Friday, January 23, 2015

The World Is Not Enough - 1999

Background: had Eon not been so committed to getting back on their a Bond film every two years this picture may have had a different title. Before deciding on The World Is Not Enough (which does have a Fleming connection. It is mentioned in On Her Majesty's Secret Service that The World Is Not Enough is actually the Bond family motto) they toyed with the dreadfully uninspiring title of Bond 2000, because it was initially slated for a 2000 release. Other titles considered were: Death Waits For No Man, Fire And Ice, Pressure Point and Dangerously Yours. Of those only the last seems remotely possible, and even then it sounds more like a comedy than an action film. I think using a title that has a link to Fleming's original works was a good move and reminds people of the franchise's background.

Bruce Feirstein once again had the main writing credit with assistance from Neil Purvis and Robert Wade. Dana Stevens did an uncredited rewrite before Feirstein took over for the final story. As it's a complex and convoluted story with a number of plot threads, not all of which are satisfactorily resolved, it may have been a case of too many cooks.

A new director had to be found as Roger Spottiswoode refused due to being tired, the stress of directing a Bond film and getting it right to satisfy the legion of fans does seem to take it's toll on some of the directors, Guy Hamilton turned down Thunderball after Goldfinger for the same reason, although he did return for Diamonds Are Forever and stayed for 2 more films, guiding them from the Connery era into the Moore one.

There was also an attempt to connect with a younger audience and for this reason the film was heavily promoted on MTV, in part that may have been responsible for the casting of Denise Richardson as she was used in that capacity, having starred in a couple of films aimed at that demographic.

Story: like with some of the others I don't think I can really explain this story. It has a number of elements at play. Oil, construction, ecology, history, terrorism, kidnapping, the winding down of the nuclear arms race and even throws in Stockholm Syndrome.

At the heart of it Bond feels responsible for the death of wealthy industrialist Robert King and appoints himself as the protector of the man's daughter Elektra. Elektra was kidnapped by the terrorist Renard years earlier and the obsessed killer is still after her. Elektra refuses to let fear rule her life and frequently puts herself in dangerous situations as an effort to prove this.

While trying to run Renard to ground Bond encounters a plucky and frankly annoying young American nuclear physicist, the oddly named Christmas Jones, and finds out that Renard is planning an attack which all seems to centre around the oil pipeline that Elektra's company is building through her mother's ancestral home of Azerbaijan. The more Bond finds out the more he realises that it's not Renard who is pulling the strings, but rather Elektra.

Elektra takes M hostage and then when Bond tries to get her to stop her plans she tries to kill him. He's freed by Valentin Zukovsky (I told you it was very confusing) and kills her in cold blood, something she had not believed he would do. It once again showed that under the veneer of civilisation Bond is a dangerous killer. Clearly Elektra didn't know how an agent earns the 00 status.

After killing Elektra, Bond still has to prevent Renard from using the nuclear missile he stole in conjunction with the submarine captained by Valentin's nephew to kick off a nuclear catastrophe. The whole climax takes place in the submarine with Renard, Bond and Christmas. I'm convinced they set a lot of it under water so that they had an excuse to film scenes featuring Denise Richards in a tight, soaking wet t-shirt.

All danger avoided Bond and Christmas find themselves in a high class Turkish hotel. In a throwback to some of the later Moore's Q branch use some tech to home in on Bond's heat signature and when she realises that there are two bodies on top of each other M lets out a scandalised '007!' I think it was a mistake really, it was an unnecessary addition and wasn't as funny as they wanted it to be.

It is fitting that the film ends with Christmas and Bond in bed and Bond saying to her 'I thought Christmas only comes once a year.' Possibly the reason they gave the character the ridiculous name. Bond does have another good comedic line with her, though, when she first introduces herself to him as Dr. Christmas Jones she warns him not to make any jokes as she's heard them all, and Bond deadpans in a Russian accent (he's pretending to be a Russian scientist) 'I don't know any doctor jokes.'

It's not as bad a film as some have said (I think Entertainment Weekly called it the worst ever), but the bad does outweigh the good, and the Brosnan era seems to be going down the same path as the Moore one (in fact one reviewer, while being mostly positive about this entry did refer to it as an action comedy) , just with a better cast.


Director: once Spottiswoode cited physical tiredness a new director had to be found. Barbara Broccoli was initially quite keen on Peter Jackson because of Heavenly Creatures (although what about that film would give her the idea he'd be perfect for a Bond film I do not know), but cooled after seeing The Frighteners (her loss, The Frighteners is an underrated horror comedy gem of a film). Jackson said he would like to direct a Bond film, but doubts he'll ever get the chance as the franchise tend to go for less high profile directors, and he's anything but that after The Lord of the Rings. Eventually they selected Michael Apted. While Apted is a very good director with a long and impressive CV he was an odd choice for a Bond film. He started in TV back in the 60's moving into films in the 70's. By the time he was selected to direct The World Is Not Enough he already had the continuing Up series (a social experiment that started as an episode of a TV show Apted helmed that visits a group of ordinary people across the social and economic spectrum every 7 years of their lives), Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorky Park, Gorilla's In The Mist and the Jodie Foster vehicle Nell, behind him. They're all good films, but none of them classify as a Bond style action film. I found his directing rather pedestrian, he did admit that he worked almost to a template, ticking off the things that made a good Bond film as he went. The action sequences, while impressive, lack any real sense of tension. His hands off style of working with actors and concentrating on orchestrating the action is fine with experienced actors like Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle, but is less successful with the likes of the young and inexperienced Denise Richards, who suffered from lack of direction.

James Bond: Pierce Brosnan had this film to go before his original contract ran out, but he seemed comfortable with the role and showed no signs of going anywhere any time soon. Brosnan just seems born to play Bond and I feel he felt that too. This particular performance is however uneven. There's no chemistry between he and Denise Richards, there is however a good deal between he and Marceau and the screen crackles with the energy when they're together. He plays a lot of it very light, except when Marceau's Elektra is on screen then it becomes serious and he's believable when he shoots her down in cold blood. Elektra is very like Tracy, and while they never say it, there's a clear sense that Bond sees that in her. Would have been interesting to see a remake of On Her Majesty's Secret Service done with Brosnan starring opposite Marceau as Tracy.

Renard: a former KGB agent turned terrorist. Even Valentin Zukovsky admitted that the KGB lost control of him. He had kidnapped Elektra some years before and he was a real crazy old style Bond villain. He was shot in the head by Agent 009 before the film begins and the bullet didn't kill him, but instead lodged in his medulla oblongata which makes him impervious to pain. It will eventually kill him, but he will get stronger and able to push himself longer and harder than any normal main right up until it does so. A guy like that with nothing to lose and hopelessly in love with a devious and ruthless woman like Elektra King is a dangerous proposition. He's physically able to match it with Bond in a way that someone like Elliot Carver couldn't. The Bond producers seem to like Scottish actors in Eastern European roles and this went to Scottish actor Robert Carlyle. Carlyle was a star with a profile when he took this on. Two of his best known roles were the carefree Gaz in The Full Monty and the psychopathic Begbie in Trainspotting, the difference between the two demonstrated his versatility. He plays Renard as very tilted and combined with the facial scarring the makeup department gave him, he had a wonderful time chewing his way through the scenery. He's continued to work consistently and successfully in both TV and film ever since and is currently playing Rumpelstiltskin in ABC's Once Upon A Time.

Peripheral roles: because I count both Elektra and Christmas as Bond girls most of the other roles in The World Is Not Enough are peripheral. 

The cast of the other two films stayed together. Judi Dench, Samantha Bond and Desmond Llewelyn returned, as did Robbie Coltrane playing Valentin Zukovksy, Michael Kitchen as Bill Tanner and Colin Salmon in his second appearance as the Chief of Staff, Charles Robinson. M's role was beefed up and had her being taken hostage by Elektra and using some McGyveresque skills to make a communication device out of a clock and the tracker from a nuclear weapon. While it was great to see Judi Dench and Sophie Marceau act together I felt this whole thing stretched credibility. Firstly M's not stupid enough to walk into Elektra's trap (it had TRAP written all over it in bright flashing letters) and not being a field agent or ex military she shouldn't have been able to improvise her signal the way she did. Q could have. A lot of the time she was channelling the old M, right down to using the intercom to interrupt Bond and Moneypenny's flirting. There is however a wonderful piece of acting when she sees Bond gun the unarmed Elektra down, it's one thing to know what he does, quite another to see it and Judi Dench manages to effortlessly convey all that with one expression. Fantastic actress and the franchise is incredibly lucky to have her. Moneypenny had another quite small role, although I did like her new short hairstyle. The look that passed between her the doctor that Bond seduced into passing him as fit for active duty was priceless and it's nice to see her show her claws and that she's still protective where James is concerned. While they could not have known what would happen to Desmond Llewelyn (he died in a car accident not long after the film premiered) I think that the film was preparing for life after Desmond Llewelyn as Q. He has an apprentice and he gives Bond some advice about an exit strategy as he disappears into the bowels of his workshop while standing on a section of floor that drops out of sight. It had the feeling of a farewell and is kind of spooky watching knowing Llewelyn's fate. As the actor was 85 years old, he must have been considering retirement, though.

Valentin Zukovsky: Robbie Coltrane reprised his role as the former KGB agent, turned dodgy businessman in the new free Russia. He runs a casino and has a caviar business. It was played again mostly for laughs, he even pre empts Bond's introduction by addressing him as 'Bond, James Bond.' He later asks Bond why he always has to have a gun on him and why can't he just say hello like a normal person? This was unfortunately the character's final appearance. Elektra killed him, but he did release Bond from Elektra's marvellous torture chair before he expired.

R: this is Q's assistant/apprentice. The character is never actually given a name and the letter comes from a joke Bond makes, reasoning that if Llewelyn is Q, that makes his apprentice R. He was an indication that the franchise were planning a succession plan for the character. The 'new Q' was played by British comedian John Cleese (best known for his participation in the Monty Python crew, the legendary comedy Fawlty Towers and the film A Fish Called Wanda). He's an excellent choice, as everything he says and does is funny. He plays this rather like a high tech Basil Fawlty, the only problem is that his profile overshadows the role a little.

Dr. Molly Warmflash: I don't think the stupid name is mentioned in the film. The character was hard enough to swallow without it. She's the one who passes Bond as fit, despite a badly damaged shoulder, after he makes love to her to prove his fitness. She was played by British actress Serena Scott Thomas, the sister of Kristen Scott Thomas.

Gabor: Elektra's large, silent dreadlocked bodyguard. He was played by Australian John Seru, best known as Vulcan in the Australian version of the show Gladiators, a role he also filled in the British version of it.

Bullion: Zukovksy's gold toothed and duplicitous bodyguard, he betrays his employer and is shot dead for it. Played by British rap artist Goldie, and I believe the teeth are real.

Cigar Girl: she's the deadly assassin in the pre credit sequence. They never gave the character a proper name. Maria Grazia Cucinotta originally auditioned for the Elektra role, they didn't think she could handle the extensive English dialogue, but liked the actress and created the role for her.

Elektra King: not everyone regards her as a Bond girl, but I do. She's in a significant amount of the film, Bond falls hard for her and until it's revealed that she's the one who makes Renard dance to her tune, she's not thought of as a villain. She's quite a piece of work, she disfigured herself (Renard was supposed to have cut off some of her ear), she arranged for her own kidnapping, so isn't really suffering from Stockholm Syndrome as is believed, and she wants to take revenge on her father because she feels he has exploited her mother's people who are Azerbaijanis. Beautiful French actress Sophie Marceau was chosen as she has the right exotic looks to make Elektra's mixed background heritage believable. She was known to audiences outside of France for her role as Princess Isabella of France in the 1995 historical epic Braveheart. There were concerns from Michael Apted about whether or not she could handle the English language dialogue (they no longer dub actresses), but she did it with flying colours and is one of the better actresses to play a Bond girl over the years. She imbues the role with a mixture of vulnerability, recklessness and pure evil as the situation demands.

Dr. Christmas Jones: I personally feel Denise Richards gets a bad rap for this part. It was badly written, she was far too young and silly to be believable as a nuclear physicist. I felt that she suffered from some bad writing and a lack of direction, neither of which is entirely the actress' fault. She also had one of the silliest names in the franchise's history, it's up there with Mary Goodnight. At least with Pussy, Holly and Plenty there was some sexual innuendo. Christmas is just silly and really only affords Bond the opportunity to make the joke at the end. To a certain extent I think Denise Richards was cast because of her age and the fact that she filled out a t-shirt nicely, especially when wet. Plenty have said she's the worst Bond girl ever, they clearly can't remember the likes of Kissy Suzuki, Tiffany Case, Mary Goodnight, Holly Goodhead, Stacey Sutton and Kara Milovy. I'd put at least half of those ahead of Christmas on the bad stakes. The lack of chemistry between Richards and Brosnan doesn't help. She's another one they would have been better off forgetting the 'Bond MUST sleep with the Bond girl' rule on.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: I believe Denise Richards has a lot to do with this myth getting traction, even though she appears so late in the franchise's history. A lot of the actresses cast don't have careers behind them when they're cast and doing a Bond picture is meant to benefit that career. A good many of them are models with minimal acting ability. Denise Richards was a rising star when she landed the role of Dr. Christmas Jones, she had received good reviews for her performances in Starship Troopers and Wild Things. She was cast to bring in a younger audience and promoted the films and this one in particular on MTV. Her career nosedived after this, part of that can be attributed to her relationship with Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen and a lot to how poorly her turn as a Bond girl was received. Sophie Marceau on the other hand is almost the complete opposite. She had a flourishing career in France and was known outside of Europe for her Braveheart role. This only increased her profile and established her as one of the world's most beautiful woman. She's continued to work very steadily in France and has even turned her hand to writing and directing.

Pre credit sequence: this is one of the longest and most spectacular pre credit sequences in the franchise's history. It starts in Bilbao then goes to MI6's brand new headquarters (they actually had to get permission to film the outside of the SIS building, Can't pretend it's Universal Exports anymore), there's an explosion and a chase down the Thames using a speedboat and one of Q's amazing craft. The Thames footage, which goes all the way from the SIS building to the O2 stadium (called The Millennium Dome then) was done over three weeks and it would have been fun getting the Thames cleared to film, because it is almost never that free of traffic. It ends with Bond dropping off a balloon to land on the surface of the Dome and then they run the credits.

Gadgets: fittingly for Desmond Llewelyn's final appearance as Q The World Is Not Enough is jam packed with gadgetry. Bond's watch has it's usual tricks with the addition of a high powered flashlight and a grappling gun.The Q boat is the focus of the pre credit sequence. Q claims he constructed it for fishing trips during his retirement, but he still put torpedoes (I pity the fish he went after using it),  a dive function and jet propulsion. It could also travel on land almost as well as in water. BMW's association with the Bond film's ended with The World Is Not Enough and to celebrate that Q gave Bond a Z8 (which had not been released to the public when the film came out) complete with anti aircraft missiles and another remote control function via the keyring, not quite as extensive as the one he trashed in Germany. Bond also has a Visa card that doubles as a lock pick, a ski jacket that turns into a giant bubble (would have been useful in On Her Majesty's Secret Service), X-Ray glasses and also glasses that trigger an explosion. Both actually look rather stylish, I'm sure Bond would have preferred a pair of these in A View To A Kill rather than the awful things he wore to see through glare at Zorin's horse stud. It's probably not really a gadget but Elektra has his chair at her palatial home in Baku, it's an old Turkish chair, the idea is to strap the victim into it, generally secured at the wrists, then put a collar around their neck and continue to turn the wheel at the back which drives a bar behind their neck into the back of the neck and this will either strangle the victim or break their neck. I'd say that was a gadget. There's also the parahawks that attack Bond and Elektra in the snow, they use parachutes and small motorised craft to rain death down from above. The helicopters that King Construction use for clearing forests, which have multiple saw blades depending from them are a gadget as well, although they're probably real, however not generally used for trying to kill people hiding in a caviar factory.

Music: there have been better songs than Garbage's The World Is Not Enough (it's a fairly unwieldy title to get a song around in any case), written by David Arnold (who scored the film) and Don Black (his fifth time cowriting a Bond theme, the others were: Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun and Tomorrow Never Dies, hey one and a half out four isn't bad!), but I found this one less offensive than the three that preceded it and it actually improves on a relisten, which many of the themes don't. Garbage had a minor hit with it and it saw a short resurgence in the band's career, although the last time I saw lead singer Shirley Manson she was playing a villain in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Could have been worse, could also have been better.

James Bond will return. They don't say what in and it's at the start of the credits rather than the end. As the next film was Eon's 20th Bond film, there was little doubt it would return.

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