The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
After concluding Roger Moore last week with For Your Eyes Only, I close the door on Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as Bond today with his second term at bat, the action-heavy but formulaic TOMORROW NEVER DIES.
Mission Title: Tomorrow Never Dies
James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Release Date: December 19, 1997
Source Material: Original story
Tagline: The Man. The Number. The License… are all back.
A theft of a top secret GPS jamming device at a terrorist arms bazaar leads to a mysterious incident in the South China Sea where British destroyer HMS Devonshire and a Chinese MIG fighter jet are both destroyed. Although the British Navy is quick to point fingers at the Chinese government, MI6 suspect British media baron Elliot Carver is somehow connected. After all, all the specifics of the classified incident, including the lack of survivors, were reported in grisly detail on the front pages of his global newspaper Tomorrow mere hours after the accident. James Bond is sent to investigate Carver’s network, and together with Chinese Colonel Wai Lin, to stop him before the mad billionaire incites World War 3.
Tomorrow Never Dies holds a special place in my heart. It’s the first Bond movie I watched on the big screen. I don’t remember all the specifics but I do remember the night of the screening being the very last of its run in Abu Dhabi. Since I was determined to watch it before it left theaters, I dragged my poor mom along with me for the 9:30pm show—the very last show of the evening. Looking back on it now, I’m not sure why she agreed to my nutty plan. Whatever it was, I’m glad she did because I probably wouldn’t be as big a fan of this series (for better or worse) if it weren’t for her sacrifice. After all, by the time we got home after the movie, it was nearly midnight. And we both had to wake up early the next day—me to show-off to my friends that I watched the new James Bond movie, my mom to a long and tiring 9 hour workday. I guess that’s part of the package when you’re a parent.
Being a 14-year-old who hadn’t yet caught the movie bug at the time (but who was well on his way to catching it), I was blissfully unaware of all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans before and during the production of this 18th entry in the Bond franchise. In 1996, a year after GoldenEye had reinvigorated the Bond franchise for a post-Cold War world, EON Productions was struck with the most devastating blow in their then 33-year-old history. Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, the co-creator and primary guardian of the series, died at the age of 87 from heart failure. Cubby had overseen the series growth from low-budget productions in the early ‘60’s to epic bombastic extravaganzas through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, eventually seeing the franchise through numerous hardships in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Although Cubby had passed along producing responsibilities on GoldenEye to his two heirs, step-son Michael G. Wilson and daughter Barbara Broccoli, the upcoming movie—then titled Tomorrow Never Lies—would be the first without his involvement. The film would subsequently be dedicated in his memory.
With Michael and Barbara as the new leaders, the aim was to prove GoldenEye wasn’t a fluke, and that Bond was here to stay. MGM, again in dire financial straits, was eager to get the film in theaters as soon as possible at that. Because of the sped up production schedule, the film’s budget ballooned to $110 million—double that of GoldenEye. Moreover, the producers didn’t even have a completed script or director on board. Although director Martin Campbell was approached, he rejected the offer citing that he didn’t want to direct two Bond pictures in a row. Campbell would eventually return a decade later to direct Daniel Craig’s first outing—Casino Royale. Instead, Michael chose Roger Spottiswoode, a Brit filmmaker who had made his mark directing buddy comedies like Air America and Turner & Hooch, in addition to serving as an editor for Sam Peckinpah on Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, as well as a writer on 48 Hours.
With Spottiswoode on staff, Michael and Barbara moved on to put together the film’s screenplay. This is where they first ran into problems. An original treatment by writer Donald E. Westlake revolving around the January 1997 transfer of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China had to scraped after they realized the film would be released in December 1997, i.e. a full year after the transfer. GoldenEye co-screenwriter Michael Feirstein, who had worked Westlake’s treatment into a workable screenplay, had to then watch as Spottiswoode handed off his work to a committee of seven writers before settling on a script by Dan Petrie, Jr. But Michael and Barbara had ideas of their own too, preferring Feirstein’s original script to Petrie’s. The back-and-forth between director and producers led to Feirstein being rehired to rework Petrie’s changes into a new script. By the time the screenplay was ready, the film was already into production. Talk about chaos.
Other setbacks to the production included Anthony Hopkins being cast as Elliot Carver but dropping out because of the lack of a completed script. There was also the problem of Leavesden Studios being unavailable due to George Lucas blocked it for the filming of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, then the most anticipated movie in the history of cinema. Instead, the producers had to build new sound stages from scratch for the production. Permissions to shoot in Vietnam also became a major issue. Although the country had originally green-lit the production, they pulled their support two weeks before filming was scheduled due to the series’ history of portraying Communism negatively. With Vietnam out, the production had to relocate to Thailand after months of planning in Vietnam had already been completed. Smaller but still notable issues included Pierce Brosnan getting injured on set to the point where he required eight stitches; and the dissatisfaction of Teri Hatcher and Jonathan Pryce, both who found themselves saddled with characters that were lacking. Tellingly, both their performances suffer. Hatcher comes off bored and confused in a vague role while Pryce chews his lines, his costars and the scenery too – coming off more as a cartoonish mad scientist than menacing evil genius.
With all the setbacks, it was frankly a miracle that the film didn’t turn out to be a complete disaster. While I really liked it on my first viewing back in early 1998, time has hardened my opinion. Although I still deem it to be largely enjoyable and Brosnan’s second best outing after GoldenEye (it tips The World is Not Enough by “this” much), that doesn’t disguise the fact that Tomorrow Never Dies is a largely uneven picture whose only saving graces are Brosnan, Michelle Yeoh and its excellent action sequences. As much as the plot—which centers on a media baron manufacturing war for ratings—gets criticized for being preposterous and stupid, it somehow fits in with the over-the-top world of James Bond. Moreover, it remains a timely topic today, what with social media dominating our lives day-in and day-out.
No, the issue here is behind the modernized wallpaper of media tycoons taking over the world, the structure of the screenplay is identical to the stale formula of the Roger Moore movies, specifically his two epics of the late ‘70’s—The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Like them, Tomorrow Never Dies opens with the hijacking/destruction of a British/American vessel. Once again, the plot involves a billionaire villain who sets up two world powers against each other for personal financial gain. The primary Bond girl in all three movies is a fellow agent for another government who joins forces with Bond. They all have two sets of chase sequences, one with Bond outsmarting a gang of villains solo, the other with Bond and the primary Bond girl after they’ve been introduced to the primary antagonist. There’s also a 6 ft massively-built henchman in all three. Oh, and in all three movies, the main villain’s choice of attire is a Nehru suit. COME. ON. GUYS!
It was acceptable back then in the ‘70’s when the Roger Moore formula hadn’t been set in stone but with GoldenEye being seen as a re-invigoration of the franchise and a step towards the upcoming 21st century, this is the moment where the series was supposed to bring something fresh to the table instead of wallowing in the formulas of the past. Instead, it set the franchise, and poor Brosnan, on a path towards parody, something that would become more evident in The World is Not Enough before collapsing on itself in Die Another Day. It really is a shame because Brosnan is quite good here. Even though he compared the filming to “pulling teeth,” that difficulty never comes through in his performance. He’s as confident and suave here as he was in GoldenEye. He was a very fine Bond whose only crime was getting stuck in a bad deal in the ‘80’s due to the Remington Steele fiasco and then working with two producers who were still finding their footing after the death of the principal creative force of the franchise.
Despite all my problems with Tomorrow Never Dies, I still maintain that I’m a fan. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic factor of it being my first big screen Bond experience. Perhaps I was in the mood to watch something silly on the day I re-watched it last week. Whatever it is, those thrilling action sequences (directed by Vic Armstrong), including the over-the-top cold open in Russia, the gleeful remote controlled car chase in Hamburg, and the explosive bike chase in Saigon, plus an ass-kicking Michelle Yeoh, still hold up well today, making it a largely fun if forgettable time.
Three Fun Facts to close this segment:
Tomorrow Never Dies was the first film in history to be completely financed by product placement – all $110 million of it. Although the Bond franchise had long been connected with product placement, dating back to the Walther PPK, Pan Am and Smirnoff making strategic appearances in Dr. No, this took the gratuitous product placement to new heights. Among the sponsors were BMW, Sony Ericsson, Smirnoff Vodka, Heineken, VISA, Avis Rent-a-Car, Omega watches, Bollinger champagne, Dunhill, L’Oreal cosmetics, and Brioni clothing. Ridiculous! Cut out all the scenes containing the product placement and you’re left with a couple of scenes with Bond and a naked blonde on a bed.
The original working title for the film was Tomorrow Never Lies – in reference to Elliot Carver’s newspaper always being right about world events. But when a script was sent to MGM studio brass over fax, a printing error turned the title into Tomorrow Never Dies. The studio loved the title so much that they insisted on using it.
Tomorrow Never Dies opened on the same weekend in December 1997 as Titanic. It was billed as a clash of the titans. Bond vs. James Cameron. MGM even thought they were going to sink the boat movie. But we all know what happened. Despite never beating the Oscar-winning epic at the box office on any given weekend—it’s the only Brosnan film to never hit number 1—Tomorrow Never Dies went on to become the highest grossing Bond movie until then. As much as I enjoy slagging on Brosnan, the guy did play a huge role in renewing interest in the character, especially after he was all but left for dead after the box office failure of Licence to Kill in 1989.
About 13 years later, general opinion on the four Brosnan Bonds tends to be polarizing. Some believe they brought the franchise into the modern age, refreshing the formula for a new generation and instilling a renewed popularity into the character. Others believe they represented the franchise at its most excessive, embracing all the worst aspects of the Moore era while barely paying homage to the best aspects of the Connery days. Whatever your opinion, I can say with confidence that the one aspect where the Brosnans truly shined were their Cold Opens. Every one of them was spectacular. GoldenEye had that tremendous bungee jump and the airplane skydive, The World is Not Enough had the lengthy but outstanding speed boat chase on the Thames, and Die Another Day, as shitty as it is, had the scene with the hovercrafts darting through the minefield. The cold open of Tomorrow Never Dies is no slouch either. It opens with Bond covertly spying on a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. The operation is cut short when the British and Russian Generals at home base decide to launch a missile strike on the site, you know, to clean up the mess in one swift stroke. Unfortunately for them, one of the jets at the bazaar is loaded with nukes. When they’re unable to abort the missile, it’s up to Bond to get to the jet, hijack it and then fly it out of range of the missile’s explosion radius. Although Bond is able to get the plane off the ground unscathed, he soon starts getting strangled by the co-pilot, who has suddenly regained consciousness. On top of that, he has to deal with an enemy jet firing at him. But in true James Bond fashion, he shrewdly takes control of the situation by maneuvering the jet to a position right below the other plane and then ejects his assailant from the back seat into the other jet, thus killing them both instantly. The sequence ends with Bond dryly quipping, “Back seat drivers.” It’s a preposterous sequence but it’s executed with the right amount of panache, excitement, and tongue-in-cheek humor.
Title Designer: Daniel Kleinmann
Title Song: “Tomorrow Never Dies” performed by Sheryl Crow
Famous Quote: “Darling, you won/It’s no fun/Martinis, girls, and guns/It’s murder on our love affair”
For the theme song of Tomorrow Never Dies, the producers solicited entries via a competition. On the film’s DVD, it’s noted that there were at least 12 artists who submitted tracks. In the end, Sheryl Crow’s adequate but ultimately whiny tune was chosen as the theme song over composer David Arnold & K.D. Lang’s brassy and frankly far, far superior “Surrender.” That song, which gets referenced all over Arnold’s score, was instead relegated to the film’s end credits. In retrospect, the choice of Crow over Lang was obvious. Even though Crow’s voice didn’t compare to Lang, the former was the bigger star, having come off one of her biggest albums (Sheryl Crow) the previous year. She was also a lot more marketable performer. And when it comes to Bond, marketing always trumps quality.
As for Daniel Kleinmann’s credit sequence, it’s another stylish piece of work that includes all the requisite Bond motifs (naked women and guns) plus X-ray imagery, a lot of phallic symbols, and computer-inspired images. Not as striking as his GoldenEye credits but not too shabby either.
Grade: B- (for Sheryl Crow’s song); A (for the David Arnold/K.D Lang song)
The Big Bad: British media conglomerate owner Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) who hails from a long line of megalomaniacal Bond villains with plans of world domination. Like an extreme version of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs put together, Carver is ambitious to the point where he manufactures wars for his own financial gain. Change his name on paper to Blofeld, Dr. No, Stromberg or Drax and chances are good that no one would blink an eye. He even wears a Nehru suit! It’s too bad then that the character is stifled by Pryce’s hammy and utterly unthreatening performance. The originally cast Anthony Hopkins would have been a significantly better fit. And Pryce isn’t helped by all the woeful lines of dialogue he has to spew. Case in point:
Elliot Carver: Mr. Stamper, I’m having fun with my headlines. I need to know the exact number of survivors. I’m late for a meeting. Make sure you use the right kind of ammunition.
Mr. Stamper: Yes Sir.
Elliot Carver: DELICIOUS!
Henchman: The blonde haired, blue-eyed 6 ft 6 inches tall Mr. Stamper (Götz Otto). Like Carver, Mr. Stamper comes from another line of Bond heritage: The towering icy Eastern European Bond henchman like Red Grant, Hans, Erich Kriegler and Necros. Apparently Otto won the role of Stamper by uttering a single line during his audition, “I’m big, I’m bad, and I’m German.” I’d probably be impressed enough to hire him after that audition too. But unlike Red Grant and Necros, Mr. Stamper doesn’t get much time to make an impact. We know that he’s good with guns, knows how to run a stealth boat, and briefly learn that he’s a budding torturer. It’s too bad we don’t get much of the later because that would have truly made him one of the greats.
Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli) – a forensic doctor who moonlights as a hitman with a specialty in torturing victims. A one scene wonder who probably inspired Dexter Morgan.
Organization: The Carver Media Network, Tomorrow
World Domination Plan: Carver’s ridiculous plans involve manufacturing a war in the South China Sea by pitting the Chinese and the British against each other. He accomplishes this by using his stealth boat and sea driller weapon to sink a British destroyer and shoot down a Chinese MIG fighter. Once a war has been incited, Carver will simply cause Britain to inadvertently bomb Beijing and kill all the Chinese officials who opposed giving his network exclusive rights in that market; his end goal being a global media monopoly. Yes, it’s a preposterous plan but it somehow makes sense for a character like him, especially in today’s world. Also, 18 years later, it doesn’t feel dated at all.
Primary: Colonel Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) of the Chinese government. A trained martial artist with expertise in undercover work, weapons and computer software too, Wai Lin was by far the best Bond girl of the Brosnan era (yes, better than Christmas Jones) – a character who is his equal, and in many ways, his superior. Always cool under pressure, Wai Lin even one ups Bond on more than one occasion. She’s comes from the same vein of state agent Bond girls Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me, Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, and Jinx in Die Another Day. Wai Lin could have been one of the best Bond girls but it’s unfortunate that Yeoh and Brosnan barely shared any chemistry.
Others: Bond’s former flame Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher) who decided to move on from him back in the day and marry Elliot. Although Paris is the sole tragic figure in this film, the screenplay and Hatcher’s subpar performance render the character forgettable. Hatcher was very vocal about his frustrations with the role.
Inga Bergstrom (Cecilie Thomsen) – The Danish that Bond has a fling with at Oxford.
M (Judi Dench): Who fights for MI6’s rights to investigate Elliot Carver when Admiral Roebuck thinks that the sinking of the HMS Devonshire was an unprovoked attack from China on the British. M’s role is increased nearly two-fold from the single scene she had in GoldenEye—another sign of the changing times for the franchise. The character would continue to play a bigger role in subsequent films – most noticeably in Skyfall, The World is Not Enough and Casino Royale.
Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker): Making his second or two appearances after GoldenEye. It’s a single sequence in which Bond uses the assistance of the Americans to dive via HALO jump into the South China Sea.
Robinson (Colin Salmon): A all-around nice guy who works as M’s assistant and who serves as Bond’s eyes in mission control during missions.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn): Who gives Bond his two most important gadgets in this mission: His BMW 750i and the Sony Ericsson mobile phone.
Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond): A cunning linguist.
BMW 750i: Used by Bond in Hamburg, and as the centerpiece of the film’s most memorable sequence – the car chase in the garage. Among the 750i’s many customized features, thanks to Q branch, are the bullet and sledgehammer-proof windows, a scratch and bullet-resistant body, electrocution shock theft protection devices, surface to air missiles, machine guns, metallic spikes, re-inflatable tires, tear gas, a powerful machine saw to cut metal cables. Oh, and the whole thing can be driven via remote control.
Sony Ericsson Mobile Phone: Also used during the Hamburg car chase sequence to remotely control the BMW 750i. It was also used as a stun gun to subdue Dr. Hoffman, and to read fingerprints and get into Elliot Carver’s private offices at his printing press. It could also be used for calling relatives in far off places… you know, as a phone.
Omega Watch: Picked up by Bond at Wai Lin’s safe house in Saigon. The watch, which was also used in GoldenEye contained a remote detonator which Bond uses at the film’s climax to detonate his makeshift grenade in a glass.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[M and Admiral Roebuck are arguing about whether MI6 or the military should take the lead in the crisis in the South China Sea.]
Admiral Roebuck: With all due respect, M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job.
M: Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don’t have to think with them all the time.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[Bond chatting on the phone with Moneypenny as he’s in bed with another Danish woman]
James Bond: I always enjoyed learning a new tongue.
Moneypenny: You always were a cunning linguist, James.
God, that’s atrocious.
Most Memorable Moment:
The fantastic car chase sequence at the garage in Hamburg where Bond drives his BMW 750i from the backseat using a Sony Ericsson mobile phone touch pad as a remote control. It’s exciting, absolutely thrilling and has just the right dosage of humor to curb some of the excessive violence. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
The scene in which Elliot Carver mocks Wai Lin by mimicking her kung fu moves in a grossly exaggerated and buffoonish way, before shaking his head and stating, “Pathetic.”
Pathetic would be apt description of the scene itself. Borderline racist is a good descriptor too.
[This hilarious exchange between M and Bond during his mission briefing session in a car on route to the airport]
M: I believe you once had a relationship with Carver’s wife, Paris.
James Bond: That was a long time ago, M… before she was married.
M: Your job is to find out whether Carver or someone in his organization sent that ship off course, and why. Use your relationship with Mrs. Carver, if necessary.
James Bond: I doubt if she’ll remember me.
M: Remind her. Then pump her for information.
Moneypenny: You’ll just have to decide how much pumping is needed, James.
Check out the mouth on Moneypenny!
Most Touching Moment:
Bond finding a dead Paris Carver in his hotel room bed and immediately regretting getting her involved.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
There’s barely anything here I’d deem shocking or outrageous. Perhaps the closest would be the climax of the opening sequence with Bond ejecting his assailant from his seat into the bottom of the enemy aircraft. But that’s more in line with awesome.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[Bond is in bed with a Danish Professor when he receives a phone call from Moneypenny asking him about his whereabouts]
James Bond: I’m just up here at Oxford, brushing up on a little Danish.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[Bond and Wai Lin are being escorted via helicopter to Elliot Carver’s Tomorrow headquarters in Saigon, when they notice a massive poster of Elliot’s face draped over the building.]
James Bond: Another Carver building. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he developed an edifice complex.
Woooooof, that’s bad.
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
As I previously noted, Tomorrow Never Dies is at its best during its action sequences, a couple which are among the best of the Brosnan era. While the car chase in the garage may be the best sequence overall, for pure high octane thrills, explosiveness and top-notch stunt-work, you can’t beat the motorcycle chase through the streets of Saigon.
Most Dated Reference:
The Sony Ericsson mobile phone. This is what happens when you have such blatant product placement. It immediately dates your movie. In this case, into a relic of the 90s.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 3 (once with Professor Inga Bergstrom, once with Paris Carver and once with Wai Lin.
Number of people Bond kills: 29
The two for one kill during the opening sequence with Bond ejecting his assailant in the fighter jet into the bottom of the other fighter jet. Ridiculous but awesome.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Russia, London, Hamburg, Okinawa, Saigon, Halong Bay
Misogyny Meter: 6/10
By the time the 90’s rolled around, the Bond series had noticeably cut down on the blatant misogyny and sexism that were routine in the Connery and Moore years – especially now that Barbara Broccoli had taken the reigns of the series. Still, women keep being the butt of jokes, except this time, it’s women making them. Just because M and Moneypenny are the ones delivering the lines doesn’t make your film immune, guys.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 4/10
Four points on the board on the strength of that atrocious scene in which Elliot Carver mocks Wai Lin and her kung fu moves. I get he’s a villain but really guys? That’s just pathetic.
Box Office: $125.3 million ($225.7 million adjusted for inflation; seventh highest grossing of the series)
007 Chronological Listing: 18/24
Running time: 119 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action violence, sexuality and innuendo)
The 007 Collective will return in:
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Skyfall (2012)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Dr. No (1962)
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)