Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The World is Not Enough (1999)

As the millennium came to a close James Bond was about to engage in one last hurrah. While fans enjoyed the action packed adventures of Tomorrow Never Dies, most folks wanted something a little more serious this time around. Will the final result be something that may be the best of the Pierce Brosnan era, or will it turn out to be disappointment that is better forgotten.

After a bomb blows up the powerful Sir Robert King (David Clader) in the middle of MI6 headquarters, M (Judi Dench) has had enough. She suspects that infamous terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) is behind the bombing. The vicious man had targeted the King family previously, kidnapping the lovely young Elektra (Sophie Marceau) several years earlier. M sends her best agent; James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to protect Electra and find out what Renard is planning next. The game is just beginning and Bond finds out he is only one of the many pieces on the board. John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, and Denise Richards all have a part to play in a game where The World is Not Enough.

Good Points:
  • With an interesting script to work with Brosnan gives his best performance as Bond
  • The pre-credit sequence is one of the best of the entire franchise
  • David Arnold provides one of his best musical scores for the series

Bad Points:
  • A script that can’t decide what type of movie it wants to be
  • Big action scenes feel shoehorned into the film
  • Denise Richards is a nuclear scientist… uh, right. 

This is a movie at war with itself. On the one hand it wants to be an intelligent thriller that examines James Bond’s character and provides him with some real challenges. The other side wants this to be popcorn fun with huge explosions, Richard’s jiggling chest and lots of bad puns. The film ends up collapsing into a mess, almost working on minute and leaving you bored the next.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  5
Sound: 4
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 5
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 2
Total:  3

In Depth Review
Each time I watch The World is Not Enough I want to like it, I really do. It has so many great elements in it. And each time it finishes I feel frustrated and annoyed at the whole darn mess. Let’s look at the good stuff first.

First off, the visual elements are top notch. Most Bond films have a ton of money on the screen and this is no exception. The set design and execution is excellent with some realistic location shooting in Turkey, Spain, France and England to ground the action. Visual effects are kept in a more realistic vein for this film, relying on excellent stunt work and in camera effects. Sure there are some computer generated effects, but most of this is grounded in reality (as opposed to the over the top antics of the next film, Die Another Day).

The other element that is always top notch is the sound effect work. There’s plenty of good stuff for action fans here, immersive explosions, gunfire ricocheting around and even huge saws cutting all around you. One of the best sequences is the finale where the sinking submarine surrounds the viewer with water dripping, running and gushing all around.

In addition David Arnold is on hand with my favorite modern Bond score. Of course you get the classic James Bond theme, but Arnold also creates two new themes for the film. One is the title theme, “The World is Not Enough”, which gets a nice rendition by the group Garbage. Shirley Manson’s throaty vocals fit well with the brassy song. Arnold uses it to great affect in the score. He also wrote a song “Only Myself to Blame” performed by Scott Walker. The song is never heard in the film itself, but the tune is used to represent Electra and becomes her theme. Arnold continues to mix his dance-influenced electronics into the music and it does some great stuff in the amazing pre-credit sequence.

I’ve always liked Brosnan as Bond, and here he gets perhaps his juiciest script. He does well with it, as Bond is put through the ringer. Elektra’s vulnerability and fragility appeal to him. He becomes a protector, beyond what M had asked of him. But as the game begins to unfold, Bond has to make hard decisions and confronting M with the truth. His final scene with Marceau is excellent, adding gravity to the role and the scene (even if it appears that some key script elements seem to be missing).

Marceau is equally good as Electra. Her relationship with Bond and Renard are the main forces that move the plot and themes along. It’s a difficult role, one that demands she be alluring, mysterious, dangerous and emotionally unstable. She keeps the character believable and has some great chemistry with Brosnan turning her into one of the best female leads in a Bond film.

Robert Carlyle does his best with an underwritten role. The character of Renard should have made The World is Not Enough into a classic. He’s got the scarred face, the immunity to any form of pain, and the will power to do just about anything to achieve his ends. The twist revealed near the end of the film puts his character into a new and disturbing light. And yet the filmmakers and script never give Carlyle enough to work with. I wonder how much of his performance was left on the cutting room floor, and how much was just never fleshed out in the script. The result is a weak villain given a good performance by an excellent actor.

Before I talk about the other lead character, let me just talk a little about the supporting cast. Judi Dench gets a bit more screen time in this film and she makes the most of it. It was also nice to have Coltrane back as Zukovsky from Goldeneye. He brings some humor to the film (and not the horrible pun variety), and makes you wish they did a bit more with his character. Samantha Bond is back as Moneypenny and gets a few good lines. Then there’s Maria Grazia Cucinotta who is credited as cigar girl, and practically steals the film as the dangerous hit-woman featured in the pre credit sequence. Sadly this was the last appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as gadget master Q. He gets to play off of Brosnan in his key gadget scene and introduce John Cleese as his protégé “R”. His scene is both poignant and clever.

Ok, I’ve put it off long enough, but I’ve got to write about Denise Richards eventually. Look, I have no problem with her being a Bond girl, honestly. She’s got the right look, she’d done a few well-known movies at the point, and she looks great in a wet shirt. Cast appropriately she could have been fine. Unfortunately someone, somewhere decided that she’d be a good fit for the nuclear scientist who helps Bond with the explosive threats in the film. She was giving the ridiculous name Dr. Christmas Jones and given dialogue that she can’t say convincingly to save her life. It’s a laughable performance that sinks the movie for a lot of people. Now, I’m very much aware of Tanya Roberts equally horrid performance in A View to a Kill. The big different here is that The World is Not Enough has some very serious themes in it, as well as a tone that is more dark and gritty than the more airy and fun Bond flicks. This character just doesn’t seem like a fit for this movie and Richard’s casting just makes it worse. Sadly, whenever people remember this film, the first thing they say – oh the one with Denise Richards, she was horrible. It’s even become one of the big jokes when talking about bad casting.

However the movie has a few other things working against it, and even if Richards wasn’t cast or the character was made less ridiculous, there would still be issues. Much like Tomorrow Never Dies, the movie isn’t sure what it wants to be. In this case there is no clear dividing line where the espionage film ends and the action film kicks in. Instead The World Is Not Enough feels like it wanted to be a darker exploration of who James Bond is, and what could actually break his frosty exterior. It feels like it wants to be the movie Casino Royale in 2005 turned out to be.

The name of the film comes from the Bond family motto, first revealed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There are quite a few connections to the 1969 film, including one of the few mentions of James Bond’s wife. The character of Elektra is very similar to Tracy from the older film, and with that in mind we can understand Bond’s attraction to her. The darkness in her character has potential to bring out the darkness in Bond – and their final confrontation is proof of that. Then there is Renard the man who can feel nothing, and yet feels something for Elektra. He and Bond share a coldness within, and one that makes them more similar then they’d like to believe.

All this is in the subtext, but not fleshed out well. Instead the movie has action sequences forced into it. The ski chase and caviar factory scenes are the worst of the film, feeling completely out of place and over the top. Both allow Bond to use his gadgets to get out of trouble, and show off the car. But after the amazing car chase of Tomorrow Never Dies this one just looks lame. Without those two action scenes the film would be less padded, and that would help a great deal.

The script also seems to have been horribly mutated by too many cooks. The dark edge of the main relationships is completely scuttled by a horribly confusing and ultimately uninteresting master plan. The villains goal is to destroy all the oil pipelines in Europe and Asia except for the ones owned by the King family. This is explained, but poorly. The script spends so much time attempting to force in intrigue and twists. It should have focused on the twists of the relationships between Bond Renard and Elektra. In the end, ask most folks what the main villain was after in this movie and you’ll get a blank look (even if they can even keep it straight while watching the film).

This feels like a real case of the creators getting cold feet. It is well known that Brosnan wanted to bring more of an edge to Bond’s character, to give him a little more to work with. There were hints of this in Goldeneye, but most of this was lost in the action packed insanity of Tomorrow Never Dies. I think the screenwriters came up with this great story to delve into the dark side of Bond, and when the rest of the creative team read it they were afraid. Where were the car chases? Where were the gadgets? Where is the big-breasted beauty to bed at the end of the film? Where was the levity? So a several rewrites later and you’ve got this mess of a script, with some of the worst one liners ever uttered by James Bond. The final line of the film is as groan inducing as anything Roger Moore was forced to say.

And yet I can’t completely condemn this movie. All the acting (with the exception of Richards) is very good. Marceau steams up the screen. Llewelyn gets his last bow and David Arnold knocks the music out of the park. Finally I have to talk about the wonderful boat chase that opens the film. It’s filled with excitement, thrills, a few laughs and leads into the wonderful opening credits. Cucinotta is deadly and smoking hot (and you wonder how in the world they let her die at the end of the scene and not figure out a way to keep her in the rest of the movie). It’s 15 minutes of the best James Bond action you’ll probably ever see. It’s enough for me to give it an average rating. What kills me is that I can see a really great movie in here, something that could have ended the 1990s with a bang and been something of a showpiece for the Brosnan era. 


  1. A seriously miscast major character can be very distracting.

    Rewrites often help a script. There is an inside joke in Casablanca in which Ilsa offers to tell a story but says, "I don't know the finish yet." Rick answers, "Well, go on. Tell it - maybe one will come to you as you go along." The ending of the movie wasn't yet certain, as the writers were still updating the script. Casablanca turned out OK. On the other hand, it wasn't rewrite by committee -- there wasn't a question about the kind of movie they were making, only about the plot details. So, it wasn't a mess. In the case of The World is Not Enough, I suspect you are right that too many cooks with different notions about spices were in the kitchen.

  2. I hadn't heard that story about "Casablanca". As you said, that movie turns out great. But I wonder if it is the exception to the rule. Or maybe its an era thing. Most modern films give you a sure sign of trouble when you see more than three scribes for the writing credits. Some will try to dilute it by saying "Story consultant" or "script adaptor", but the reality for most modern flicks is that writing by committee is a bad idea.

    Still Kurosawa collaborated on many of his scripts, usually with two or three other folks and many of movies are considered masterpieces. So who knows if there is any secret to it.