Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies - 1997

Background: in some ways the success of Goldeneye on nearly every level, became a millstone around Eon's neck. That film set up some expectations that were always going to be hard to meet.

It is surprising that they were able to produce the film so quickly (returning to the old schedule of a new Bond film every two years), and maybe some more time taken would have benefited the film better, although the anticipation could also have heightened audience expectations to a level that would ultimately be impossible to live up to. The film's box office wasn't helped by being released on the same day as James Cameron's Titanic (although it did eventually surpass Goldeneye's earnings).

Retaining the same regular cast (Brosnan had signed a 3 picture deal, which seemed to be common practice, as Dalton had done the same thing) and writer Bruce Feirstein were both good things, although they did need to find a new director. However there were still hurdles to overcome, chief among them being the death of Cubby Broccoli seven months after the release and success of Goldeneye.

Although Cubby Broccoli had taken a major step back from producing the films, and Goldeneye had been largely produced by Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli with minimal involvement from the series' spiritual father, he was still an important part of them. With his loss the Bond franchise lost a part of itself, and that may have contributed to some of the reported problems on set. The director and writer clashed repeatedly, the star had a blow up with one of his female co-stars and others said that the films had lost their sense of happiness and togetherness that they had been famous for off screen. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Some of what was wrong with the later Moore films and the Dalton's was that there was an impression that long time cast and crew members seemed to regard their films as an excuse to get together once every couple of years for a sort of family reunion, and while that's very nice and can strengthen a project, it can also weaken them from an audience point of view in that they don't necessarily feel part of this family, besides you're playing with someone else's money.

Tomorrow Never Dies gave Wilson the chance he'd wanted for a long time to have Bond play in China, although for various reasons none of the film is filmed in China or even Vietnam where some of it is set, but rather Thailand and the area where the villain's ship is located is the same place that Scaramanga had his island in The Man With The Golden Gun, they could have almost substituted the locational shots from the earlier film for this one if they needed to save some money.

From memory the advertising was handled very well, I can remember two promos in particular. The teaser featured Brosnan walking onto screen, looking into the camera and saying: 'The name is know the rest.' The other was Q giving Bond the insurance rundown on his new vehicle and as the list is ticked off and answered by the agent shots from the film, displaying his answers are shown.

It heightened the anticipation nicely.

Story: Bruce Feirstein was hired to write the story and he drew his inspiration from current events and the media itself. On the face of it a story about a media mogul deliberately starting a war so that he can cover it and thereby ensure maximum ratings from his various worldwide holdings sounds unrealistic, and it is, but on a small scale it does have a historical precedent which is referenced in the film when William Randolph Hearst was accused of having engineered the Spanish-American War in the late 1890's reportedly telling one of his reporters: 'You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.' Whether or not this actually happened or Hearst ever sent the telegram with those words is debatable, but it is used to a certain extent as the basis for the story of Tomorrow Never Dies.

Tomorrow Never Dies is another wholly original story and this time it doesn't even reference a part of Ian Fleming's life in the way that Goldeneye did, the title sharing its name with the author's Jamaican estate.

Using an illegal and stolen GPS device, programmed by an American cyber terrorist, media baron Elliot Carver attempts to engineer a war between Britain and China. He wants to cover the war, ensure himself maximum ratings on his various platforms (TV, radio and print, interestingly despite the film coming out in 1997, the author of the script or the producers clearly disregarded the possible impact that the fledgling internet and world wide web would have on the public and it's uses for reporting the news, as it was never even mentioned and if Carver was as on the ball and cutting edge as he believed himself to be he would have at least recognised the 'net's potential) and also get himself a foothold in China, the one place his tentacles haven't fully embraced.

In an effort to prevent a full scale conflict breaking out M sends Bond to investigate Carver and urges him to use his previous relationship with the media mogul's wife; Paris. What MI6 don't know is that the Chinese have sent one of their own operatives; Colonel Wai Lin, to do the same thing.

Bond encounters both Paris and Wai Lin, although as this stage he doesn't know she works for Chinese intelligence, he does know that she's not the Chinese reporter she's posing as, just not what her game is. 

Paris comes to Bond at his hotel room, after Carver has tried to have the British spy roughed up and his team of thugs come off second best, gives him some information and then predictably sleeps with him. The whole Paris Carver thing really didn't make a lot of sense and seems to be in the film so that Bond can add another notch to his bedpost and to increase actress Teri Hatcher's profile and let her add 'Bond Girl' to her CV. She was also there to be 'fridged' and give the audience and Bond another reason to hate Carver.

Back at Carver's German HQ, Bond locates and steals the GPS device and encounters Wai Lin again. She's clearly there for the same thing he is, and that's when the penny drops about what she really is. I did enjoy her using some of her own devices, walking down the wall and cheekily waving at Bond as he dodges bullets from Carver's guards.

Once again Bond's Q supplied car was a BMW (they had to have had the contract to supply the films with cars), although he still drives the DB5 when he's not at work. It's seen parked outside the Oxford school where he's learning Danish by sleeping with the undeniably attractive professor (an attracting that prompts Moneypenny to call him a 'cunning linguist'). He leaves the GPS device in the car, while he goes to check on Paris, who is dead in his hotel room. Of concern is a video playing on the TV reporting Paris' death and Bond's own. That's when a freaky looking assassin who enjoys torture and goes by the name of Dr Kaufman appears. Unfortunately for the good doctor he has failed to learn from all the other people who have tried to kill Bond and engages him in a battle of quips instead of simply incapacitating him, this lets Bond kill him and get away to the hotel garage where Carver's people, including his head henchman, the psychopathic Stamper, are unsuccessfully attempting to break into the BMW (the windows don't even shudder under the impact of sledgehammers swung with a good deal of force, but they do shatter when shot at, it does make you wonder why they didn't try that once the hammers didn't work). Using the various things Q has shoehorned into the car, Bond gets it and himself out safely, well the car is wrecked, but it's contents (the GPS) are still intact.

Bond winds up on an American aircraft carrier and liaising with Jack Wade again. Wade says that the US can't be seen to be openly involved in the brewing conflict between the British and the Chinese, but he will help Bond with his investigations. That involves a HALO jump into what are technically Vietnamese waters to look at the wreckage of the first casualty of Carver's war, the HMS Devonshire. Down there he first learns that the ship was not sunk by a missile, but something else and encounters Wai Lin again. They narrowly escape the ship, but are captured by Stamper and turned over to Carver in Shanghai.

They escape him in Shanghai by jumping out the window and using the giant banner hanging on the edge of the building to abseil a lot of floors down and smashing the window. This then sparks off a wonderful chase on a motorbike (also a BMW, product placement is alive and well, Bond's phone was clearly an Ericsson and he also used a new Walther, replacing the PPK with a P99) which was made harder by the fact that Bond and Wai Lin were handcuffed together. There's some wonderful stunt work here and once they're away from pursuit, Wai Lin uses her earring to unlock her cuff and leaves Bond handcuffed to a pipe. He gets free and goes after her, eventually tracking her to a hidden base.

There's a great fight scene where Michelle Yeoh gets to show off some of the moves she learned while working with Jackie Chan in the Hong Kong chop socky industry and Bond comes into to do the clean up work. The two decide that they're better off working together than fighting against each other. There's a lot of reminiscence here of the combative relationships between Bond and Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me and Holly in Moonraker, although Michelle Yeoh is a better actress than either Barbara Bach and Lois Chiles and sells it better than either of them ever did. The Chinese hideout seems to be a bit of hidden workshop used by the Chinese equivalent of Q, and it's quite funny to see the normally composed Bond accidentally tripping off various things disguised as mundane items.

The trick is to flush Carver's stealth ship (yes, he had one) out and then get it sunk. Unfortunately the two agents are captured during the attempt and held by Carver. Stamper attempts to kill Wai Lin and once again makes the fatal mistake of thinking Bond is dead because he sees a black clad figure fall into the water. I repeat unless you see the body and personally make sure that it is well and truly dead do not count James Bond out!

While trying to save his life and that of Wai Lin's and prevent WW III, Bond encounters Carver and eventually manages to have him killed by his own ship breaking device, he then kills Stamper and rescues Wai Lin. They find themselves cuddling while the British search for them in the water. In a throwback to the early Connery's Bond suggests that they stay there for a while yet. Despite the fact that there's almost an unwritten rule that Bond films MUST end this way I would have preferred to see them break that in this. Up until this point there has been nothing to suggest that Bond and Wai Lin are romantically attracted to each other (he may find her alluring, but then again he finds anything female and attractive with a pulse alluring) so doing this now seems very contrived.

It's good, but not outstanding in the way Goldeneye was.


Director: Martin Campbell was offered Tomorrow Never Dies, but didn't want to direct two Bond films in a row. This put the producers in a bit of a quandary. Generally Bond directors either wanted to do more, or if they couldn't, there was someone with experience waiting in the wings. Terence Young directed 3 films, Lewis Gilbert did 3, Guy Hamilton 4 and John Glen 5, Peter Hunt was the only director they'd had who helmed a single film. The spotlight fell on Brit Roger Spottiswoode. He had a strong career behind him although he'd never done a Bond style blockbuster, he did want the job as he had offered to direct a film during the Dalton era, but they were happy with Glen at the time. He did his best, the cast supported him, but he repeatedly didn't see eye to eye with Bruce Feirstein. There were reports of feuds amongst the crew. Campbell was just a hard act to follow and while the motorbike chase scene was a lot of fun it didn't compare well to the tank in Goldeneye.

James Bond: Pierce Brosnan was signed to a 3 picture deal when he took on the role in Goldeneye and he was such a part of the success of that film that Eon had no issues with honouring that contract, in fact I think they were downright delighted. Oddly enough Brosnan seems less comfortable with the role this time, maybe the script wasn't quite as good. He didn't work well with Teri Hatcher, there were reports of at least one blow up between the two because she turned up late to shooting. This was apparently due to her being pregnant at the time and Brosnan later apologised when he found out the reason behind it, but it did damage their on screen interactions. He did however work nicely with Michelle Yeoh. He retained the edge, but at times he seems to be trying to humanise Bond and smooth out some of the hard edges.

Elliot Carver: once the film was released the inevitable comparisons with Rupert Murdoch were made. Bruce Feirstein insisted that he actually based the character on Robert Maxwell, and there is a reference to Maxwell's rather mysterious death when Bond has killed Carver and M instructs that a press release be sent out saying that Carver died after falling overboard on his private yacht. The original actor looked at was Anthony Hopkins, and damn, but he would have been good, he's just such a compelling believable actor, Ben Kingsley could have also done a good job I feel. The role went to British actor Jonathan Pryce. I felt Pryce was a let down as a villain after Sean Bean. He didn't really come across as threatening to me. Oddly enough he played quite a few villains in action films after Tomorrow Never Dies, although Elliott Carver remains one of his best known screen roles, He has had a very successful stage career, though.

Richard Stamper: big German actor Gotz Otto played the psychopathic henchmen with a penchant for exotic torture. He was reportedly given 20 seconds to introduce himself and did it in 5 by saying simply: 'I'm big, I'm bad, I'm German.' He does well, but unfortunately when he's following the likes of Oddjob, Jaws and even Xenia Onatopp they're a hard act to follow.

Paris Carver: a lot of people regard Paris as a Bond girl. I am not one of them. As I said in Story she's really unnecessary to the plot and I think it was a case of celebrity casting. Teri Hatcher was fresh from Lois and Clark and had a high profile. She was pregnant during filming and that may have contributed to her less than stellar performance and lack of chemistry with Brosnan. There were also reports of divaesque behaviour on set. Hatcher beat out Monica Bellucci for the part, a foolish move according to Brosnan (however things have been righted by casting Monica Bellucci in the upcoming SPECTRE). Hatcher's profile dropped again after the film, but rose with her casting as the scatter brained Susan Mayer in Desperate Housewives in the mid 2000's. She'll be best remembered for that role, rather than her turn as Paris Carver.

Peripheral roles: with Judi Dench as M, Samantha Bond as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the regulars were set. Judi Dench's M seems to be a bit more maternal towards Bond than she was in Goldeneye, although she's still hard enough to advise him to use his connection with Paris for information, and she stands up nicely to a British admiral for him in the pre credit sequence. Moneypenny flirts nicely just like she used to in the early films and shows she can work just as well with a laptop from inside a car as she can in an office somewhere. In deference to the actor's age (Desmond Llewelyn was over 80) Q's role is relegated to him fencing verbally with Bond while posing as an Avis employee as he hands over the BMW and the Ericsson phone that goes with it. The scene in the Chinese hideout may have substituted for his by now familiar laboratory scene.

Henry Gupta: Gupta is described in the pre credit sequence as being the father of techno terrorism and American actor Ricky Jay in portraying him is required to look and act rather like a jaded and pissed off ex hippy.

Jack Wade: on hearing about Wade's return and remembering the gag with Felix one could wonder if they were going to do the same thing and keep casting him with a different actor. Fortunately Joe Don Baker was somewhat more reasonable to work with than Jack Lord and was only too happy to reprise his role as the scruffy CIA agent. One thing I meant to mention about him in Goldeneye, but it slipped my mind, was how he never refers to Bond as James, it's Jimmy, Jimbo, even Jimbob, anything other than James, it's part of the character.

Dr Kaufman: the creepy assassin with torture as a hobby is played with an appropriate amount of quirkiness and a delightfully fake German accent by American actor Vincent Schiavelli. With his long face, gangly body, sad eyes and scraggly hair Schiavelli was famous for his quirky roles and this was another of them.

There were a few cameos in this film, by people who were already famous or would become so later on, and I'll go through them together here. Chief among them is Geoffrey Palmer as Admiral Roebuck. I have the feeling that he was cast for the reason that he was well known to British audiences from his many appearances in film and TV, and because he and Judi Dench starred opposite each other in the TV comedy As Time Goes By (the show had already been running for 5 years in 1997 and would continue for another 8), they share some nice repartee with each other and you can see that they're comfortable onscreen together. Respected actor Colin Salmon takes the Chief of Staff role generally filled by Bill Tanner, but his character name is Charles Robinson. Brosnan actually floated Salmon's name as a replacement Bond when it became clear that he wasn't being considered past Die Another Day. Salmon's character would return in the Bond films. Post Bond Salmon has continued to act consistently in both film and TV. Frederick Gray's successor (I assume Geoffrey Keen was a bit long in the tooth) is played by Julian Fellowes who is now best known as the man behind the series Downton Abbey. Speaking of Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville has a cameo as an air warfare officer on the HMS Bedford. Later on he'd go on to headline films himself and even be thought of as a possible Bond, but back in 1997 no one had ever heard of Gerard Butler and he has a blink and you miss it cameo as a leading seaman on the ill fated HMS Devonshire. I probably should have included Michael G. Wilson before now, as he's been appearing in cameos going as far back as Goldfinger, but this is one of the largest and most recognisable he's had as one of Carver's execs. Carver is so dastardly that he even releases buggy software so that consumers will be forced to pay for expensive upgrades for years to come.

Colonel Wai Lin: I personally feel that Wai Lin is one of the best Bond girls ever. She's up in the top echelon along with Anya Amasova and Pam Bouvier. The character is written as an equal to Bond in much the same way Anya was. Not once does she ever appeal to him for assistance, he gives it when it's needed, but she can get herself into and out of most situations. She saves him as often as he saves her. The original thinking had been to cast Natasha Henstridge, this would have been a mistake, it would have changed the character entirely. Fortunately sanity prevailed and the role went to Michelle Yeoh. The Malaysian born Yeoh had a solid career acting alongside Jackie Chan in chop socky films. She was famous for being one of the few female actors that Chan would allow to perform her own stunts. She brought beauty, talent and professionalism to the role of Wai Lin, as well as a physicality no other actress before could match. She wanted to do her own stunts but for reasons of danger and insurance Roger Spottiswoode wouldn't permit it, she did however do her own fight scenes. It was telling that Wai Lin was given the rank of Colonel, which meant that she technically outranked Bond. Michelle Yeoh was the only other Asian Bond girl outside of Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama in You Only Live Twice and unlike those two actresses as she spoke better English than Cantonese there was no need to dub her lines.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: Michelle Yeoh has been anything but cursed as an actress. She didn't have a big profile outside of the Chinese chop socky market prior to doing Tomorrow Never Dies, but once she had done it her profile outside of that market increased markedly. She was offered a role in the two Matrix sequels, but scheduling conflicts prevented her from accepting it (the producers then changed the characters gender and cast Colin Chou). Outside of Bond she is best known for the role of Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she had learn her lines phonetically as she spoke better English and Malay than she did Cantonese. She's also been the face of Guerlain. In 2015 she has been cast to reprise her role of Yu Shu Lien in a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend.

Pre credit sequence: this ties into the main story because it takes place at an illegal market bazaar where Gupta acquires the GPS device that he uses for Carver. I'm not sure what capacity Bond is attending in, but he is there and winds up having to steal a nuclear armed jet just before the British Navy, who jumped the gun, can land a missile and trigger a nuclear explosion that according to a visiting Russian general watching from the control room at MI6 says will make Chernobyl look like a picnic. There's some amazing (and unbelievable) flying done in the sequence and Bond handles it with his usual cool demeanour and aplomb, saving the day yet again.

Gadgets: there's not an over reliance on gadgets, but they are plentiful in the high tech world Bond now operates in. He has two at the arms bazaar, one is a cigarette lighter that doubles as a grenade, interesting that Bond still uses smoking paraphernalia, because Brosnan's Bond does not smoke and actually tells someone at the bazaar that it's a filthy habit (Fleming's Bond was a chain smoker as was the author himself), he also has magnetic grenades which come in useful (I do wonder if these are a real thing these days). The stealth boat that Carver uses as a mobile base and the sea drill that he uses to sink ships and also proves to be the instrument of his death are both gadgets in the wrong hands. There's also the GPS encoder that Gupta acquires and uses to confuse boats as to their real position in the water which helps to create the conflict Carver desires. Bond is armed with a mobile phone that has a fingerprint reading scanner, a lock pick, a 2000 volt charge for any unsuspecting thief or thug and doubles as a mobile remote control for his BMW. The BMW itself has bulletproof windows and body, fingerprint activated safe in the glove compartment, tear gas, missiles from the sunroof, caltrops that are dispensed out the back, reinflating tires and a wire cutter in case you need it. Bond picks an Omega Seamaster watch from Wai Lin's collection that has a detonating device in it as well. Plus all the little toys at her hidden base that are mainly used for comic effect, including a dragon statue that shoots flame out its mouth when triggered.

Music: after rejecting a theme song written by David Arnold (who scored the film and provided the end credit song) MGM invited a number of popular artists to submit a song. Sheryl Crow's composition was eventually chosen and she recorded the track, which is rather forgettable and certainly not hummable, as they often did, the Bond team got the singer after her popularity had peaked. The song did chart and was nominated for both a Grammy and an Academy award. Must have been a weak field and it's not at all surprising that it didn't win. Crow herself sounds like she's in pain a lot of the time when singing it. k.d lang sang the closing credits song, and she would have been a good choice to sing the opening one as she sounded a lot easier on the ear than Ms Crow did.

Once again the end tells us James Bond will return, but they don't know when or in what.

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