Musings on Bond at 50: Tomorrow Never Dies

Posted: 13 October 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

A succession of eleventh hour calamities fail to deter James Bond as he enters the world of information manipulation and techo-terrorism in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Words are the new weapons; satellites, the new artillery.

Tomorrow Never DiesIn Tomorrow Never Dies 007 is placed in opposition to insane media mogul Elliot Carver in a glossy Tom Clancy-style techno-thriller set against a backdrop of media manipulation, an impending global conflict, and lots and lots and lots of explosions.

The eighteenth James Bond film was the first to be produced after the death of Albert R Broccoli and by all accounts entailed a fraught working environment. Long renowned for its relaxed family-style atmosphere behind the scenes Tomorrow Never Dies was plagued by rumours of on-set conflicts between director Roger Spottiswode and just about anyone else working on the film. By the end of filming Spottiswode and screen writer Bruce Feirstein were reputedly no longer on speaking terms. One insider commented “All the happiness and teamwork which is the hallmark of Bond has disappeared completely.” Pierce Brosnan attempted to defuse the situation by saying that the so-called disputes were nothing more than the usual creative tensions that emerge during the production of any large scale film.

Whatever the truth behind the rumours it is abundantly clear that Tomorrow Never Dies was a troubled production with script and locations in a constant state of flux throughout. Starting a film of such complexity is difficult at the best of times, and without a completed script it is a recipe for disaster. Yet when Tomorrow Never Dies began filming in January 1997 there was no finalised script as the original had been scrapped at virtually the last moment. The initial storyline revolved around the then-imminent transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China with zealot industrialist Elliot Carver determined to destroy the colony with a nuclear weapon rather than allow the handover to take place. Also rumoured as part of the plot was a scheme by Carver to loot Hong Kong’s gold reserves and conceal the theft with the nuclear detonation. With plot echoes of Timothy Dalton’s unmade Bond The Property of a Lady the film was to have featured location filming in Hong Kong, Spain, Venice and the vaults at the Bank of England.

At the eleventh hour and well into location scouting the original script was scrapped. The genuine handover of Hong Kong on 1 July 1997 was a tense political situation and the possibility of violence in its wake was an all too real possibility. Nerves suddenly abounded at the possibility of the new Bond being tainted by real life events and Bruce Feirstein had to construct a new narrative at zero hour, which he would continue to work upon at various filming locales throughout production.

As if the tension of needing to get words onto the page wasn’t enough of a nightmare for the filmmakers they had another ill forced upon them by the requirement to relocate a major location shoot. Permission to shoot in Ho Chi Minh City had been rescinded by the Vietnamese government and EON Productions had to move quickly to redirect a container ship already en route with props and other materials to Thailand whilst they worked around the clock to secure the necessary licences required to film in Bangkok.

I am a professor of forensic medicine. Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create the proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies - Elliot CarverThe stand out character of the constantly evolving script is the darkly comic Dr Kaufman, personal assassin to Elliot Carver, a practitioner of torture in his free time, and a sadistic individual worthy of Ian Fleming himself. Enacted by Vincent Schiavelli (often described as “the man with the sad eyes”) his scene with Bond after Paris Carver has been murdered is a highlight of the Bond series. It’s a great shame that Dr Kaufman was killed off so early in proceedings as he is a far more interesting villain than the latest Oddjob-wanabee henchman Stamper.

Dr Kaufman deserves thanks from the audience for killing one of the least interesting character in any Bond film: Paris Carver – wife to Elliot Carver and former lover of James Bond. A nauseatingly bland individual Paris is woefully performed by Teri Hatcher, who was supposedly cast at the behest of United Artists against the objections of EON and Pierce Brosnan with whom she clashed on set. American Bond girls simply don’t seem to work, only Pam Bouvier from Licence To Kill being an honourable exception to the rule.

The role of Elliot Carver was initially offered to Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins who declined feeling that he script was underdeveloped. Hopkins had also turned down the opportunity to appear as Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye (006 having originally being conceived as an older man and mentor to 007). In Hopkins’ place came fellow Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce whose breakthrough role had been in Terry Gilliam’s much lauded 1985 science fiction film Brazil. Pryce’s dissatisfaction with some aspects of Carver led to further rewrites on top of the numerous adjustments already undertaken. Whilst not in the league of Goldfinger or Drax, Carver is an adequate villain clearly based upon media magnates Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.

When you remove Mr Bond’s heart, there should be enough time for him to watch it stop beating.

Tomorrow Never Dies - helicopterGiven the difficulty involved in accessing some of the locations it’s amazing how blandly the majority of them are conveyed by Spottiswode and his team. The scenes filmed in Munich may have well as been staged in Staines-upon-Thames for all the atmosphere that is conveyed. Why travel all the way to a foreign locale, ignore the back drop and shoot so much of the action in close-up. The Spy Who Loved Me and The Living Daylights had epic car chases filmed in the exotic vistas of Sardinia and Italy respectively. What does Pierce Brosnan get? Several levels of the car park at Brent Cross shopping centre! Even the substitution of Black Park and the environs of Pinewood Studios for the Swiss locales of the Aston Martin chase in Goldfinger was more epic.

Locations in Tomorrow Never Dies and the subsequent Brosnan Bonds are increasingly used as establishing backdrops before cutting to another action set piece filmed on an exterior set constructed on the studio backlot. In this instance part of Bangkok (itself doubling for Ho Chi Minh City) was doubled on the backlot for the helicopter vs. motorcycle confrontation.

The character moments afforded to 007 during The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill and GoldenEye are completely jettisoned as Tomorrow Never Dies progresses and by the explosive finale aboard Carver’s stealth ship Spottiswode had regressed Bond into a gun-toting action cipher randomly spraying bullets in yet another generic shoot-em-up of a style more suited to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s than Ian Fleming’s creation in the more enlightened 1990s.

Every now and then, you get to work with a decadent agent of a corrupt Western power.

Tomorrow Never Dies - BondAfter the criticism levelled at Eric Serra’s experimental score for GoldenEye Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson decided upon a more traditional approach for the soundtrack of Tomorrow Never Dies. Whilst John Barry could no longer be called upon they netted what many considered the next best thing in the form of David Arnold. Known for his work on science fiction epics Stargate and Independence Day Arnold was a massive fan of the legendary Bond composer and had recently completed Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, an album of Bond theme covers about which John Barry had been complimentary. Arnold’s approach to scoring the adventures of Bond found far more favour with audiences than Serra’s approach but the composer found himself overruled on the theme song he had written and recorded with k.d. Lang. Arnold had finished the film’s score and incorporated motifs into the soundtrack when he was informed by the producers that a song by Sheryl Crow would be used in place of Lang’s as she was more well known. Relegated to the end credits and retitled Surrender Lang’s take on the theme song is a far superior effort to the unmemorable and insipid tune that replaced it.

In spite of all the behind the scenes ructions Tomorrow Never Dies achieved its release date of 12 December 1997 and raked in a box office of $333 million, a highly respectable sum considering that the $2 billion grossing Titanic was unleashed upon the world just one week later.

At the time of release Tomorrow Never Dies concept of a media empire manipulating events and information for its own nefarious ends truly belonged in the realms of the more far-fetched and fantastical corners of the Bond universe. 15 years on, and in the wake of the continuing revelations connected to the Rupert Murdoch’s News International regime, it is clear that the producers showed great farsightedness in pitting 007 against the supposedly untouchable corporations that influence so much of the world with their actions. Ian Fleming’s originally conception of Bond as a St George figure to battle the seemingly indestructible Dragon continues.

1 From Russia With Love
2 Goldfinger
3 Licence To Kill
4 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
5 GoldenEye
6 The Living Daylights
7 The Spy Who Loved Me
8 Thunderball
9 Dr. No
10 For Your Eyes Only
11 You Only Live Twice
12 Tomorrow Never Dies
13 Octopussy
14 Moonraker
15 Diamonds Are Forever
16 A View To A Kill
17 Live And Let Die
18 The Man with the Golden Gun

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