Thursday, October 7, 2021

Stubs - Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies
(1997) Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Terri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Screenplay by Bruce Feirstein. Based on James Bond by Ian Fleming. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Run Time: 119 minutes  U.K. Color. Drama, Espionage.

After reviving the Bond franchise with GoldenEye (1995), there was pressure to come up with a successful follow-up. A lot of the pressure came from MGM and its new owner for the third-time billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. He wanted to take the studio public and what better way than on the heels of a big blockbuster like a Bond film?

But there were problems. With no Ian Fleming novel left to adapt, the new screenplay was based on an original story. This was completed in January 1997. However, the subject matter, which revolved around Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty to China, could not be used for a film opening at the end of the year, so the process was forced to start again.

By the time they had to start shooting, they still did not have a final script. Even after they began shooting there were still rewrites. The title was inspired by the Beatles song, "Tomorrow Never Knows" and was originally called Tomorrow Never Lies. However, when the title was faxed to MGM, an error made it come out as Tomorrow Never Dies, which the studio liked so much, they insisted on its use.

With a planned release date in December, shooting didn’t begin with the main unit until April 1st. The rush to complete the film caused the budget to mushroom to $110 million. Filming took place at an abandoned Rolls Royce factory that was also used for GoldenEye. They also used the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios, RAF Lakenheath, and the tank built for Titanic in Rosarito, Baja California. Two months of planning went down the drain when the permit to shoot in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was rescinded at the last minute. Production was then shifted to Bangkok, Thailand.

The film opens at a terrorist arms bazaar near the Russian border. MI6 sends James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), agent 007, into the field to spy and watch him via television, MI6 and the Royal Navy identify several wanted men, including American "techno-terrorist" Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), who is purchasing a GPS encoder made by the U.S. military. Despite M's (Judi Dench) insistence to let 007 finish his reconnaissance, British Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer) launches a missile attack, hoping to kill off many of the world’s terrorists in one shot. The cruise missile is already away and beyond its recall point when Bond discovers two Soviet nuclear torpedoes mounted on an L-39 Albatros. With no other option and the cruise missile bearing down, Bond hijacks the L-39 and flies away seconds before the missile strikes. Amidst the confusion, Gupta manages to escape with the encoder in his possession.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) hijacks a jet.

But Bond is not in the clear just yet. Another Russian pilot, who watches Bond hijack the Albatros, takes chase. While he is shooting at Bond’s plane, the pilot he knocked out awakens and tries to strangle Bond with a cable. Flying with the yolk between his knees while he fights for his life, Bond manages to eject the other pilot into the chase plane and escape.

Meanwhile, the British ship the HMS Devonshire is threatened by Chinese MIGs when it ventures into Chinese waters in the South China Sea. However, GPS shows the ship to be in International waters. When the MIGs fly over the ship again, a Stealth ship dispatches what is thought to be a torpedo, but is really a drill, which punctures the side of the Devonshire and sinks it. An equal opportunity terrorist, the Stealth ship, commanded by Mr. Stamper (Gotz Otto) also shoots down one of the MIGs. When survivors from the Devonshire swim to the Stealth boat, they are shot dead in the water with ammunition that is used by the Chinese military.

Media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce).

This massacre is done under the auspices of media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), head of the Carver Media Group Network (CMGN). Gupta, who is working for Carver, has used the GPS encoder to send the Devonshire 70 miles off course.

Carver then sends divers down to the Devonshire, where they steal one of its missiles.

After reading a CMGN report of the incident in one of its newspapers, Tomorrow, Roebuck deploys the British Fleet to recover the frigate, and possibly retaliate, leaving M only forty-eight hours to investigate its sinking.

Bond is dispatched by M to investigate Carver after Carver Media releases news with critical details hours before these events have become known even to the military, coupled with MI6 noticing a spurious signal from one of CMGN’s communications satellites before the frigate was sunk. Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), is an ex-girlfriend of Bond’s, and both M and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) encourage him to pump Paris for information.

Q (Desmond Llewelyn) shows Bond his tricked-out BMW.

Bond is sent to Hamburg, CMGN’s headquarters, with an invitation to Carver’s premiere party for his worldwide satellite news channel. His cover is that he’s a banker. When he deplanes at the airport, Bond goes to the Avis car rental and is served by Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who shows Bond the new BMW that has been modified for his use.

The car has all the usual gadgets: smokescreens, missiles, etc., but it is also bulletproof and best of all can be driven remotely using a secret pad on Bond’s phone. The phone itself can make calls, but also can read fingerprints and has an electric prod built-in.

Bond with Carver's wife Paris (Terri Hatcher).

At the party, Bond is introduced to Carver as well as Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese spy pretending to be a reporter. Carver doesn’t like Bond and has Stamper’s men take care of him. Telling him he has an urgent call, they take him into a recording studio and start to work him over. But as in all such matters, Bond eventually gets the upper hand and escapes before Stamper arrives to kill him. On his way out, Bond takes the satellite news service off the air by turning off the power.

Bond seduces Paris in his hotel room.

Back at his hotel, Bond is licking his wounds or rather dulling the pain with shots of vodka, waiting to see who Carver sends after him. He is surprised that it’s Paris, who is still dressed, but not for long, in her party gown. Bond seduces her and she spends the night. The next morning, she tells Bond how he can break into CMGN just before she leaves.

Bond breaks in and when Gupta leaves, breaks into his office using the electric prod to fry the lock. He searches Gupta’s office and finds his safe, which requires a fingerprint to open. Bond uses the reader device in the phone to copy and then display Gupta’s. Inside the safe, he finds the encoder and takes it.

But getting out proves harder than breaking in. Bond ends up in a firefight. He also encounters Lin, who has also broken in. She doesn’t help Bond with Carver’s goons, but instead manages her own escape. Bond does manage to get out, but his presence at CMGN and what he’s stolen is already known by Carver, who personally calls Bond.

Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli).

He tells him that he has two things that belong to him: the encoder and his wife, who is back at Bond’s hotel. Arriving there, Bond locks the encoder in the car before going to his room. There he finds Paris’ dead body and the assassin who killed her, the very glib Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli).

Meanwhile, in the garage, Stamper’s men cannot seem to get into Bond’s car. Dr. Kaufman is asked to get the instructions from Bond, even if he has to torture him. Bond gives him his phone and tells Kaufman how to engage the electric prod, which incapacitates him. Bond then kills Dr. Kaufman with his own gun before making his escape.

Bond uses a remote to drive his car.

Using the remote device on his phone to drive the car, Bond drives it away from Stamper’s men and then jumps into an open window, which he manipulates. Sitting in the back seat, Bond manages to drive the car so that it eludes Stamper’s men and uses a cutting device under the BMW badge on the hood to cut through a steel rope. The car stops being bulletproof and Bond manages to drive the car so that a missile goes clean through it, destroying one of his pursuers. When the street gate is missile proof, Bond drives back up to the top of the garage and drives the car through the railing, jumping out just before it does. Bond is then presumed dead by Stamper.

With the help of CIA contact Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), Bond returns the encoder to the U.S. and is dropped over the actual location of the Devonshire, where he finds that one of the ship’s cruise missiles is missing. But who should be there already, but Wai Lin. But when they surface, they find that her boat has been commandeered by Stamper’s men. The two are then taken to CMGN’s Ho Chi Minh City highrise headquarters.

Bond and Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Ho Chi Minh City.

Carver tells them his plan, which is to help a Chinese general take power in China in exchange for broadcast rights in China, the one country he doesn’t have such rights in, for 100 years. He then leaves Stamper to torture Bond and Lin before killing them. But the two spies, who are handcuffed together, work well together and manage to escape, going down a banner of Carver on the outside of the tower and then breaking through a window on one of its floors.

Motorcycle jumping over helicopter.

Down on the street, they commandeer a motorcycle, which Bond insists on driving. They are chased by several black Range Rovers and a helicopter through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and manage some remarkable feats, perhaps the most spectacular being jumping over the helicopter with its blades spinning. Failure would mean falling into a blender.

But as soon as they’re safe, Lin frees herself from the handcuffs and leaves Bond attached to a water pipe. She’s not gone far before Bond manages to escape and follows her. He loses her in a crowd, but sees a carload of men rush into a building and goes in after her.

Lin, meanwhile, is handling her attackers pretty well by herself. A martial arts expert, she manages to subdue most of the men sent to kill her. Bond, who overpowers a lookout and a guard, arrives in time to take care of the last man standing, who has a gun trained on Lin.

Agreeing to work together, Lin reveals the weapons and communication devices hidden in her headquarters. While Bond grabs supplies, Lin sends a message to both British and Chinese authorities telling them of Carver’s plans.

Carver's stealth ship.

They find Carver's stealth ship in Ha Long Bay and board it to prevent him from firing the stolen British cruise missile at Beijing. They are discovered and Wai Lin is captured. Bond captures Gupta to use as his own hostage, but Carver kills Gupta, claiming he has "outlived his contract."

Bond detonates an explosive, damaging the ship, which breaches the hulls and makes it visible to radar, and vulnerable to a subsequent Royal Navy attack. While Wai Lin disables the ship's engines to keep it from outrunning the British Navy, Bond attempts to halt the missile launch. Carver tries to stop him, but Bond uses his sea drill on Carver.

With the ship sinking and Carver dead, Stamper is still determined to see the plan through to completion. While Bond attempts to destroy the warhead, Stamper shows up with Lin back in chains. He drops her into the China Sea before attacking Bond. In the fight, Bond traps Stamper in the missile firing mechanism and dives to save Wai Lin as the missile explodes, destroying the ship and killing Stamper. Lin, who can hold her breath a long time, is eventually rescued by Bond. The two survive and make out amidst the burning wreckage while the crew of the HMS Bedford searches for them.

Critical response to the film was mixed, but that really doesn’t matter when it comes to Bond films. Unfortunately for the film, it opened the same weekend as Titanic (1997), the highest-grossing movie since Gone With the Wind (1939). While the film held its own, it was definitely number two at the box office. Ultimately, it made over $333 million worldwide, but about $20 million less than GoldenEye had.

In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond is clearly moving away from its Cold War roots. The Chinese, who had been behind the plot to ruin the U.S. gold supply in Goldfinger (1964), are still potential enemies, but Bond is working with one of their agents, not against them, to thwart the plot.

Rather than communism, Bond is shown battling big business, specifically the media, which was then and is now consolidating, putting more and more information sources into the hands of fewer and fewer people and companies. If you control the message, then you have the power to influence. That influence can be used to better people’s existences or to line the pockets of investors.

In the film, Carver is practicing yellow journalism that is as old as William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War. But rather than jingoism, Carver is after the jingle of coins in his purse. While Carver reminds people a lot of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, he was really based on another publishing giant, Robert Maxwell, whose empire crumbled after his death as banks called in the loans that had kept his empire afloat.

The message about the power of the media to affect world events is a little overstated. However, as much as big media may seem to be consolidated in the hands of a few, there is still a diversity of media outlets, including the internet, which was not really an issue in Tomorrow Never Dies. No one person or company is quite as powerful as Carver is shown to be. Still, the exclusive broadcast rights to a billion-plus Chinese would make any news provider drool. How far they would go to obtain those rights is hypothetical, but one hopes starting a war would be considered crossing a line.

Pierce Brosnan is taking his second turn as James Bond, having starred in GoldenEye, which relaunched the franchise after it went dormant following Licence to Kill (1989). He had met Albert Broccoli on the set of For Your Eyes Only (1981) and reportedly the producer wanted him to inherit the role from Roger Moore.

While he waited for his opportunity, Brosnan landed the lead on Remington Steele, a romantic detective TV series that started airing in 1982. When the series was canceled in 1987, Brosnan was approached about taking the Bond role in the upcoming film. While he was cast, he had to withdraw, since the publicity about his casting revived Remington Steele and he was contractually obligated to return to the series.

This may be the best of the Brosnan Bond films. He seems more comfortable with the role and is as dynamic a Bond as there’s been since Sean Connery’s turn with the role. There is great promise as to where the series could go from here. He would appear as Bond twice more in The World is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002) before retiring from the role in favor of a younger actor, which turned out to be Daniel Craig.

Michelle Yeoh is Wai Lin.

Wai Lin represents a Bond girl reminiscent of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger; a martial arts expert and a woman who can take care of herself, and Bond for that matter. Michelle Yeoh is a Malaysian born actress who made a career appearing in Hong Kong action films, starting with The Owl vs. Bombo (1984). Following Tomorrow Never Dies, Yeoh would go on to star in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which would be a huge International hit. She has also appeared in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and did voice work for Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011). She would also star in the Crouching Tiger sequel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend (2015).

Jonathan Pryce is a Welsh-born actor who has been making movies since 1979’s Comedians. He’s also appeared in such films as Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), De-Lovely (2004), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), Leatherheads (2008), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013). In this film, he portrays the villain and is, as usual, good in the part.

Having seen several Bond films recently (as of this writing), I keep going back to Goldfinger as my favorite. Tomorrow Never Dies, though, has all of the same thematic elements as that film: a big explosive beginning, two Bond girls, the shaken not stirred Vodka martini, and, of course, the gadgets. But in this film, product placements start to interfere with what makes Bond Bond.

The Aston Martin, which had been the iconic Bond car, is replaced by a BMW. Perhaps not as jarring as the Dodge Hemi reference in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), it does show a little disrespect for the Bond mythos that made the franchise what it is. While merchandising had been around since Goldfinger, it never had been to such a scale. Tomorrow Never Dies shows that Bond is for sale to the highest bidder and more product placements would be on the way. They would even include the brand of razor Bond would use in future films and the watch he wore, but the car is one of the most recognizable to be affected.

Still, Tomorrow Never Dies is a good Bond film and one that most fans of the franchise and of action films will no doubt enjoy.

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