James Bond Retrospective: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pre-Credits & Theme Song The film opens with Bond staking out an arms bazaar on the Russian border. After identifying a number of high profile terrorists to M and the military personnel watching from a boardroom back in London, Admiral Roebuck, played by Geoffrey Palmer, orders a missile attack on the encampment. After the missile has been launched it is discovered that there are two Soviet nuclear torpedoes mounted on an L-39 Albatross aircraft at the bazaar. With the British missile out of range and unable to abort, Bond steals the L-39 making his escape just as the missile makes contact with the bazaar destroying everything on the ground. Pursued by another L-39 aircraft and battling his previously unconscious co-pilot attempting to strangle him from behind, Bond pilots his plane to the underside of the other aircraft before ejecting his co-pilot from the rear seat up into the rear seat of the other jet causing it to explode leaving Bond free to make his getaway. The opening is a typically gripping sequence filmed under the direction of second-unit director Vic Armstrong. Using the unique mountaintop location of the Courchevel Airport in the French Pyrenees, one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to its short runway with an 18.5% gradient, the scene also sets up the boardroom bickering of M and Admiral Roebuck. With Dench and Palmer recalling the banter that had served them well on BBC television€™s As Time Goes By in which they starred together from 1992 to 2005.

Classic Line

Admiral Roebuck: With all due respect, M, I think you don€™t have the balls for this job.

M: Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don€™t have to think with them all the time.

Similar to the GoldenEye opening which saw Bond freefall after an aeroplane, the ejector seat gag is verging on the edge of the ridiculous but is performed with enough humour and tongue-in-cheek that it still works in the context of the film and Brosnan€™s one-liner after the event makes it all worthwhile. The whole sequence is a really fast paced opening to the film and while not up there with the best of the series it is still another decent pre-credits sequence. To provide the film€™s score, British composer David Arnold was recommended to the producers by prolific Bond composer and the man responsible for what became known as the Bond sound, John Barry. Following the release of Bond inspired music collection Shaken And Stirred in which he reworked a number of the series€™ most popular theme songs as well as being no stranger to the world of film scoring, having worked on Independence Day and Stargate among others, Arnold seemed the perfect choice to write a suitable accompaniment for the film. The theme song was chosen through a competitive process which saw around twelve submissions including Pulp, Saint Etienne, Marc Almond and Sheryl Crow among those competing for the chance to have their song play over the opening titles. Despite Arnold€™s own entry, Surrender featuring K.D. Lang also in the competition, Sheryl Crow€™s song was chosen for the film€™s opening. As a result the theme song unusually bears no relation to the score during the remainder of the film however Crow€™s song is a strong entry in the series€™ long history of theme songs and despite the fact Arnold€™s score uses melodies from the K.D. Lang song throughout the film with Surrender featuring over the end credits, Crow€™s song makes for a better opener. The Movie When a British Naval vessel HMS Devonshire sinks in the South China Sea it is believed to be an act of aggression by the Chinese provoking the British government to plan a retaliation. British secret agent James Bond is sent to Hamburg to investigate media mogul Elliot Carver when his newspaper, Tomorrow, prints details of the incident before they have been made public. Bond discovers Carver has been playing both countries against each other in a bid to create a war to boost his ratings and sell more newspapers. With the assistance of Wai Lin, a Chinese spy, they follow Carver to his stealth ship and base of operations in the South China Sea and attempt to prevent him from launching a stolen British cruise missile towards China and starting a war. When GoldenEye director Martin Campbell declined an offer to direct the film, it was offered to Canadian born Roger Spottiswoode who had previously directed Tom Hanks in action comedy Turner And Hooch as well as the critically panned Sylvester Stallone film Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Starting production before screenwriter Bruce Feirstein had completed the script; the film€™s budget would eventually end up at almost double that of the previous film with decisions regarding the film€™s plot being made on a day-to-day basis. Consequently the film feels a little like a loosely connected string of action sequences and set pieces only pausing for occasional expositional scenes to link it all together. The film has the rather dubious honour of being the first film in history to have its entire budget covered by product placement, brand integrations, promotional tie-ins and sponsorship deals. As a result the film is plagued by far from subtle advertising from close-up shots of Bond€™s Ericsson mobile phone and Omega watch to blatant plugs for Smirnoff vodka and Heineken beer. While the Bond films have always featured a certain amount of product placement since it became common practice in the late seventies, it had never been so obvious and prevalent until Tomorrow Never Dies. While the film€™s plot is not the most imaginative or inventive, it really lacks Fleming€™s input from the outset, Tomorrow Never Dies does provide several of the series€™ best action scenes. Two sequences in particular standout, the remote control BMW set piece (discussed in the gadgets section of this article) and the motorcycle chase through the streets of Bangkok, doubling for Saigon. Following the memorable tank sequence in GoldenEye, Spottiswoode made a conscious decision to put Bond in a far more vulnerable mode of transport. In addition to the more exposed position Bond would also have to take control of the bike while handcuffed to his leading lady, Wai Lin. The sequence is yet another brilliantly choreographed set-piece from stunt legend Vic Armstrong and despite the notoriously heavy BMW R1200C motorcycle used for the scene, it is capable of some spectacular action. As with many of the best Bond stunt scenes it makes great use of the surrounding environment with the bike pursued through narrow streets by Carver€™s hired hands in a fleet of black Range Rovers and a helicopter as the chase continues across the fragile rooftops of the city€™s buildings. The signature moment of the sequence sees the bike make a 44 foot jump between two buildings and above the rotor blades of the helicopter. It is another incredible stunt performed for real by French rider Jean-Pierre Goy making the jump with a dummy strapped to his back. A total of 15 bikes were used in the sequence, 12 of which were destroyed by the end of the shoot. Bond€™s CIA contact Jack Wade, played once again by Joe Don Baker, returns after his introduction in GoldenEye. In his final appearance in the series Wade€™s role is largely pointless, simply setting up the change in location from Germany to Vietnam with what should have been an impressive parachute sequence but due to the nature of the HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump, the scene is rather lacklustre. Despite the best efforts of Bond regular B.J. Worth who performed 80 jumps for the scene, the cinematography fails to capture the true audacity of the stunt and distance covered during the freefall leaving what should have been a major set-piece feeling slightly limp. The film marked a return to one of the Bond series€™ most memorable locations, Khow-Ping-Kan, an island in the Phang Nga bay near Phuket in Thailand. Probably most well known for having featured in The Man With The Golden Gun as Scaramanga€™s secret hideaway, the location€™s unique landscape and crystal clear waters provide a familiar setting for some typically well shot underwater footage. The film€™s climax, set on board Carver€™s stealth boat in the South China Sea offers a slight twist on the concept of the villain€™s lair, however even with this unusual location the closing scenes are still bound by the formula to include the requisite explosions, the Bond girl in peril, a final confrontation with the henchman and an imaginative death for the lead villain. The final sequence is certainly more violent than many of the previous films in the series with the possible exception of Licence To Kill. Featuring death by throwing stars, which were subsequently cut from the initial DVD release and a particularly grisly death for Carver on the receiving end of an underwater drill, the film was lucky to receive a 12 certificate for its theatrical release. Six seconds of cut violence was later reinstated for the Ultimate Edition DVD raising the certificate to a 15 in the UK. Despite the pressure to deliver another Bond film under difficult circumstances and particularly in the wake of the death of the series€™ guiding-hand, Tomorrow Never Dies for all its flaws is another satisfactory entry in the franchise. By sticking to the familiar formula and offering some of the series€™ best action sequences it remains memorable cementing Brosnan€™s position as the perfect Bond for the nineties.

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