Sunday, September 30, 2012

BOND-A-THON: Die Another Day

I’m only guessing, but I reckon the first script conference for ‘Die Another Day’ went something like this.

The writers: Okay, here’s the deal. It all went a bit OTT in ‘The World is Not Enough’, so what we want to do is really scale things back. Shit-can the gadgets, ditch the one-liners, keep it real.

The producers: Sounds good. Did you get the memo about the invisible car, by the way?

The writers: Uh, I think we missed that. But, hey, what we propose is this: subvert the audiences’ expectations. Have a gritty, down ‘n’ dirty pre-credits set piece that ends with Bond being captured. Totally pull the rug out from under the viewers.

The producers: Cool. Great attention-grabber. Can you work in the invisible car by the half way mark?

The writers: Uh, the emphasis is supposed to be on Bond living on his wits. We want to keep the gadgets to a minimum.

The producers: Absolutely. Invisible car, watch that shoots a laser. That’s two by our reckoning. Oh, and you know what else would be really cool? An ice palace!

There are a lot of things wrong with ‘Die Another Day’, not least that it acronymizes as ‘DAD’, but the thing I have the most problem with is the god-damn stupid motherfucking invisible car. When I watched ‘Die Another Day’ for the purposes of this review, I played the DVD through the laptop, headphones on, rather than insult the TV with it; and on several occasions Mrs F had to break off her RPG and ask me to rant a little quieter and make with less profanity. By the end of the movie, her astute observation was: “Anyone would think you had issues with the invisible car.”

And you know what, dear reader? I do. The invisible car is a god-damn stupid motherfucking concept on many levels, the most obvious being that it brings to mind Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. You know, the one that looked like this:

Keep that image in mind. Now here’s 007 (Pierce Brosnan) in his invisible car:

To my mind there are only three differences: (i) ‘Wonder Woman’ was made nearly thirty years before ‘Die Another Day’; (ii) ‘Wonder Woman’ had a notably smaller budget than ‘Die Another Day’; and (iii) despite her epic cleavage, Wonder Woman looks considerably less of a tit than Bond in a straightforward comparison of these two images.

Yes, I have issues with the car.

I also have issues with the shitty CGI in the scene where toffee-nosed uber-villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) cuts loose with a giant laser, melting vast swathes of tundra as Bond dangles off an ice cliff. Bond escapes this combined fiery-watery fate by surfing his way to freedom. These are some choice examples of the images the paying audience is fobbed off with:

What makes it worse it that ‘Die Another Day’ opens with a surfing scene that’s dramatic, atmospheric and kicks off one of the absolute best pre-credits sequences in the entire Bond canon. I’m tempted to call it ‘The World is Not Enough’ Syndrome, except ‘TWiNE’ gives us a world-class pre-credits sequence then nosedives into redundancy, like a priapic sybarite suddenly experiencing brewer’s droop. ‘Die Another Day’ gives us a frankly pretty damn impressive first three quarters of an hour: Bond’s hovercraft duel with Korean warlord Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and subsequent capture – awesome! Bond’s torture, imprisonment and exchange for the terrorist Zao (Rick Yune) – awesome! Bond’s less-than-victorious return to MI6, the revelation that he’s been implicated in a terrorist outrage and M (Judi Dench)’s fears that he’s been brainwashed (a nod to the opening chapters of the novel ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’) – awesome! Bond breaking ranks from MI6 and going renegade in order to clear his name – awesome! Bond hooking up with American operative Jinx (Halle Berry) as he pursues his own agenda without sanction or back-up – awesome!

I remember sitting in Nottingham’s Showcase Cinema ten years ago, rubbing my hands in gleeful delight as the first third of ‘Die Another Day’ played out, convinced that even the trademark Brosnan pout wasn’t a drawback and that I was watching the most pared-down, focused and hard-edged Bond since Connery was sipping the martinis.

And. Then. It. All. Went. Wrong.

No: it didn’t just go wrong. It went disastrous. It went cataclysmic.

How bad? Well, I think I’ve already mentioned the invisible motherfucking car and shit-awful surfing scene. In addition, there’s the horribly conceived ice palace – the most obviously studio-bound bit of tundra since John Sturges’s production designer painted the floor white and arranged some bits of polystyrene at strategic angles for ‘Ice Station Zebra’ in 1968. There’s a tediously contrived fistfight between the randomly shifting patterns of some laser beams. There’s a cluster of dreadful performances, from John Cleese as the new Q (he was introduced as Desmond Llewellyn’s protégé in the previous film but wasn’t as egregiously annoying as he is here) to Toby Stephens who doesn’t so much chew the scenery as go ‘Man vs Food’ on its ass, while Michael Madsen mopes around in the background, mumbling and waiting for the cheque to clear. There’s a denouement that made me die a little bit inside to watch.

And there are endless – endless – references to other Bond movies. ‘Die Another Day’ was released forty years after ‘Dr No’ and was the twentieth film in the franchise. As such, it was obviously deemed a sterling idea to reconfigure the script as a join-the-dots exercise in homage. Thus we have: Jinx emerging from the sea in a Honey Ryder style bikini right down to the knife belt and a reappearance by the Duke of Wellington portrait (‘Dr No’); Rosa Klebb’s shoe inexplicably showing up in Q’s lab and a potential blackmailer filming Bond in a clinch from behind a two-way mirror (‘From Russia with Love’); Jinx almost eviscerated by a laser, an ejector seat fired from Bond’s Aston Martin and a fight in a depressurising plane (‘Goldfinger’); the old jet pack in Q’s lab, an oxygen mouthpiece used by Bond in a diving scene and a clinic wherein a villain’s appearance is changed (‘Thunderball’); a disused section of the underground commandeered as a secret service base (‘You Only Live Twice’); Bond temporarily buried under an avalanche (‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’); diamonds used to finance a satellite with destructive capabilities (‘Diamonds Are Forever’); Bond using a big American handgun at one point (‘Live and Let Die’); M maintaining and office on board a ship and a satellite that can harness solar rays (‘The Man with the Golden Gun’); a union jack parachute and a similarity in design between the ice palace and Stromberg’s undersea lair (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’); a sword fight through an opulent building in which a fuckload of expensive things are inordinately trashed (‘Moonraker’); the theme song artiste (Madonna) appearing onscreen for the only time since Sheena Easton (‘For Your Eyes Only’) and actually graduating to a speaking part here; the crocodile submersible and mini-jet in Q’s office (‘Octopussy’); Bond surfing in the Antarctic (‘A View to a Kill’); Bond as sniper and a protracted fight in a transport plane, vehicles being jettisoned out of its rear cargo hatch (‘The Living Daylights’); and Bond going rogue after M rescinds his Double-O status (‘Licence to Kill’). Recyclings from Brosnan’s previous outings include a falling chandelier that kills an antagonist – reminiscent of the metal sectioning that similarly finishes off a bad guy in ‘GoldenEye’ – as well as a timer being set for three minutes; the replication of the car park chase in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ around the different levels of the ice palace; and the sprinkler system that activates after Jinx booby-traps the clinic in Cuba, akin to the aftermath of the bomb attack on MI6 headquarters in ‘The World is Not Enough’. Additionally, the gadget-laden watch Q issues Bond with is described as “your twentieth, I believe”.

Some of these homages are, to be fair, quite neatly done and – ironically – the best of them has nothing to do with the movie franchise (the character name Colonel Moon, an inversion of ‘Colonel Sun’, the first Bond continuation novel after Fleming’s death). Mostly, however, they are as subtle as Oddjob lobbing his steel-lined bowler hat at a statue. Cumulatively, they leave you feeling bludgeoned by the filmmakers’ commitment to self-congratulation over aesthetic development; their determination to rake over past glories rather than striving to create a new classic. We’d have to wait four years for that.


Michael Grover said...

In my opinion, the surfing scene is the single most jaw-droppingly awful moment in any Bond film, ever. It is the primary reason I will never, ever sit through this film again (the invisible car is a close second). The CGI ranks among the worst ever attempted; it wouldn't be out of place in a SyFy Channel movie. I'll take dodgy rear projection over this anytime.

Rick said...

Agreed. I did wonder why so many things seemed familiar, and when I saw the jet-pack in Q's lab, I wondered how OLD it had to be to be the same from You Only Live Twice.

Graves turning out to be...silly, and that damn invisible car. Please don't get me started on the robotic, auto-tuned title song!

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Correction: Thunderball.

Neil Fulwood said...

Michael - the CGI is something that still engenders complete dismay in me, particularly given how much they spent on the movie. The CGI on 'Iron Sky' was better, and that was made for probably less than your average Bond movie's catering budget!

Rick - there were two rants I almost got into with the review, before I realised that it was in danger of turning into 2,000 words of solid rant. One was the horrible horrible title song; "robotic" is absolutely the right word for it. The other was the thankless and embarrassing kiss-off it gives Moneypenny. Samantha Bond had done a decent job of revivifying the character and deserved better than 'Die Another Day' gave her.

Surly Duff said...

Enjoyed the review. I am glad I followed you over from Tim's place. I might be hanging around here more often.

I ended up watching the surfing scene again (no idea why) and when Steven uttered the line, "Global warming...[DRAMATIC PAUSE] is a terrible thing", I did end up punching that kitten. I punched it right in the face.