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

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