inflation, Goldeneye took nearly twice the total of its predecessor and more than any Bond film since Moonraker, and Goldeneye really showed, for the first time, that Bond could move with the times. Sure, the franchise had often made reference to the latest fad or fashion and tried to hang on the coat-tails of the other big movies of the time, but the Nineties showed how Bond could still thrive in a world without the Iron Curtain. (We’ll gloss over the fact that half of the film is still set in
2. Campbell’s soup-er when it comes to reboots
Martin Campbell had made his name with the TV adaptation of Edge Of Darkness, and he proved key in bringing Bond back to the big screen. So key, in fact, that when Bond returned after another four year hiatus and producers were again looking to put a fresh spin on proceedings, Campbell returned and once again proved his ability to keep enough familiar elements while injecting a shot of individuality and freshness. He’s now in his early sixties, so he should still have enough good years left in him when Michael Fassbender, Andrew Garfield and Will Poulter line up for their reboots in the next twenty years. (Especially when everyone says how much the Poulter years are a return to form after that Garfield fiasco.)
3. Kleinman’s the man, but Serra’s an error
I’ve wrapped the last two lessons together, but they are both salient warnings to anyone attempting to make a Bond film in the future. Daniel Kleinman takes the work of the likes of Robert Brownjohn and Maurice Binder and makes it fresh and exciting, capturing the feeling of its predecessors but still managing to take the opening titles forward. Consequently he continued to get the gig right up until Quantum of Solace. Eric Serra was also hired to write the score, and has produced some fantastic work for Luc Besson’s movies, especially the prior year’s Leon. His work on Goldeneye is similarly great, with the sweeping string accompaniments for Bond’s Caribbean detour evoking just the right mood. Trouble is, the score as a whole is categorically wrong for a Bond film; so wrong that the producers had to bring in John Altman – who, fact fans, also arranged Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life for Life Of Brian – to Bond up the tank chase in St. Petersburg. Consequently David Arnold, to the relief of everyone everywhere, got the gig for the next five films. The moral of the story is, feel free to have a little play with the key elements, but if Bond Legacy has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t mess with the fundamentals.
Next time: The irony of a film about a media mogul gone mad whose title is based on a misprint. It’s Tomorrow Never
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Bond Legacy: For Your Eyes Only
Is it really a whole year since we started rewatching Bond films? Twelve months, and a round dozen films, and we now reach the point of no return – less films ahead of us than behind. For many others on this journey, it will actually get easier as generally better perceived Bonds will get their turn and the films will improve after the early Eighties fallow period. For me, each film gets harder, as my theory that each film has a legacy has less time to actually come to pass and each individual legacy becomes that much harder to pin down.
I had consoled myself with the thought that at least there was one more watchable Roger Moore film to come, but I was completely unprepared for the start of For Your Eyes Only. The worst pre-credits sequence of the entire series, it’s laughably bad and makes most of Moonraker look a work of art in comparison. From the decision to bring back Blofeld and then turn him into a pantomime caricature, to the whistle as Bond drops him down a giant chimney (the worst sound effect in the series since The Man With The Golden Gun), it’s a start from which most Bond films would struggle to recover.
Yet, more in line with my expectations, FYEO pulls it off. Generally reverting to a more serious and realistic tone than Moonraker – apart from the should-be-laughable-but-it-actually-made-me-weep-tiny-tears Margaret Thatcher scene at the end – Roger Moore is once again on top form and just about belies his increasing age, for probably the last time in the series, thanks to extensive use of soft focus and lens vaseline (sadly, by the time of Octopussy, even that won’t be enough). There’s also a sensible distribution of Bond girls, and James sensibly draws the line at the shouty one with pigtails young enough to be his daughter.
It’s also one of the more MacGuffin based Bonds, with the ATAC machine offering a tangible distraction for both sides to get their hands on. It also sees a shifting in Anglo-Russian relations (those of you playing the Bond Legacy drinking game, take a swig now) with General Gogol firmly on the other side, rather than hovering shadily in the middle. There’s some decent, rather than spectacular, action sequences and it all slips down fairly easily, although it might be a little forgettable a couple of hours after you’ve watched it.
Thankfully there’s still a few legacies to be had, before it’s all destined to go horribly wrong next month.
1. Car chases can be as effective without the gadgets
There might have been a variety of different cars or styles of driving over the past twenty years of Bond films, but generally Bond has been seen in quality motors, and even when he hasn’t – for example, The Man With The Golden Gun – the stunt has been spectacular enough or the rest of the driving mundane enough for it not to matter. But for the first time in the Bond series here, James is forced to make the best of a bad job, and works wonders with his Citroen 2CV, taking it off road even after Melina has managed to roll it trying to take a simple right turn. Women drivers, eh…
I’m sure Jason Bourne would like to think his various escapades in clapped out old bangers were showing a new or innovative side, a world away from the fast car sheen of the James Bond films, but Bond has proved here he can slum it with the best of them. One thing though; I’d have a word with Q about that ridiculously over-zealous anti-theft device if I were you, James.
2. The regeneration game
While the characters have always had the same names, the Bond series had never made it as explicitly clear about the continuity of the character as it does here. So Roger Moore’s Bond is definitely the same Bond as George Lazenby’s Bond, even though they look different. Well, either that, or they both happen to have a wife called Teresa who died in 1969. Which, presuming that both films took place in the current year, is twelve years ago. Unless this isn’t actually 1981, or the whole opening is some form of psychotic episode on Bond’s part, driven to twelve years of grief over the death of his wife.
Anyway, the films would make further allusions to the fact that Bond had lost a loved one in tragic circumstances, right up as far as The World Is Not Enough, so assuming Bond was the same age as Tracy in the films (which he almost certainly wasn’t), and that film is also contemporary, Pierce Brosnan would have been playing a character well into his fifties, for which he was looking remarkably good. Inspiring the hard men of the world, Jack Bauer (born 1966) would have been well into his fifties by the end of 24 if season 1 of that show was contemporary and the gaps between seasons were correct, and if John McClane was 31 or older in Die Hard – quite likely as he’d been a cop for 11 years at that point – it would put him into his sixth decade by the time of Die Hard 4.0, and certainly well past 50 by the time of the upcoming A Good Day To Die Hard. (And you thought Skyfall was a rubbish title.)
This, of course, was unceremoniously pissed all over when Daniel Craig turned up, rebooted the continuity but M looked exactly the same as she did for the last Bond, even though she was a different M – or had a sex change and lost a lot of weight – than the M that didn’t appear in For Your Eyes Only, because he’d sadly died. Unless this is all still George Lazenby having an extended psychotic episode; on reflection, that might be easier to believe…
3. And Connery begat Moore, and Moore begat Brosnan
Speaking of Brosnan, the last legacy of this particular film was that it featured Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl von Schlaf. Cassandra was also know as Mrs Pierce Brosnan, and hubby and Cubby met on set, whereupon Broccoli declared, “…if he can act… he’s my guy.” Fourteen years later, by which time Cubby was too infirm to work in any serious capacity on the series, he finally got his man. While it was Cassandra’s wish that her husband get the Bond job, sadly she died of cancer in 1991 and never saw him slip on the tux. Hopefully she would have been proud. Of Goldeneye, at least.
Next time: Go go Gadget innuendo. It’s Octopussy.