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Bond Blog: Die Another Day – A James Bond Retrospective

One aspect of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond is the variety behind the camera. Each of his four films had a different director behind the camera. Martin Campbell was followed by Roger Spottiswoode and Michael Apted who all maintained a fairly consistent aesthetic. But Lee Tamahori brought to Die Another Day a new vision that sought to update Bond and which unfortunately had the effect of creating the worst and most dated looking of Brosnan’s reign.

Things begin promisingly with a spectacular surfing sequence, as Bond enters North Korea as part of an infiltration team. Things begin to look a bit ropy as they hit the beach and some very obvious green screen work defies belief. There is a good hovercraft chase, though it feels like the franchise is striving for novelty and straining credulity in the process, but compared to what’s to come this is practically social realism. Bond is captured and in one of the weirder title sequences is tortured for fourteen months in presumably sexy ways while Madonna sings one of the poppiest theme songs since Duran Duran. There’s a shoe-horned piece of exposition ‘I’m gonna shut my body down’ to help explain how he escapes in the next scene. It still doesn’t make much sense. Madonna will also turn up as a lesbian fencing instructor in an enjoyably brief cameo.

Coming in the year of the 40th anniversary of Bond and as the 20th official Bond movie, Die Another Day was also packed with nostalgia for all the Bonds that have gone before; from the gadgets in Q’s office to Halle Berry as Jinx emerging from the ocean like Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Caught between the pull of this nostalgia and the postmodern of Tamahori’s direction, the film swerves about like a car chase on ice, incidentally the stand-out moment of the film. The problem isn’t inconsistency so much. Rather, it’s because the updated elements of the film are so… well… shit. The CGI is infamously awful, from the dodgy green screen backdrops to the para-surfing the tsunami, which has to join Roger Moore’s antics at the start of A View to a Kill. This is also post-9/11 and the cartoonish element of Bond is no longer as consoling as it once was. There’s an attempt at some grit, especially at the beginning, but this is almost immediately sacrificed as Bond jumps ship and turns up at a hotel in Hong Kong in sopping pyjamas. The Bourne Identity came out a few months prior to the release of the new Bond film and almost instantly rendered it old hat. The speeding up of the film at certain points looks like a pointless directoral flourish, a grasping at young straws, an aesthetic more worthy of a Fast and Furious trailer than a Bond movie. Even Roger Moore complained about the believability of the invisible car. And he went to space.

The story revolves around conflict diamonds being used to finance a satellite that can be turned into a laser. Toby Stephens plays Gustav Graves, a sneering Hugh Grant (so just Hugh Grant basically), who turns out to be the face/off style version of Col. Moon, a North Korean officer Bond thought he’d killed in the first reel. Talk about whitewashing. Bond tracks his sidekick, the diamond-faced Yao, from Korea to Cuba (actually Spain) and London at which point Graves – for no good reason – invites him to Iceland, presumably for car chases and whatnot. It’s sloppy plotting to say the least and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) turns up as a turncoat in waiting which is so obviously telegraphed she might as well have been called Dot Dash. There are a couple of good moments – Bond using the ejector seat to flip the car is very good for instance – but actually I can’t think of another one. There’s something cheap and fast about the film. Brosnan in one of the behind the scenes documentaries comments on how fast Tamahori directs: ‘almost like TV’ and there’s a carelessness about the way the film has been thrown together that it is very credible.

Another part of the film which was highly praised and then forgotten was Halle Berry’s role as Jinx. In fact she features prominently on the poster and continues the trend of trying to reinvent the whole idea of the Bond girl as something more than a damsel in distress, though she is that too, twice in fact in the film. There was even talk – as with Michelle Yeoh – of her getting a spin off movie, but that never came to be. Rewatching it, I can’t quite understand why Jinx was considered so great. She doesn’t seem particularly kick ass in a world of Imperator Furiosas, and her acting is not going to win her a second Oscar. Of course she looks fine, but the whole point was her being something more than her looks. It just might be the fault of the film not having anything in particular to give anyone. When she dives off a cliff, it’s not impressive because in the words of Terry Gilliam about Camelot: ‘it’s only a model.’ Die Another Day would make the most money that any Bond film had ever made, but would quickly be relegated to one be considered one of the worst of the franchise. Personally, I would put it above Octopussy, but only just.

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