Let this be a warning to Mr. Daniel Craig. It all started so well for Pierce Brosnan. Goldeneye was a triumphant beginning to his reign as Bond. Yet it all began to go downhill very fast, cumulating in the notorious Die Another Day which was to be his last film as Bond. The film has become almost legendary for two main reasons. The invisible car which Bond is issued with and the poor CGI where he skis off an ice flow. But is the film as bad as its reputation. There is only one way to find out, and I bravely volunteered to revisit the movie on Blu-ray.
The film certainly starts in an unusual and excellent way. Bond is surveying a swap engineered by a North Korean Colonel who is exchanging weaponry for African Blood Diamonds. After the usual chase and stunt sequence, Bond is captured and the credit sequence swaps silhouettes of naked women for Bond being tortured. He is then released in a prisoner exchange and informed in hospital that he is having his 00 status revoked. However, in a worrying first sign that this film is not bothered in evoking any sense of believability, Bond induces a heart attack on himself, flat-lining his monitor before jumping up, knocking out his nurses and escaping into the night.
He then strikes out on his own, chasing a North Korean called Zao (Rick Yune) who he scarred during the opening chase scene. Zao seems in some way to be linked with Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) who is dealing in blood diamonds. Bond needs to figure out the connection, whilst also discovering what nefarious plans are in place for the use of the satellite Icarus. Along the way, he links up with an American agent Jinx (Halle Berry) and another British agent who may, or may not, be all that she seems.
Die Another Day has got a reputation for being the absolute nadir of the franchise, but I have never seen it that way. It is true I am not a rabid fan of Bond, and indeed there are some in the series that I have not seen. However, I would like to think I would recognise a good Bond film when I see it - and whereas this film may have its flaws, it still has enough good in it to be worthwhile of attention.
As already mentioned, the early stages follow the usual Bond formula, and the early misstep involving the escape from the hospital is not indicative of the first two thirds of the film - which contains plenty of action, sparkling dialogue between Jinx and Bond, and beautiful locales. Unfortunately, though, the hatred that many feel about the film is fuelled by the final third. Things start to go wrong when Q introduces Bond's major gadget for this adventure - the invisible car. Yep, that's right. The invisible car. From here onwards, things really do go from bad to worse. The scene of a major set piece is an ice palace hotel (they do exist, but to stay in them you would need many more layers than these guests wear), then the invisible car gets wheeled out in anger, and we finally get the much derided CGI effect of Bond escaping over the edge of an ice cliff. Whoever saw that scene and signed it off as completed really should have known better. It is not only the worse scene in the entire franchise, it is one of the worse CGI scenes ever brought to screen. It is that bad
Amongst all the chaos around him, Brosnan really does do his best - but when required to butt heads with Graves in a ridiculously childish sword fight to establish who is best, it is very difficult to bring the required gravitas to the character of Bond. When provided with decent dialogue (the opening scene with Jinx) he does extremely well, but as the film descends almost into parody, so does the dialogue and Brosnan just seems to be essaying a caricature of the Bond that is well known from previous films. This is not his fault and it is almost a shame that his reign as the character will be remembered for this entry into the franchise. Without him in the lead role, it is almost a certainty that the film would have been a lot worse.
The director does have a lot to answer for, however. Apart from the brilliantly mounted credit sequence, Lee Tamahori shows no aptitude for the material or franchise at all. He mounts the action sequences with about as much panache as if he is shooting a daytime TV soap, and he shows little interest in mounting his camera with any consideration for composition or viewer interest. Everything seems to be flat, and even the Cuban scenes do not sparkle with the sense of exoticism that is so essential to the series.
Considering this leaden approach to the direction, and the bad CGI employed it would have to be a truly exemplary script to help the film rise above its faults. Sadly, however, the script is one of the major flaws of the production. I have already mentioned the quite ridiculous scene where Bond faces off against Graves in a scene that is designed to be rapier sharp with dialogue, but ends up making our protagonists look like a couple of playground children in a game of King of the Castle. There are many other misfires like this. You only need to compare and contrast the dialogue in the recent reboot Casino Royale to see just how bad Die Another Day is in the script department.
Is the film as bad as everyone says it is then? Well, in my admittedly limited experience I did find some things to enjoy here. Even with all the flaws that are apparent, there is still some entertainment to be had if you buy into the experience. However, there are far better Bond films in the franchise, and far better action / spy films in general out there. Realistically, Bond completists are going to want to have this Blu-ray in their collection. More casual Bond fans, however, should move on. There are so many better films even in this first wave of Bond Blu discs.
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