Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

After managing the tough task of introducing a new actor as James Bond to the movie audience in 1995 with Goldeneye, it was business as usual for the next Bond film. Well almost. Turns out some viewers were not completely satisfied with the film. The creators went out of their way to correct these annoyances. Including ramping up the action. The result is Tomorrow Never Dies, a movie that promises to deliver your daily dose of explosions and gunfire for an entire movie in the pre-credit sequence!

A British warship is sunk in the South China Sea and a Chinese plane is shot down. Suddenly World War III seems imminent as the British and the Chinese suspect each other of foul play. M (Judi Dench) head of the British Secret Service sends her best agent, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to investigate. It seems that media mogul; Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) may have something to do with the plot. Bond meets up with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher) and rekindles an old fling they had. At the same time a woman who claims to work for a Chinese paper named Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) seems to be conducting her own investigation of Carver. Things get dangerous very quickly as Bond finds out that insanity, money, power and satellites do not mix.

Good Points:
  • Pierce Brosnan is in full James Bond mode.
  • An excellent first half.
  • One of the most entertaining car chases in the Bond cannon.
Bad Points:
  • The villain’s plot is not very interesting
  • The action scenes tend to outstay their welcome
  • The bond gals don’t make much of an impression in this one
For a full throttle action film, Tomorrow Never Dies delivers. For anyone expecting a film that balances thrills and atmosphere with that action, you’ll be disappointed. The result is entertaining, but lacking the character of the previous film.

Score (out of 5)
Visual Aspects – 3
Sound Aspects – 5
Acting – 3
Music – 3
Script – 2
Direction – 3
Entertainment – 3
Final Grade: 3

Film Review

What I find strange is the fact that Goldeneye was hailed as a fine return to form for James Bond and an excellent introduction for Pierce Brosnan. In the same breath fans of the series will site numerous issues they have with the film. Included was the lack of gadgets (especially using the new BMW), a wretched score (which I actually enjoy) and surprisingly not enough action for a Bond film. With these elements in mind Tomorrow Never Dies attempts to one-up its predecessor.

From a visual standpoint, this Bond film delivers. We get great locations including Germany, Vietnam, England, and a pre-credit sequence in the mountains of Russia. The work on the sound stages is a mixed affair: some look realistic, others are obviously sets. Costumes and make-up are up to typical Bond standards. I do have to mention that this film uses lots and lots of product placement. It gets pretty distracting at times, but only gets worse in Die Another Day.

All four of the Pierce Brosnan films have had good sound work on them. Tomorrow Never Dies being the most action packed of the four has some of the best use of sound and sound motion of the four. Explosions resonate well, and bullets fly around your head.

Pierce Brosnan does a great job as James Bond. He gets to play more than one dimension, especially when dealing Paris Carver. He seems more comfortable here. It’s a shame that the script doesn’t let James Bond breathe. Instead Brosnan fans have to wait for The World Is Not Enough to see the actor in top form as James Bond.

When it comes to the Bond girls, it’s a mixed bag. Michelle Yeoh does a good job with the part of Wai Lin. She’s played the tough spy character before (only as a detective with Jackie Chan in Police Story 3 aka Supercop). She is believable when she plays tough, and believable when she’s undercover as well. Her only weak moments are when she’s supposed to be falling for Bond. I didn’t get much chemistry between the two, but that might have more to do with the script. Teri Hatcher does a average job as Paris Carver. Her part is rather small considering the big play up she gets. She does deliver key information, but ends up killed by the bizarre Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli).

I remember how excited I was that Jonathan Pryce was going to play Elliot Carver. It seemed perfect. But what ends up happening is that he starts going overboard with his evil/insane/mogul routine. He doesn’t come across as a genuine threat. He’s more outlandish and goofy than anything else. Not to mention his villainous plot is pretty lame. It's essentially the same plot as You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. So its a bit stale on top of it. This is probably because the original script was scuttled pretty close to the start of filming, and this had to be whipped up on the fly. The original script was going to revolve around the transfer of Hong Kong to the Chinese, but the producers got cold feet about who it may offend.

Supporting cast is solid. Back for another round of fun is Judi Dench as M, Samantha Bond as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as Q. M seems to have mellowed a bit in this film. Her admiration for Bond is more apparent than in the other Brosnan films. Samantha Bond is my favorite Moneypenny. There, I said it and I won’t take it back. She is so playful and cute she just crackles when she’s sharing the screen with Brosnan. Desmond Llewlyn as Q is one of the highlights of the film. His banter with Bond is classic stuff. I just wish he didn’t have to wear that stupid Avis outfit.

On the villainous side we get Gotz Otto as Stamper, Carver’s muscle. Stamper plays the part more along the line of Necros from The Living Daylights, except that Necros got more screen time and came across as more dangerous. Stamper seems to be big strong hired muscle with enough brains to get things done and unquestioning loyalty to Carver. We also get Dr. Kaufman, a character that is menacing and humorous. He felt like a character from one of the Roger Moore films and was enjoyable, but bumped off too quickly.

Eric Serra has been demonized for his score to Goldeneye. Fans of John Barry’s jazzy brassy music hate it with a passion. So David Arnold was brought in to remedy the situation. David Arnold took the electronic rhythms that Serra experimented with and mixed them with a very brassy score. The result was the next step in the evolution of the Bond score, especially compared to Barry’s final score for a James Bond film, The Living Daylights. That said, Arnold overuses the James Bond theme. Bond escapes from an explosion, cue the theme. Bond drives his car around, cue the theme. Bond kills a bad guy, cue the theme. Bond opens a door, cue the theme.

I can’t mention the music without mentioning the two songs that accompany the film. “Surrender (Tomorrow Never Dies)” is a great tune. It mixes the brassy sound with the powerful vocals of k.d. Lang. David Arnold helped write the tune, and worked it into the score for several key moments. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere decided k.d. Lang wasn’t popular enough with the kids. Enter Sheryl Crow. Enter a song that is one of the worst in the whole James Bond series. Actually the lyrics and music aren’t bad, but Crow’s voice just doesn’t carry anything with it.

The reason this movie doesn’t work for me is the script. I’ve heard numerous things about this production, and while I’m not sure what is true and what’s a rumor I do have to wonder about the script. Bond films are action films first and foremost. But most of the Bond films follow a direct line of story and fit the action scenes into the plot. This film seems to have gone about it backwards. Cool sequences were dreamed up and the plot was fitted around them. The action takes over. The script does have good moments, especially those that happen in Hamburg. But once we get to Bond’s HALO jump, things plummet just as fast. In addition to the weak script, we get the beginning of the hideously bad one-liners that the writers pummeled Brosnan with. In the end it feels like the script was reworked so many times that it was killed.

With a weak script it must have been very difficult for director, Roger Spottiswoode to make it work. The two key action scenes in Hamburg are the best. Bond does some old fashioned espionage in Carver’s corporate headquarters and is discovered. He makes his escape with only a pistol and a minimum of gadgets. This scene played with plenty of excitement. But the car chase in the parking garage trumps it. Pierce plays the scene like a kid in a candy store.

Later scenes are not as well executed. Most of them go on way too long, or have some kind of strange ending to them. The motorcycle chase sequence is a good example of this. It starts off well enough (especially with Wai Lin and Bond handcuffed together), but after the motorcycle jumps the helicopter, the chase should have ended. Instead you get a goofy scene of the helicopter chasing Bond and threatening to chop them up with the propeller. The final battle aboard Carver’s stealth boat has no tension and goes on for so long that I end up tuning out.

It reflects in my final entertainment grade. I end up tuning out of this movie when it moves to the Vietnam scenes. With this last viewing I approached the film as an action extravaganza instead of an espionage film and I enjoyed it a bit more. For a piece of fluffy summer entertainment it fits the bill. I just wish they had added a bit more brains to the script. This could have easily been a classic, instead of an also ran.

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