SPECTRE

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Die Another Day

#201:02:55.

It's not often that you can pinpoint the exact moment that a movie decides to go completely insane, to take a plunge off the deep end. But in Die Another Day, it's right there on the counter on my DVD player.

1:02:55.

Up until that point, I was with DAD. I thought it was actually rocking fairly hard. Oh, sure there were some trouble signs of what was on the horizon. And in retrospect, that first half wasn't quite as good as my mind was building it up to be. But they were taking Bond to places, physical and metaphorical, that he had never been before. And the movie's heart seemed in the right place.

Until 1:02:55.

That's when the movie takes an abrupt left turn, seemingly jettisoning everything that the first half of the movie had been about, to go off in a crazy super-hero sci-fi direction that makes Moonraker look like the Bourne Ultimatum. When the filmmakers seem to say, "Well, we gave you 3 1/2 Brosnan movies rooted in some level of realism, now it's time to go freaking nuts!"

Let me just say, as much as I had overestimated the first half of the movie in my memory, I had been too harsh on the second half. Whatever its flaws, Die Another Day is no A View To A Kill. The movie never fails to be watchable and entertaining, even if the back of your mind is screaming, "This is sooo not James Bond!!" The actors are giving their all, the action is pretty good (when real), the pace never flags, the sets are great...the problem is not coasting, or that the makers just didn't care. No, the main problem with the second half of DAD, and thus the whole film, is a series of (what I feel to be) wrong-headed decisions that blow up on them, and also help to expose the rest of the weaknesses of the film.

The movie begins with what is probably the weakest of the Brosnan teasers. The initial image, of Bond and comrades surfing onto a beach in North Korea, is terrifically unimpressive. None of the surfers does anything remotely exciting or different--at least VTAK tried to make us believe that Bond's snowboarding was something different and innovative and exciting. They don't even bother to give us as fake close-up to try and fool us into thinking that Pierce is actually doing the surfing. Matters aren't helped by the decision to slap a blue filter on the camera, pump in a lot of fog, and make things look as dank and dismal as possible.

And then the story--Bond posing as an illegal diamond merchant in order to assassinate some North Korean colonel who's selling weapons--isn't that interesting, as it really gives 007 nothing to do except stand around until he's betrayed. And the hovercraft chase is equally dismal. Given the identical looking craft manned by identically dressed troops and constant cutting and shifting of perspective, it's difficult to tell who is who and where from shot to shot....and let's face it: watching a hovercraft race isn't too thrilling, anyway. And with the reliance on flame throwers and grenades and heavy artillery, it felt as if we were just retreading the Tomorrow Never Dies teaser. (Alternate suggestion: I had hoped, upon seeing Moon's collection of bitchin' cars, that Bond would hop into one of them to chase the colonel, having to drive a Lotus through the minefields while chasing the hovercraft...now that would have been a teaser!!).

Ah, but the end of the teaser, that where things get interesting. Bond succeeds (we think) in his mission, but he's captured...and not just "hold a gun on him while we tell him our plan" captured, but for the first time ever, well and truly caught, no gadgets left, no way out. He's taken off to be tortured...and stunningly enough, that's where the opening credits start!!

Bonus points for creativityAnd a pretty innovative set of credits they are, as they consist mainly as a montage directly reflecting the action of Bond being tortured, together with the motifs of fire and ice that will dominate the movie. As the audience is wowed by this unprecedented turn of events, they get to see the most unique credit sequence in franchise history, all accompanied by the great Madonna song.

OK, OK, I know that I'm apparently the only one in the western world who likes Madonna's theme song, and I'm definitely the only one who ranks it as highly as I do. So sue me. To those who say "But it doesn't sound anything like a Bond theme," well, neither did McCartney & Wings' Live and Let Die, at the time. I applaud the innovation, and it earns extra bonus points for having the best music video EVER to accompany a Bond theme (and a far better 20th Bond movie tribute than some of the ham-fisted homages we're given by the movie proper...oops, I'm getting ahead of myself).

And, just when the audience is still thinking, "Is this a trick? Is Bond really captured? How does he escape?" they hit us with the startling caption: FOURTEEN MONTHS LATER.

In case you didn't believe meWhoa. Bond has never been held captive for more than 14 minutes before, let alone 14 months!! We see a beaten and unkempt Bond!! He doesn't escape, he's given back--in a prisoner exchange, for his enemy!! He's drugged, and kept prisoner by MI-6, because his own government no longer trusts him!! M declares that he should have killed himself!!!

This was all heady stuff, and completely new ground for the franchise. It looked as if we were going to get a from-the-ground-up reexamination of what makes Bond Bond, a look at how 007 deals with defeat, a character study on how he can rebuild himself after 14 months of captivity and torture.

Nah. Not gonna happen. Sorry, but instead we're going to get a 21st-century version of Roger Moore era bombast. Fooled you!!

We'd already had a couple of trouble signs. Let me say first, I don't have too many problems with Brosnan's not too great looking beard and way-too-buff-to-have-been-tortured-and-starved-for-over-a-year physique. You've gotta suspend some disbelief, and I certainly didn't expect Pierce to drop 50 pounds and make himself emaciated for the sake of a couple of scenes (although, did they really need him to have his shirt off/open so much, essentially showing off the problem?).

No, the problem is in Bond's little escape. Bond escaping and going rogue is great...he's been rogue before, but it could be something worth doing again. But his escape? Seriously, did we need to invent a super power for Bond? I can buy some mind/body control techniques to make torture more bearable (although, aside from a line in the theme song, we never actually see Bond doing that in Korea...). But to lower your heartbeat enough to fake a cardiac event? And then the ability to instantly snap out of whatever deep trance that required, as your pulse goes from 14 to 70 in less than one second?!? (And notice that Bond's vitals weren't being monitored when M came to visit...the next scene, he's conveniently hooked up to monitors again!) The whole sequence was silly, especially when you consider that there were countless other ways Bond could have escaped without resorting to "Bond's super-ability of the film," which had never been seen before and would never be seen again. It's certainly not terrible, it doesn't really hurt the picture. But that's the first sign of where the film is going--over-the-top sci-fi instead of good old-fashioned spy craft, a gradual leaving behind of the realistic for the nuttiness of the Roger Moore era.

Next we go to Hong Kong, because apparently 14 months of poisoning, beating, and malnourishment leaves a Double-O strong enough to swim however far it was from the British ship to the docks and then walk however far it was to the hotel. But basically we're just marking time until Bond gets a lead (and an assist from Chinese intelligence) to find Zao. If you're a glass half full kind of guy, you can look at the fact that he doesn't immediately bed Peaceful Fountains of Desire as a sign that Bond hasn't fully recovered yet. If you're a glass half empty type of gal, you may be dismayed by the fact that, apparently, all Bond needed was a shave and a haircut to return to full functionality.

Off to Cuba (which means that fully 1/2 of Brosnan's films took place in Cuba, which one might think of as odd for a British agent...). The film is still in fine shape here, I think. Bond's meeting with the sleeper agent is very well handled, and his introduction to Jinx is exciting. I must say, it's pretty thrilling to see a female who's as enthusiastic for a roll in the hay as Bond is, who's just as good at the double entendres and lustful glances. Bond's first opportunity to wallow in pleasure after captivity is well handled.

The scenes at the clinic go pretty well, too. Jinx proves herself to be a capable agent (although you have to wonder, what exactly is her mission? The doctor was a pig, but if her mission was to find Zao, killing him seems a touch counter-productive, especially since the bomb she leaves goes off before she even could have made it to Zao's room). We get a good fight with Zao, and an exciting escape.

But, glass half empty time again. During the Zao fight, director Lee Tamahori begins to show off some of some of the more annoying qualities that will plague us later in the film, with so-cool-5-years-ago Matrix camera moves and speed ramping, gauzy close-ups, and unnecessary slow motion to show us Bond grabbing Zao's diamond "necklace"...what, you couldn't think of some other way to share that information with us?? The scene with Jinx diving off the fort is a particularly bad bit of CGI. And of course the whole conceit of the "genetic therapy" clinic that magically transforms people into completely different people is another example of the movie stepping too far into the realm of sci-fi as opposed to spy/action.

Bond returns to England, and has his "first" meeting with Gustav Graves, and quite a meeting it is, too. Taking the old set piece of Bond having a competition with the main villain to a new level, this is unquestionably the best scene in the movie. Filmed without any of the visual trickery Tamahori would depend later in DAD, the fight is both fun and brutal. Well choreographed, well directed, well acted, well stunted, and energizing. True, at this point we don't know that Graves is really Moon, so there's no real reason given for Graves' obvious antipathy towards Bond, which leeches the tiniest bit away from the fight scene. But it's still great, grand fun. Funniest thing in a Bond movie in quite awhile: the Blades employees in a parade, hauling away all of the items damaged in the duel.

(Query: Why do people get so upset about Madonna's little cameo? It's short, she only has a couple of lines that she delivers well enough, and then she's gone. Some commentators act as if her 1 1/2 minutes of screen time somehow ruin the whole movie. Trust me--she ain't that bad, and even if she were, she's still 10 or 20 spots down the list of things that hurt this movie.)

And then Bond gets his little key in the mail, and has his meeting with M. It's a good scene for the two of them, and fits well into the series' characterization of Dench's M as someone who'll drop her distaste for someone in a heartbeat if he's useful to her. It's a cagily written scene, which could be taken to be saying that M will be willing to use Bond, but keeping him "rogue" so he won't be fettered by the political intrigues (what, again? Why do British politics always seem to protect billionaire madmen?!) that keep her from going after Graves.

Oops, glass half empty intruding again. In a couple of minutes, despite wanting Bond "on the outside," he's back on official duty. And absolutely no reason--none whatsoever--is given for M to be investigating Graves. She had no knowledge of the conflict diamonds, she dismisses the satellite show as "another publicity stunt." Why would she bother with such a politically sensitive mission if there was no reason to undertake it? Or is she just routinely sending agents to infiltrate the staffs of billionaires?? The writers apparently didn't think that one through, a sign of slipshod construction that will continue throughout...

Which brings us to 1:02:55. While not perfectly executed, up to this point we've had a movie that poked at some of the darker corners of the Bond mythos, as our hero is expected to have killed himself, is tortured for over a year, is burned by MI-6, and has to go rogue. We've got North Korean officers and corrupt billionaires dealing with conflict diamonds, and all the history and misery that entails.

It would have been nice for the movie to deal with ANY of that. It's not as if I want to see Bond made dysfunctional with PTSD, but the second half of the movie pretends that nothing ever happened--he's 100% fit, healthier even than in TWINE, when at least he had a shoulder injury that flared up when convenient for the plot. All that's left is Bond's anger at his betrayal. And it's not as if I want to see DAD turned into Blood Diamonds, but they're the ones who bring up the issue of conflict diamonds, and then throw it away without any discussion whatsoever. It's as if the writers found a cool word to use without knowing what it actually meant...

At 1:02:55, the movie flushes all of that down the toilet, and dumps any pretensions it had of being a serious Bond movie.

Nowhere near as good as Goldeneye the gameSuddenly, we see Bond taking part in a bloody VR simulation. That's right, someone in MI-6 has betrayed him, he's been given a mission to go after Graves, and the very first thing the movie gives us is Bond playing a completely irrelevant video game. And aside from causing the audience to scratch it's collective head and go "WTF?" the sole purpose of this scene is to set up Moneypenny's obnoxious little scene at the end. Oh, dear.

Then we get Q, and aside from cramming as many old gadgets into his lab as possible, he's there to give Bond...the invisible car.

Good grief.

We've traveled so far into the nutter zone, it's as if we've jumped into a completely different movie all of a sudden. A generally straight spy adventure yarn has transformed into Spy Kids 3-D.

Let me tally the sins. First of all, the rule of Bond has always been "five minutes into the future." Technology for our hero that is advanced over what you can at Radio Shack, but nothing completely unbelievable (we'll leave technical feasibility discussions to others). But building upon small sins in the first half of the movie, look where DAD has led us: Ridiculously futuristic and non-existant medical scanning equipment on board the British warship; technobabble "gene therapy" that completely transforms everything about one's appearance, voice, height, voice, everything...not to mention turning them into insomniac supermen; a "virtual reality" simulator that appears to be just as good as Star Trek's holodecks; invisible cars, for gods sake; satellite-controlling, 100,000-volt dispensing exoskeletons that turn our villain into an Iron Man wannabe (I'll give them the killer satellite...that's a Bond staple). DAD not only crosses over the line, but erases it and keeps going, willing to do anything to be "entertaining" and "futuristic," regardless of how it fits in with Bond. It becomes a superhero movie, with a sense of unreality that actively fights against the audience's suspension of disbelief.

Secondly, there's always been an unspoken contract between the Bond films and the audience: the stunts are "real." Sure, it's not Roger Moore jumping off of Asgard...but somebody, a real human being, is actually performing the jump. Yes, we know that Timothy Dalton isn't really hanging off a plane's tail in mid-air--it's photographic trickery, but in a couple of shots he is actually there (albeit at ground level). It's the "realness" of the stunts that has always helped make Bond the best action franchise there has ever been.

The worst thing EVERBut the way the computer graphics are used in DAD is a betrayal of that. It turns Bond into a cartoon, a computer-generated image of Brosnan riding a computer-generated parachute/surfboard in front of a computer-generated tidal wave from a glacier that never existed. No human contact or input necessary.

And the worst part is, it looked incredibly craptacular. We're not talking George Lucas level special effects here. We're talking "photo-shopped Pierce's head onto the body of someone surfing and uploaded it onto YouTube" quality. If you are going to turn to CGI stunts, why in the name of England would you do so in a way that actually makes your movie look worse?!? Take the scene of Jinx jumping off the fortress walls in Cuba. Instead of doing it the old fashioned way--showing Halle on the wall, cut to a cleverly camouflaged stunt-person actually doing the jump, cut to a shot of Halle in the water--we get a terrible, terrible "shot" of her body not even moving a muscle as she "jumps," no shot of anyone making an actual dive, or an actual splash. Picture, if you will, the bungee jump from Goldeneye having been done this way. Abominable.

Look, I'm not against CGI per se. And I'm not against it in Bond, if used reasonably and well. Properly utilized, it's no more offensive than, say, all of the "fake driving while in front of a rear screen projection" scenes for the good old days. But the way DAD uses it, it takes away one of the franchise's greatest strengths, and turns it into a weakness. It makes the movie look worse, it takes the audience out of the "reality" of the "stunts", and the quality of the CGI is just laughably, criminally bad. There's a reason why the duel at Blades was so much more compelling than anything done with CGI. I hope producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson were properly ashamed at abandoning one of the foundations of the franchise.

The shift in tone between the two halves of the movie is fairly remarkable. It's almost as if two different sets of hands worked on each half (and for all I know, maybe Neal Purvis and Robert Wade did each take a half!). Perhaps part of it was just me, reading things I wanted to see into the first half, and thus caused my own disappointment when they weren't followed through on. Is it just me? One half-assed theory: at the halfway point, M drops an oblique 9/11 reference. I can't tell you exactly when the script was written, but I can't escape the feeling that at one point either the writers or producers suddenly said, "Geez, we can't do a grim and gritty picture so soon after 9/11--we'd better lighten it up!!" Whatever the cause, this goes in the books as the most schizophrenic Bond movie ever.

Another problem in the movie is that the Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves conceit just doesn't work very well. I know that the premise is that it's supposed to be a completely unrecognizable transition. But it's just too unrecognizable for the audience to buy into...we never really accept that Graves is Moon. There's no commonality between the performances of Will Yun Lee and Toby Stephens--no phrase repeated, no Dr. Evil pinkie-to-the-mouth, no stance, nothing. From a story-telling perspective, I think in this circumstance you have to cheat a little bit, and give the audience something to latch onto that will let them buy that these two completely distinct men are one and the same. And this severe disconnect between Moon & Graves just encourages the writers to ignore previously revealed traits for silliness: in the teaser, Moon seems proficient with martial arts, while Graves relies on solar powered exoskeletons and barroom brawling to fight Bond!!

Finally, just as with The Living Daylights and Afghanistan, DAD is at best incoherent, and at worst ignorant, on geopolitical issues. I had wondered earlier why bother to make up fictional nations for Licence To Kill and The Living Daylights...this is why. Let's see if I've got this straight. We're told that the "hard-liners" didn't control North Korea until Bond's mission gave them the "proof" that they couldn't trust the West. General Moon, the "good" North Korean who doesn't approve of torture and opposes the hard-liners and whom Bond thought was powerful enough to stop a war just with his word, is deposed when the hard-liners "stage a coup" (and apparently give control of their country to any madman with a solar weapon). And through it all, not a mention of Kim Jong Il, the single-party state, or any actual facets of North Korea's government, let alone the fact that North Korea is hardly what anyone would describe as "moderate." If you're going to make all your background up, why even bother to make North Korea the villain in the first place, instead of a fictional country? It's not as if all of their attempts to avoid reality prevented the movie from offending Koreans from both sides. Just like with conflict diamonds, Purvis and Wade latched onto the concept of Korea without ever bothering to actually use it, or look anytrhing up.

And then there's the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ. For a de-militarized zone, it sure seems awfully militarized, filled with military bases. Of course, there are no bases for either side in the DMZ..."Apart from Panmunjom, the Joint Security Area and two model villages, the DMZ is devoid of humans and their machinery, other than a large number of land mines." Maybe the captions were meant to be taken as "NEAR the De-Militarized Zone" or "Just outside the DMZ." Or maybe in the Bond universe "de-militarized" means "both sides have lots of stuff there but promise cross their hearts not to fight."

All of that being said, DAD doesn't completely fail, no matter how much it may disappoint. It does keeping moving briskly, albeit in a cartoon-like manner. For the most part the action is well-staged, albeit sometimes in a surreal CGI manner. And bless its heart, it never stops trying to impress us with how clever it thinks it is, how fun it is. And to an extent, it is fun. It is still the weakest of the Brosnan films...but it's not terrible, despite all the flaws I was whining about above.

I'm the villain...really!! Please don't forget me!Moon/Graves makes for a good villain, and is actually pretty fun. Will Yun Lee gets too little screen time for us to make much of an evaluation of him, although I do have to question why Moon is so corrupted and materialistic, yet still wants to have his non-corrupt and non-materialistic government destroy South Korea.

A permanent sneerBut Toby Stephens shines as Graves. Graves was based very much on the Moonraker novel's Hugo Drax...the enemy of England who has plastic surgery to adopt a British identity, become wealthy, and build a "good" space vehicle that is secretly a plan to destroy his most hated foe. Granted, the script lets him down at several points, as his motivations and plans are blurry at times, and the writers make him rely on a Transformer suit at the end. But he is thoroughly unlikeable, as his haughty arrogance gives us a good villain to hate. He has a good physicality, going toe to toe with Bond in the duel at Blades and holding his own. He has fun playing up the eccentric billionaire playboy cover--although the fact that he's such an asshole seems a bit at odds with his philanthropic give-away-half-my-fortune-and-build-a-satellite-to-save-the-world portion of the story. Stephens creates a better megalomaniac than the film's script deserves.

They filmed my naughty dreams...Rosamund Pike makes Miranda Frost a nasty, sexy bitch (and I mean that in a good way). Again, I think the script is a bit lax on her motivations--really, Moon helps her win a Gold medal instead of Silver, and she's ready to betray her country and murder millions? Really?!?--but Pike muscles her way through it, portraying Miranda as a women who is playing Bond for a fool very well. It doesn't hurt that's she one gorgeous woman...and that outfit at the end...grrrr.....!!

Diamond-face seems more like a batman villainZao could have been great. They play him as an evil Bond--he's got a better car than Bond, he can outdrive and outfight Bond--but the problem is, we've already had an evil Bond during the Brosnan era, and Zao is no Alec Trevelyan. Zao is given no personality at all, and buried beneath ridiculous make-up for most of the movie, Rick Yune isn't able to give us anything to make Zao as memorable as he should be. Again, the script isn't doing him any favors, but unlike Stephens and Pike, Yune doesn't seem able to rise above it. And is it just me, or do half his lines sound dubbed??

Lee Tamahori has some annoying quirks. He's not good at chase scenes--the ice chase between Bond and Zao is almost as confusingly filmed as the hovercraft chase from the teaser--and he waaaaayyy overuses the Matrix stop-n-goes. Most annoyingly, he does this pretty inconsistently: sometimes he uses it to introduce a scene, sometimes to exit one, and sometime just when Zao walks across a room. There's no rhyme or reason to the technique, he just keeps doing it because he thinks it's cool.

Otherwise, though, it's a fairly solid directorial outing. The duel at Blades, the duel between Jinx and Frost, the final fight between Bond and Graves--all well directed and pretty exciting, occasional slow-motion indulgences aside. Tamahori definitely makes a better flowing film than Michael Apted did, and seems to have a stronger vision of what a Bond film should be than Roger Spottiswoode.

MI-6 is really bad at what they doSadly, M and MI-6 comes off as chowderheads again. Seriously, how easy is it to penetrate this organization?? In Goldeneye Bond mentioned pysch tests--well, how in the world did Miranda Frost pass one of those? Willingness to cheat and murder your way to a gold medal wouldn't show up? Your willingness to betray field agents wouldn't turn up?? Furthermore, M says she was in the cryptography department for the past 3 years...how did she get access to Bond's files?? Can any old clerk at MI-6 just pull up and transmit classified data to her Korean boyfriend?!?

Oh, it gets worse...M castigates the American Damian Falco (great name, jerkwad character) for not telling MI-6 that Miranda was on the fencing team with Moon at Harvard...what, MI-6 can't run their own freakin' background checks?!? You don't even check who her classmates and boyfriends were? Oy. And after Bond is released by the Koreans, and M knows that there's a mole, does she do ANYTHING to investigate it? Can't M look up to see if anyone's been accessing Bond's files? Maybe double-check and see if her agent who is closest to Graves is clean? M say that Frost volunteered for the assignment--what, there was a flier up in the cafeteria? "Wanted--cryptographer to pose as publicist for billionaire??" And the fact that she volunteered wasn't a call for further background checks?!?! Oh, poor M...the past 2 movies have made you look so stupid...

I refuse to do the overused bathing suit shotWe've discussed how every few movies they make the Bond Girl somehow "competent", and suddenly we’re deluged with articles declaring that the new Bond Girl is “007’s equal” and that this is somehow new for the series, and what it means for feminism, yadda yadda. Well, it's this decade's turn. Jinx Johnson joins Anya and Wai Lin as someone the media declared as a "new type of Bond girl." Snore.

But Jinx actually is pretty competent. True, Bond does have to rescue her--TWICE--in Iceland. But she acquits herself well in Cuba, and kicks Frost's ass pretty well. And I love the fact that, as mentioned above, they do make her more of an equal to Bond in terms of being a seeker of sensual delights. I can't say that I'm 100% sold on Halle Berry's performance. She doesn't seem able to consistently give off the toughness she wants to project without coming off as stilted and shrill on some of her line readings. But her scenes alone with Bond? Pretty damn good.

He's no Felix LeiterThere was, of course, all of the talk about Jinx being given her own movie series. I'm not sure how much of that was merely hype, especially as we were hearing that before the movie even debuted. For whatever reason, the plans fell apart, and I can't say that I'm too disappointed. I never saw a lot of evidence onscreen that Halle/Jinx would be able to carry her own series as anything other than a female version of Bond, and that would merely dilute Eon's resources between two franchises. Plus, the dropping of the project meant we were spared seeing Michael "Please, Quentin, cast me in something again" Madsen ambling across the movie screen every two years, lazily barking arrogant orders as Damian Falco.

This one's for the ladiesThis was, of course, Brosnan's last outing as 007. It's too bad, because I certainly think that he had at least one more Bond film in him. He has no emotional through line to follow in this film--the script bails on the beat-up rogue story at the halfway point--but Pierce manages to carry some of that hurt and anger through into the rest of the movie with his performance. Even though the second half of the film provides almost no character moments for him (and the CGI robs him of some chances to actually perform), Brosnan never gives into coasting, pushing Bond past what the script gives him.

I think that perhaps the most impressive thing about the Brosnan era was his ability to keep up the intensity of his Bond despite scripts that weren't always conducive to that. Whatever complaints you here about the movies during his tenure, there rarely seems to be any criticism aimed at his portrayal of 007--which is a revelation in and of itself, because there were certainly plenty of critics of Dalton and Moore. While you regularly heard debates as to whether Lazenby or Moore or Dalton "was" Bond, you never heard that said about Brosnan. He will never receive the respect or acclaim of Sean Connery...but the fact that he never received the disapprobation occasionally directed at the others is very telling, I think. I don't like to rank the Bond actors--there's too much difference in tenure length, movie quality, and other things that were beyond their control, making such a ranking too much apples and oranges. But I will say that I think that Pierce Brosnan is due a lot more respect than we give him sometimes...

A lot of people forget that the general public and the media were quite disdainful about the prospects for the Bond franchise before Pierce came aboard, ready to dismiss it as dated and irrelevant. But from his very first scene, Brosnan won (almost) everyone over, giving us a Bond for the 90's, one whose character went places that the other 007 were never asked to. Sadly, his movies follow a continuous downward line in quality, and that obscures, I think, the impact his era had. The worst Brosnan film, DAD is still better than most of the Roger Moore era...yet the quality of Goldeneye (and to some extent TND) left us spoiled and hyper-critical. Sometimes we're missing the forest for the trees, ignoring the fact that the Brosnan run is the reason we're getting a new Bond film in 2 weeks. In it's own way and time, Goldeneye was every bit as vital to the future success and health of the franchise as The Spy Who Loved Me was in its day. As the box office numbers climbed for every Brosnan film, we were guaranteed that James Bond would indeed return.

And so, except for Judi Dench's M, we bid farewell to everybody (onscreen, at least), as the reboot of Casino Royale was coming. I really do wish that Pierce had been given at least one more shot--he'd earned it, and there's nothing inherent in the Casino Royale story that requires it to be the "first" Bond story. But time marches on, change is constant, and big things were in store for us. Get ready, folks, as next week we get re-introduced to a fellow named Ian Fleming...

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:

**Let's start out, surprisingly, with my defending the movie against one of the sillier criticisms leveled against it. When Bond is escaping in the car from Icarus' beam, it's said to be stupid because "he's outracing a light beam, and that's impossible."

SCIENCE!!Not true. Let's try a thought experiment. Hold onto a flashlight or a laser pointer. When there's an annoying housefly buzzing around the room, try to keep the beam centered on the fly. You can't, and probably can't ever catch up the the insect. Does that mean the fly can "outrun a beam of light?" Of course not...but it does mean that it can move faster than the thing controlling the light beam. Just as the fly can move faster than the hand holding the laser pointer can react, Grave's car can move faster than the targeting mechanism on Icarus which controls the beam can keep up with.

It's still a crappy bit of CGI, and a pretty silly scene (where, exactly, was Bond planning to go when he hopped into the speed mobile??). But in this one aspect, they don't deserve the sneers.

**That being said, Icarus' beam can completely destroy a military missile and explode the living hell out of everything it touches...but a jumbo jet can fly right through it and keep on going for another 10 minutes or so??

**And, not to call the U.S. idiots or anything...but you fire ONE missile at Icarus? One?? OK, so it's shot down. How about shooting more missiles--that would at least distract it from blowing up the DMZ, right? Or how about firing missiles from different directions--could Icarus take them all out?? How about trying anything more than just one lousy missile and giving up?!? I smell a Cletus coming on...

**So...Graves is sucked into the the jet engine, the Icarus control mechanism is destroyed...isn't it just as likely that it would now stay locked in the "on" position as it would be just turned off by this??

**Samantha Bond...on behalf of everybody in the entire world, I have to apologize for THAT scene being your final scene. You and your character deserved far, far better than a ridiculous masturbation joke. Shame on you, Purvis and Wade...

I am so, so sorry, Samantha**As this was the 20th Eon Bond movie, and the 40th anniversary of the franchise, and the 50th anniversary of Bond's first publication, much ado was made over all of the "references" to other Bond films placed throughout DAD. Forgive me for being underwhelmed. First of all, I don't like to have my movies being "Find-A-Word" puzzles, where I'm busy hunting and pecking for "tributes" instead of focusing on the picture itself.

Secondly, some of those "references" I've seen listed are so spurious as to be figments of people's imaginations, I think ("The exterior of Graves' command center is a tropical forest, also akin to Moonraker." Really??? "The laser causes row upon row of explosions across a vegetated area, in this case detonating thousands of land mines, and is reminiscent of the extermination of Kananga's poppy fields." You're kidding, right?). These are after the fact associations that aren't weren't really purposeful tributes. The "game" of finding the references has caused people to over-focus the commonalities that naturally come up in any 20-movie series about a secret agent ("hey, this one has a scene set in snow, so...")

Finally, if the creative team did spend so much time on these "references," well, shame on them. Sure, Halle coming out of the water was fine, the ornithology book was cute, Q's lab was quick and painless. But did they really decide to directly copy Diamonds Are Forever's plot as a "tribute" to that movie? Did they really have Graves chop off part of a glacier to reference OHMMS? A few hat-tips to the past are cute...but if you start borrowing plot points instead of coming up with good, original ideas, that's not "homage", that's just lazy at best, and plagiaristic at worst.

**That said, I should mention one that nobody ever seems to bring up--the scene where M talks to a captive Bond from behind a plexiglas shield is very reminiscent of a scene from the novel TMWTGG, when a brainwashed Bond tries to kill M, who is protected by an "invisible" glass shield...

**Look at this:

You can't see me...oh, yes you can!!How can you hide by crouching behind an invisible car?? Remember, Q explains that cameras on one side project the image onto the other side...so everybody on the other side would see Bond crouching there...sheesh...they're not even paying attention to their own premise again...

**Speaking of which, that camouflage unit is pretty wussy, isn't it? A few hits from Zao's guns, and it's out? And it takes forever to reboot. Plus, Zao's car already has countermeasures to detect it, despite its being "the ultimate in British engineering"!! So, all in all, not one of Q's best inventions.

**So let's talk about Graves. It's been 14 months since Moon was "killed." You'd think that the whole process of "genetic therapy" and whatnot would have to take at least a couple of months...so let's say he's had about a year to establish himself by the time Bond is released. He's already a billionaire? Was one colonel based in the Korean DMZ really trading so many weapons that he had that huge a stash of diamonds? Especially since he supposedly gave half of his fortune to charity...was he using just the diamonds Bond gave him? How many other arms deals were there? Did Moon really sell billions worth of weapons?!?

**A year also seems a ridiculously short time for him to become so prominent. Granted, he might have had some of these plans in place before his "death." But it does seem difficult to believe that he could construct such an impenetrable back-story and become such an amazingly high-profile figure in merely a year.

**And forgive me, any British readers, but will the Queen knight just anybody?!? Seriously, I don't know the politics of the process, but someone who has come out of nowhere, only been in the public eye for a year, and isn't even English?? And he's getting a knighthood?!? I guess Her Majesty's background checks are just as thorough as MI-6's...

**OK, so Graves supposedly found a huge diamond strike in Iceland, gajillions of dollars, and hasn't been shy about spreading his wealth. But we are to believe that not one single person in the entire world EXCEPT an aging sleeper agent in Cuba has ever bothered to actually look at even one of these diamonds, and recognize it as coming from Sierra Leone. Nobody. DAD may gloss over the concept of conflict diamonds, but given all of the scrutiny diamonds receive these days, that is completely unbelievable, isn't it.

**It's wrong of me, but every time I read about this story, I have to think that Graves was involved...maybe this is how he actually amassed his fortune...and it would explain Britain slapping a "terrorist" label on Iceland...

**Olympic fencers use steroids? I guess it's possible...but wouldn't it be odd for a fencer to overdose on steroids after she'd already won the gold? Again, possible, I suppose...but the story smells odd enough that you'd have expected some red flags to have been raised before she was hired by MI-6. Nope...

**So Frost supposedly empties Bond's gun right? But look after she hands it to him...

Really, I'm checking my clipThey do a real quick edit here, but Bond is clearly about to check his clip! Did Pierce just do it out of habit, requiring a quick edit to save the conceit? Or did they just come up with the "empty gun" bit later, and go back and cover their tracks?

**Bond Score: 2. Jinx and Frost (sounds like a cartoon...). Cumulative Bond Score: 55.

And as always

But not the Bond you think...Join as next week as we conclude our long, long trek, and see James Bond try to defeat LeChiffre at baccarat...what?!? Poker?!? Texas Hold 'Em?!?!?!

11 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you about the film being schizophrenic. And I think it's because of 9/11. The world changed, and I think they were in the middle of planning the film and weren't sure what to do about it. While most people say they moved on because of the new cultural environment, if this movie hadn't been as bad, I don't think they would have booted Brosnan. The only disagreement I had with your review is that I liked the Moneypenny/masturbation scene! It was hilarious, and perfect for the fact that this was an "anniversary" film, hyped as such, and then at the end we see 007 returning and "making good on his innuendos". How could you not like it?

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  2. This film is not the natural disaster that fans make it out to be. It's entertaining and I appreciate a return to the fantastical Bond films that have been gone since 1979's Moonraker. I actually would not have minded a "fantasy" Bond film if they went all the way and made the entire film fun as opposed to star it with a super-dark first 15 minutes in North Korea.

    I love Madonna's theme and don't mind her cameo. People are so critical about her theme not sounding like a Bond theme, yet I can pinpoint that about several other Bond themes. Did Carly Simon's Nobody Does it Better sound ANYTHING like previous themes when it came out? I am a fan of hers so I am suspect of course.

    I disagree in which I love the PTS and find it better than the TND one. Otherwise I agree with the review... the film can't decide if it wants to be silly or serious, the special effects are downright awful, etc... I find it at least an improvement over TWINE, which to me was not entertaining at all.

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  3. DAD felt like a betrayal to me. One thing you could always count on from bond film was seeing the best film stunts of the year.

    I think Brosnam was a terrific Bond. The sword fight was awesome.

    I love your recaps and analysis of the films. Two more to go, then we have to wait a year or more for more? Yikes!

    May I suggest you turn your eye to some of the better Bond knock-offs? Flint or Helm, maybe?

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  4. Barbara Broccoli defends the "super ability" Bond has of slowing down his heartbeat at the start of the film in one of the DVD featurettes. Appearently she took cue from the opening chapters of the DOCTOR NO novel where Fleming made it seem like Bond had unusual resistance when he survived Rosa Klebb's poison.

    "We always go back to Fleming!" *cut to Bond riding the CGI wave*

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  5. Mutt--don't worry, I'll have plenty of Bond stuff to talk about yet, and QoS will keep me bust around here at least until the new year...

    Icebreaker--I don't object to Bond having some zen biofeedback techniques...but the way it was presented in DAD was a)nuts b)never seen before or after, and therefore as illegitimate as Superman pulling out some new superpower to beat the bad guy. Bad story telling, if nothing else.

    Anon--I didn't like the Monnypenny scene because it *wasn't* Bond making good on his innuendos, it was Moneypenny with an inflatable love doll pretending he was. Maybe it's just me, but the thought of Moneypenny flirting and cavorting with Bond is sexy, Moneypenny rolling around on the floor by herself not so much.

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  6. I wasn't defending Barbara Brocolli, just making fun of her lame excuse. :D

    You Superman example made me laugh a bit because in Superman II (Richard Lester cut) Superman and the villains do develop ridiculous new powers near the end of the film. The Richard Donner cut thankfully eliminated them.

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  7. "Yo mama!"

    I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's a quote from Jinx when she's about to be lazered. That's her big comeback to the villains threat. Many other problems in the movie, but one of the primary letdowns for me was Jinx herself, who seemed very stereotype and boring (and yet for some reason praised and praised by the media). She's the US version of Bond? "Yo mama!"? Michele Yeoh got a better part.

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  8. I must disagree, Kaiser. Yeah, Wai Lin was a great fighter, but she had little personality and NO chemistry with Bond. Plus Wai Lin suffers because she's only the second most interesting female in the movie, and she has the misfortune to come along only after Paris is dead.

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  9. It does seem fairly clear that "Jinx will star in her own series of movies!" was just a PR stunt... particularly as it's a repeat of an earlier PR stunt ("Wai Lin will star in her own series of movies!")

    One curious "geopolitical" element of this movie that few have remarked on: unusually for the series, this movie implicitly takes a stand on a hot-button issue... and takes the politically incorrect, "bad" side!

    Enlightened World Opinion strongly supports the complete and total abolition of land mines. The United States is a holdout, alleging that land mines still have some legitimate military applications that can't be reasonably filled by other means - including the defense of South Korea. Enlightened World Opinion says the U.S. are just being a bunch of evil-dumb militaristic oil-loving cowboys who like blowing up innocent children for taking this view.

    And yet, Eon, which generally bends over backwards not to offend Enlightened World Opinion (e.g., going out of their way to *not* make the USSR bad guys per se) implicitly supports the U.S. view. Destroying the DMZ minefield is the villain's goal, and it's implicitly understood that achieving that goal would be a Very Bad Thing for the free world. (Thus, logically, the U.S. unilaterally dismantling its minefield to please Enlightened World Opinion would *also* be a Very Bad Thing.)

    I guess you have to connect the dots a bit to see how the movie offends Enlightened World Opinion, and not many people did, being distracted by the movie's ample supply of All-Out Crazy, but it's still a little surprising to me.

    Something that fascinates me about DAD is how the crazy stuff is way out there by Bond movie standards, but isn't totally ludicrous by spy standards. DAD could easily fit within Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. parameters.

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  10. David, very good point about the land mines.

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  11. Finally saw this, which means I've now seen every Broccoli Bond.

    Well... there's nothing you disliked I didn't dislike either. But there are things you liked that I definitely didn't. My problem with the Madonna song (her cameo's fine) is that it's a horrendously poppy, electronicized, repetitive dance hit that's completely at odds with the juxtaposed torture of Bond! A sequence that MIGHT have worked (I think melding the opening credits video with actual action was otherwise bold), simply didn't. It's not the least memorable Bond theme, but it does get my vote for the worst, or at least, the worst used.

    And I find myself much less forgiving of Halle Berry as Jinx. There's only like ONE of her line readings that doesn't make me cringe (her nervous levity as the plane goes down; I wish she'd carried off the character's death wish/recklessness as well through the rest of the picture). Then again, when almost everything you get to say is a sexy innuendo, it's hard to make a character come alive. Rosamund Pike for the win.

    I think one of the basic problems behind the film's schizophrenia is that it knows too well that it's the 20th film, released on the 40th anniversary, and it forgets to be its own thing in favor of Anniversary shenanigans (several of Doctor Who's anniversary shows come to mind, pointless strings of set pieces to make sure all possible tributes are checked and correct). I too would have liked to see a more organic development from Bond's incarceration. Brosnan was a deceptively "dark" and edgy Bond, hiding behind a suave veneer, and this film is the only one of the four that actually ignores that.

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