Only 007 would have the balls or the stupidity to premiere a movie opposite the second highest grossing film of all time, but so it was on the 19th of December 1997 and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ launched in the US against ‘Titanic’.

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was rushed into production following the success of ‘GoldenEye’. Kirk Kerkorian, the reclusive billionaire owner of MGM wanted the film to open at the same time as the company’s public stock offering. While it’s easy to label the film’s villain Elliot Carver as an analogue for Robert Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch one wonders if the production team were also drawing parallels with Kerkorian.

Bruce Feirstein rushed through a script which was then handed to director Roger Spottiswoode. Spottiswoode rewrote some of the script before handing it to ‘Star Trek’ writer and director Nicholas Meyer to perform further rewrites. More writers are on-board and then EON brings the script back to Feirstein. There was not a full script available on day one of shooting. The title of the film is a misprint, EON were working with ‘Tomorrow Never Lies’ when a smudged fax caused MGM to read it as ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.

I’m raising these development issues because, given these challenges, it’s pretty amazing that ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is as good as it is. In fact I believe it’s a better crafted movie than ‘GoldenEye’, tighter, better looking, perhaps only lacking the former’s comedic value. In fact I’d make a case for ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ being one of the most underrated Bond films of the series.

Firstly the plot and subject matter have only grown in relevance over time. Yes, technology as moved on, we don’t see quite as many giant video walls these days, but the idea of corporate media controlling the news agenda has exploded over the last eighteen years. One only has to look at Fox News or Al Jazeera to see this. Secondly this isn’t just a comment on mass media, it’s a full blown satire. The scene in which Carver consults with all of his media bosses, culminating in Bond producer Michael G Wilson cameoing as an American media boss who promises the President will be blackmailed and then ‘slimed’, is as amusing as it is disturbing. The satire then extends to Bond villany itself as Carver tells the audience during a global broadcast that all he requires is ‘world domination’ of the media channels. The implication being that his audience won’t understand that his control of information will mean he controls the world. Perhaps we really were more naive in 1997.

Talking of Carver, Jonathan Pryce is clearly relishing the chance to portray total villany alongside natural charm and a cutting wit. All that’s missing is the Australian accent. While lines like ‘Let the mayhem commence!’ perhaps might have been edited out, his scenes with Paris (Teri Hatcher) show the true extent of his corruption and detachment, sat alone, surrounded by video screens, loved by no one. Pryce is an accomplished actor who can easily balance the businessman with the psychotic villain.

Likewise Teri Hatcher doesn’t do a bad job as Paris Carver, Bond’s love interest from long ago who just happens to now be married to Carver (which was lucky). The script doesn’t give Hatcher much to work with and her and Brosnan just about manage to make it work, despite there being very little chemistry in their scenes together. Perhaps this is because ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ didn’t really need the ‘old flame’ sub-plot. The movie I think works better if Bond just decides to pursue Carver not only because he’s trying to start a war between the UK and China, but also because his media empire threatens the important things in life like ‘Test Match Special’ and ‘The Shipping Forecast’.

If ‘GoldenEye’ did little dispel the notion that Brosnan’s Bond hadn’t really progressed beyond adolescence then ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ just confirms that as solid fact.

Bond: You were pretty good with that hook.
Wai-Lin: Thanks. It comes from growing up in a rough neighbourhood. You were pretty good with the bike.
Bond: Thank you. It comes from not growing up at all.

First theory of the watch through then: Brosnan is the Peter Pan Bond. This is a man who refuses to grow-up, who takes delight in piloting a car via remote control, who vandalises a shop window (admittedly by driving a car through it) and who stays up all night drinking vodka because he thinks it makes him cool. It will be interesting to see how this theory holds up over the next two movies, but I mention because of the stark contrast with Craig’s portrayal (‘Casino Royale’ really is a coming-of-age story).

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What makes this version of Bond fun in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is his relationship with the equally daring Wai-Lin, portrayed by the outstanding Michelle Yeoh. Not only is Yeoh a very talented actor, she can also kick arse in the most engaging and impressive way. The helicopter/bike chase and subsequent fight in Ho Chi Minh City are probably the standout moments in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, alongside the pre-credits sequence. While publicists have for years insisted that the Bond girls weren’t decoration, but instead a real match for Bond both ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ have provided great examples of some that actually are. Unlike Xenia Onatopp though Wai-Lin is on the good guys’ side. She is, however, equally adolescent to Bond. She admits to Carver that she gatecrashed his launch party in a cheeky way, quite rightly argues with Bond, pouts when she doesn’t get her way and finally agrees to partner with him to stop Carver only after she finally admits she needs help. The pair of them are a couple of teenagers off travelling, having adventures.

With ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ being one of my favourite of the series I’m predisposed towards the Naval Bonds. Not only do we get a rare outing for Bond’s commander’s uniform and a grim underwater sequence where Bond searches HMS Devonshire, but we also encounter two other ships Chester and Bedford. In order to save time and money it looks like the same models are used for all three so it is sort-of confusing. The model work itself though is excellent, after the excitement of seeing a real Stealth Boat in ‘GoldenEye’ we get to see a stylised one here. The scenes on board the Naval ships feel like some of the most naturalistic in the whole movie, not a real surprise when you have people like Julian Rhind-Tutt and Hugh Bonneville cropping up, incidentally this really is the ‘Downton Abbey’ Bond movie, Julian Fellowes appears as bulldog government minister.

This leaves me to talk about my two favourite scenes in the film. Firstly the pre-credits sequence where Bond decides to take on a terrorist bazaar, having realised that a Russian plane is carrying nukes and the Royal Navy have just launched a missile to flatten the place. Firstly there’s a neat appearance from Colin Salmon as Chief of Staff Charles Robinson presumably filling-in for Michael Kitchen’s role of Tanner. It’s interesting to note that Robinson is allowed to drink in the back of M’s car along with M whereas Bond isn’t. Secondly Judi Dench’s M gets to argue with the brilliant Geoffrey Palmer who plays a grumpy Admiral, like an episode of ‘As Time Goes By’ on drugs. Lastly the music is awesome. Finally employing the one man who could do Bond justice (i.e. not Eric Serra) David Arnold explodes into the franchise with all the brass, strings and guitar that the best of John Barry could muster. Despite a weaker theme song ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ has one of the best soundtracks in a long time and I remember how brilliant that opening sequence sounded and felt in the cinema.

The second scene is the one in the video below: Q delivers Bond his new BMW. Llewellyn may be visibly aged from his appearances in the seventies and eighties, but the scene in which he converses with Bond about his insurance cover is fantastically played and genuinely funny. Also: look out for Brosnan’s terrible German accent here, it’s a wonder the Avis rep doesn’t just ask him if he’s English as most Germans no doubt would.

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ may have had a larger budget than ‘GoldenEye’ (it really does show), but it didn’t make the same gross as its predecessor did. ‘GoldenEye’ no doubt succeeded because of the curiousity factor of Brosnan and is quite a good film. ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ seems to have suffered because of ‘Titanic’ that said though, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ improved on its budget twice over, guaranteeing another outing for Bond sooner rather than later. Overall though I would argue that ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is a better Bond film, clearer in purpose, more dynamic in location and editing and a subject matter that still resonates today.

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