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 20: DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)
SEX FOR DINNER, DEATH FOR BREAKFAST Propelled by a breathless cartoon energy, Die Another Day aims to weld the alternating currents of the Bond franchise – grounded spycraft and reality-orbiting fantasy. In a way it plays like some disorientating double bill of From Russia With Love and Moonraker. The first half courts an authentic Fleming flavour, dealing with the repercussions of Bond’s imprisonment by the North Koreans and placing our hero in an intrigue-soaked Cuba, a backdrop that feels like a lost corner of the early ‘60s where the Cold War remains within touching distance. And then the movie lurches into romp mode, summoning the outlandish spirit of Bond’s plausibility-baiting ’70s incarnation. It’s astonishing just how far this film pushes the SF elements outlawed by For Your Eyes Only: invisible car aside, we also have gene therapy machines with the power to trade races, an armoured exo-skeleton torn from the pages of Marvel Comics and a Virtual Reality device on a technological par with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 23rd Century holodeck. Ironically, helmer Lee Tamahori was best known for Once Were Warriors, a brutal, knuckly drama dealing with issues of immigration in his native New Zealand. “I was concerned that Bond had lost a little of its thriller edge,” he declared, while delivering an entry that loosened the bolts of reality for the first time in two decades.
SURF’S UP! At first there’s an ominous thrum of water, the sound of a colossal wave with clear designs on the North Korean coast. And then three figures on surfboards emerge, keeping tight formation as they ride this towering surge of ocean. American surf king Laird Hamilton oversaw this spectacular opening sequence, finding a starring role for a fabled Hawaiian wave named – appropriately – Jaws. It’s a humbling piece of showmanship that launches the twentieth Bond film in fine style, true to the franchise’s tradition of flesh-scraping, bone-risking stuntcraft. But elsewhere Die Another Day sees this tradition sacrificed to Hollywood’s creeping reliance on CGI. An infamous scene finds a digital 007 parasailing between weightless glaciers, surfing a PlayStation sea. As phoney as a chocolate Oddjob, it feels like a betrayal of something fundamental to the Bond ethos.
SIGMUND FREUD, ANALYSE THIS For once the title sequence isn’t the usual self-contained glamour show. We’ve already seen movie narrative bleed into the main titles, of course – a wounded Bond limps into the opening credits of The World Is Not Enough while GoldenEye recaps the collapse of communism via the educational medium of supermodels. Die Another Day takes this still further, transforming Danny Kleinman’s titles into an indispensable chain-link in the film’s storyline. Captured by the North Koreans, Bond is subjected to 14 months of torture, a passage of time that’s sold to us in a parade of demonically hallucinatory images. Women form from ice, half angels of comfort, half figures of threat. Glistening, oil-black scorpions swarm across the screen. Molten succubi taunt our hero. Is this a glimpse into Bond’s fracturing mind as he fights to keep his psyche intact? Is every Bond title sequence simply a Freudian rummage in 007’s unconscious? Isn’t Madonna’s clattering title song torture enough?
A CAR TOO FAR? “We call it the Vanish,” puns Q, irresistibly, revealing Bond’s latest – and most contentious – set of wheels. The introduction of the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish marks the return of the franchise’s time-honoured marque, restored to centrestage now that a three-film deal with BMW has expired. Naturally it bristles with armaments, from missiles to machine-guns, and even finds a place for the design-classic ejector seat in its arsenal of goon-foiling gizmology. More problematically, it’s also capable of turning invisible. As John Cleese’s cranky MI6 magus explains, the car enlists experimental adaptive camouflage techniques: tiny cameras on one side project the image they see onto a light-emitting polymer skin on the other, creating a kind of reality-jamming cloaking device. Production designer Peter Lamont insisted this twist was perfectly credible – he even claimed to have obtained a government white paper on the subject – but for many this was a slice of spy-fi too far. You can only imagine the incredulous ghost of Connery.
“MAGNIFICENT VIEW…” Halle Berry rises from the blue, sun-pounded shimmer of the Mediterrean, an A-list Venus in a tangerine bikini, a blade on her hip. It’s a direct homage to Ursula Andress’ immortal entrance in Dr No, of course, but while this curve-loaded visual ensured a place for Die Another Day in the pages of the world’s tabloids, the film’s female lead was looking to higher things. The day Berry shot Jinx’s screen-melting debut was the day she discovered her nomination for the Oscar she’d ultimately win for Monster’s Ball. All that Academy-swaying talent can’t quite save her from fumbling the franchise’s trademark one-liners: “Oh yeah, I think I got the… thrust… of it,” she smirks, the words crashing like lumps of raw, unprocessed innuendo from her lips.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MISTER BOND Nostalgia is an unsung emotion in Bond’s universe. And small wonder, given the unsentimental, battle-calloused nature of its hero. Sure, we’ve seen the occasional callback to previous adventures – Lazenby’s regretful rooting through Connery’s desk in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the mischievously throawaway resurrection of Blofeld in For Your Eyes Only – but the films traditionally shun the kind of fan-tickling continuity porn found in other franchises. Die Another Day is different. Celebrating the twin milestones of forty years and twenty movies, it plays like a wink-loaded stock-take of Bond history. Q’s lab in particular is a veritable Christie’s auction house of iconic props, from Rosa Klebb’s poison-spiked shoe to Octopussy’s eternally ludicrous stealth-gator to Thunderball’s mini-breather and jetpack (“Does this still work?” twinkles Brosnan, with just a hint of fanboy glee). Tamahori also quotes some of the franchise’s most treasured visuals, from Spy’s Union Jack parachute to Honey Ryder’s bikini-powered introduction in Dr No. Elsewhere there’s the futurist echo of Ken Adam’s Atlantis in the crystalline contours of Graves’ ice palace. Crushed with kisses to the past, Die Another Day is the first truly self-regarding Bond film, a valentine to its own legend. Yes, it’s a birthday bash – but it’s also perilously close to a heritage park, a franchise in danger of choking on its own mythology (Madonna’s cry of “I’m going to avoid the cliche” in the theme song suddenly feels like a lone subversive voice). Even the title is a focus group away from some self-parodying horror like You Never Die Once. Perhaps, the filmmakers came to suspect, it was finally time to smash the Bond brand – and rebuild it.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Bond examines a copy of Field Guide To Birds Of The West Indies, the book whose author’s “brief, unromantic and yet very masculine” name Fleming stole for his hero.
The flight attendant on Bond’s return to Britain is played by Roger Moore’s daughter Deborah.
A shot of a vintage Player’s Cigarettes poster nods to a line in Fleming’s original novel of Thunderball – Domino had a crush on the sailor in the painting.
The film had no title when it was introduced to the world’s media at a January 2002 press conference. The press pack simply referred to it as Bond 20.
MGM considered a solo franchise for Jinx.
Miranda Frost was originally written as Gala Brand, Fleming’s heroine in Moonraker.
London Calling by The Clash is the first time a genuine pop song has been used on a Bond soundtrack (A View To A Kill’s California Girls was a soundalike version).