2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 18: TOMORROW NEVER DIES
BRAVE NEWS WORLD As James Bond edged towards the 21st Century so, inevitably, did his adversaries. Tomorrow Never Dies submits a suitably Millennial threat in the form of silvery publishing tsar Elliot Carver, a “worldwide media baron, able to topple governments with a single broadcast.” Carver’s goal may be one of the more esoteric pretexts for imperiling the planet in the icy canon of Bond villainy – he craves exclusive Chinese broadcasting rights for the next 100 years, a demand you might imagine summoning a disdainful sneer from a Blofeld or a Stromberg – but he’s a fitting foe for the age. The ‘90s had seen the rise of 24/7 news media, a rapacious arena that duelled in spectacle and soundbites, turning everything from the Gulf War to the OJ Simpson murder trial into intravenous infotainment for the masses. “Words are the new weapons, satellites are the new artillery,” pitched screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, a smart line he relished so much it made its way into the movie. A monstrous amalgam of Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Steve Jobs, Carver is brought to snide, thin-lipped life by Jonathan Pryce, orbiting the realm of shameless camp as he declares “I’m having fun with my headlines!”, the electric glow of reflected newstype filling his frameless spectacles. For all that Carver’s ambitions bring a topical hum to Bond’s universe, Tomorrow Never Dies now plays as a period piece. As his crooked newspaper thunders through the printing presses, we know that a real world phenomenon named the Internet is quietly unseating Carver’s empire of ink.
YEOH, BABY By now the words “She’s not the typical Bond girl” are an obligatory part of any press conference, as much a cliché as the screamy, bikini-clad notion of spy-candy they try so desperately to bury. With Michelle Yeoh, however, we finally buy it. The Eastern cinema star brings a lethal self-possession to the role of Wai Lin, agent of the Chinese People’s External Security Force and an unusually persuasive attempt on the part of the producers to forge a true female counterpart to 007. If there’s a touch of the Emma Peels about her it’s by design – the cat-suited Avengers icon directly inspired her costume, along with Honor Blackman’s imperial dominatrix Cathy Gale. More vitally, Wai Lin wears the influence of Asian action flicks, a screen phenomenon that was now cross-pollinating with Western cinema, enshrining Jackie Chan and John Woo as marquee names and whose flashy, kinetic energy would soon propel The Matrix. Yeoh’s casting may have been a calculated bid to court Eastern box office – she’d already earned stardom in such early ‘90s martial artsers as Police Story 3: Super Cop – but as a female lead in a Bond film she’s a revolution. “I work alone,” she tells 007, and for once you suspect Fleming’s superspy may just have strayed into another action hero’s franchise.
“ALL THE USUAL REFINEMENTS” We glimpse Bond’s time-honoured silver DB5 in Tomorrow Never Dies but Q-Branch soon delivers a distinctly less patriotic set of wheels – the BMW 750iL. There’s a nagging hint of discreetly moneyed Dusseldorf dentist in the choice – and the sight of Bond driving a car with four doors is jarring on an inexplicably atomic level – but at least it packs all the crowdpleasing optional extras tradition demands (GoldenEye had talked up a gadget-stacked BMW Z3, only to cheat us when it came to a display of its arsenal). The 750iL incorporates enough tech to sink the heart of an MI6 bean-counter: sunroof-mounted rockets, magnetic grenades, re-inflating tyres, chain-cutter, spike dispenser, tear gas, high-voltage defence system and bulletproof glass. Brilliantly it’s also commanded by remote control. Just watch as Bond’s face cracks into a boyish grin as he directs the car from the backseat – he may have discovered the corpse of a murdered lover only moments before but Q’s latest toy lets him retreat to the place where nothing touches him, nothing but the adrenalinised delight of playing secret agent. Once again we catch sight of the thrilled kid inside Brosnan’s slick, Brioni-suited Bond.
THE BIKE CHASE It’s the most knuckle-tightening action sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies – handcuffed together, Bond and Wai Lin gun a motorcycle through the bustling slums of Saigon, strafed by the whip-blur blades of a pursuing helicopter. The bickering agents rocket the bike between two buildings, vaulting the chopper itself, a piece of daredevil showmanship performed by Jean Pierre Goy, who would go on to ride the Bat-pod in The Dark Knight. “A lot of things could have gone wrong,” recalled Goy, who refused a safety wire for the feat after a punishing 200 practice jumps. “I could have miscalculated the speed, the angle, the deviation from wind factors… the heat of the engine and exhausts could have set the cartons where I was landing in flames.” True to Bond tradition, Goy executed the stunt in one immaculately heart-stopping take.
KEEPING SCORE The Bondmakers wanted John Barry’s signature magic to soundtrack Tomorrow Never Dies. The veteran film composer had recently found himself deified by retro-minded scenesters – the Pulp track This Is Hardcore, for instance, added a glassy Ipcress File melancholy to a typical Jarvis tale of broken suburban sexuality. Elsewhere everyone from Bjork to Catatonia set out to steal a shimmer of ‘60s cool. What better moment for the master himself to return? Barry refused the assignment but recommended a young composer named David Arnold, who would become a key player in the franchise as Bond met the Millennium. Crucially, Arnold was a fan. His love of the films had seen him create Shaken And Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, an album of title anthems performed by such cred-loaded names as Iggy Pop and the Propellerheads. The fan impulse was a new component in the creative mix of a Bond movie and it lends the score of Tomorrow Never Dies a self-referential quality, from the vintage swagger accompanying the gunbarrel sequence to the knowing quotes from Barry’s score to From Russia With Love.
POWERS STRUGGLE David Arnold’s Barry-homaging soundtrack isn’t the only element of Tomorrow Never Dies conjuring the ghosts of classic Bond. Even more than GoldenEye it feels like the first truly postmodern 007 adventure, a typical slice of mid ‘90s pop culture that synthesises iconic fragments of the past into a half-ironic, half-worshipful whole – think Britpop, think Tarantino. The sinking of the HMS Devonshire in the South China Seas echoes similar scenes in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. Carver’s henchman Mr Stamper is in the Aryan bullyboy mould of From Russia With Love’s Red Grant, You Only Live Twice’s Hans and Necros from The Living Daylights. Carver himself clearly shops at the designer fashion outlet favoured by archetypal Bond villains (“Perhaps sir would like this in world-threatening black? It’s very slimming…”). Elsewhere Brosnan’s investigation of the submerged Devonshire recalls Connery’s exploration of the fallen Vulcans in Thunderball while Jack Wade, Bond’s new CIA contact, splices Felix Leiter with the fat-mouthed comedy of Sheriff J W Pepper. From the mandatory Aston Martin appearance to k d lang’s Bassey-pastiche of an end credits song, Tomorrow Never Dies is a pick’n’mix of Bond DNA. If it’s all ultimately played with a respectful, oh so ‘90s wink then a new big screen rival wouldn’t be so kind. The summer of ’97 saw the arrival of Austin Powers, Mike Myers’ snaggle-toothed, velvet-suited skewering of the entire Bond phenomenon. 007 had outrun spoofery before, of course, but this strike was nuclear – Dr Evil alone ensured that Blofeld or any other Nehru-suited, globe-extorting mastermind wouldn’t be troubling the franchise any time soon. From this moment on the plots are (with one notable exception) dialed back, the elements that evoke Bond’s traditional sense of macabre camp extracted. Tomorrow Never Dies would be the last Bond film to exist in a state of innocence. Austin Powers fatally wounded 007’s confidence in his own extraordinary, gloriously implausible universe.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Tomorrow Never Dies was to be filmed on location in Vietnam, but the filmmakers couldn’t secure permission.
The producers wooed GoldenEye director Martin Campbell. He refused, not wanting to do two Bond films in a row. He would return to launch Daniel Craig in 2006’s Casino Royale.
The film’s villain was originally named Elliot Harmsway. It’s popularly believed that Anthony Hopkins was first choice for the role.
The film is dedicated to Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, who passed away before production began.
Tomorrow Never Dies is the first title not to have a direct connection to Ian Fleming. The movie was originally titled Tomorrow Never Lies – a reference to Carver’s newspaper of that name – but a miscommunicated fax apparently rechristened the movie.
Any British act with a record contract appeared to be in competition for the coveted title song, from Pulp to Saint Etienne to Dot Allison. Click on the links to hear the rejected tracks.