Nov 7, 2014

Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

GoldenEye was huge when it was first released. It still pretty much is but I think a large part of that is because of the large amount of nostalgic video gamers who adored the Nintendo 64 first-person shooter version of the movie. It's not exactly playable anymore because of how poorly it aged, but I too have some very fond memories of it.

That success put a lot of pressure on the production team of Tomorrow Never Dies. MGM had a new owner, Kirk Kerkorian who wanted the movie to be released along with the public stock offering of his newly acquired company. Time was short and that problem was compounded further because of the script having to be completely rewritten from zero.

There also seemed to have been a lot of other production issues including on-set trouble with actors as well as John Barry not wanting to score the movie since he would not be allowed any control in creating the title song which was something he'd always been able to do. The budget ballooned up to $110 million, making it more expensive by $52 million compared to GoldenEye. On the bright side though, all the budget was offset by product placement so everything worked out pretty well as long as noticeable product placement doesn't bother you.

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Genre: action, adventure, crime
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Produced by: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, Anthony Waye
Written by: Bruce Feirstein
Music by: David Arnold
Running time: 119 minutes
Production company: Danjaq, Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, etc.
Distributed by: MGM Distribution, United Artists, Chapel Distribution, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $110,000,000
Box office: $333,011,068 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Ricky Jay, Götz Otto, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Geoffrey Palmer, Julian Fellowes, Terence Rigby, Cecilie Thomsen, Nina Young, Daphne Deckers
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Synopsis


The British frigate HMS Devonshire is sailing in international waters near China. Unbeknownst to them, a stealth ship under orders of news magnate Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is following them and is in fact muddling their navigation systems. The Devonshire in actuality is in Chinese waters which the Chinese don't take very kindly to and send two fighter jets. Carver's stealth ship then secretly torpedoes the Devonshire and destroys one of the Chinese jets, making it look like each side is responsible in an effort to induce a possible war. 007 agent James Bond is of course sent to investigate what happened.

Review


As is usual for James Bond movies, there's the trademark opener. The one in Tomorrow Never Dies is decent but it's definitely not the best one I've ever seen. Despite all the explosions, there just seems to be something missing. It rings hollow on the fun scale. For the opening credits, I'm actually a fan of the title song by Sheryl Crow. It's really different from anything that's ever been done for a James Bond movie although I can understand people who hate it. I'd describe the title design as having a technology/x-ray thing going on which looks pretty cool to me.

Pierce Brosnan continues his smooth work from GoldenEye. There's nothing you can really say against him. Whether it be during action sequences or when he's turning up the charm, Pierce gets the job done exactly as you'd expect James Bond to do so. I do wish there could be a bit more mayhem when it comes to his character fighting off enemies hand to hand because he's a bit too invincible for my liking. The script also calls for maybe a few too many clever racy play on words but that's not Brosnan's fault either.

Now for Jonathan Pryce's Elliot Carver, he's pretty self aware as far as James Bond villains go. I'm not sure if this was the intention originally or if it was something that Jonathan Pryce decided to do, but it works. I mean Carver's plan is pretty interesting but the whole character works better as a combo satire/commentary on how the news industry is. There's just no way you can take him seriously as a character which is why you need that self awareness. So mission accomplished in that sense.  

Action in general however strikes me as pretty run-of-the-mill unfortunately. There are lots of explosions and guns firing but there's no fun in it and there's not much tension either. A bigger is better approach is what was used here to try and improve on GoldenEye and it doesn't really work. Production values are definitely pretty high and everything looks good but that's all that can be said.

There are a handful of cool stunts, but so much of it is ruined by excessive gadgetry. A remote control BMW 750iL parking lot chase could have been interesting if it weren't at all remote control and if it didn't have that silly electronic voice assistant for comedic relief. The best chase scene is on a BMW Cruiser R1200 C motorbike with James and Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeo) handcuffed together trying to drive it. Driving through the tight streets of Ho Chi Minh City, it's by far the best chase.

Speaking of Michelle Yeo, she's honestly misused for the most part. Her martial arts talents are undeniable but she only really gets one chance to show them off in what is a great action scene. I understand though that you can't have a Bond girl steal the show from 007 himself. Still, she shoots way more guns than she should when she should be kicking people's asses around. 

The other Bond girl, Paris Carver is played by Teri Hatcher. She came out later as being pretty discontent with her character and I can totally understand why. All she plays is a pretty face who has a sex scene with James Bond. Their performances together are convincing sure, but the whole thing feels overwrought and a little cheesy too. (Spoilers) She ends up dying and serving as motivation for James to get back at Elliot Carver. (End Spoilers) She's a one and done character who is hardly necessary.

So while it does sound like Tomorrow Never Dies is an awful Bond entry, it still ends up being OK. There are some great sets and there's enough pretty good action to get by. Elliot Carver is silly sure, but he makes for an interesting villain. Pierce Brosnan also proves that he has what it takes to be a good Bond. There are quite a few problems with Tomorrow Never Dies but at the very least it does deliver some fun. Just not as much as it could've.

Rating


6/10