Released in celebration of the franchise’s 40th anniversary, Die Another Day is a poorly written, special effects laden, and over-the-top offering that deserves all the critical scorn heaped upon it. Even Roger Moore, the most gadget orientated 007 of them all, lamented the technological excesses present, “I thought it just went too far – and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
Forget wobbly back projection. Forget wooden acting from the likes of Britt Ekland and Stacey Roberts. Forget every second featuring Jaws. The single most excruciatingly naff moment in the entire Bond canon occurs roughly 90 minutes into Die Another Day. A CGI 007 surfs over CGI water, whilst hanging onto a CGI parachute and avoiding CGI ice flows. The sheer awfulness of experiencing this computer generated fiasco for the first time in a packed cinema is an event never to be forgotten. Mouths fall open. Popcorn drops in shock. “What the fuck?” emerges from more than one row of seats. Upon viewing that awfulness the producers should have excised the scene and if necessary mounted a reshoot to bridge the missing footage.
The driving force behind the inclusion of the footage was Lee Tamahori – without question the worst Bond director ever. Unlike fellow New Zealander Martin Campbell (director of GoldenEye and later Casino Royale) Tamahori has no feel for Ian Fleming’s world and seemingly wanted to retool the series for the MTV generation. When the director of a James Bond film declares he’d be quite happy if 007 never wore a tuxedo again or ever sets foot in another casino it’s blatantly obvious that this is not a person you want following in the illustrious footsteps of Terence Young and Peter Hunt. Tamahori demanded several changes to the production, including the addition of the much derided CGI para-surfing sequence. Set designer Peter Lamont had to rebuild and strengthen the Ice Palace constructed upon the 007 Stage to accommodate Tamahori’s wish to take the Bond/Zao car chase inside the set. The director also relocated the showdown between Bond and villain Gustav Graves from an indoor beach resort in Japan to a plummeting Antonov An-124 aeroplane above the Korean DMZ.
With numerous references and homages to previous films Die Another Day is a greatest hits package that falls flat. Visiting the Q Branch archives fails without the presence of Desmond Llewelyn to evoke a suitable sense of nostalgia. John Cleese’s new Quartermaster is dire as he shares zero chemistry with Brosnan and has dreadful lines. The ailing scene is killed stone dead by the supposedly humourous introduction of the Aston Martin Vanquish and its adaptive camouflage capabilities that have earned it the moniker of the “Vanish”.
The basic premise of Die Another Day is replete with dramatic potential but so badly enacted it’s as though the infinite number of monkeys, with their infinite number of typewriters, have become bored of developing the complete works of Shakespeare and decided to have a go at a Bond film. As the acclaimed 1999 South Korean blockbuster Shiri demonstrated, the topic of Korean reunification is a ripe one for action drama. Mix in 007 attempting to prove that he didn’t betray MI6 to North Korea during 14 months of captivity and the groundwork is set for a classic entry in the series. Perhaps even use the idea of a brainwashed Bond attempting to assassinate M from The Man with the Golden Gun novel. Except it’s all handled with an incredible degree of ineptitude. Other than looking like Robert Plant circa 1977, Pierce Brosnan’s physique makes it appear like he’s spent a year or so in a particularly fine health club as opposed to being tortured by one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Bond should have been a broken man desperate to regain his health, honour and reputation. Yet within hours he’s all cleaned up and jetting off to Cuba.
Illogical plot development follows illogical plot development. DNA re-sequencing? Zao can’t get diamonds removed from his face after 14 months? It’s as if the producers decided to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of Moonraker and that film’s slew of nonsense. In common with that 1979 clanger Die Another Day has a fine chief villain played by an exceptional actor. The entire concept of Gustav Graves being a surgically altered Colonel Moon is the most idiotically science fiction orientated plot device the series has ever used, but Toby Stephens owns the screen in every scene in which he appears. The son of the late Sir Robert Stephens and Dame Maggie Smith, Stephens is one of the finest British actors about. He and Brosnan make their scenes together into ones of almost Shakespearean conflict despite the risible material they’ve been given. At times it looks like Graves might actually win out against Bond. The role of the duplicitous MI6 agent Miranda Frost was the breakthrough role for Rosamund Pike, who had been on the verge of going to to work at a bookshop before Die Another Day because of the lack of roles offered to her. One aspect recent Bond films has excelled at is taking lesser known British actors and giving their skills a well-deserved high profile airing in the global market. Judi Dench, Samantha Bond, Robbie Coltrane, Colin Salmon, Robert Carlyle, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike…
Once again the presence of an American Bond girl grates. Such is the screen time and narrative role afforded to Halle Berry’s Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson and near equal billing with Brosnan that she is more or less 007’s partner. James Bond doesn’t have partners. He has associates and allies, no partners. Serious work was done upon a spin-off for Jinx before the post-Die Another Day critical mauling struck and a back-to-basics approach was decreed. Berry was also involved in one of the many homages to the previous Bonds when she emerged from the sea in a similar fashion to Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Although Berry is possessed of a fine physique the scene falls flat due to Tamahori’s indifferent direction.
The second most excruciatingly naff moment in the entire Bond film canon occurs whenever Madonna is on screen for her cameo at the Blades club. Showing the production’s bizarre sudden disregard for the Bond heritage, M’s gentleman’s club from the Moonraker novel where 007 battles Sir Hugo Drax in a card game is recast as a sword fighting club for a confrontation with Gustav Graves. Madonna can’t claim any redemption of honour with her utterly dire theme song.
The finest moments of Die Another Day occur when second unit director and stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong has control of the camera. In many ways it’s a shame he wasn’t able to work his way up to main director as John Glen did in the 1980s. The North Korean set hovercraft chase (actually filmed in Aldershot!) is one of the very best pre-credit sequences with exceptional footage and stunt work. Armstrong also choreographed and filmed the stunning battle between Bond’s Aston Martin and Zao’s Jaguar on the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in Iceland. Armstrong captures a sense of scale and location with the Icelandic footage that puts Tamahori’s efforts in Cadiz for the Cuban scenes to shame. Brosnan and Berry appear to be on location in Southsea rather than Spain. Die Another Day is the culmination of the trend of the Brosnan films to use British locations and studio backlots to replicate foreign locations rather than taking the first unit abroad for extensive periods.
With a Royal Premiere in front of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and previous Bonds George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, Die Another Day was the centre piece of EON Productions’ 40th anniversary celebrations for the franchise. Despite the negative reaction afforded the film by critics and aficionados of Ian Fleming’s literary creation, the film went onto generate a box office of $432 million against a budget of $142 million. Although Brosnan’s original four film contract expired with the release of this 20th film all indications pointed to actor, producers and fans not being adverse to a fifth appearance. Ultimately circumstances and plans by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson for a change of direction conspired to make Die Another Day Pierce Brosnan’s unheralded swan song…
1 From Russia With Love
3 Licence To Kill
4 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
6 The Living Daylights
7 The Spy Who Loved Me
9 Dr. No
10 For Your Eyes Only
11 You Only Live Twice
12 Tomorrow Never Dies
13 The World Is Not Enough
14 Die Another Day
17 Diamonds Are Forever
18 A View To A Kill
19 Live And Let Die
20 The Man with the Golden Gun