**/**** Image B Sound A+ Extras B+
starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike
screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
directed by Lee Tamahori
by Walter Chaw There's just no currency in deriding James Bond for being a clichéd, doddering, misogynistic boy's club that trundles into the new millennium with the same entendres, leering, and boom-boom the franchise has ridden for four decades now. It's a lack of currency made all the more glaring for a film, Lee Tamahori's Die Another Day, desperate to please Bond-philes (Republicans and children, literal and figurative) by being an overt rehash of every Bond entry preceding it rather than the usual unintentional rehash. As futile as it has become to criticize the next instalment in this never-ending series, it appears that the filmmakers have decided to stop pretending they haven't been plundering the same well of travel-worn ideas since Connery up and quit.
Opening with a surfing scene that recalls those Frankie and Annette beach blanket operas and featuring a para-surfing scene mid-film with the worst rear-projection since the same, Die Another Day locates our favourite British Cold War relic in North Korea, engaged in a hovercraft battle that is as uninspired as it sounds. Lines are cribbed from Star Wars ("Close the blast doors!" and the paraphrased "Spare me the unpleasantries," cribbed from Darth's "You may dispense with the pleasantries"), a weird riff picked up at the finale in a command centre/Death Star/Yavin scene involving a geriatric Leia (Judi Dench's pinched M) wandering around a radar-heavy control room as it comes into range of an evil galactic death-ray (not even mentioning how much the final set looks like Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back, nor the "join me Luke" father/son/lightning-shooting-cyborg moments), while the same kind of camera-speed whip-trickery so unseen by most in Behind Enemy Lines unsuccessfully tries to make the bloated 130+-minute running time seem snappy.
Bond kills a pocket dictator, is tortured for fourteen months after his capture under the opening credits, and emerges as some kind of creepy Zen yogi who meditates himself out of trouble. The femme banals of the piece are Halle Berry as Jinx and the equally dreadful Rosamund Pike as quick-to-reform ice princess Miranda Frost, with a returning cast of John Cleese as gadgets expert "Q" (his fluidly-paced cameo the highlight of the film), Samantha Bond as "Moneypenny," and Dench as "M." An orbital satellite menace is suspiciously familiar (see: Goldeneye; Moonraker), as is a diamond subplot that makes absolutely no sense except as it references Diamonds Are Forever. In the meantime, a ridiculous swordfight proves that Westerners have a lot to learn about staging such things; the dubbing of the evil space machine "Icarus" demonstrates again why evil geniuses and screenwriters should read all the way through to the end of a story (see also the "Ahab" submarine in xXx); and oodles of unspeakable dialogue, boring gadgets, bad CGI, and the gratuitous use of lasers remind at once of Thunderball, Dr. No, Octopussy, and Episode II of Star Wars.
Its references easy to pick out in a junior "Trivial Pursuit" sort of way, the picture is clearly intended as a shrine to Bond and a pick-me-up for his fans, who enjoy jostling each other whenever a simple-minded in-reference collapses on the screen to die. (Let's not forget the Ursula Andress swimsuit, the "James goes rogue, but briefly" bullstuff of Licence to Kill, the health-spa infiltration of Thunderball, and the Moneypenny smooch of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, nudge nudge.) As entertainment goes, the latest Bond works a great deal like Jason X--the tenth Friday the 13th film--except that Die Another Day has more implied sex, a higher body count, and a pace so deadening that it didn't even occur to me until well after the credits had finished to wonder why Epcot Center was in Iceland and why the bad guys were headquartered there. (It shares with Jason X, bizarrely, a couple of snarky holodeck sequences.) Die Another Day's centrepiece gag is an invisible Aston Martin, joining the invisible plane of I Spy as another useless, potentially more trouble than it's worth gewgaw, though it does function as a catalyst to visualize Wonder Woman sitting in a dotted outline of a plane on "Superfriends". As nostalgia goes, actually, it's the one moment that stirs. Originally published: November 22, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers In bringing Die Another Day to Blu-ray, MGM has retrofitted its Special Edition DVD supplements for the dopey template introduced on the Dr. No BD. Though my first impression of the film's 1080p upgrade was unfavourable, I was sufficiently impressed upon revisiting it through the prism of the other titles in this collection to bump my Image grade from a C+ to a B. It doesn't help that the picture hails from a period when digital intermediates were technologically premature (though it's hard to say whether the transfer's slightly electronic character dates back to the DI or to a master prepared during the nascence of HiDef), but the presentation's minor edge-enhancement is actually more tolerable than the DNR that was applied to some of the other Bond flicks for their HD debut. Bottom line: it still looks like film and it's brilliant with colour, and those two things combined almost override a certain datedness. One thing that hasn't aged is Die Another Day's soundmix--and with a genuine 5.1 source to draw on, the DTS-HD Master Audio is not only the best the current batch of 007 discs has to offer, but also jarringly modern in the context of this six-film odyssey we've taken. Bass sinks to some insanely subterranean lows but LFE management is tighter than it is on DVD, while the dialogue and David Arnold's score similarly boast improved definition.
The stereophonic Lee Tamahori/Michael G. Wilson and Pierce Brosnan/Rosamund Pike commentaries resurface here, where they're joined by a trivia track listed as a "Datastream." I learned a lot from the Datastream--that initially, for instance, this film's Bond girl was going to be Michelle Yeoh again, reprising her Tomorrow Never Dies role--but I have a feeling my most recent firmware upgrade didn't do the trick, as nothing ever came of the many "Incoming Video Transmissions." (For the record, there's a lot of otherwise-AWOL documentary material from the SE that I suspect got warehoused in the Datastream.) Frustratingly, you can't toggle the trivia pop-ups on and off--you can switch out of them, but switching back starts the movie over from scratch. Meanwhile, director Tamahori and producer Wilson (recorded together) and actors Brosnan and Pike (recorded separately--she shows up at the 50-minute mark) do a reasonably good job of holding court for the obnoxious length of the feature. Points of interest include Tamahori's classification of "utilitarian villains" and Brosnan's laments about the double-edged sword of 007's popularity and the constrictive PG-13 envelope, which got pushed about as far as it was going to go in Die Another Day until Casino Royale (or maybe The Dark Knight) came along to expand its seams.
Under Declassified: MI6 Vault, find Rob Done's "From Script to Screen" (52 mins., 480i), a sketchy, low-key account of Die Another Day's pre-production and production periods with voiceover from The World is Not Enough's Robert Carlyle. Uncommented-upon is that the room where EON heirs Barbara Broccoli and Wilson prognosticate the world's fears with screenwriters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade fittingly resembles the Oval Office; commented upon is the burden of Cubby Broccoli's legacy, which falls squarely on daughter Barbara's handsome shoulders. (She makes a sympathetic case that it's harder than it looks.) The sight of legendary stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong plotting action sequences gave me a pang of nostalgia for the precious ingredients that were thrown out with the bathwater when Daniel Craig stepped into James Bond's shoes, and I liked all the business with publicity leaks dogging the filmmakers. "Shaken and Stirred on Ice" (24 mins., 480i) is more of the same...on ice! That is to say, it's primarily about that lumpy section of the film shot in Iceland, where good snow proved surprisingly elusive.
The ice palace itself was built on a refrigerated soundstage bound to give you horrid Batman and Robin flashbacks, especially when costume designer Lindy Hemmings starts accessorizing the extras like Mrs. Freeze. (Still, it beats listening to Halle Berry self-aggrandizingly describe her "Jinx" as "the Bond equal.") "Just Another Day" (23 mins., 480i) chronicles the scene where Toby Stephens's Richard Branson manqué parachutes to a press conf--hey, you know what I just realized? Stephens is the spitting image of Chris Klein! No wonder I couldn't take him seriously as the film's BigBad. Lastly, "The British Touch" (4 mins., 480i) is more product placement for onscreen sponsor British Airways; and "On Location with Peter Lamont" (14 mins., 480i) sees the veteran production designer narrating home videos of his location scouts. (His refrain of "here we are in..." grows maddeningly tedious.) Bypassing 007 Mission Control, of course, leaving us with only an Image Database and its five subsections--Cast Portraits, Special Photo Shoots, Sets & Locations, Stunts & Special Effects, Vehicles & Gadgets--to contemplate. I definitely found the total omission of trailers and TV spots a little curious, if hardly devastating. For what it's worth, MGM once again shortchanges the film's runtime on the cover, this time by six minutes. Originally published: December 11, 2008.