Thursday, December 26, 2019

Bond Takes The Bridge To The New Millennium

Released worldwide between November 1999 and February 2000, The World Is Not Enough had some particularities in among the James Bond films. It was the first time the writing duo Neal Purvis & Robert Wade joined the series, the first time the immediacy of the internet played a pivotal role in the production of a Bond film and the first time the antagonist was a woman whom Bond fell for. At the same time, it was the last appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q and the last 007 adventure from the 20th century, the one before the 9-11 attacks.

It all began in November 1997 shortly before the release of the previous Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. Producer Barbara Broccoli was flying to Miami and she saw a special on the Nightline TV show that focused on the oil production in the Central Asia regions, which would place those territories that were once part of the Soviet Union as one of the rising economies for the 21st century. 

Soon enough, this became the central idea for the plot for Bond 19. Someone would try to monopolize these valuable resources at any cost, even if that could kill a whole nation. On January 1998, screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, known for the drama Let Him Have It, were hired to pen a treatment where they decided to try something unexplored before: the leading lady, romantically involved with Bond, would be an oil heiress marked for death by the terrorist who kidnapped her once, would turn out to be the mastermind who seduced his kidnapper to use him for her revenge and world domination plan.

Two inspirations for this movie came from the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service and its original novel by Ian Fleming: the first one was the character of Tracy Di Vicenzo, the only woman who marries Bond and is murdered shortly afterwards. The writing duo created the leading lady of this movie, Elektra, after what Tracy was in the movie: an adventurous, rich woman capable of taming Bond's heart with the secret agent compelled to protect her. But this woman is not only on the evil side but she planned everything from the beginning, so Bond feels morally and romantically betrayed. In the words of the screenwriters: "Bond thinks he has found Tracy, but he's really found Blofeld."

The other one is the film's title: "The World Is Not Enough", the motto of the Bond family, as mentioned in both the book and the film, which was George Lazenby's only outing in the role of 007.

Purvis and Wade also took situations from the literary James Bond: a gun hidden in a cane was used by villains in Casino Royale (1953) and Never Send Flowers (1993), while the kidnapping of M was a highlight of Kingsley Amis' Colonel Sun (1968).

British director Michael Apted was hired in August 1998 to direct the movie. He was known for giving relevance to the female characters of his movies, as was the case of the 1993 thriller Blink starring Madeleine Stowe, and this was precisely what this new and original Bond adventure needed: a strong enemy for 007 that would strike his heart and emotions as never before.

Showing her true colours, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) kidnaps M (Judi Dench)

The objective of Purvis and Wade also aimed to take more advantage of Judi Dench's portrayal of M and made her a close acquaintance of this angel-turned-evil lady.

Michael Apted's then-wife, screenwriter Dana Stevens, retouched the script to rewrite Elektra to give more complexity to the character, as well as her relationship with M. The head of MI6 went to law school with oil tycoon Sir Robert King, they became good friends. King's daughter, Elektra, was kidnapped by Renard, a terrorist MI6 had on their sights for a long time. M told King not to pay the ransom to win time until one of his agents could kill this terrorist. Ultimately, King's daughter escapes captivity. Agent 009 finds Renard and shoots him in the head, but the terrorist survives the bullet and is slowly dying, losing all his feelings until he eventually reaches his inevitable doom.

Sometime later, Sir Robert is killed by a bomb set up by Renard on the MI6 Headquarters. This causes a lot of pain to M and she becomes maternal towards the defenseless Elektra, who has now inherited King Industries and is most likely on the terrorist's sights once again. M sends Bond to protect Elektra, also suggesting him to use her as a bait to find the terrorist and kill him for once and for all.

In a similar move to For Your Eyes Only (1981) and The Living Daylights (1987), someone is "framed" as the main antagonist until Bond –and the audience– finds out that he was holding the wrong side of the stick and the enemy was someone else. In The World Is Not Enough, Elektra is revealed as the one who was behind it all. She made a deal with her kidnapper when his father refused to pay the ransom, they both planned King's death and now they're after something bigger that could cause the destruction of Istanbul and King's monopoly of the oil business, literally annihilating the competence. The plan, of course, is rather reminiscent of Goldfinger (1964) and A View To A Kill (1985), only that love and betrayal would play a pivotal part in the story.

"Remember... pleasure?" Just as she did with Bond, Elektra King enchants Renard (Robert Carlyle), once her kidnapper, now her loyal acolyte.
As the first Bond girl who becomes the leading villainess, Elektra King was a unique character in the series. She is related to three men: Sir Robert King, Renard and Bond. Her father was her main "enemy", the reason why she triggered her revenge: "My father was nothing. The kingdom he stole from my mother, the kingdom I will rightly take back", she tells the horrified M. It is known that it was the family of her Azerbaijani mother who discovered oil in Baku when the city still belonged to the Soviet Union. British industrialist King married her and exploited her discoveries through his own company. Elektra is kidnapped in her teens by Renard and as she learns he needed "more time" to pay for her ransom, seduces his captor to plot her father's death. This leads to Bond's role in the story, who mistakenly thinks she may be the next target of the terrorist and is sent by M to protect her.

Elektra emerges later as the powerful woman in the story, causing the death of one of the three men she was involved with and using the other two for his objectives: one to be the armed force of her plan, the other to plot her revenge against M, who advised her father not to pay the ransom. "No one can resist me", she tells the captive Bond.

There is also an interesting triangle in the story formed by Bond, Renard and Elektra, which triggers the actions. Both Bond and the villain have a quest for Elektra's body throughout the film, as it happened in Live And Let Die where Bond's conquest of Solitaire led to the demise of the villain, who wanted to use the girl for her clairvoyance (linked to her virginity) only to be taken out by him when he considered it was the appropriate time.

In The World Is Not Enough, Bond protects (and uses) Elektra to get to Renard. They both end up falling for each other. Later, we learn that she was in league with the villain all the time. Elektra at one moment, after lovemaking with Renard, believes Bond has died and he notes her disappointment, wondering if Bond was a good lover. "What would you think? I wouldn't feel anything?" she replies, obviously dissatisfied with the villain's insensitivity. In this movie, we have Live And Let Die done the other way around: Bond and the villain fight for the possession of the girl, but the girl is the one who possesses them both in a way or another.

Pierce Brosnan was thrilled to explore the inner feelings of James Bond much more, something he expressed as he complained that Tomorrow Never Dies was loaded with action and gave little time for a dramatic portrayal of the secret agent. Still, the script focused too much on Elektra and M that the scenes with Bond needed a retouch to give the protagonist more presence in the story. Bruce Feirstein, who previously worked in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, was hired again to rewrite Bond's persona.

To counterpart Elektra's evilness (or to assure a happy romantic "warrior's rest" to the hero), there was a character named Christmas Jones. At first, she was a Polynesian insurance investigator working for Lloyd's bank that joined Bond on his quest against Renard, but given that MGM's The Thomas Crown Affair remake set for the same year already coupled Pierce Brosnan with an insurance investigator played by Rene Russo, the studio asked for a chance to avoid connections. And so, Christmas Jones became a nuclear physicist.

By the beginning of 1999, the cast was assembled: popular American actress Denise Richards was cast as Christmas Jones, while French actress Sophie Marceau was announced as Elektra King. Days later, Robert Carlyle, known for The Full Monty, was cast as Renard. Joining the list were several European actors like Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Ulrich Thomsen and Claude Oliver-Rudolph. Robbie Coltrane returned once more for a final appearance as GoldenEye's Valentin Zukovsky, former KGB agent and current murky businessman.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) drives his "fully loaded" silver BMW Z8 through the oil fields of Baku, captail of Azerbaidjan.

The locations of The World Is Not Enough probably make the film the most Eurasian adventure of Pierce Brosnan in the role of 007: the action moves from Spain to London, Scotland, Azerbaijan, France and Turkey, with some of these countries doubling for scenes taking place in Kazakhstan or the Caucasus. It was also the first one to deliver a major action sequence in London where Bond chases a female assassin (Maria Grazia Cuccinotta's character) through the Thames River using the mini boat Q built for fishing during his retirement days. This would initiate a tradition to give London, which was usually a "transit" city in the stories, more relevance as a high scale battle scenario in the following Bond movies, except for Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). Notably, there is the fight at the Blades club in Die Another Day (2002), a chase through the city's Metro in Skyfall (2012) and a chase culminating in the Westminster Bridge in SPECTRE (2015).

Cinematographer Adrian Biddle brought wonderful visuals to these locations, mostly with panoramic shots of the oil fields of Baku or the walkways of the Caspian Sea at night. David Arnold accurately used Middle Eastern instruments like the qanun to enhance the mood of these shots, while he went full techno for the action scenes.

Cigar Girl (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) avoids James Bond through the Thames River, proving that 007 would have some time to spend on his hometown from now on...

Lyricist Don Black returned twenty-five years after The Man With The Golden Gun to write another title song for the film, using the title and the voice of Shirley Manson of Garbage to perform it. The theme song is written from the viewpoint of a woman who "knows when to kiss and when to kill" and incites a loved one to "take the world apart", surely an ode to the female mastermind of this movie. At the same time, Black also wrote lyrics to an instrumental theme Arnold composed for the film. It was titled "Only Myself To Blame" and was intended to the end credits until it was replaced for a more upbeat version of the James Bond Theme. This song was written from the viewpoint of a reflexive Bond thinking of his love life and was only available in the film's soundtrack.

No James Bond film would be complete without an impressive poster campaign. Graphic artist Diane Reynolds-Nash designed the American teaser and theatrical posters for The World Is Not Enough: the first one strikingly placed a flaming silhouette of a woman against the black silhouette of Bond, and the second had a more inclusive explosive artwork in which a ready-for-action Pierce Brosnan was surrounded by Denise Richards, Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle as Renard watched from the shadows in a modern blend of white, yellow and blue palettes. For the international market, the Soho-based FEREF publicity agency produced an artwork showing 007 escorted by the leading ladies embedded in a hi-tech world map that hinted some of the secondary characters and scenes from the film. 

Q (Desmond Llewelyn) shares a last laugh with Bond before his retirement. A retirement that, involuntarily, would coincide with the actor's death on December 1999.
The World Is Not Enough still stands as one of the most interesting James Bond films to date. The arrival of new technologies changed the dynamics of a Bond promotion, forcing an official word on every week of shooting as rumours began to make their way all over the world at light speed. This, of course, led to many rumours and fan creations like posters often getting mistaken with the real promotional items, causing EON to rectify them through their official communication channels such as the site, things we are very used to these days.

Perhaps the film does not represent a change of era per se, but the truth is that the James Bond films became somewhat different from Die Another Day on. Violence became stronger, the inner feelings of 007 played a major role in the plot, and, of course, we had to get used that John Cleese or Ben Whishaw could do their best to replace the irreplaceable Desmond Llewelyn as Q, whose cinematic farewell to James Bond –advising him to "never let them see him bleed" and "always have an escape plan"– had sadly become a reality one month after the release of the film when the Welsh actor died on a car crash.

The World Is Not Enough resulted in a bridge to a different, more globalized era, proving James Bond could still be a hero to battle the many threats of a more aggressive world in the 21st century while still retaining his essence as conceived by Ian Fleming in the books or as the cultural icon made famous by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decades ago, right in the half of the 20th century.

Nicolás Suszczyk

*All stills and artwork copyright 1999 MGM/Danjaq.
**Read more of this subject in The Bond of The Millennium, written by the same author and available on the Amazon store.

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