FLEMING FRIDAY: TOMORROW NEVER DIES
Movie Viral has a continuing mission: to keep you ‘Bonded’ to the 007 series with weekly fixes of the world’s greatest action hero /super-suave, super-spy. We look forward to SPECTRE and beyond. And we look BACK: viewing each and every old Bond film in the context of some new development in the weekly movie news digests.
So: pour yourself a nice Martini; undo your tie; relax and embrace the spirit of FLEMING FRIDAY..
Another week: another Bond. He’s never far from the headlines. It was recently reported that Damian Lewis is set to take up the 007 mantle when Daniel Craig steps down. The news stemmed from an anonymous bet for£200 on the prospect, despite the fact that Craig is yet to announce his resignation from the role and SPECTRE remains in the filming stages. It could be anything, even a random drunken punt for a joke.
Lewis might well have met with the Producers (lucky him; they’re lovely people). Heck, he may even have done a secret screen-test, as the team are known to undertake those from time to time as a back-up procedure ‘just in case’. He was possibly considered for the role before and was thought to have been a contender to play bad guy Gustav Graves in 2002’s Die Another Day (part went to the rather similar Toby Stephens).
But, since re-casting must be some way off, this remains idle speculation in the absence of any formal announcement. It could be that with the imminent transition from Sony to another distribution studio, EON Productions felt compelled to make provisions in case Craig jumps ship a la Timothy Dalton back in 1994 after the change in guard at MGM.
Meantime, let’s avoid the future and look back to the past. This week: 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. I have a soft spot for this one as it arrived at a happy time for me.
The film was rushed into production after the unexpected success of GoldenEye in 1995. Things did not look promising, with rumours of on-set discomfort and last minute re-writes of substantial chunks of script. It certainly FEELS rushed as a film, with what amount to a series of action set-pieces sewn together and pasted into a muddled whole.
And yet, Tomorrow Never Dies is a historical document. 1997 was the year of Britain’s releasing Hong Kong to the Chinese: the last bastion of empire was gone. Conversely, one felt a certain pride and promise in ‘Cool Britannia’ with the rise of a certain Blair, Tony Blair.
Under Blair’s tenure, the UK felt important again on the world stage. And Pierce Brosnan (who went onto play a Blair-like ex PM in Polanski’s film, ‘The Ghost’) is a very Blairite Bond: style to suit everyone and a corporate gloss that sustains your belief in the idea of Britain still being big enough to take on villains, worldwide.
It is that balance of gloss and grit; of old and new and a bygone Bond in service of bygone Britain that makes Tomorrow Never Dies so appealing. It’s visually engaging; the music is great; the stunts are fun and the updated version of Spy Who Loved Me /You Only Live Twice villain plans to a more grounded world is undeniably interesting.
Brosnan has never looked cooler: witness the scene with him simply sat, brooding, in a hotel room chair, sipping vodka and fixing his silencer. Shame about the shoe-horned romance angle and the non-chemistry with the Bond girls, but the scene with the Danish Professor at New College, Oxford more than makes up for that (where was she when I attended that seat of learning? Not fair!).
Also: this film ‘got’ how to update Bond with a new menace to replace the Cold War Soviets and SMERSH /SPECTRE etc. They go with mass media and in today’s era of phone hacking and social networks gone mad, it was ahead of its time. They should revisit the idea sometime.
But perhaps I’m biased? Let’s handover to our friend at The GoldenEye Dossier, Nicolás Suszczyk for a more objective insight.
The Guilty Pleasure of Tomorrow Never Dies
By Nicolás Suszczyk
After GoldenEye’s success in reintroducing James Bond and adapting Ian Fleming’s spy into the 1990s, in the flesh of Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, 1997 saw the release of Tomorrow Never Dies.
Far from the previous film emotional depths, the Roger Spottiswoode film took a lighter approach and many influences of the previous Bond adventures: more than one scene brings memories to For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me. Yet, Tomorrow Never Dies stands by taking a contemporary approach in the plot: the mass media used as a weapon.
The Gulf War proved how far the new technologies reached audiences providing shocking images and bringing them at the same time simultaneously. Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein took advantage of this while conceiving the villain’s plan. As a tradition in the Bond franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies’ nemesis tried to achieve world domination by provoking a war. But in this case the biggest weapon is not the missile he tries to fire over China, but his media empire: “Words are the new weapons”, he says.
Outstandingly played by Evita’s Jonathan Pryce, Elliott Carver was much more the shadowy mastermind with his blonde and muscular henchman –in this case Stamper, played by German actor Gotz Otto– but he adds a special humoristic touch as a man of entertainment.
Carver even shares an anecdote with his friends during his network inauguration party about initiating the Mad Cow disease stories because a beef baron refused to pay him the money he lost in a poker match. Situations that delve us into the intrinsic world of the new communication technologies and how they can be manipulated: and this was around a decade before social networking!
As Jackie Chan and his martial arts movies were getting to worldwide audiences, Bond’s female companion was a Chinese Army Colonel named Wai Lin, the first Bond girl to steal some of 007’s leadership in the story by having her own hand to hand fight on an abandoned bike shop with Carver’s goons. On the other side, the sensual Teri Hatcher (now famous for Desperate Housewives, then famous for Lois & Clark) played Carver’s wife Paris, who had a romantic past with the secret agent.
The relationship between Bond and Paris is short, but there are feelings between them and, even when he’s ordered by M to “pump her for information”, he is clearly hurt when he finds her lying dead on his bed after Carver seeks revenge for her betrayal. Bond’s character had become more romantic during the Dalton era and Brosnan reaffirmed that the character now wasn’t the misogynist who uses girls for fun or to achieve his goals. In this case, Brosnan’s Bond did, but we can see the pain in his eyes, and the determination when avenging his death by killing the forensic doctor who eliminated her.
Sadly, and as ever from here on in the Brosnan era, it’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment of pathos and depth. One can understand the commercial caution here and not wishing to run with risks like Licence to Kill or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But in that case: why go there at all?
Seconds after Paris’ death, Bond is laughing his way through a car chase. It makes for a somewhat uneven tone and it’s THAT kind of inconsistency that left poor old Pierce at fanboys’ mercy on message boards for years to come. It’s not fair: the man clearly WANTED to push Bond further. But he also wanted the return of SPECTRE and Monica Belucci as a Bond girl (he’ll just have to watch that at the Cinema this year like the rest of us!).
So, whilst Brosnan is by no means blameless (indeed, he MUST shoulder-holster some blame for his era’s tone; including the gritty one minute then invisible cars the next of Die Another Day), it’s by no means ALL his fault and it’s clear he hoped for risks to be taken 20 years too early, only to be bested by his and the Producers’ /Director’s commercial savvy in capturing the comic book composite tone of the times.
If Pierce REALLY loathed it that much I’m sure he could have threatened to walk. Kevin McClory was still in the wings, afterall, peddling his attempted rival 007 franchise at Sony (the studio that would later distribute the ‘proper’ EON Bonds). But no, Mr. Brosnan endorsed and promoted this film and its merits. He really ought to stand by that and be proud of a less than perfect but frequently, momentarily brilliant Bond film?
So, there is no real depth in Tomorrow Never Dies at all. It is an action film, pure and simple. And that’s just fine, frankly. It lacks depth or substance but it never lacks style or spectacle. An action Bond film made for entertainment. It could pretty well classify into a piece period film like all the action movies of the 1990s with extravagant action scenes but with that unique touch the James Bond movies can add.
We have a fantastic car chase with Bond’s remote controlled BMW 750il car, a bike chase through the Saigon streets, martial arts, humour and a timeless sense of adventure.
The other Brosnan 007 adventures saw the spy betrayed by his friend (GoldenEye), a girl he’s been emotionally involved with (The World Is Not Enough) or an MI6 insider (Die Another Day). Tomorrow Never Dies is utter fun and escapism. The kind of Bond movies families can relish with a big popcorn bucket and a coke without paying too much attention to the story, but enjoying it.
Many of us would like to have a Big Mac from time to time even when we can have the option to eat more distinguished dishes. Hence, Tomorrow Never Dies could very well be the “Big Mac” or the delicious chocolate cake of the Bond movies: something not so healthy, but delightful indeed. “What the people want”, to paraphrase Bond.
Here’s to the guilty pleasure of Tomorrow Never Dies!
Nicolás Suszczyk runs the website The GoldenEye Dossier and has been a Bond fan since 1998, shortly after watching GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He studies Communication and Journalism in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he currently lives.