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“BOND” RETROSPECTIVE 18: TOMORROW NEVER DIES

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By now you will have spotted the posters or trailer for the 25th Bond film NO TIME TO DIE which debuts in April 2020.  Today, I continue my rewatch of all the films so far, reaching Pierce Brosnan’s second performance at 007. Spoilers ahead…

The pressure was on.  Goldeneye had been a resounding success and MGM wanted another big winner ASAP.  TOMORROW NEVER DIES would consolidate Brosnan as a fantastic Bond, and would thrill audiences worldwide with some effective action and humour.

PRE-CREDITS

The film opens at a “terrorist arms bazaar” on a remote mountain airstrip where weapons are being sold to various shady buyers.  Back in London, M and her team are watching their asset “White Knight” as he tries to infiltrate the meet.  Of course, the asset is Bond, and despite his warnings, the Navy decide to fire a Cruise missile to destroy the sale. ‘BOND’

Once the missile has been fired, they realise that a plane at the airfield has nuclear torpedoes, so Bond must get to the plane before the missile causes devastation.  The scene is very effective, with some humour and a lot of tension, which is sold very well as the action is cut with the reactions in London.

Bond grabs some guns to get the various villains scattering, then steals the plane. A brief duel with a villain’s plane cranks up the action a level until a completely ridiculous but very funny use of the ejector seat means that Bond escapes.

The scene is a great start, which is perhaps appreciated more when you learn that the sequence was filmed before they had finalised the script and were shooting the action in the hope it would tie into the story later!

DAVID ARNOLD

Now we come to my favourite Bond composer David Arnold.  Arnold has had a great career scoring many movies and TV series such as Independence Day, Hot Fuzz, Made in Dagenham, Sherlock and the recent Good Omens.

His visceral and action-packed music for the Bond films really taps into the themes from John Barry and others, while adding some very contemporary sounds (for example with The Propellerheads).  Yet one of my favourite tracks from this film is the sad romantic “Paris and Bond”, but we’ll get to that later.

The opening credits by Daniel Kleinman are excellent as usual, marrying the usual Bond imagery of the female figure into a montage which includes x-rays of bullets, circuit boards and a plunge into the digital world, looking past the headlines, and reflecting the themes of media manipulation which will dominate the storyline.

THE DEVONSHIRE

The first scene sees the HMS Devonshire operating in the South China Sea when it is attacked and sunk by Chinese fighters. The confusion of the Naval officers is apparent for they aren’t in Chinese territorial waters.

Meanwhile at the Carver Media Group Network in Hamburg, we see Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), one of the villains at the terrorist bazaar, retasking satellites using the encoder device he obtained.  We also see a “stealth ship” sneaking up on the Devonshire and launching a remote drill torpedo to attack the ship.  All the while the man we later learn is Elliot Carver, is watching events unfold.

The Devonshire is sunk, presumably by the Chinese fighters.  And one of the Chinese fighters is shot down by the stealth ship to make it look like the British did it.

Chillingly, in Hamburg, we see Carver typing the next day’s headlines “British Sailors Killed – machine gunned bodies found”, just before the villain from the stealth ship Mr Stamper (Götz Otto) kills the surviving sailors – with a machine gun.

 

CARVER’S VIDEO WALL

Carver has updates from his editors around the world, floods, riots, plane crashes, new release software full of bugs requiring annual updates, the president being blackmailed into signing a bill or else a video of him and a cheerleader in a Chicago hotel room gets released.  Of course, Carver instructs that editor (played by producer Michael G Wilson) to release the tape anyway.

What a delicious baddie Carver is, played with wonderful relish by Jonathan Pryce.  When Stamper confirms his mission is complete, Carver brings up all his editors on the screens to announce the latest news.

Gentlemen, and ladies, hold the presses, this just in.

By curious quirk of fate, we have the perfect story with which to launch our Satellite News Network tonight.  It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Seas.

I want full newspaper coverage, I want magazine stories, I want books, I want films, I want TV, I want radio, I want us on the air 24 hours a day – this is our moment!

And a billion people around this planet will watch it, hear it, and read about it from the Carver Media Group.

There’s no news like bad news.

And with a raise of the eyebrow, Carver introduces himself to the audience, and neatly summarises the plot.

 

BACK IN ENGLAND

Bond is in bed with a blond woman biting her shoulder “brushing up on a little Danish” when Moneypenny calls explain the Chinese alert.

You always were a cunning linguist, James.

M knows that something has been altering the GPS coordinates, leading to the sinking of the Devonshire and argues that they should investigate rather than rush to military action.

I love the scene where Bond, M and Moneypenny have their briefing in a police-escorted limo rushing through the streets of London.  They know that Carver seems to be writing the headlines before the Vietnamese authorities found the dead sailors.  Bond is sent to Hamburg to investigate Carver at the launch of his Global Network.

HAMBURG

Bond picks up his rental car at the Avis desk at the airport, delivered by Q (on holiday again).  The gimmick this time, apart from tracking, machine guns etc, is that the car is – wait for it – remote controlled.

At the Carver launch party Bond meets up with Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher) – a woman Bond used to know.  The first thing she does is slap him across the face.

Tell me James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?”

Gupta is watching their meeting on the screens, and Carver himself soon appears behind them, already suspicious.  He introduces Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) from the New China News Agency.

Carver “I’m thinking of getting Wai Lin behind a news desk.”

Paris “That’s wonderful, I’m sure she won’t resist.  Too much.”

Bond then joins in on the awkwardness:

Bond “Tell me Elliot, I was just wondering about your satellites, the way you position yourself globally

Carver “They are merely tools for information Mr Bond.”

Bond “Or disinformation, say if you want to manipulate the course of governments, or people… or even a ship”.

Bond messes with the fuses in the control room, cutting Carver’s presentation short. Carver is furious and sends Paris to Bond’s hotel.

 

DRINKING ALONE

Bond himself is sitting drinking vodka, gun ready. There’s a melancholy in this imagery that really affects me. This is the Bond that lost Tracy in OHMSS. The Bond that cut Della off in The Living Daylights when she spoke about James marrying. The Bond that was alone, sitting on the beach in Goldeneye when Natalya confronted him on his enforced isolation.

Paris “I used to look in the papers every day for your obituary… What was it James, did I get too close?”

The wonderful track “Paris and Bond” plays during this scene, which starts low, brooding and sweeps up to full blown romance by the time they start getting naked.  Yet there is uncertainty and sadness in the music. Bond bites Paris’ shoulder too.  Not sure why he’s so bitey.

Carver, having heard Gupta’s recording of Paris and Bond talking earlier, decides to get his wife an appointment with “the doctor”.

THE LAB

Following a lead from Paris, Bond infiltrates Carver’s building and locates the encoder. When discovered, he makes his escape – and we see that Wai Lin is far from the news reporter she says she is, for she is after the encoder too!

And apart from a few pauses for breath, the chase is on!  Bond escapes through the factory after some punch ups and dodging bullets.

 

THE DOCTOR

After a call from Carver, Bond returns to his hotel to discover Paris has been killed and left on his bed.  Its then we see that “the doctor” is in the room.  Vincent Schiavelli plays the assassin with efficiency and some killer humour.  On the TV the doctor plays a tape of the next day’s news report, detailing the death of Paris and Bond himself.  Tomorrow’s news today.

Meanwhile, Stamper’s men are unsuccessfully trying to break into Bond’s car to retrieve the encoder.

Back in the hotel room:

Bond “It won’t look like a suicide if you shoot me from over there?”

Doctor “I am a professor of forensic medicine; believe me Mr Bond I could shoot you from Stuttgart and still create the proper effect”.

This got a huge laugh in the cinema.

As Stamper can’t get into the car, he asks the doctor to get that information from Bond.

Doctor “I am to torture you if you don’t do it.”

Bond “You’ve a doctorate in that too?

Doctor “No no no, this is more like a hobby.

Bond tricks the doctor into zapping himself with his super spy phone and overpowers him, forcing the gun to the doctor’s head.

Doctor “Wait, I’m just a professional doing a job.

Bond “Me too”.

And the doctor is dispatched.  And we get another glimpse of the ruthless clinical Bond that Brosnan only occasionally got a chance to show.

 

BACKSEAT DRIVER

The next big chase utilises the remote-control feature of Bond car.  The scene is filmed extremely well and the fun Brosnan has rattling around the backseat of the car, deploying bullets and cable cutters makes you forget the silliness of it all.  And David Arnold’s score rocks, with some extremely dirty brass.

(We’ll ignore how he returns the car to the Avis branch across the road from the car park, endangering dozens of innocent shoppers).

 

HALO

Bond “HALO” jumps into the South China Sea, avoiding Chinese radar.  The high altitude, low opening jump get him into the sea where the Devonshire sank.  He learns that a cruise missile has been stolen as Mei Lin swims up beside him.  They make their way to the surface – straight into the hands of Stamper and some goons.

 

SAIGON

Now handcuffed together, Bond and Wai Lin are taken to Carver’s huge skyscraper in Saigon to meet the media mogul, who is already writing their obituaries. Carver leaves Stamper to start torturing our heroes but they easily overpower a goon, take a machine gun, then leap out the window.  Their escape down the gigantic poster of Carver’s face is great fun.

 

THE MOTORBIKE CHASE

The next great chase has the brilliant gimmick of them both trying to drive a stolen motorbike when still handcuffed, leading to some awkward gymnastics on the seat as they dodge bullets, weave in and out of traffic, market stalls, and firecracker trucks.  They take the high road onto the roofs of the Saigon buildings, and are peppered with bullets from a Carver helicopter.

The stunt where they leap from one building to the next ABOVE the low prowling copter is a delight, as is the moment when the helicopter tilts down to the street, the rotor blades forcing the citizens to run for cover.

Key sequences in this chase were filmed on set in England.  Astonishing production design.  It’s a great chase, full of inventive ideas, and a true highlight of the movie.

 

KICK ASS FIGHT?

Wai Lin is attacked in her secret spy room in an unassuming building.  These local goons are more hand to hand combat types than trigger pullers. The scrap is visceral, painful looking and spectacular, with goons breaking the furniture, tumbling from the roof and with plenty of brutal punches and kicks, straight from the Jackie Chan style of fighting. It is  a great change of pace for what we usually see in Bond.  And it’s much better than what Roger Moore’s Bond was offered in The Man With The Golden Gun.

Talking of that Bond movie, our heroes realise that their investigations are connected, and that Carver has been acquiring stealth material.  As a stealth boat would be the only way for them to get close to the Devonshire unnoticed, the duo figure out possible locations for the boat to hide.  And it is in “Howloon Bay” – featuring the astonishing rock formations first seen in Moore’s second movie as the location of Scaramanga’s Thailand hideout.

 

STEALTHY FINALE

Bond and Wai Lin send messages to both the British and Chinese authorities, so they know that Carver has the stealth ship, then sneak aboard the ship, after planting some explosives.

Carver and all his team are on the stealth boat (strangely).

Fire one missile at the flagship of each fleet. The Chinese will think the British are rattling the sabre. The British will think the Chinese are being belligerent. And the media will provide cool objective coverage. Let the mayhem begin.

Stamper captures Wai Lin and Bond gets a little stabby with a goon, and makes it look like the body is his.

Carver invites Wai Lin up to his control room to watch the war begin – crazed megalomaniac that he is. He tells her that Bond is dead and on the way to the bottom of the sea.

“He is my new anchor man”.

Told you the dialogue was great.

 

EXPOSURE

As the charges go off, and the naval authorities “see” the stealth ship on their screens, Bond and Wai Lin work together to stop the missile Carver hopes to fire and disable the ship.

Note: Wai Lin dispatches goons whilst firing two machine guns at the same time.  While jumping through the air. In slow motion.  This is a Bond accomplice done right.  Applause emoji.

As the huge interior of the ship is wrecked during the battle, with plenty of explosions, gantry collapses and flames, and a direct hit from the Royal Navy, Carver is left helpless.

Bond manages to end Carver using the remote drill.  A slightly underwhelming, if appropriate end.

Bond and Stamper have a bruising fight “For Carver, for Kaufmann, I owe you an unpleasant death, Mr Bond”. Say what you like, Stamper was loyal.

Stamper’s foot is trapped in the missile firing mechanism.  The missile is destroyed as Bond and Wai Lin sink beneath the water.  Crispy German beefcake, anyone?

 

SURRENDER

David Arnold uses various versions of the Bond theme very well, but wow, do his sweeping orchestral arrangements hit the spot.  The closing credits use Arnold’s preferred theme song “Surrender” by KD Lang, and you can hear the themes from that song throughout the movie.

The film ends with the sad memorial: “In Loving Memory of Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli” as the veteran producer had died before the film was finished. I’d say he left the franchise in safe hands.

 

A GREAT MIX

I think Tomorrow Never Dies is a great entry in the Bond franchise.  Sure, my initial criticism of it still stands – the story is a little slim and the film is one extended chase.  But even after all these years, I think it works.

The dialogue is crisp and funny (although some of the double entendres are gruesome), the action is excellent, Brosnan is a class act, Yeoh is a perfect accomplice.  The villains are fantastic, and the soundtrack is thrilling and emotional.

In a world where media is manipulated by shady operators in a post-spin, post-truth world where it’s hard to find the facts in any narrative, the film is eerily relevant today.

But let’s not get too heavy here.  The film for me, is a blast, the cinematography is great, and the movie is a very enjoyable watch.

And Brosnan is my favourite Bond.  Can’t wait for the next one…

 

 

Production Cast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By:  Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Screenplay: Bruce Fierstein
Composer: David Arnold
“Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow
Production Design: Allan Cameron
Cinematography: Robert Elswitt
London Premiere December 1997
Pierce Brosnan
Michelle Yeoh
Jonathan Pryce
Teri Hatcher
Joe Don Baker
Ricky Jay
Götz Otto
Vincent Schiavelli
Judi Dench
Desmond Llewelyn
Samantha Bond

 

 

Teacher of Drama. And Media. Director of non-professional drama/musicals. Writer. Contributor to ReelAnarchy.com. Husband. Father. Ginger.

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