“I see you don’t chase dreams, you live them.”
Pierce Brosnan returned to the screen for the fourth and last time as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in Die Another Day. Of all of Brosnan’s Bonds this one is the most over the top, throwing everything at the film, including the kitchen sink. Die Another Day was meant to be a celebration of the cinematic legacy of 007. And while it’s an occasional fun outing, the film often ventures a little too far into the ludicrous.
Scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade used the story concocted by Ian Fleming for the original novel, Moonraker. And they crafted a giant-sized 007 film that feels like it believes too much of its own press. They would also shoulder the blame when the film didn’t deliver what the fans wanted, which at this point was a grittier, less gadget based 007. Instead, they gave us a glossy, sleek looking film that doesn’t do the character as much justice as it should, focusing instead on spectacle.
With a script in hand, produces Barbara Broccoli and Micheal G. Wilson turned to New Zealand director, Lee Tamahori to bring his own perspective to the franchise. Aiding Tamahori are a number of names that have become long-running 007 stalwarts; Lindy Hemming returns for costumes, Peter Lamont is the Production Designer, while Oscar winner Chris Munro oversaw the sound. Daniel Kleinman gives us another credits sequence, with a theme song by Madonna. She has a small role in the film, the first theme song artist to do so. That song actually ties into the events of the film around it, as we see 007 and his torturer, the latter holding him in North Korea.
The film does its best to honor what has gone before. It lifts from Ian Fleming’s original novels and uses visual callbacks to things throughout the series. That includes a room filled with gadgets from a number of the other films, like Bond’s 20th watch. There’s a nod to the continuing series of novels via the name Colonel Moon. There was also a nod to the original James Bond and his guide to birds, title word plays. And they cast Halle Berry as the American agent, Jinx. She has an entrance meant to mirror and pay homage to Honey’s emergence from the ocean in Dr. No.
In addition to Berry, the film saw Judi Dench back as M. Aiding them are Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, John Cleese as Q., and Colin Salmon as Robinson. Menacing 007 this time around is Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. He has the villainous Zao (Rick Yune) at his side as well as the duplicitous MI6 agent, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). There’s also an appearance by Micheal Madsen as an American head of intelligence. He is less than impressed with Bond, MI6 and the UK in general.
Lamont’s work is very evident in the film, but nowhere more so than the ice palace. He had to bolster that when Tamahori wanted to move the car chase inside it. In fact, visually, there are some shoddy moments of CGI and green screen, neither of which are worthy of the series. Otherwise, the film looks great under the steady hand of Director of Photography, David Tattersall.
George Aguilar served as the film’s stunt coordinator. And the film has lots of fine moments, including an outstanding hovercraft chase at the beginning of the film. Other set pieces include a spy-car chase across fields of ice, a sword fight between Bond and Graves, and countless action beats throughout. As exemplary as they are, none of them are enough to make us forget that the story and the film aren’t all they could be.
Things for the film get really questionable from the off with a surfing sequence, followed later by Q’s reveal of an invisible car for Bond. An invisible car? Really?
Despite that, the film carried on some of the essential 007 traditions, including gorgeous locales, with Spain standing in for Cuba. They also shot in Norway, Wales, Hawaii, locations around the UK and, of course, Pinewood Studios. And despite the fact a large part of the film takes place in Iceland, only the film’s second unit was on hand there to shoot. Everything else was done on Lamont overseen sets.
With the introduction of Jinx, the film franchise finally delivers Bond a true equal. In fact, for the first time, Broccoli considered a spin-off franchise with Berry’s secret agent getting her own series. Sadly, when female-led action films at the time fared badly, the idea was squashed.
The film got closer to its release date of 22 November, 2002 in North America. The rest of the world would see it within days, giving enough time for David Arnold to deliver his third Bond score. And it is one of the highlights of the film, embracing a modern feel while still carrying that John Barry feel.
That doesn’t change the fact that the film leaned towards the outrageous, as opposed to the more grounded spying that viewers wanted to see in the film. Die Another Day is a prime example of producers thinking they know what the people want, and then being completely wrong. And while Die Another Day is not a bad film, is is far and away not the best film either. It was not the celebration anyone had thought, or hoped it would be, but Bond carried on. As did Brosnan and the rest.
When it came to marketing the film, the success of the flame girl from The World Is Not Enough campaign would prove to be hard to top. But the US advance one sheer over seen by B. Newhart, A. Goldschimdt and M. Crawford, with photography by T. Keller was wonderfully crafted, a smoking silenced pistol melting a block of ice. The campaign featured character posters and most of the images are fairly standard. These images are sadly forgettable and they don’t celebrate the legacy of the series. However, the Japanese character posters overseen by Manabu Inada are rather stylish and interesting.
While the film performed well, it ended up being not as successful as was hoped. It remains Brosnan’s least favorite of the 007 films he made. Everyone, especially the audience wanted a grittier Bond, while still honoring the character’s history. The next film in the series would do exactly that, owing a bit of thanks to the newly created Bourne franchise. It would launch a new actor into the coveted, if stereotyping role, as Bond changed to reflect his times once again. It would take four years, but as the credits promised, James Bond Will Return.
Thank you again to my own personal Q Branch, DK Canada with their exceptional 007 library. That includes Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films. Other books include James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters, and The James Bond Encyclopedia.