After succesfully proving that the James Bond franchise was still a viable box office commodity with the runaway success of Goldeneye (Martin Campbell,1995), work inmediately started on the next James Bond picture. Having found a new audience for the latest iteration of the iconic character, Eon Productions wanted to move ahead, and demonstrate to the powers that be at MGM/UA, that the movies could come out on a regular basis, and still keep audiences interested. The problem, as it always is with movies, was the tight schedule whitin which the filmmakers had to work to deliver the movie by Christmas 1997. A schedule that would bring more than its fair share of problems.
Assembling the troops
The producers wanted Martin Campbell to direct the next movie, which had the working title of Tomorrow Never Lies. This would later be changed for Tomorrow Never Dies, because of a typing mistake made by a publicist when the studio was preparing a press release to announce the title. Campbell turned it down, preferring to helm The Mask of Zorro (1998). Campbell was, according to him, offered to direct every subsequent James Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan in the lead, only agreeing to come back to bring a new James Bond into the limelight in the highly successful and groundbreaking, Casino Royale (2006), when Daniel Craig was chosen to take over the role. The producers decided to go with a filmmaker whom they were looking at as far back as when Timothy Dalton was still playing the role; English-Canadian Roger Spottiswoode (Deadly Pursuit, 1988), (Air America, 1990). Spottiswoode confessed that he couldn’t see himself directing a Bond movie with Dalton in the lead, as he thought Dalton’s approach to the character to be too somber, preferring the lighthearted touch that Brosnan had given it.
Pretty much all the players from the previous movie were invited to come back, with a few notable exceptions. Judi Dench and Samantha Bond were asked to reprise their roles as M and Miss Moneypenny respectively. The actresses, who’d worked together on stage for years, had a very good working relationship, and audiences had liked the way both actresses had approached such iconic characters. Desmond Llewellyn was too asked to come back to play Q one more time. At one point in the screenwriting process, it was decided that the character would be written off the story, stating that he’d retired. There was however one scene in one of the early drafts in which Bond would run into Q lounging on a yacht, surrounded by beautiful women. The idea was scrapped, deciding to bring Llewellyn out for one more movie, and sewing the seeds of an idea that the producers had been toying with for some time in the next movie, The World is not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999); which was to bring in a new Q. The role of the main villain, media baron Elliot Carver, went to British actor Jonathan Pryce, a well regarded stage and film actor better known for his roles in Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985), and Evita (1996, Alan Parker). Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein had Albert Finney on mind while he was writing the script, although he was never contacted, only becoming part of the Bond family years later in Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012), as Kincaid, Bond’s family’s caretaker of the title’s ancestral home, Skyfall. Anthony Hopkins was also approached about the role, and even showed an interest after having read one of Feirstein’s earlier drafts, but ultimately turning it down in favor of participating on The Mask of Zorro ( Martin Campbell, 1998). For the role of the henchmen, the producers chose German actor Gotz Otto for the part of blond-haired assassin Mr Stamper (choosing to dye his hair blond was probably Otto’s idea of homaging Robert Shaw’s iconic turn as SPECTRE’s deadly assassin Red Grant in From Russia with Love, Terrence Young, 1963), and American actor Vincent Schiavelli for the role of Stamper’s master, the assassin Dr Kauffman. Famous magician-turned actor Ricky Jay was offered the role of tecnoterrorist Henry Gupta. American actor Joe Don Baker made a reappearance as CIA agent Jack Wade.
American actress Terri Hatcher, from Lois & Clark: The new adventures of Superman fame, which run from 1993 to 1997, was chosen for the role of Paris Carver, Elliot Carver’s wife, and a former lover of Bond’s. Hatcher was pregnant at the time, and due also to her conflicting schedule with the Superman TV show, it was the source of some on-set friction with her co-star Pierce Brosnan, as she was said to have been late to the set in a few occasions. Italian actress Monica Bellucci was actually Brosnan’s first choice for the role, but was unable to participate in the movie, only to appear a few years later on Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015). Malaysian action star Michelle Yeoh was chosen to play the part of Chinese secret agent Wai Lin. Hers was a character that was an equal to 007 in every possible way, and the enthusiasm that Yeoh brought to the role, along with her very dynamic fighting style (a product of a very prolific career in martial arts movies, and her background as a professional dancer), never before attempted in a Bond movie, brought a very fresh perspective to the way Bond girls had been viewed thus far, a trend that had already started in earnest with Izabella Scorupco’s characterization of Computer Programmer Natalya Simonova in Goldeneye. Yeoh’s character proved to be so popular with audiences, that the producers toyed for some time with the idea of bringing her back for subsequent Bond movies, something that sadly never came to pass.
As for the crew, a few last-minute changes had to be made. Peter Lamont was unavailable at the time, as he was still working on Titanic ( James Cameron, 1997). Allan Cameron replaced him, and given how tight a schedule all the crew had, he does a magnificent job with the sets. Especially noteworthy is the dressing of the Carver Media Group’s (CMG) Headquaters in Hamburg, for which the IBM HQ in England was used, the interior of the stealth ship, the interior of the British battleship cruisers, and especially an alley in Bangkok, Thailand which was dressed to resemble an alley in Hanoi,Vietnam, for the motorcycle chase sequence; a portion of which was later recreated in Frogmore Studios, UK, for the scene in which Bond jumps with the motorcycle over a helicopter between two buildings. The level of detail that Cameron brought to his sets is amazing considering the time constraints he and his team were under. Vic Armstrong, the legendary stunt double-turned-stunt coordinator, and who was a stalwart of the Bond family since the days of You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967), where he was one of the ninjas climbing down from the roof of Ken Adams’s amazing volcano set, was put in charge of shooting the main action set pieces. It was kind of a full circle kind of deal for Armstrong, who after having had an illustrious career as one of the best stunt doubles in the business, would finally come to be an instrumental part in the design of some of the amazing action set pieces from the Bond movies he’d grown to love over the years. Back to the Bond family fold was also John Richardson. After the untimely passing of master model maker Derek Meddings before the release of Goldeneye, the filmmakers decided to enlist the talents of an equally gifted Visual Effects wizard who’d honed his skills working on some of the most memorable action set pieces in the series. Robert Elswitt would become the first American Cinematographer to light a Bond picture. British Costume Designer Lindy Hemming was hired once again after her work on Goldeneye to dress the cast. Hemming would go on to do the Costume design for every subsequent Bond movie afterwards until Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006). After having proven his mettle in the Sci-fy genre with movies like Stargate (1994), and Independence Day (1996), both directed by Roland Emmerich, David Arnold was offered the chance to fulfill his long-cherished dream of writing the music for a Bond movie. Arnold was a self-confessed John Barry fan, and had even released an album of Bond covers titled, Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond project. It was said that John Barry was considered by the producers to write the music for the film, but bowed out due to asking too much money, and being denied the chance to write the title song. The producers had liked the way things had worked out on the previous movie, where Eric Serra had written the score, but Bono and the Edge had written the title song, with Tina Turner singing. They wanted to keep on doing the same thing, and that’s how they got in touch with Sheryl Crow to sing the title song; Tomorrow Never Dies. Arnold had also written a title song for the movie with lyrics by Don Black, and sang by K.d Lang, which is intrinsically linked with Arnold’s score, and more in keeping with the Bond sound, but was ultimately rejected in favor of Sheryl Crow’s song, and relegated to the end titles. Arnold used a variety of composing styles for the score, going from the more classic John Barry-esque sound for the first part of the movie, full-on techno for the scenes taking place in Hamburg, and which had to do with Carver’s mass media world, and giving it oriental vibes for the last stretch of the movie taking place in Asia. It was a thematically rich soundtrack, that however owed too much to John Barry’s style. As it had been the case with Pierce Brosnan on the previous movie, Arnold would not really come into his own musically until he wrote the music for The World is not Enough ( Michael Apted, 1999). Daniel Kleinman was counted upon one more time to design the title sequence for the movie. Kleinman had been a more than apt substitute for the late, legendary Maurice Binder. After having dabbled with the fall of the Soviet Union on Goldeneye, this time around the design would revolve around the theme of TVs, electronic circuits, and satellites, with the usual gorgeous looking ladies playing an important part in the proceedings.
Bruce Feirstein, who’d been one of the screenwriters responsible for polishing Goldeneye’s script, pitched the producers the idea of a media mogul, who being unsatisfied with England’s handover of China back to the Chinese government in 1997, wanted to create a war between the two countries, at the same time bolstering his newspapers sales all over the world. This character, by the name of Elliot Harmsway, would also align himself with a hard-line Chinese general, who would take over whatever was left of the government in exchange for granting Harmsway exclusive broadcasting rights in China. The producers were very happy with this outline but, following the advise of Roger Spottiswoode, they wanted to get more screenwriters involved to see what they could bring to the table. A total of six screenwriters were brought over to England to stay for a week, and work out the story’s details. Among these were well known screenwriters like Nicholas Meyer (The Wrath of Khan, 1984), Leslie Dixon (Mrs Doubtfire, 1993), and Daniel Petrie Jr (Beverly Hills Cop, 1984). A few ideas were tossed about, but ultimately it was on Feirtein to finish writing the script, while the movie was already being shot. This haphazard way of working round the clock, without a clear vision, produced a great deal of unhappiness within the crew, but especially the cast, who after having learned their lines of dialogue for the next day, would be handed over new revised lines by courier the night before, giving the actors very little time to learn them. Bruce Feirsten had a tent outside the set, on which he’d work on the script every day, handing fresh pages to the cast and crew on the day when needed. Pierce Brosnan was very unhappy about the way the production was being handled, and was pretty vocal about it, going as far as to complain to both Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson about it. As too was Judi Dench, who had a very tense working relationship with Spottiswoode on the set. The problems derived mostly, as Brosnan put it, from the uncohesive nature of the script. Brosnan, as did many other cast members like Jonathan Pryce, felt that the script didn’t have a clear structure. The overall feeling was that the picture had been rushed into production, without having done the Pre-production prep work properly, like it had been done on Goldeneye (Martin Campbell, 1995), which was one of the requisites for Campbell taking on the project; being completely familiar with the script, and what needed to be done on the day, by the time Principal Photography started. Be that as it may, the production team was able to plow ahead, having come up with the main action set pieces months in advance. More on that later.
The core of Feirstein’s first draft remained, albeit with many changes made to the characters and situations. As the filmmakers thought that the subject of the Chinese Handover would be too much of a touchy subject, they decided to drop it, leaving it as follows; the name of the villain was changed from Elliot Harmsway, which pretty much sounds like a name Fleming would’ve given one of his villains, to Elliot Carver. The whole plot about Carver causing an armed conflict, to confront China and the UK, out of resentment for the whole handover thing was dropped, instead being the increase of newspapers sales, the expansion of his media empire, and him being given exclusive broadcasting rights in China as result as his aligning with a hard-line general of the Chinese army, being the main motives behind Carver’s schemes. The Bond girl would not be the daughter of one of Carver’s associates, as was the case in the earlier drafts, instead not only changing the girl’s nationality from British to Chinese, but from being the daughter of a business man to that of a secret agent. The character of Paris was also a late introduction. With the changes in place, the story goes as follows; Elliott Carver, CEO of the Media Carver Group wants to provoke World War III, to increase the circulation of his newspapers, and expand his media empire. With the help of a hard-line Chinese general, he’s built a stealth ship, and stolen a Satellite positioning device that will enable him, through his telecommunications satellites, positioned all around the world, to deviate the course of a British battle cruiser from international waters to Chinese waters. He then uses the stealth vessel to get next to it, and sink it. While the battleship is being attacked, two Chinese Mig fighters come to investigate, and to warn the British to return to international waters. Carver’s crew fire a missile from the stealth ship, and take down one of the Chinese fighters. Once the ship has sunk to the bottom of the sea, a diving team from the stealth ship goes down to the sunken ship to remove two nuclear missiles to be used at a later date. Some survivors from the British Battleship are found by the crew of the stealth ship, and killed using Chinese munition, to better sell the illusion of there being an open conflict between the two countries. Carver’s media group covers the incident immediately, and M, finding the timing a bit suspicious, sends her best mant, agent 007, to investigate.
As mentioned earlier, many of the main action set pieces for the movie had been meticulously planned out and storyboarded, well in advance of Principal Photography during Pre-production, even when the connective tissue provided by the rest of the script was still being developed. This is no strange practice in the movie business, as these sequences are always the first to be ready due to the amount of planning and special and visual effects usually needed for them. A very important element of this process were the storyboards provided by storyboard artist Martin Ashbury, who had every shot of these action set pieces drawn up before all the different units started shooting a single frame of the movie. And so it was, that three months before the main unit started shooting in London, Vic Armstrong and his second unit crew flew to France, more especifically to the French Pyrenees. There on top of an airfield on Peyragudes, Armstrong and his crew built a hangar, and laid out the whole scene to shoot the pre-title sequence that was supposed to take place on the Khybar Pass in Afghanistan. It was decided that they would do it at the beginning of the year, in January, as it would be the time of the year when they would find the most snow on top of the mountain. Not only did they find, to their horror, that what little snow there was, was melting away, but that also due to the awful weather conditions, with rain and fog, they had a very short window during the early hours of the morning, and midafternoon, where they could shoot the scenes. Due to the huge amount of pyrotechnics the special effects crew had to rig, they had to be very precise with their planning and execution, as most of the explosions could only be done once. In the end, the crew managed to sort out the snow problem by bringing truckloads of it from the nearby mountains, with the rest being artificial snow spread all over the place, and mixed in with the real snow. In total, Armstrong ended up supervising three major action set pieces in the movie; the pre-title sequence, which was a combined effort with Mark Wolff taking care of the aerial unit stuff, the car park chase sequence in Hamburg, which was shot in the car park of Brent Cross shopping centre in London, and the rooftop motorcycle chase sequence, which was shot both in Bangkok, and in the backlot at Frogmore studios in the UK, doubling for a section of the same street as mentioned earlier. For the car park chase sequence in which Bond escapes his pursuers using a tricked out BMW 750i that can be remotely controlled via Bond’s gadget-laden Sony Ericsson cell phone, the crew were given as many of sixteen BMWs, each one of them to perform a specific function within the sequence. To sell the illusion that the car was being driven without anyone behind the wheel, they had a driver hidden in a compartment in the backseat, provided with monitors, fed by cameras placed around the car, that would enable the driver to see where he was going. It was a very difficult and time consuming stunt, as even the images showing on Bond’s cell phone screen during the pursuit, had to have been previously shot to then be inserted on the cell phone screen. The motorcycle chase on the rooftops in Bangkok also proved to be very tricky, not only because of the difficulty of the stunt, but because of the exceedingly hot temperatures during that time of the year in Bangkok, with many crew members having the soles of their shoes melt away because of the heat. To perform the motorcycle stunt the filmmakers went to the only man in the business who could perform the stunt safely; Jean-Pierre Goy. Goy was a specialist motorcycle stunt driver, who at the time held the record for the longest running wheelie in the world. The BMW motorcycle provided to the crew was a very unwieldy and heavy piece of machinery. Only Goy could get it to perform well. On the backseat, doubling for Michelle Yeoh, was Vic Armstrong’s own wife, Wendy Leech. Together they performed the amazing stunt in which Bond jumps with the motorcycle from one roof of a building to the other over a flying helicopter in between the two buildings, which was done in the backlot in Frogmore studios, as it was deemed safer to do the stunt there in a more controlled environment, as the stunt team had done with the tank chase sequence in St Petersburg under the direction of Ian Sharp in Goldeneye, two years previously. Another amazing stunt was the one that has Bond and Lin coming down the front of a building by grabbing onto a huge banner with Carver’s face on it. This was achieved by having a model of the banner shot by the model unit headed by John Richardson, and later on superimposing it on the facade of a real building in Bangkok for the establishing shots. The trickiest part of the jump was done by both Brosnan’s and Yeoh’s stunt doubles for some of the long shots, and those having Bond and Lin crash through the building’s windows, while Brosnan and Yeoh did the close ups on a mock up of the building and banner. Principal unit, directed by Roger Spottiswoode himself, took care of the final battle sequence aboard Carver’s stealth ship. The variety of locations and different time zones was mind-boggling, something the Bond crew was quite used to by this point. There were scenes shot in France, Thailand ( Phuket and its chain of islands, a recognizable landmark by any Bond fan, as it was used as a filming location in The Man with the Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974), also doubles here for Kowloon Bay), and the UK by Vic Armstrong’s second unit. Roger Spottiswoode, took care of most of the stuff shot in Frogmore and Pinewood Studios, while the Visual Effects unit headed by John Richardson were in Puerto Rosarito, Mexico, shooting all the model shots of the British naval vessels, and the stealth ship in the Fox Baja Studios water tank, the same used by James Cameron to shoot Titanic (1997). That water tank was also used to shoot the underwater scenes of the model of the sunken British naval ship, while the paddock tank in Pinewood Studios, UK, was used by the cast to shoot the equivalent of those scenes in close ups. It was a very nerve-wracking, and claustrophobic situation for some of the actors, especially Pierce Brosnan, who wasn’t the most experienced of divers. Michael Wilson himself, being somewhat of an expert diver, volunteered to go under with the actors, and give them a few pointers on how to best manage the pressures of being underwater for long periods of time. One more stunt was handled by long-time Bond Stuntman and Stunt Coordinator, aerial unit Stunt Coordinator wiz B.J Worth. Worth had been a mainstay of the Bond stunt team as far back as Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert, 1979), where he’d performed the amazing freefall off a plane without a parachute for the pre-credits sequence. This time around, he had to perform a HALO (High Ultitude, Low opening) jump from a military cargo plane over the coast of Florida, which would be doubling for the coast of Vietnam. It was a very dangerous stunt in which several things could go wrong, from either getting entangled on his parachute when he pulled it just before entering the water, crashing in the water at too much speed, or cracking his head against the two oxygen tanks he had to carry on his back. An emergency rescue boat was stationed near the area where he would land, in case anything went wrong. Fortunately, everything went perfectly well, and without a glitch.
Critical and financial success
The film achieved generally good reviews, and a worldwide box office gross of $333,011,068 million, making it the second highest grossing Bond movie of all time, even if it had strong competion that year from James Cameron’s mammoth romantic drama set during the sinking of the famous luxury liner, Titanic (1997). 1997 was the year of Titanic, and the fact that the next James Bond movie could confidently stand its ground against the financial onslaught that Cameron’s movie signified for most theatrical releases around that period, was a testament to how well things were working out for both the franchise, and Brosnan himself. Brosnan had started his run as 007 with a bang with Goldeneye, and was asserting himself as the new James Bond. So, is Tomorrow Never Dies as good, entertaining, or exciting as its predecessor? Let’s see.
It’s certainly not on par with Goldeneye when it comes to its plot and characters, but it is certainly a highly enjoyable, entertaining Bond film, with all the usual visual and thematic tropes associated with the character, (the megalomaniac villain bent on world domination, the gadgets, the girls, the incredible action set pieces, and the final showdown in the villain’s lair). It’s very competently made, with high production values. Brosnan is clearly more settled into the character this time around, the ease with which he portrays him is astounding, given it’s only his second movie. Even though Jonathan Pryce is clearly having fun playing the villain, his and Gotz Otto’s additions to the Bond Villains’ Hall of Fame come off as somewhat formulaic and, uninteresting at times. Michelle Yeoh’s energizing characterization throughout is clearly one of the film’s highlights, and it’s a real shame that she was never afforded the chance to come back. We would get Halle Berry’s Jacinta Jinx a few years later on Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002), instead. Imagine how much better that movie would have been, if Yeoh had been given the chance to come back then. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What occupies us here is a very well made, if somewhat formulaic, Bond movie. It also happens to be, along with Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964), and Quantum of Solace (Marc Foster, 2008), one of the shortest. It’s got a serviceable, but ultimately underwhelming title song, definitely a step down from Tina Turner’s wonderful rendition of Goldeneye. David Arnold and Don Black’s title song for the movie, Surrender, sang by K.d Lang, would’ve been a more traditional sounding and satisfying Bond title song. One thing that is a notable improvement over the previous movie is the score. Not only is the music for the film more traditional, and in keeping with the Bond soundscape of old, I’d even go as far as to say that Arnold is probably the best musician who’s composed for the saga since John Barry. John Barry’s scores for the series became a musical landmark that would forever set the tone for what a Bond movie should sound like for years to come, and here Arnold follows suit. Eric Serra’s introduction into the series was a gross misstep, best left forgotten, which was happily corrected. Arnold would be afforded four more chances to leave his musical imprint in the series with (The World is not Enough, 1999), (Die Another Die, 2002), (Casino Royale, 2006), and (Quantum of Solace, 2008), Casino Royale being his absolute best score for the entire series. Not all Bond movies are created equal, but this one ranks amongst the most entertaining, and it’s definitely not the write-off many people consider it to be. Great entertainment value, and well worth your time.
Thanks for reading.