James Bond Retrospective: Die Another Day (2002)

Pre-Credits & Theme Song The pre-credit scene begins with the iconic gun-barrel sequence but for the first and only time, it features a CGI bullet leaving Bond€™s gun into the lens of the camera. It is a pointless addition and is an early indication of where this film is headed in terms of over-reliance on computer generated special effects. After the superb opening sequence of The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day would have to pull off something pretty spectacular to match it. Opening in North Korea with an impressive surfing set piece that sees Bond and his fellow agents arrive in the country riding enormous waves before removing their wetsuits to reveal immaculate dry clothes underneath, the first of many nods to the past. The action moves to a military base where Bond infiltrates an illegal operation trading African conflict diamonds for weapons instigated by Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. The briefcase containing the diamonds is rigged with C-4 explosives and when Moon€™s henchman Zao uncovers Bond€™s true identity, Bond triggers the bomb scarring Zao€™s face with diamond fragments. Moon escapes on a hovercraft as Bond follows in a second hovercraft entering a minefield pursuing Moon until his hovercraft plunges over the edge of a ravine killing him. With nowhere left to go Bond is captured by Moon€™s soldiers and imprisoned by General Moon, Tan-Sun Moon€™s father. The surfing sequence, a first for a Bond movie, was shot off the North coast of Hawaii and was performed by surfing champions Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and Darrick Doerner. It is a really different opening to any that have come before and is expertly filmed revealing each surfer cutting through the waves and building a real sense of anticipation for the opening scene. The hovercraft chase is also a well put together sequence which sees Bond in another new mode of transport. The practical stunts, performed under the watchful eye of the legendary Vic Armstrong, are spectacular and as good as any throughout the series€™ history, however, when the action cuts to close-up shots of the actors fighting on the hovercrafts, the green-screen backgrounds are a little clunky, taking the viewer out of the action for a moment and certainly not up to the standard expected of a film made in 2002. Following in the footsteps of the excellent pre-title scenes of The World Is Not Enough, the sequence is quite lengthy but sets-up the main plot and overall tone of the film leading to a rather different set of opening titles. The film actually continues under the title sequence with scenes of Bond€™s 14 month incarceration in the North Korean prison incorporated into another brilliantly realised title montage by Daniel Kleinmann. Composer David Arnold returns to provide another great score for the film not only echoing John Barry€™s contribution to the Bond sound but moving it forward to include modern styles and cues used during his previous two Bond scores. The main title song was written independently from the score by the €œQueen of Pop€, Madonna, who not only performed the track but also appears in a brief cameo role in the film. Co-written with music producer Mirwais Ahmadzai, the song marks a massive change of direction for the series, eschewing the more traditional approach for an electronically tinged, beat driven piece of music. The song divided critics and fans alike earning a Golden Globe nomination as well as a Golden Raspberry Award in the same year and despite Madonna€™s continued popularity it remains one of the worst Bond themes of the entire series. The Movie After being imprisoned for fourteen months in a North Korean prison, British secret agent James Bond is freed during a prisoner exchange that also sees the late Colonel Tan-Sun Moon€™s henchman, Zao released by the British and American governments. With his double-0 status suspended after it is suspected he has released sensitive information while in captivity, Bond heads out on a personal mission to recapture Zao. In Havana, Cuba, Bond discovers Zao has been visiting a gene therapy clinic altering his appearance and financing the treatment with conflict diamonds. Bond traces the diamonds back to British billionaire Gustav Graves who is in the process of unveiling his latest project, Icarus, a satellite capable of focusing solar energy on a small area to provide year-round sunshine for crop development. Bond uncovers Graves€™ true identity is that of Colonel Tan-Sun Moon who has undergone extensive DNA restructuring to change his appearance following his presumed death and his real intention for Icarus is to cut a path through Korea, allowing the Northern troops to invade the South reuniting the country through force. With the assistance of NSA agent Jinx, Bond attempts to put a stop to Graves€™ plans. The most pleasure to be gained from Die Another Day is in spotting all the references to the previous films of the series and subtle nods to Fleming€™s creation. From the obscure, where Bond is seen looking at a copy of the book, A Field Guide To Birds Of The West Indies before using the occupation of ornithologist as cover during his mission; Fleming took the name James Bond from the real author of that book in 1952 saying he €œwanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name he could find€. To more obvious references which include Jinx emerging from the sea in a similar bikini to Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Bond using an underwater re-breather much like the one he used in Thunderball while a visit to Q€™s lab reveals an archive of some of Bond€™s greatest gadgets from his briefcase last used in From Russia with Love and the Little Nellie gyrocopter from You Only Live Twice to the crocodile submarine and Acrostar jet from Octopussy. The film is a veritable treasure trove for the most ardent Bond train-spotter and for this reason alone bears up well to repeat viewing. The film is commonly cited as not only marking a turning point in the series but also a major low point in the journey of the character. The franchise had always prided itself on real life action scenes and practical effects so when Die Another Day embraced CGI in a number of the film€™s key action scenes it proved to be hard for many to accept this new direction and it certainly did not help that much of the computer enhanced footage was very poorly executed and far from the standard expected at the time when CGI had become common place in movies. One scene in particular stands out which sees Bond trapped on the edge of a glacial cliff-face pursued by the Icarus laser beam. Making his escape as the cliff wall collapses, Bond kite-surfs to safety on a massive tidal wave. The sequence is so badly rendered it looks completely fake making it incomparable to some of Bond€™s greatest stunts. While I can forgive the fact that there was no possible way to film this stunt for real that should have been reason enough not to include it in film at all. Thankfully the producers have since seen the error of their ways and the most recent Bond films have seen a return to more practical stunt set pieces. Despite the over-reliance on CGI throughout a number of the film€™s action scenes there are still several great scenes that are more in keeping with the traditional Bond approach to action. The car chase on ice (discussed in more detail in the gadget section of this article) and the fencing match at the Blades Club in London are particular highlights. The swordfight is the perfect introduction to the character of Gustav Graves and the immediate conflict between him and Bond. It is a classic confrontation that starts small and grows into an all-out battle between the two men with the requisite amount of property destruction and showmanship as the weapons get larger and more lethal. It is a memorable scene for all the right reasons and even Madonna€™s cameo as fencing instructor Verity does not detract too much from the action.

Classic Line

Gustav Graves: Care to place a bet, Verity?

Verity: No, thanks. I don€™t like cockfights.

Graves€™ Icelandic ice palace and secret base is a throwback to the villains€™ lairs of the past and is a welcome addition to the film. A combination of miniature models and real locations, the palace exteriors were filmed on location at Jökulsárlón, Iceland on the edge of one of the country€™s largest glaciers with the tropical interiors filmed at the Eden Project in Cornwall. It is not the first time that Jökulsárlón has been featured in a Bond film having first appeared doubling for Siberia in the opening of A View To A Kill. The unique glacial lagoon has since become a favourite location for Hollywood movies with both Batman Begins and Tomb Raider also having filmed in the incredible landscape. The Eden Project€™s familiar domed structure makes for an impressive looking base of operations and is the perfect setting for the villain€™s lair. Unusually, the base is destroyed early on in the film leading to a climax that takes place in a more claustrophobic location similar to the closing scenes of both Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. Taking place on board Graves€™ aircraft flying through Korean airspace the climax of the film is another CG heavy scene as Icarus carves its way through the demilitarised zone destroying everything on the ground. The scene lacks any tension as there is little real sense of danger as the CG takes over. The whole sequence is marred by its reliance on unreal imagery that it fails to capture the inventive nature and audacious scale of previous Bond films and even when Bond escapes the crashing aircraft in a helicopter falling from the rear of the stricken jet it is so poorly visualised that it takes the series into the realm of fantasy loosing any sense of believability. Die Another Day is often referred to in the same breath as Moonraker as the films that nearly destroyed the franchise, showcasing the worst excesses of the series and pushing it further into science fiction in a misguided attempt to stay relevant. When Brosnan first took on the role seven years previously there was an attempt to create a post-modern Bond style and while this proved successful in GoldenEye as he progressed through each of his following three films this style was beginning to feel out-dated and in a world where Austin Powers was proving to be a bigger box-office draw than Bond, the character was in danger of becoming a parody himself. Thankfully the Bond producers realised there was no future for this style of Bond and a reboot was planned to get the series back on track.

Chris Wright hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.