Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Film Review: The World Is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough
  • Publisher: MGM
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Michael Apted
  • Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
  • Writers: Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Bruce Feirstein
  • Genre: Action
  • Release: 19 November 1999 (USA), 29 November 1999 (UK)

The Girls: Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), daughter of British oil magnate Sir Robert King, whom she has killed. In the backstory, she was kidnapped by Renard, only to escape on her own. She swore revenge after, under MI6's guidance, her father refused to pay the ransom money. Shot by Bond. 5 out of 5. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), nuclear scientist. She has gained a reputation as one of the worst Bond Girls because, let's be honest, Denise Richards isn't known for playing "smart" roles. The word straight from the horse's mouth is that she took on the role as it was "brainy", "athletic", and "had depth of character, in contrast to Bond Girls from previous decades"1. And you know what, I can't argue with that logic. So to give my honest opinion, and I have no intention of doing otherwise, I don't think she's quite as awful as she's made out to be. Her sassy demeanor reminds me of Tiffany Case at her best, and at least she doesn't experience a nervous breakdown like Stacey Sutton. 2 out of 5.

Other Allies: Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) returns from Goldeneye, this time with a few serious industries under his belt. Shot by Elektra, but frees Bond from a deathtrap before dying. 5 out of 5. We also have R (John Cleese, Monty Python franchise), an apprentice in Q's lab. If there was ever a place for such a humourist in James Bond's world, then the Q lab is the most appropriate place for it - and what a humourist we have on our hands. 5 out of 5. This scene is also notable for another reason: just after the movie's premiere, Q's actor, Desmond Llewelyn, would die in a car crash. In the movie's universe, Q was set to go on a retirement holiday, perhaps indicating that the character was set to be finished, but still, you can't tell the exact moment and circumstances in which you will die. (Unless a Death Note is involved.) This brings extra poignancy to the last lines Llewelyn says on-screen:
James Bond: You're not planning on retiring anytime soon. Are you?
Q: Now pay attention, 007. I've always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
James Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.

The Villain: Renard (Robert Carlisle, 24: Redemption), a freelance terrorist. After Elektra's kidnapping, agent 009 shot Renard in the head, but he lived. As the bullet moves slowly through his brain, it is killing off his senses, including the ability to feel pain, until it does kill him. In practice, this is more of an informed (dis)ability, until you consider the fact that the plutonium rod he handles at the end myst be blazing hot. Funny what a little scientific education (or reading the words of others with such an education) can make you realise. Impaled with said plutonium rod by Bond. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Bullion (Clifford Joseph "Goldie" Price), Zukovsky's bodyguard. Wears gold jewelry and tooth caps since he doesn't trust banks. Apparently cowardly, but there's a reason for that: he's secretly working for Elektra and Renard. Shot by Zukovsky. 2 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A BMW Z8 with anti-air rockets. It gets cut in half by a buzz-saw helicopter, to which Bond quips, "Q's not gonna like this". It's about time you started realising that, buddy. He also uses a speedboat with jet boosters and torpedoes, a fake gun with a flash-bang grenade, a pair of X-ray glasses, and a grappling hook in his watch. 4 out of 5.

The Locations: Spain, United Kingdom (England, Scotland), Azerbaijan (skiing scenes filmed in France), Kazakhstan (filmed in Spain), and Turkey.

The Theme Song: Performed by Garbage. The lyrics have a theme of greed, with the title phrase followed by "but it is such a perfect place to start", and other lines like "No one ever died from wanting too much". Kinda not a wise thing to espouse in a Bond film; isn't that what happens to every villain in the series? Well, guess what: it's supposedly from the point of view of Elektra. This theory gets driven home in the full version, which contains the line "There's no point in living/if you can't feel alive", her/Renard's catchphrase. 5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Features oil motifs, as per Elektra's occupation. Not some of the most appealing colour combinations - think a shallow oil slick on the road, what with all those muted rainbow effects. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: None of the Ian Fleming novels were directly involved in the conception of this film. The title comes from James Bond's family motto, which was revealed in the book and movie of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and is "Orbis non sufficit", or Latin for "The world is not enough".

The Plot: Our story starts out at a Swiss bank in Spain, where 007 is retrieving some money for Sir Robert King, an old college friend of M's. He asks about the 00 agent who was killed over it, but the cigar girl kills him before he can talk. Bond nonetheless escapes with the money and returns it to King at MI6 HQ, but as King handles it, his lapel pin, which had secretly been switched, detonates a bomb hidden in the money. At the scene of the crime is none other than the cigar girl from before, whom Bond follows on a boat chase on the Thames river. The chase ends when whe blows up a gas tank on a hot-air baloon, killing herself. Cue opening credits.

At this point I'd like to call a time-out to discuss what we've just seen, or rather read about. First of all, a Fun Fact: The World Is Not Enough hosts the longest scene before the opening credits, at around 14 minutes. The original plan was to run the credits after the bank scene instead, but the test audiences deemed this to be too dull of an intro. So let's look at what this change has brought upon us: the man whom 007 did a mission for was killed in a sneak attack within MI6's headquarters, everyone responsible for it whom 007 confronted so far killed themselves, leading him with no leads, and to top it all off, he broke his arm falling onto the Millenium Dome. And I, for one, appreciate the tragic tone, which contrasts with the miracle-maker he's made himself out to be in the openings to films like Tomorrow Never Dies.

Moving on. At MI6's backup HQ in Scotland, 007 pieces together the clues, and suggests that Renard, an independent terrorist who had kidnapped Elektra in the past, was involved with the attack. He meets Elektra in Azerbaijan, where her company is building an oil pipeline, and warns that Renard might take revenge on her. They take a ski trip together to survey the pipeline's route, but are beseiged by some of Renard's troops. That night, Bond visits his old friend Valentin Zukovsky, now the owner of a casino in Baku, and asks about Renard. Elektra also pays a visit, losing her father's US$1 million credit in a quick hand.

Meanwhile Davidov, Elektra's chief of security, meets with Renard and takes the place of Mikhail Arkov, a Russian nuclear scientist. 007 abandons Elektra to shadow Davidov, kills him, takes his place in turn, and joins Renard's unit en route to a decommissioned missile silo in Kazakhstan. Upon meeting Renard, the man lets slip some clues which 007 interprets as proof that he and Elektra are still in cahoots. He is unable to stop Renard from stealing the plutonium from a nuclear warhead, but escapes with Christmas Jones, yet another nuclear scientist. They head back to meet M at the King Pipeline's control centre, where he gives her the locator card, which one of Renard's men took from the warhead, along with his suspicions about Elektra.

Then an emergency situation develops - terrorists sent a nuclear bomb through the pipeline. When Bond and Christmas try to defuse it, they discover that half the plutonium was taken out, rendering it impotent. Christmas takes out what's left of the plutonium, but Bond lets the bomb go off, making Elektra think they died. Elektra shows her true colours by telling M that she had her father killed, and then by kidnapping her. Bond's next stop is Zukovsky's caviar factory, where he tries to interrogate him about Elektra's dealings. After surviving a raid from Renard's buzzsaw-equipped helicopters, Zukovsky divulges that her casino losses were payment for a nuclear submarine. Together they head to a Russian safehouse in Istanbul, where they work out the evil plan: when Renard loads the remaining plutonium into the sub's reactor, it will cause a meltdown, preventing the King Pipeline's rivals from shipping oil through the area. Meanwhile, M activates the locator card, and 007 tracks her to Maiden's Tower, in the middle of the bay.

But Bullion, Zukovsky's bodyguard, leaves a bomb at the place and takes Bond and Christmas to meet Elektra. As Bond is tortured with intent to kill, Zukovsky leads a raid on the place. Elektra shoots him, but he frees Bond with a dying shot. Bond goes after the submarine, freeing M and killing Elektra in the process. In the sub, he frees Christmas, seizes the controls, forcing the sub to crash into the sea floor (he meant for it to rise to the surface...), and catches Renard trying to load the plutonium rod into the reactor. They fight, ending when Bond pushes the plutonium rod back into Renard's chest. He and Christmas escape from the sub before it blows up from the hydrogen gas buildup, and hide out in Istanbul together. You are now free to turn off your TV.

...Man, this was a complicated plot, made all the more tougher to understand since so much of it relies on backstory delivered through exposition dumps, rather than events that directly transpire on screen. Where this film shines is in the role of Elektra King. Did Renard's influence during her kidnapping turn her evil? Or did she turn him, using him as a tool to gain a monopoly on her market and take revenge on her father for not bailing her out? This debate has been going back and forth within the fandom, and my decision on it is...? It's your call. Have fun! 3 out of 5.

The Call: 65% (C)

IchigoRyu will return in
Die Another Day
[1] Thomas, Rebecca (19 November 1999). "One girl is not enough". BBC News. Retrieved 24 September 2012.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Game Review: James Bond 007 (Game Boy)

James Bond 007
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Saffire
  • Release: Game Boy, Februrary 1998
  • Genre: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Battery, 3 files
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-10
There have been so many James Bond-licenced video games over the years, dating back to the Atari 2600, that if I tried to cover them all I'd never finish the 007 Golden Jubilee within the year like I promised. So, I will stick to ones that have an original story, not adapted from a book or movie, and ones that I have a personal history with. Like this one: the Game Boy release simply titled James Bond 007.

James Bond 007's engine is based off of the early Legend of Zelda games, in particular Link's Awakening, despite being handled by the then-fledgling developer Saffire. What this means is that the maps are presented in an overhead perspective, and divided into individual screens. Weapons and items can be assigned to the A and B buttons at will. But unlike the Zelda games, wherein the dungeon levels are strewn about an overworld you can pretty much explore at will, this game is more traditionally structured as a series of series of separate levels. Your quest, so to speak, takes you to China, Kurdistan (a region in Turkey), Morocco, Tibet, Russia, and more. And since Link's bow, bombs, and boomerang wouldn't fit well with 007's image, we get new weapons and items, including a pistol, machine gun, hand grenades, and a rocket launcher (which for all intents and purposes, behaves more like a shotgun, with no splash damage to worry about). But most of the time, I prefer to save ammo and stick with a machete. You can also find an assortment of gadgets and other tools, including night-vision goggles, a grappling hook, and a satellite map, as well as body-armour vests. The catch with these is that you have to have them set to one of your two active item slots in order to work, so you'll have to go back to the equipment menu (Select) every time you want to change your weapon, instead of loading both slots with weapons. Just a minor inconvenience, really.
Not only weapons, but tools like night-vision goggles come into play.
James Bond 007 also makes a big deal about trading random items; whereas these were the territory of side-quests in the Legend of Zelda games (Biggoron Sword, anyone?), in this game they are mandatory in order to advance. The best/worst example lies in the Black Market section of Marrakesh, where you must handle five items, starting with a chicken and ending with a pair of night-vision goggles. You have to look through a mess of merchants' tents in order to find the next person to trade with, and many of these tents are empty. Not that the action sequences are perfect, either. Much like its bigger brother, Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, the enemies' AI is... limited. Although characters can move in any direction, they can only face directly up, down, left, or right, so use their "blind spots" to your advantage. And pathfinding? Forget about it: even if a particular enemy has the ability to follow you, they will only move towards you in a straight line, unable to move around objects. If you've got grenades, you can have some fun with this quirk, especially in the Russia level.

One thing I've noticed when doing all the film reviews for the James Bond series is that the movies feature much deeper plots than the video games, and initially, James Bond 007 is no exception. Personally, I'd point out the fact that are more and better writers for the silver screen than for the digital realm. Although this discrepancy has been narrowing in recent years, this was certainly not the case for the Game Boy, circa 1998. All you need to know about the plot is that there's an arms-dealing cartel led by Zhong Mae, the Chinese Bond Girl, and Odd Job, apparently resurrected after Goldfinger (Canon?  What canon?), and they don't even dwell on that a lot. However, things do kick into high gear near the endgame, where the villain, the Russian general Golgov (not to be confused with Gogol from the movies) has not only prepared an army to conquer the West with in the midst of their mutual disarmament, but has given arms to multiple warring factions in Kurdistan, so they will thin themselves out and become easier to conquer. All this coming after 007 takes down a disagreeable leader (who did previously capture agent 008), so I can't help but be reminded of the Iraq War in hindsight. Not to mention, the territory of Kurdistan also covers parts of Iraq and Syria. Eeesh. Harsher in Hindsight, much?
A fake door in the first level.
So, let's change the subject. This game has a heavy emphasis on picking up clues from other people, not just to build up the story, but to find out where to go and what to do. For those of us less skilled in the critical thinking department, I'm bringing back the old Sticking Points segment, this time as part of the review in a vain attempt to make the article appear longer. So, what wisdom would I wish to impart upon thee?
  • When fighting the unarmed guards in China and the sumo wrestlers in Tibet (it makes sense in context), hold your Block button until they attack. After they hit, return the favour with a punch of your own. This is the only way you can deal damage to them, while they're stunned.
  • The temple in the middle of the China level may seem like a dead end, but go to the northern room and examine the wall on the right, across from the woman on the other side. See the picture to right for details.
  • At Q's lab in England, examine the chair just above Q twice. It will fly off and crash into the wall, leading to a secret room with an item called the M.A.R.B.L.E. This does nothing except give you an alternate ending.
  • In Kurdistan, just before the cave with Iqbal and 008, cut the plant in the northeast corner of the screen, and follow the secret path behind it. The screen to the east hides a man who will give you a jeweled egg. In Marrakesh, you can trade it for an underground pass, allowing you to use a more convenient set of tunnels.
  • In Marrakesh, you are required to play casino games to advance the story. Blackjack and red dog poker are available. You'll start off with US$1,000, and you can re-start at this amount any time you lose it all, so don't be afraid to bet big. In fact, I would suggest doing so to save time; you need a total of $2,500 to get into the back room, play baccarat, and eventually get Mr. Fez to join in.
  • You'll lose your med kits at the end of the Marrakesh level, and your weapons and armour at the end of the Tibet level, so plan accordingly.
  • In the Secret Base, an enemy in the northeastern-most room will drop a shield when defeated. Beware, he has a rocket launcher and takes 3-4 times the normal amount of hits to bring down. The shield can block bullets (but not rockets), and is a major, if not crucial, help for the final level.
The running time for this game is somewhere around a couple of hours, perhaps less if you're good at reading into the clues. It's long for a portable game, but short for a save-enabled game, so take that as you will. I can't find much to complain about or applaud in the visuals department, but the sound design is another story. Certain events cause the music to slow down afterwards, and it's not as if this is a glitch, it feels programmed in; why, I'll never know. And the composer has seen fit to cram cues from Monty Norman's theme into the score wherever possible, how 'bout something more original, pally? Well, much like its music, this game takes parts of something we know and love, in this case The Legend of Zelda, and adapts it in new ways. Whilst it's not terribly exciting until the end, it fits happily into one's expectations for a Game Boy game, circa 1998.

Control: 3 out of 5
Design: 3 out of 5
Graphics: 3 out of 5
Audio: 2 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

IchigoRyu will return in
The World Is Not Enough

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: SuperNOVA

Have you ever noticed the copyright notice screens that played on older arcade DDR editions, which among other things made a warning along the lines of "the public use of this machine outside of Japan is prohibited".  So believe it or not, all those DDR machines up through Extreme were technically brought over here illegally.  Evidently it wasn't a serious offence; as amusement machine distributors imported the games nonetheless, building up the series' popularity worldwide.  And yet technically, there were only two entries officially produced for America, and four for Europe.  But that all changed when the series made its long-awaited return to the arcade scene, with 2006's worldwide release of Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA (EU: 28 April 2006, NA: 15 May 2006, JP: 12 July 2006).

As this was the first arcade entry to be released in almost four years, SuperNOVA catches up by not only reviving most of the songs from Extreme, but the numerous home games that were released during that interim period, including the Ultramix series.  Given the huge song library (303 tracks in all, with 121 arcade debuts), a tradition from 1st and 2ndMIX rears its head once again: the songs are divided into Easy, Medium, and Hard setlists of about a hundred songs each.  However, by pressing the Down arrow twice at this screen, you can select all the songs during play, or access the course modes.  The "beginner helper" characters that play the steps on-screen on Beginner charts are gone, but have re-appeared in spirit for the Tutorial mode, selectable from the same menu.  Replacing the traditional lessons from the home versions, Tutorial Mode  While we're on the subject of difficulty, for some reason the main three levels have been renamed to Basic, Difficult, and Expert, presumably to split the difference between the classic (Basic/Another/Maniac) and European (Standard/Difficult/Expert) naming schema.

Players "attack" each other with modifiers in Battle Mode.  (PS2 version.)
SuperNOVA's gameplay engine is largely carried over from Extreme 2, particularly in the home version, which retains the sub-menu accessible at any of the menus by pressing Start.  Unlike that game, however, SuperNOVA brings back the extra stage system, which works largely like it did in Extreme.  Also, the bonus score has been scrapped, so scoring is always out of 10 million points per song.  One of the only "new" additions to this game is the Battle Mode.   An extention of the versus mode, this has two players (or one player versus the computer) automatically "attack" each other with modifiers, hindering the other's ability to read the notes, with the goal of holding the majority of a "tug-of-war" lifebar.  Technically this was resurrected from Dancing Stage feat. Disney's Rave, but in the years since that game, many modifiers have been added to the DDR canon.  Battle mode even uses modifiers that affect one lane of arrows instead of all four, so... have fun.

The new stages and character models.  (Arcade version.)
The in-game graphics engine has been entirely revamped, dispensing with those of previous games, which used random animated backgrounds and (in some games) characters dancing upon an invisible plane.  Instead, we get the characters doing their thing on futuresque 3D stages, each with distinct colour and shape themes.  I have a rather sour opinion on this decision, as the artistry derived from arranging the scripted animations of yore has been replaced with what is essentially one image for the entire song.  The character models and animations have been also updated for the first time since the series began, but my belief is that in doing so, they have taken a turn into the uncanny valley.  Maybe it would help if they changed facial expressions every once in a while, I don't know.  And I'm not afraid to say it: some of the female characters' costumes and motions cross the line into slutty.

Notable songs include:
  • "AA" by DJ Amuro, a crossover from 2004's Beatmania IIDX 11: Red.  A more trance-like remix of "A" from Extreme, you may be surprised to know that this song's title has no official pronunciation.
  • "Centerfold (130 BPM Move-It Mix)" by Captain Jack.  Their cover of the J. Geils' Band's 1982 hit was the last new song of their used by DDR.  Note that this was the first new DDR title to come out after Captain Jack's frontman's death, so despite their unused back catalogue, could this decision have been out of respect...?  ...Nah, coincidence as far as I'm concerned.
  • "My Only Shining Star" by Naoki feat. Becky Lucinda.  The next in the line of Maeda-san's euro-rave songs, this time with a new vocalist.
  • "Peace (^^)v" by BeForU.  Since we last met BeForU, they had focused less on the Bemani games and started putting out their own albums.  That the in-game music video for this is concert footage may be evidence for such.
  • "Red Zone" by Naoki & Tatsh, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX 11: Red.  Has inspired a number of parody videos on both sides of the Pacific.
  • "Tierra Buena" by Wilma de Olivera, a crossover from 2003's Guitar Freaks 9thMIX & DrumMania 8thMIX.  An Andean-folk-style song, this gets my pick for one of the worst songs used for DDR, or at least the most ill-fitting.
  • "Xepher" by Tatsh, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX.  This gothic-rave song is classified by some as an unofficial boss song, since it has a level-10 Challenge chart.  And if you ask me, the boss songs should me more like this, relying on technical step patterns alone instead of cheap tempo-related gimmicks (see below).
There are more boss songs to choose from in your extra stages:
  • "Healing-D-Vision" by De-Strad.  Bearing only a slight resemblance to the original "Healing Vision", this one has 12th-note patterns and doubles in speed from 180 to 360 BPM near the end.
  • "Max 300 (Super Max-Me Mix)" by Jondi & Spesh.  A revival from Ultramix 2, this has more in common with "MaxX Unlimited" than "Max 300", with its multiple BPM changes.
  • "Fascination MaxX" by 100-200-400 (Naoki Maeda).  As the artist name suggests, this song change tempo, seemingly irrationally, between 100, 200, and 400 BPM.
  • "Fascination (Eternal Love Mix)" by 2MB.  A remix of "Fascination MaxX", sharing its speed changes and pauses.
  • "Chaos" by De-Sire (Naoki Maeda).  Features dozens of little pauses which take loads of practice to memorise.  In fact, some of the stops on this and "Fascination MaxX" knock the arrows off-beat, rendering them imposisble to make edit steps for.
The home version for PlayStation 2 was also released in all three regions (NA: 26 September 2006, JP: 25 January 2007, EU: 27 April 2007).  In place of Dance Master Mode from Extreme 2, the home games introduce the Stellar Master Mode. The stages, called "Stellar Joints", each feature a handful of songs that can be played at will, but with a list of goals to accomplish at the player's pace. Once enough have been fulfilled, the player can take on some boss missions and move on to the next Stellar Joint. These missions include special modifiers like in the last two games. My favourites are the one where you have to play the sequence as fast as possible, regardless of rhythm. I'll tell you one thing, this needs to be spun off into its own Time Attack mode pronto.

Apart from the Stellar Master Mode, the home version of SuperNOVA shares the same EyeToy and online functionalities of Extreme 2, or at least it did until the next game came out and the servers were, yet again, shut down.  Only this time, the online mode hosted a small number of exclusive songs which were not even playable offline.  And when the service went down, there was no workaround to get to the songs within SuperNOVA.  But they were put into the sequel, which is what I'll discuss when Dance Dance Retrospective returns next... week? month? two months? with SuperNOVA 2.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Film Review: Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Publisher: MGM / United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Roger Spottiswoode
  • Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
  • Writer: Bruce Fierstein
  • Genre: Action
  • Release: 12 December 1997 (UK), 19 December 1997 (USA)

The Girls: Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher, from Desperate Housewives), Elliot Carver's wife and a former girlfriend of 007. Like Mr. Zukovsky in the last film, the fact that she and Bond had a thing together is a tad jarring considering we've never met the lady, and thus I can't help but see her more as an object whom he uses to get to Carver. Still, she redeems herself when she tells him about Carver's lab, in the last scene she's in before she gets killed, no less. Shot off-screen by Dr. Kaufman. 3 out of 5.

Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), colonel in the Chinese People's Liberation Army. In this regard, Wai Lin serves as a female counterpart to 007, which explains why her relationship with Bond is less than romantic. (Oh wait...) And yet, there's a reason why "opposites attract" in the dating world. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) makes a cameo. Again: why not Felix Leiter? (Again again: remember Licence to Kill.)

The Villain: Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce, from BrazilCommand & Conquer: Red Alert 3), president of the Carver Media Group.He sure likes to ham it up; for a rather embarrassing example, when he is face-to-face with a captive Wai Lin and starts mocking her martial arts moves. (Apparently his preferred fighting style is What-The-Fu.) Also, let's get one thing straight: Carver was not intended as a satire of Rupert Murdoch. (Then again, after his recent phone-hacking scandal, anything's fair game for modern interpretation.) Actually no, his original inspiration was a mister Robert Maxwell, who served as a British army captain, Member of Parliament, and head of a media empire. He was prone to suing his detractors, and after his death in 1991, it was revealed that he had misappropriated company funds to prop up share prices, so all in all, not the nicest guy. The "official" obituary that M and Moneypenny write up for Carver mirrors Maxwell's own death (drowning at sea). "Carved" up (I apologise) by a drill torpedo launched by Bond.  3 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Stamper (Götz Otto), Carver's bodyguard. Basically Red Grant re-imagined for the 90s. Things get personal in the second half, as he was allegedly the protege of the quickly-killed Dr. Kaufman (read on). How do we know? He says he shares his background in chakra torture. We never get to see this in practice, but granted, some of you might not want to. Burned up by a missile, with Bond's help4 out of 5.

Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), computer expert working for Carver. This techno-genius lacks the personality that made the guy from the last film so distinctive.  Which is a shame, because his actor has a lot of his own personality as a stage magician.  They were going to give Gupta a gimmick of throwing sharpened playing cards as a weapon, but this idea was dropped. Shot by Carver2 out of 5.

Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli), assassin, doctor of forensics, and torture technician.  He is only used on one scene, but with his pedigree, they could've improved the tension by working him into later scenes somehow. Shot by Bond4 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A BMW 750 with machine guns, rockets, and anti-tire spikes. It can be driven through a remote control in 007's new cell phone, which also houses a fingerprint scanner and taser. A full-size, remote-controlled car... jumping the shark? Could be, but it does its job with providing an innovative and intense action scene. ...Which jumping the shark tends to result in. This film also marks the first appearance of the Walther P99, a handgun which replaced the PPK as Bond's weapon of choice, until Quantum of Solace returned to the PPK. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: Russia (filmed in France), the United Kingdom (England), Germany, and Vietnam (filmed in Thailand).

The Theme Song: Performed by Sheryl Crow (from "All I Wanna Do", "Every Day Is A Winding Road"). In contrast to the last theme song and its dodgy synth instruments, this one features more traditional orchestration, like a Shirley Bassey song mixed with Crow's adult-contemporary rock production.The score, composed by David Arnold, does likewise and thankfully shrugs off Eric Serra's admittedly awful score from Goldeneye. The ending theme song, "Surrender" by k.d. lang, is also similar in its bombastic style, and was considered as the title song at one point. 4 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Features telecommunications / technology motifs, as per the villain's occupation, and coloured x-ray guns. 4 out of 5.

The Novel: None of the Ian Fleming novels were directly involved in the conception of this film. The writers' original plan was to base a plot around the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese control, which took place on 1 July 1997. However, as the film would not be completed before then, and they didn't want to depict that kind of crisis if the event transpired without incident -- which it did -- they scrapped the idea. Vestiges of the concept still exist in the threat of war between the UK and PRC, and the setting in Vietnam. Also, the Bond novel Zero Minus Ten, written in 1997 by Raymond Benson, does use the Hong Kong handover as a plot point.

The Plot: Our story starts at a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. 007 has set up cameras for MI6 to monitor the place, and once satisfied with the intelligence, the Admiral of the Royal Navy authorises a cruise missile strike on the place. But one of the planes on site is equipped with nuclear torpedoes, so he flies it out of there just before the missile hits. Cue opening credits. We return to the HMS Devonshire, a British ship in the South China Sea. Some Chinese MiGs fly over and warn that the ship is in Chinese territory, but a reading from the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system confirms that the ship is in international waters. What they don't know is that a stealth boat owned by Elliot Carver, head of the Carver Media Group, has altered the GPS signal used by the Devonshire, launched a drill torpedo at the ship, sinking it and making it seem like the Chinese attacked them. Back in London, the Admiral prepares to send the Royal Navy fleet to the area for war, but M secretly assigns 007 to investigate Carver.

He meets him and his wife Paris at a party in Carver's headquarters in Hamburg. He gets held up by some henchmen, but breaks out and shuts the power off during a speech. That night, Paris shows up in his hotel room and tells him about a secret lab at the top of the office. He sneaks a visit there the next morning, snatching a GPS encoder box from an office safe, and returns to his hotel room only to find Paris dead and her assassin, Dr. Kaufman, about to kill him in turn. But he turns the tables, killing Kaufman and scaring off the Carver goons who are trying to take back the encoder from his car.

Bond's next stop is a US airbase in the South China Sea where, with Jack Wade's help, learns that the encoder was used to send the Devonshire off-course, making it think it was in international waters when it fact it was within the territory of... Vietnam. He dives down to the ship's wreckage, where he notices one of its nuclear missiles is gone, and runs into Wai Lin, a Chinese agent also investigating Carver, before getting an unwanted extraction from his forces. They are taken to Carver's office in Saigon, but escape to a Chinese safehouse nearby. From there, she searches for the general location of Carver's stealth boat, and sends messages to the British and Chinese governments, warning them of the truth.

Together, Bond and Wai Lin scout the seas for the stealth boat, and find it in Ha Long Bay. They start planting explosives, but Carver's bodyguard Stamper comes around, captures Wai Lin, and disarms the mines. Meanwhile, Carver fills her in on the details of his plan: When the British and Chinese fleets draw near, Carver intends to launch the missile he stole from the Devonshire at Beijing, making it look like the British flagship did the "honours". As war breaks out, his crony General Chang will take control of China, organise a peace treaty, and give Carver exclusive broadcasting rights within the People's Republic. While all this exposition is going on, Bond nabs Henry Gupta, the technician of the evil operation, and holds him hostage in a standoff with Carver... which would be great if Gupta hadn't already pre-programmed the missile, thus nullifying the purpose of Bond's bargaining chip. But he triggers a backup blast which breaches the ship's hull, making it show up on radar. The British fleet subsequently turns its guns on the stealth boat instead of the Chinese planes. Amidst the chaos, 007 kills Carver with the sea drill, plants another explosive charge that destroys the missile on takeoff, and traps Stamper to blow up with it. Then he saves Wai Lin from drowning, and sneaks one last embrace with her whilst hiding from extraction by the British ships. You are now free to turn off your TV.

Assuming you're not a goldfish who can read English, you may have noticed that this is the same general plot used by The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice before that. Namely, the villain engineers a series of military mishaps meant to coax two superpowers into war. But if you ask me, it's been revisited so often because it works so well, what with it being intricate and nefarious. Also, take note of Carver's end goal: he doesn't want a prolonged war, or to take over a government (himself), but to gain exclusive rights to a billion-strong market. This goes to show how the dynamics of power have shifted after the Cold War. These days, it seems that the keys to the world are held not by heads of state, but by heads of corporations. So while Tomorrow Never Dies is nowhere near as insightful as Goldeneye before it, I still must deal out kudos to the writers for taking this into account. 5 out of 5.

+ Many brilliant, if over-the-top, action setpieces.
+ Smart plot, even if it is a little derivative.
+ David Arnold's score and Sheryl Crow's theme song.

- Similar plot to that of You Only Live Twice or The Spy Who Loved Me.
- Johnathan Pryce is a campy villain.
- The potential of Teri Hatcher's character is wasted.

The Call: 80% (B)

IchigoRyu will return in
The World Is Not Enough