Saturday, December 9, 2017

'Tomorrow Never Dies' at 20: The Bondmania of the 1990s Begins

Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007: the action hero for the late 1990s

While GoldenEye successfuly relaunched the James Bond series in 1995 with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, it was its follow up Tomorrow Never Dies the film that defined that agent 007 came for stay. A true hero for all seasons, Ian Fleming's character was part of the post-war intelligence days of the 1950s, the swinging 1960s, the funky 1970s and the modern 1980s. 

US One Sheet poster for Tomorrow
Never Dies
 by BE Design.
Bond may have arrived late for the globalized world of the 1990s, but he definitively came to stay. And, while Tomorrow Never Dies may now be regarded as "a simple action movie" inside the series, it was the motion picture that assured the world that a man like James Bond was still relevant, establishing Pierce Brosnan as the Bond of the present day.

On their well-known book The Essential Bond, authors Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worral testify that Christmas 1997 "resembled the Thunderball mania of 1965, with Bond promotions more numerous than decorated trees". Of course, the marketing department of the film did a restless task to install the film artwork everywhere they could: from potato crips to beer cans, from billboards to toy stores to electronic shops, James Bond did it -once again- everywhere!

BE Design was in charge of the teaser poster campaign. Both artworks made a good use of the facial features of Pierce Brosnan over a red-hued gunbarrel, one of them (used mostly in the US) had a more detailed closeup overlayed by the 007 logo. Art director Mark Belin went for a more inclusive theatrical campaign featuring Bond and his women Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher posing over some TV screens showcasing the action bits of the story. One of the versions -used in Europe and South America- had a tuxedoed Brosnan over a blue-screen background, while the for the American market Brosnan donned an all-black suit (for a strange reason, the US campaigns tend to avoid Bond in dinner jacket) and almost the same TV screens background scheme.

Japan, as usual, provided an interesting stake at the graphic promotions: an advance poster with Bond kissing Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) and a theatrical poster similar to the US version, but with the singularity of having Bond with his arms crossed and no gun.

Photoshoot of Pierce Brosnan and
Michelle Yeoh, used for the Japanese
promotions of the film.
A teaser trailer was released on 12 February 2007, which was the first Bond trailer to be released online (in what would now be a low-quality QuickTime .mov file, as reminded us). It contained a simple premise: "Yesterday is a memory. Today is history. Tomorrow is in the hands of one man". After a series of quick shots of the action scenes of the film, Brosnan -gun in hand- looked at the camera saying "Bond... you know the rest". Months later, the final theatrical trailer was released, featuring a bit of Sheryl Crow's title song and much of the film's dialogues and action scenes. For the first time since the Roger Moore days, a different take of the gunbarrel sequence (made only for the trailer) was shown on the film.

But of course, the art of promoting the 18th official cinematic adventure of James Bond wouldn't end on the official advertisements. Heineken, Ericsson, Omega, BMW, L'Oreal, Visa sponsored the film the more they could with sweepstakes, commercials and posters. Heineken wasn't drank by Bond, who preferred the Smirnoff vodka for his Martini, but the unmistakable green cans could be seen as 007 and Wai Lin drive a BMW R1 200C bike trough Vietnam. Just like in GoldenEye, the German motor company also provided the standard issue car for the secret agent, this time a BMW 750il with a remote control hidden in a Ericsson mobile phone. On the other hand, L'Oreal promoted their make up collection using the face of Michelle Yeoh in their campaign, while Visa hired Pierce Brosnan, Desmond Llewelyn and Mad Men's Christina Hendricks for a very imaginative commercial.

After completing a very tight schedule and a troubled production, Tomorrow Never Dies was released on December 12, 1997. The screenplay suffered a number of writes and rewrites and some of the changes were added after the scenes were shot, something that made some of the actors feel a bit uncomfortable as MGM/United Artists were pressing for a Christmas release.

Initially, Bond 18 dealt with the handover of Hong Kong to China. Novelist Donald Westlake offered a draft to EON Productions by 1995, which was later rejected (it is available now as the novel Forever And a Death, not starring 007) so they turned to Bruce Feirstein once again. The American screenwriter, who has previously worked on GoldenEye, also wanted to use the handover as a crucial part of the plot. However, the producers felt they were walking on thin ice as a James Bond film would be attached to a very contemporary political event that nobody knew how how would it turn up.

"Words are the new weapons, satellites the new artillery", warns the film's mastermind Elliot Carver, based
on British media mogul Robert Maxwell.

After zapping trough TV channels, Feirstein noticed how two different news segments were giving different point of views on a conflict in the middle east, which gave him the idea of having a media mogul trying to provoke a war to raise his TV ratings. That's how the character of Elliot Harmsway, that would end up as Elliot Carver, turned out: a villain suspiciously based on the murky British press baron Robert Maxwell, whose "dead on the water" demise was conspiciously similar to the demise Carver is reported to have met in the movie.

Feirstein gave the movie some very good aditional characters: "Female Bond" Wai Lin, a Red Chinese Army Colonel; Paris Carver, who has the distinction of being married to the villain and to have been a sort of ex girlfriend of 007 (the scenes between the two are, perhaps, the only truly dramatic aspect in the story); Carver's sidekicks Stamper and Dr. Kaufman, a forensic medicine expert hired by the media baron to make-up his "bad news". We also have the return of Jack Wade from GoldenEye, who welcomes Commander Bond in a US South China Sea base and clears him to perform a risky HALO jump over Vietnam.

Bond enjoying the extra features of
his Ericsson phone - no, he didn't
install any app.
Director Roger Spottiswoode, familiar with action-comedy movies like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot with Sylvester Stallone, made the film look relaxed, adventurous and funny: there are many moments that will amuse spectators, notably the scene where 007 explores Wai Lin's armoury hidden in her bycicle shop in Saigon. Cinematographer Robert Elswit, known for 1984 and more recently Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, took advantage of the primary colours of TV (red, green and blue) for the scenes involving the villain Carver and his Stealth Boat and pressroom.

Another great addition to this crew would be a man who would become a Bond regular. Composer David Arnold set the sound of Pierce Brosnan's 007 with a style very reminiscent to John Barry's finest scores, but updated to the electronic-generated cues very common in the 1990s. From bombastic action percussion to oriental strings and techno riffs, the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack would be so successful that Arnold would return for every Bond film until 2008's Quantum of Solace, starring Daniel Craig as the secret agent. The main and end title song were performed by popular artists at the time, Sheryl Crow and k.d. Lang. The mythical James Bond Theme also got a techno remix by Moby, which was included in the soundtrack album and was used for promotions across the globe.

Two decades after its release, Tomorrow Never Dies remains one of the most entertaining Bond films in the series and a landmark in the emergence of a new wave of Bondmania in the late 1990s and new millenium.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Thursday, November 30, 2017

'No One Lives Forever': Early Development, Reinvention, and Release

In 2000, when The Operative: No One Lives Forever has hit the shelves, it was sold millions of copies all around the world, and resulted in a huge success for both the developer and the publisher. Simply referred to as No One Lives Forever, the game pays a visit back to the 1960s culture where the spy craze was all around the media. Its homage comes from the most notable and iconic spy franchises, specially Our Man Flint, the James Bond series (first five films with Sean Connery), Get SmartThe Man From UNCLEThe Avengers, with the inclusion of Modesty Blaise amongst others. At the time, First-Person Shooter genre was a popular gaming category, which combined all those spy media inspirations into its circle and created a stealthy action video game which left a huge impact on the audience, which spawned a sequel and an interquel spin-off. They were all developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sierra Entertainment, with the exception of the original game being published by Fox Interactive.

Development on the project started in 1998, after Monolith's latest two titles, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division and Blood II: The Chosen were released. The game actually started off as a mission-based, anime-inspired, paramilitary action thriller intended as a spiritual sequel to Shogo, which was supposed to be an action-adventure involving the elements of fantasy, but eventually the project ended up being a 1960s spy adventure in the tradition of Our Man Flint and countless other spy movies and shows of the same nature. After finally signing a contract with Fox, the team was able to draft a mission statement, which stood as a point of reference during every aspect of developing the game. Craig Hubbard, who contributed in designing many Monolith video game titles, insisted that a strong narrative, with twists and turns in the spirit of Charade or Where Eagles Dare, featuring a fiercely competent hero and an assortment of despicable villains, memorable moments, death-defying situations, opportunities for stealth as well as all-out action, and a variety of exotic locales to explore categories are heavily required.

Shogo: Mobile Armor Division served as a spiritual predecessor to No One Lives Forever.

Eventually, the game was announced at E3 1999 conference show, with some screenshots and a small footage of the game was shown. Monolith claimed that No One Lives Forever will feature a retro backdrop set in 1964 Europe, complete with the fashions and styles of that time period. The main character was said to be named Adam Church, a British secret agent working for MI0 (pronounced MI-Zero), an ultra secret group operating under the authority of "Her Majesty's Most Secret Service". Reportedly, Church's mission is to help aid in the defection of an East German biophysicist named Otto Dentz. When the mission goes awry when the defector is abducted by a terrorist group operating under the name HARM. This unknown group and its motives for kidnapping Dentz are unknown, and Church finds himself in the midst of perplexing puzzle as he attempts to find him. The player is also able to use several high-tech gadgets, including lock-picks, sunglasses with cycling visions, a cigarette lighter that melts any metal locks sticking onto gates and doors, among the others.


Early No One Lives Forever development screenshots featured at E3 1999. A male hand is seen wielding the weapons, and wearing a dark blue suit as it appears. None of these locations have appeared in the final release version of the game.

During the production after the title was surfaced, the game was compared to the James Bond series, and particularly the 1997 video game, GoldenEye 007, which led the developers to get into rage and restart development on No One Lives Forever. Hubbard stated that the intention of the game was to make a 1960s-themed spy adventure, and not a Bond-inspired imitation, leading them to submit many changes to the storyline. Originally, the game was supposed to have a drop dead serious tone, but afterwards, the Austin Powers-styled parody was dragged into the genre, with many standards remained still the same. Each location and level maps seen on the early footage, all of them have been absent in the newer edition. The protagonist, now, has been changed to female operative named Cate Archer, a former thief burglar, now a secret agent in service for the British Monarch, under a super-spy agency UNITY. The only objects that survive from the original development were the weapons. They've also added something in front of the working title to get away from any reference to anything that relates to James Bond and his franchise (particularly the Bond novel written by John Gardner, titled Nobody Lives Forever), with a final conclusion settling on The Operative: No One Lives Forever, with the front name making reference to Cate herself. Not much of the original project was revealed at all, nor a concept art for Adam Church was ever seen. So, nobody but the developers know how did the male protagonist looked like.

An element from the final game features similar stand-off between the protagonist and the enemies, echoing the same cable car scene from Alistair MacLean's Where Eagles Dare.

Cate's first mission was to protect an enemy target from HARM assassins with her own sniper rifle, which reminds the audience of the scene from The Living Daylights, with Bond sent on a similar assignment.

In The Operative: No One Lives Forever, set in 1967, seven active UNITY covert operatives have been assassinated by a mysterious group of terrorists. Cate Archer, a low-ranking agent, has been called into service for her first major assignment, which was to investigate a recently discovered organization which turned out to be HARM and its executive director, former KGB assassin called Dmitrij Volkov. Cate is the first female agent to be recruited to UNITY, and somehow has been "untrustworthy", which is why her superiors are skeptical of a woman working as a field operative, and have previously relegated her to more mundane assignments. Through many betrayals she faced, many murder attempts she survived, many fuses she lit, and many locations she travelled to, Cate finally comes face to face with someone from her past, who wants revenge from the whole world by provoking a conspiracy all over the countries, with the intention of starting a possible World War III conflict. With the only highly-trained agent left in the field, the entire agency counts on Cate Archer who's their only hope for saving the world.

Cate Archer in the Alps, sent to defeat the Baroness Dumas.

In the next two years, a sequel to the game was released with a bit more serious tone, titled No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in HARM's Way, focusing on Cate Archer facing even deadlier enemies. HARM, driven by vengeful plot against Cate, mark her for death, while they develop their evil schemes to provoke a war between the US and the Soviets.

Cate preparing to infiltrate a village where all the female ninjas live.

An interquel, a game that takes place between the previous two installments, was released, which follows the events of the first game, even re-visits some locations that ocurred in the previous adventures, and predates some happenings which took place in the second game. In this title, Contract JACK, the players take control of a contract killer named John Jack, hired by HARM operative, Volkov, to rescue a scientist from a rival terrorist organization called Danger Danger, led by an Sicilian mobster named Il Pazzo (The Crazy One in Italian). It does not involve UNITY nor Cate Archer herself. JACK, however, stands for "Just Another Contract Killer", which points out that he isn't important in the No One Lives Forever chronology and timeline.

"Just Another Contract Killer". Must be John Jack of HARM.

Cate Archer is based on an American model and actress, Mitzi Martin, and was voiced by Kit Harris in the first game. As the character is from a Scottish descent, Harris recorded her voicework in Scottish English accent, but due to the accent itself being used too lower class, she re-recorded her voicework again in a full-time "British Bent" instead. In the second game, however, Cate's look completely differs, as the writers decided to give her a resemblance to an English model, Jean Shrimpton, and this time, she was voiced by Jen Taylor, a professional vocals imitator herself. The character of Cate Archer met generally positive reviews as her games did. She was described as James Bond's female counterpart, and an improved version of Emma Peel.

Mitzi Martin provided her likeness and motion capture performance for the character of Cate Archer in The Operative: No One Lives Forever, even appeared in disguise as Cate during E3 2000.

Jean Shrimpton's likeness was used for Cate Archer's character in No One Lives Forever 2.

A third game, however, was never mentioned about and wasn't even planned. Monolith switched to working on a brand new franchise with a very similar gameplay to No One Lives Forever, but they have nothing in common when it comes to the genre. Rather it's a horror-themed science fiction thriller with a group of elite forces sent to terminate some failed experiments which turn out to be monsters. It resulted in FEAR, which didn't last long. Fans of No One Lives Forever kept demanding to make another installment in the spy series, but Sierra Entertainment, which published the latest two installments in the series, is owned by Activision, who never give any greenlight to video games involving female protagonists. But, it's still unknown who owns the IP to the franchise, but it's most likely Monolith, who are acquired by Warner Bros. a year after Contract JACK's release. In 2008, the US-based Play magazine expressed their desire to see Cate in further sequels than just one or two. Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading, feel free to express yourself below in the comments.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

'The Man With The Golden Gun', an Ignored Masterpiece

Bond duels the villain Scaramanga on his "fun house", a maze full of video screens, images and sound effects  meant to confuse every possible challenger.

The Man With The Golden Gun is an ignored masterpiece. That may sound a rather strong assessment for a film that is troughly hated by the worldwide community, accused of its blandness and being the epitome of the funny, self-parodic James Bond films written by Tom Mankiewicz since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever. But depending on what side you look at it, the movie can be pure unadultered enjoyment.

When you read books like Casino Royale or On Her Majesty's Secret Service you will know that James Bond as portrayed by the late Roger Moore was not an accurate cinematic version of Fleming's Bond. Nor was the 1974 film, which instead of having 007 sent to kill Paco "Pistolas" Scaramanga, a sort of far-west outlaw who brutally kills British agents or any oposition with his golden Colt .45, has Bond being the target of Francisco Scaramanga, a debonair contract killer who mounts a golden gun from his personal golden jewlery.

Movie poster artwork for The Man With The
Golden Gun
, designed by Robert McGinnis
Nevertheless, it is necessary to admit that due to many factors the cinematic Bond was different from the literary Bond from the beginning, and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli knew they had to lighten up a bit Fleming's dramatic hero into a man of this world. "This world" refers, precisely, to each year of the five decades where 007 was relevant including the present day, from the Space Race sensation of the late 1960s (see Dr. No and You Only Live Twice) to the globalization in the 1990s (see GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies) and heroes with a past and emotional conflicts from the 2010s (see Skyfall and SPECTRE).

Directed by Guy Hamilton, The Man With The Golden Gun was released in December 1974 and the film itself serves as a testimony to the era: from the music to the sets, the costumes and the subplot that touches the early 1970s energy crisis and the emergence of martial artists like Bruce Lee. That is, perhaps, what makes it beautiful in its own way.

As he showed in previous Bond adventures like Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, Hamilton makes good use of the thechnical aspects of the story and has a straightforward way of presenting the facts, with a simple storyline that leaves more space to the technical aspects such as the action sequences and the film visuals (mainly the cinematography, the music and the set design).

The films opens, much like in the previous 007 adventure Live And Let Die, ignoring Bond and showing what the villains do. In this case, we see a day in the life of Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), sunbathing with his lover Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) on the beach of his private island near Phuket, Thailand. A contract killer arrives to put an end to Scaramanga's life. He laughs, thinking it will be an easy job. But soon enough, he finds himself inside Scaramanga's fun house: a labyrinth filled with diversion stategies (loud music, false paths, mannequins of shooting cowboys) made to make the challengers lose most of his ammunition. Finding his precious Golden Gun exhibited among the maze, Scaramanga shoots his rival right between the eyes. The funniest part here is that the killer was hired by none other than Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize), Scaramanga's servant, in a way to train his boss with surprising challenges: the same training method Kato had with Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. 

Fantastic shot of the film by cinematographers Ted Moore and Oswald Morris.
Equally fantastic set design by Peter Murton.

After the colorful main titles by Maurice Binder, playing over the catching title song by Scottish singer Lulu, Roger Moore makes his second appaerance as James Bond onscreen and reports for duty to his boss M (Bernard Lee). This time, tough, he isn't briefed about a mission. He is offered a sabbatical year or the resignation. The reason: he has been marked for death by Scaramanga - whom nobody knows where he is or how he looks like (except we, the audience, who were offered a glimpse of his million dollar hits). "The Man With The Golden Gun" has been previously responsible for the death of agent 002 in Beirut, and now he seems to have put his eye on 007.

In recent Bond films, namely Licence To Kill (1989), Die Another Day (2002), Quantum of Solace (2008) and SPECTRE (2015), we see 007 picking his own mission outside MI6. The Man With The Golden Gun could be the first film in the series where Bond isn't formally assigned to a mission and M wants him out of the picture to protect him of Scaramanga. Thus, Bond goes solo following a series of clues from Lebanon to Macau, from Hong Kong to Thailand, to find Scaramanga first. It happens in a very subtle way and Bond isn't exactly going rogue, but he isn't formally assigned to kill his nemesis.

Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga,
aka "The Man With the Golden Gun".
Another clever resort from the script is that for the first time in the series 007 is described as an assassin. Right before the duel à la mort between Bond and Scaramanga, the latter gloats about his profession and matches himself to the secret agent. "Come, come, Mr. Bond... you enjoy killing as much as I do," he happily says. "When I kill it's under specific orders of my government, and those I kill are themselves killers", Bond replies.

In many interviews, Christopher Lee saw his character as "the dark side of Bond", and this shows off in the aforementioned exchange: Scaramanga is an assassin and so is Bond, but the latter firmily establishes he's on the side of good. Both Moore and Lee have an unique chemistry and the contrasts between the protagonist and the antagonist are truly believable. Lee, distant cousin of Ian Fleming, didn't portray Scaramanga as the outlaw described by Fleming and the movie is much less dramatic in comparison. 1989's Licence To Kill would be even closer to Ian Fleming's The Man With The Golden Gun in concept as Edward Biddulph brilliantly described on his blog James Bond Memes.

Cinematographers Ted Moore and Oswald Morris used an eye popping palette of purple, red, yellow and green for most of the scenes, namely those taking place in Scaramanga's fun house. The Man With The Golden Gun is probably one of the most visually impacting films of the series, where reds look redder, greens look greener and blue looks bluer. Even the iconic gunbarrel sequence, for unknown reasons, got the opening dots in a light purple hue, something the Lowry team "corrected" in their DVD and BluRay transfer restorations for the film. Production designer Peter Murton, who previously worked as an art director on Goldfinger and Thunderball, was in charge of set designs that maybe weren't as extravagant as Ken Adam's pieces but do deserve some credit: besides the imaginative fun house of the villain, there is also the British Secret Service hideout rebuilt inside the sinking wreckage of the Queen Elizabeth transatlantic (pure Moore-Bond era humour!)

After the relevance of martial arts in 1970s flicks,
Bond (unwantedly) visits a karate school.
John Barry returned to compose a James Bond film after his abscence from Live And Let Die, where George Martin took up the task. The score for The Man With The Golden Gun has been criticized even by Barry himself. Nevertheless, the sound of the film is very appealing with the times and with the tone set for the story. Lulu's title song breaks with the mould and goes for a tacky tune describing qualities of the villain. Instrumental versions of this theme song are repeated very often in the score, either during the action sequences or the romantic moments between Bond and his female counterpart Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). It even features as source music inside Scaramanga's fun house, both in a piano and trumpet jazzy version.

The music is skilfully used as Bond and his uninvited guest Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) are chasing Scaramanga and Nick Nack through the streets of Bangkok, both "teams" driving AMC Matador cars. As Scaramanga hides his car inside a garage and turns his vehicle into a flying car, a soft version of the theme song is heard, while we get a frenetic version of the James Bond Theme as 007 and the policeman are on hot pursuit (listen to track six of the soundtrack, "Let's Go Get Them"). Given that Pepper has first appeared in the previous film, Barry allows himself to add some little irony and include a few bars of George Martin's Live And Let Die theme song.

Other suites of the album are comprised of guitars and wind instruments, with some percussion rythms too. Much like in Diamonds Are Forever, the soundtrack of The Man With The Golden Gun feels vibrant, sexy and lush.

Part of the score is also the much criticized "whistle" sound effect as Bond and Pepper's AMC Matador makes a 360 degree spin as they jump over a broken bridge. But, seriously, would that sequence be any better without this (in)famous sound effect? It added emphasis and substance to one of the most remembered and meticulosly planned stunts in the motion picture history.

Times change and James Bond is now, with Daniel Craig, closer to what Fleming had in mind: a blunt instrument. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that and Craig is the right Bond for today's world. Nevertheless, as Bond is a character of all time, Roger Moore was Bond for yesterday's world, and the world of the 1970s was much more visually flamboyant than today's.

Forty-three years after its release, the Bond film that put to an end the society between Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli is sadly overlooked when compared to other 007 flicks. But, seriously, think of The Man With The Golden Gun as a testimony of the vibrant early 1970s and you'll love it. Immerse yourself in John Barry's music, fix your eyes on the exciting cinematography, take an invite to Scaramanga's fun house, envy Roger Moore's womanizing with a blonde and a brunette in the same hotel room for the sake of Queen and Country and -seriously- you'll love it.

Bottoms up!

Nicolás Suszczyk

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book Focus: 'À Bientôt', Sir Roger Moore's poignant farewell

As he grew older, Sir Roger Moore never lost his elegance or sense of humor.

Published some months after his death on May 23rd, 2017, the official blurb of À bientôt establishes that this final book of Sir Roger Moore -whom the world knew as Simon Templar and James Bond for decades- consists on "his reflection on age and ageing". Does that make it a book for old, experienced men? Or only for people over 60? Absolutely not.

Far of being a complaint about getting old -tough Roger takes a look at the uncomfortable issues of his age (he passed away aged 89)- À bientôt feels as a warm last testimony and reflection of a live well lived: his childhood, fame with Templar and Bond, helping others with UNICEF, and how he tried to get used with the present day technologies. All these subjects, isolated, could feel boring if were touched by another person. But Moore did it with so much grace and emotion that you can almost imagine his inimitable voice from up on the sky reading those words as if he was reading them straight to you.

The book contains a coulple of photos from his family albums and some pencil sketches drawn by Roger himself, most of them illustrating the anecdotes described in the paragraphs. One of the funniest parts comes as recalls uncomfortable situations lived in the in airports with security scanners or when he comes up to inventing a few new internet slangs (i.e. IMHO - Is My Hearing Aid On?)

One of the strongest aspects in the piece is that the author leaves aside the common anecdotes of his life on the spotlight (as he did with My Word Is My Bond, published in 2008) and every page becomes sort of a dedicated letter about the ways of life very much like a monologue, almost in a Forrest Gump way. The man who tells us his story here is not Roger Moore, the star, but Roger Moore the father, husband and man of the world. And instead of feeling different to him, of feeling the natural distance between you, the man of the street, and he, a world-known movie star, you'll most likely feel identified in having lived a few or maybe most of the situations he tells us.

Moore's view of these times are filled of interesting passages, as he wonders why people nowadays go to a theatre dressed in shorts and t-shirts as if they were sitting on the couch of their home and remembering the days where he picked his best suit and tie for a movie screening or theatre play showing. The most poignant part is, of course, in the last chapter where he wonders about the mystery of death or, as he called it, the "cutting-room floor", stating he would face it with "
all the dignity a coward can muster - and one last little irony".

À bientôt can be purchased in hardcover or Kindle format through Amazon. People outside the US or UK should use the reliable BookDepository site that offers free shipping worldwide.

That said, it this might sound a cliché at this point, but... what a heatbreaking loss for mankind.

Anyway, let’s better say au revoir, Roger. I have the oddest feeling we’ll meet again sometime.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Sunday, November 26, 2017

'Unlocked' Review: Michael Apted's Female Spy

Poster artwork for Unlocked, starring Noomi Rapace as CIA interrogator Alice Racine.

British director Michael Apted tends to give relevance to female characters in his movies. A well-known example is The World Is Not Enough, the 1999 James Bond adventure where -in an unexpected twist- the mastermind behind the threat was none other that the oil heiress Bond was meant to protect. The film also gave more relevance to the female M played by Judi Dench since Pierce Brosnan's debut in GoldenEye by having the lead of MI6 be a close acquaintance of the victim-turned-villainess.

This year, Apted surprised us with Unlocked, a political spy thriller starring Noomi Rapace, known for the Swedish film versions of Strieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy. Though the film isn't perfect (feels a bit confusing at times), it will please those who want a relevant spy thriller with intense action scenes that feel clean and tidy. Instead of going for complex shooting techniques of fast shots and close-ups that leave the audiences startled, Apted went for a more conventional way of approaching the action scenes, with more distant shots allowing the audiences to take some distance from the shootouts and fistfights, unlike what most directors tend to do now (see Atomic Blonde or the Kingsman saga).

Alice (Noomi Rapace) loses its cool with Jack Alcott
(Orlando Bloom)
The story has a very convincing acting by Rapace as Alice, a former CIA interrogator taking a desk job after feeling the guilt of not preventing a terrorist attack in Paris in 2012. After being called back to duty, she is deceived by enemy agents who infiltrated the organization and learns that a new attack is being planned on England. In a race against time, she will learn that things -and people she knew and respected- were not what they seemed.

John Malkovich delivers an outstanding performance as a CIA director Bob Hunter (was the Barack Obama portrait in his office an in-joke of some kind we don't follow?) and so does Orlando Bloom, who has lost his baby face by now, as an US Army veteran turned mugger. The rest of the cast is completed by the efficient Toni Collette as Emily Knowles, the head of MI5 who has a friendly relationship with the protagonist (a slight touch of Judi Dench's M, maybe?) and Michael Douglas as Alice's former chief and mentor.

The cinematography offers good establishing shots of London during day and night, with a good use of shadows during the very last minutes that will be a bit reminiscent to Survivor, the 2015 film starring Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan. Stephen Barton's soundtrack also helps us to delve our focus into the modern intelligence world.

Overall, Unlocked is a production that succeeds in entertaining the audience, and perhaps what makes it effective is its simplicity in the shooting of the action sequences. And simplicity in this case doesn't mean dull or uninteresting, because there is indeed a lot of blood in the characters face and body, with the gunshots feeling real and not comic book-ish. It is just that in this case we are invited to enjoy the acton instead of living inside it.

Nicolás Suszczyk

'The World Is Not Enough': Seventeen Years Ago

When Electronic Arts acquired the rights to develop and publish video games based on the James Bond franchise, they've started with adapting the storyline for Tomorrow Never Dies into a PlayStation game in 1999, the same year that The World Is Not Enough has hit the theaters. They made many spectacular Bond games that had the fans satisfied utterly, with the most notable one being Nightfire in 2002, which was the best way to mark the 40th Anniversary of Bond's cinematic existence. However, back in 2000, it was believed that The World Is Not Enough was going to be adapted into a game, as well. But, this time, for many platforms instead of just one, scheduled to be release in a Christmas time later that year.

Electronic Arts chose five platforms and four developers to take care of the adaptations and the ports of the game, but the publisher itself will personally deal with the script and the dialogues. BlackOps Entertainment was chosen to handle the development on the PlayStation version of the game, reverting from their Third-Person view as occurred in Tomorrow Never Dies to First-Person view, to recreate the success of Rareware's GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64, a platform which was also chosen to be part of EA's gaming market, with Eurocom taking the helm of that branch of the project. EA Redwood Shores studios was on to work on a version which was going to be ported on both PlayStation 2 and Windows PC, and 2n Productions was picked to develop a children's handheld game based on the title, namely GameBoy Color.

The PlayStation version on the left and the Nintendo 64 version on the right.

At the time, EA was also busy with another project called 007 Racing which was being developed by Eutechnyx. Unlike the other games in the series, this one was a racing game incorporated with 12 levels, featuring many vehicles and cars from previous Bond movies making their way back to the screen. All being gadget-laiden. What interesting part of EA's projects were that they switch and cut or replace many parts of the development with newer ones. 007 Racing itself survived a few major rewrites! One notable thing about the game was that in EA's 007 canon, this product served as a sequel to The World Is Not Enough, revealing that Zukovsky, one of Bond's allies, wasn't actually killed but heavily wounded.

Screenshots from the PC version of the game.

However, in September 2000, two months before its release date, the PC and PlayStation 2 version of The World Is Not Enough was cancelled by the publisher, due to lack of enough time to finish the development or fix the bugs. This one has made many fans upset (including myself!) at the time. However, the other two major console versions were released on 1st November 2000 world-wide, with the Nintendo 64 version gaining positive reviews from critics while the PlayStation version was slammed due to lackluster content. It's true, actually, I couldn't blame them for criticizing the latter. The GBC version for kids was released a year later.

Screenshot from The World Is Not Enough for the Windows PC and PS2 version, showing Bond evading death by timebomb set by Renard.
It was rumoured in early 2001 that Electronic Arts are currently working on a sequel to 007 Racing, which was not confirmed by the publisher at all. But, ultimately, they revealed a brand new title during E3, stating that Bond would be "going back to its roots", meaning it would reflect the same aspect as GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64. The title of the game was revealed to be Agent Under Fire, written and scripted by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, the people who brought us one of the most unforgettable TV Series, Viper, in which Max Payne's James McCaffrey had a leading role. They were also known for adapting The Rocketeer into a film. Back on topic, Agent Under Fire is said not to be based on any previous or existing Bond adventure, but carries an original storyline. It was set to be released on PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. The game is developed on Quake III Arena engine, and is remade from their previous The World Is Not Enough development. But, the PC version remained in the pages of history. In fact, it features many locations that are identical to the ones occurred in the film.

Promotional renders featuring Bond's exotic cars from 007 Racing.

Promotional image for 007 Racing featuring Bond driving his BMW 750il during a mission.
Many old screenshots of the PC version released online told the fact that it was going to be more similar to the Nintendo 64 version rather than the PlayStation version. Character render 3D images featured the real-life actors who played the role have lent their likenesses to their respective characters, and it was likely to have Pierce Brosnan and the rest of the crew voicing them, as well. But, many secondary character models were later re-used for Agent Under Fire, as there was no point in re-designing them at all. As for the storyline, the main two villains are truly similar to the ones in The World Is Not Enough, for instance, Adrian Malprave has a company of herself with her surname, accompanied with a henchman called Nigel Bloch, a bald henchman, a mercenary. And this duo share similarities to Elektra King and Renard, with the former having a company of her own family name, and the latter being her loyal henchman.

3D character render for James Bond, based on Pierce Brosnan's likeness, data retrieved from the PC and PS2 version of The World Is Not Enough.
The World Is Not Enough 3D character models from the PC/PS2 version.
 Adrian Malprave on the left, and her henchman, Nigel Bloch on the right from Agent Under Fire.

In Agent Under Fire, Bond is portrayed by Andrew Bicknell instead of a previous actor who played the role, respectively in the films.
As for the rumoured 007 Racing sequel, it was revealed that Agent Under Fire will feature driving elements, meaning there's no racing game in development but rather some racing levels attached to the the First-Person Shooter game. In early footage, Bond is shown to be carrying the same weapon, Walther P99, with the same design as he wielded in The World Is Not Enough screenshots, even the mid-Summer video footage showed the very same elements along with the GoldenEye 007-type HUD to be used. But, in the final release version, a brand new HUD was created for the game, and Bond's weapon is suddenly changed to a Smith & Wesson SW99, still under the same pseudonym as in the original game, 'Wolfram P2K'. SW99 itself is Smith & Wesson's own approach to Walther P99, but it turned out to be a weaker firearm.

Gameplay footage from The World Is Not Enough on the left, and early Agent Under Fire on the right.

Final release version of the game features a SW99 as the main sidearm.

Racing levels from Agent Under Fire, with Bond behind the wheels of a DB5 and a BMW Z8 Roadstar.

Overall, I still think either The World Is Not Enough or Agent Under Fire should have been released on Windows PC platform, because the engine that both games were developed on was Quake III Arena, an engine which was specialized for personal computers rather than consoles. Even if the final product was to be released on PC, the fans would've been able to recreate The World Is Not Enough mod on the same engine, probably finding some files within the game's data and give it a full-time resurrection. It's a shame that did not come true at all.

Nintendo Power magazine published a pre-release information regarding to that of in Agent Under Fire, featuring James Bond on the front cover.

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