Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 18: Tomorrow Never Dies

Pierce Brosnan's sophomore effort as Bond was the sole Brosnan Bond film not to open at No. 1 at the box office...probably because it came out the same day as Titanic.

Synopsis: Evil media mogul Elliot Carver tries to use a stolen American-made GPS system to instigate WWIII between China and Britain, in order to set up a Chinese government that will offer him exclusive broadcast rights.

The Villain: Elliot Carver is played by the excellent and vastly underrated Jonathan Pryce (who accepted the role after Anthony Hopkins turned it down). The character is a scathing parody of both Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. He's utterly without regard for human life, and totally ruled by his own megalomania and ambition. The character is an interesting choice for a Bond villain, and, unlike many of them, is a strong reflection of the times in which the movie was made. Pryce is somewhat campy, making Carver a hateful, but humorous, villain.

The Henchman: Three guys could be considered henchmen in this one. One is more of an assistant, sort of like Boris in GoldenEye - this is Henry Gupta, an American "techno-terrorist" in Carver's employ. He procures the GPS system vital to the plot at a Russian arms bazaar just before the British blow it up with a missile (against M's wishes - Bond was present there, investigating, and he's obliged to escape in a stolen Russian aircraft). Gupta is played by Ricky Jay, who is always entertaining. He's one of a long line of assistants and henchmen who is killed by his villainous master. The more classic "henchman" is Stamper, played by Gotz Otto (see "Fun Facts," below). Stamper is one of a long line of big, bad, blonde henchmen, heir to such characters as Red Grant and Necros. He outlives his boss and has an underwater fight with Bond, who kills him by trapping him in a missile-firing mechanism and swimming away before the missile goes off. Finally, instantly-recognizable character actor Vincent Schiavelli plays an assassin named Dr. Kaufman who does work for Carver, such as killing his wife. Bond dispatches him handily early in the film.

The Bond Girl: Wai Lin is a Chinese spy on the same case as Bond. After initial mistrust, they team up (in more ways than one). She's played by Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and joins Kissy Suzuki as one of only two Asian Bond girls. Like all Bond girls of the more modern era, she's an action hero in her own right, and the only swooning thing about her is that she, like all women, is susceptible to Bond's unstoppable charm. Teri Hatcher plays Paris Carver, the villain's trophy wife, who had a previous relationship with Bond. It leads to a bad end for her.

The Sidekick: Wai Lin is both Bond girl and sidekick in this one, although American CIA agent Jack Wade reprises his role from GoldenEye. Why they used Jack Wade through this period instead of the traditional CIA Bond-friend Felix Leiter is beyond me, unless we're expected to believe he is recuperating after his bad turn in the final Timothy Dalton film. He does not return until the Daniel Craig era (when he becomes black).

Gadgets: The most obvious has to be a mobile phone that doubles as a remote control for Bond's car, which he manages through a car chase in a not-so-oblique reference to popular video games. There's also an exploding cigarette lighter, phone fingerprint scanner, and a few other traditional things.

Music: Longtime Bond composer John Barry wanted to sit this one out, and recommended the excellent David Arnold, who scored Stargate and Independence Day. Like his predecessor Eric Serra, who scored GoldenEye, Arnold opted for some modern touches to the soundtrack, working with rockers Propellerhead for some chase sequences. Unlike Serra, Arnold also attempted to merge the modern with the classic, re-using some musical phrases heard in From Russia With Love. It's probably the best score of the Pierce Brosnan years. Multiple artists contributed theme songs, and one by Cheryl Crow was ultimately selected. Arnold had written what I think is a far better song, Surrender, performed by k.d. lang (why do some folks insist on not capitalizing their names?). It's played over the closing credits and the melody is heard throughout the film. Finally, Moby did an interesting revision of the traditional Bond theme that works well.

The Director: This job was offered to GoldenEye director Martin Campbell, but he didn't want to do two Bond films in a row. It went instead to Roger Spottiswoode, who had previously done such screen classics as Stop or My Mom Will Shoot and Turner and Hooch (sarcasm intended). Nevertheless, he does a fine job on this one, and gives the film a very "big" feel.

Fun Facts: Parts of the film had to be rewritten at the last minute, as it focused on Britain giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese. By the time the film started shooting, this actually happened in real life. A fun fact about Gotz Otto, who plays the henchman Stamper, was that he was given 20 seconds to audition for the role. He did in five, saying, "I am big, I am bad, I am blonde, and I am German." Terri Hatcher was hired because the producers wanted "Sela Ward, but 10 years younger." Some locations that had been used in the Bond movies Goldfinger and The Man With the Golden Gun were re-used in this one.

Favorite Lines: As Bond is sleeping with his language tutor, he quips, "I always enjoy learning a new tongue." The best line comes from the villain, Carver, who says, "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success." Finally, M, now a female, has a good line when an admiral tells her she doesn't "have the balls for this job." Her excellent response: "Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don't have to think with them all the time."

Other Stuff: This was the first Bond film made after the death of longtime producer Albert Broccoli, to whom the film is dedicated. He had been involved with every production since the first, although in GoldenEye, his health already failing, he had a limited role.

Next time, we look at The World is Not Enough


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