Saturday, September 11, 2021

'Die Another Day': shaping James Bond for a post-9/11 world

 

It was 20 years ago today that two hijacked Boeing 747 commercial aeroplanes caused a macabre terrorist attack in the heart of New York City, but watching the images all over again still chills anyone in any part of this world. The terrorist attacks that took place in the morning of September 11, 2001, didn't just change the politics and social mood of the United States of America. It changed the whole world and particularly the Western hemisphere: anyone who grew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s surely remembers how afraid we were of going to McDonald's or walking next to the US Embassy in the days that followed 9/11.

You don't need a PhD to see how this event changed Hollywood: what kind of action films do we do? We place the Middle East as the enemy and have an American action hero defeating him? Do we divert the focus to something else and do something like The Matrix and deliver villains without a marked political orientation? The challenge was huge and dealing with such sensitive matters could have an adverse effect in a society that was very much hurt, but at the same time, there was the admission that the Western world wasn't a secure place any more and the fear of death was around the corner.

The morning of 11 September 2001:
a day the world will never forget.

The earlier 2000s swayed between leisure and horror, and these contrasts are more than evident in the unfairly maligned 40th anniversary James Bond film Die Another Day.

True, the Lee Tamahori film vastly abuses the technique of computer-generated imagery that involves an invisible cloak for 007's Aston Martin Vanquish, a false tsunami that the secret agent improvisedly surfs with a metallic platform and a parachute, and even a bullet that goes into the eyes of the audience during Pierce Brosnan's final gunbarrel sequence in addition to an excess of speed ramps and slow motion effects courtesy of editor Christian Wagner. But, then again, there are all the films of this generation to blame for those "sins": Swordfish, Charlie's Angels, Mission: Impossible 2 - and the latter two were massive box-office hits, just like Die Another Day  was despite incoherently receiving an unfounded blame as the production that "nearly killed the franchise".

Although, it may seem an impossible task, forget about the aesthetic of the film for a while. Die Another Day was the first post-9/11 James Bond film, and this is shown repeatedly. Not less interestingly, script development began as early as in 2000 and the events of September 2001, according to the official The James Bond Archives book published by Taschen, forced screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to ditch the original plot line that involved CIA agents turning against their handlers. 

29 January 2002: President George W. Bush
delivers his State of the Union Address,
condemning Iran, Iraq and North Korea

For a little over two hours, Die Another Day represents the biggest insecurities and fears in the Western society in the aftermath of 9/11. Trying to escape from the complexity of facing Bond off with a Middle Eastern villain, the antagonists came all from the Far East. More precisely, that "rogue nation" in the Far East, the one that is still surrounded by dark mysteries and multiple complaints from human rights associations: North Korea, the country that was accused of being part of "Axis of Evil", along with Iran and Iraq, by president George W Bush.

Colonel Tan-Sun Moon has the zeal of a political leader. He is little interested in money or revenge and every corrupt activity he's involved in, arms and conflict diamonds dealing, are simply oriented to finance a rise to power and his desire to make the West "shake with fear". He doesn't just want to rule the world, he wants to make North Korea rule the world. Expressing his views to Bond in a taunting manner, Moon sees the British as "pathetic people who think they can police the world" right after the spy's cover is blown and, after being presumed dead for years, goes as far as genetically changing his ethnicity to infiltrate the Western society as British businessman Gustav Graves and destroying them from within: With their technology, with their free-market economy, laughing at them right under their noses as he even gets knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Gustav Graves: a Western
fa
çade for a radicalized
North Korean officer.

This is not too dissimilar to the actions of the "Hamburg cell" which planned the  9/11 attacks, Middle Eastern students residing in Germany discussing anti-American and anti-Israeli views before immigrating to the United States to carry out those schemes. Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian engineer who crashed flight AA11 on the north tower of the World Trade Center, was treated as a Westerner and therefore reaching the US wasn't a difficult job in terms of a visa permit. In a way, he was seen as Gustav Graves was seen by the British press and the authorities: A humanitarian, a joyful businessman with dreams of greatness "trying to give the planet something in return" for what it has given him. 

But, the 9/11 effect was not simply focused on the tenacity of the radicalized villains: Die Another Day went as far as showing us the cracks in the Western intelligence agencies.  

James Bond himself is less of a one-man army and at the pre-credits sequence, he is captured by the North Korean army just as he completes his mission to eliminate Moon. His 14-month torture is shown through a two minute duration over Daniel Kleinman's main title sequence, where the fire and ice girls are more frightening than alluring, in contrast to the seductive girly silhouettes from the days of Maurice Binder's designs. Bond, resisting an atrocious torment, is finally exchanged for Zao -who has been captured by the Americans- and far from being welcomed as a hero, he is seen as a disposable asset: "You are no use to anyone now", a cold-hearted M tells the operative she considered "their best" three years earlier in 1999's The World Is Not Enough. Long gone is the Bond that could succeed in anything, that could escape from impossible situations, the Bond that we could perceive as "a hero". 

This conversation between 007 and M on a floating vessel hospital going through Hong Kong sending Bond to the "reevaluation centre", perfectly exemplifies what Ian Fleming himself noted in an interview with the CBS in 1963: That espionage was frequently romanticized by readers, but it was actually a dirty trade. War veterans that have been captured behind enemy lines and brought back to their homelands after negotiations by the government were received as heroes, embraced by family and friends. But, James Bond has no family nor friends, and the only woman that could feel this gap in his life, the one that esteemed him as "his best boy" (so to speak) now ditches him because he may have been leaking information, something the Americans -leading the War on Terror- couldn't forgive in this time and age. In contrast to the previous films, even the first three Pierce Brosnan era adventures, the image of James Bond that Die Another Day  gives us is that of a government tool that is "useful" or "expendable" - an idea reflected in the 1953 novel Casino Royale where Mathis advises Bond to avoid "becoming human" or the Service would lose "a wonderful machine".

Miranda Frost, an undercover MI6 agent posing as Gustav Graves publicist,
is briefed by M. The British Intelligence missed the fact that she was the
mole who exposed James Bond during his mission in North Korea.

On top of that, there is a big intelligence flaw between the British and American governments: NSA's Falco hides from M that her young new recruit Miranda Frost studied with Colonel Moon in Harvard and both joined the fencing team. M, on the other hand, ignored the damage this beautiful, innocent-looking girl could make to Her Majesty's top agent: Using her job at MI6 as cover, she not only tipped Moon off about a Cuban clinic where DNA transplant services were offered to runaways, but also informed him directly that a British MI6 agent licenced to kill named James Bond would be sent to assassinate him. This case of misintelligence provokes Bond's downfall through the first half of the story, and also indirectly serves to reflect how real-life intelligence agencies failed to anticipate and prevent a bold terrorist attack like 9/11 from happening. Disavowed from the British Secret Service after his imprisonment, torture and exchange, Bond is completely on his own, gadget-less, lacking support, and has to resort to old hardware (a Smith & Wesson revolver, a 1957 Ford Fairlaine, a pair of binoculars) and a semi-retired contact to find any trail to the person who burned him in North Korea, also proving his worth.

A gadget-less Bond tries
to find out the whereabouts
of Zao, the only man who
can identify the person
who set him up.

Die Another Day's climax is somewhat redeeming amidst a worst case scenario: Moon/Graves is advancing over South Korea and every troop allied to the West (South Korean, British, Americans) can't defeat him: His Icarus satellite can literally burn any expensive and sophisticated anti-satellite weapon fired by the Americans, and can also detonate the landmines buried beneath the Demilitarised Zone dividing both Koreas. NSA's Damien Falco clarifies we are in a DEFCON-2 state, a step below nuclear war, a scenario feared right after we saw the Twin Towers crumbling in flames on that fateful day of 2001 (back then, DEFCON-3 was declared). It's up to James Bond and his American companion, NSA agent Jinx to stop him by infiltrating his base in North Korea and subsequently the Antonov jet which the antagonist uses to oversee and execute his operation. And naturally, they succeed.

The Daniel Craig era frequently gets the laurels for introducing a grittier Bond to reflect how the world has changed after September 11, 2001. Die Another Day, on the other hand, is lambasted for a lack of depth attributed to the special effects department and sharing the style with the millennial movies we now pretend to forget how much we enjoyed. The Craig era showed us the twist and turns provoked as a consequence of 9/11: Brokers for terrorists and shadowy operators who speculate with the stock market after one of these acts is carried on, rogue agents using technology to strike through the distance, bureaucrats placed by the enemy in Whitehall and obsessed with surveillance, to name a few examples. But, Die Another Day was the closest film released to the date of the 9/11 event and, therefore, showed us a less watered-down scenario and almost directly made James Bond fight our biggest fears: A zealous extremist wanting to take control of the West sowing panic. People who seemed unbeatable and indistinguishable. People embedded in our society, smiling to the camera while plotting against the soil they were walking by. 

Never forget.

 

Nicolás Suszczyk

*The author has written Beyond The Ice: The Case For and Against Die Another Day. Get this book in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon and BookDepository.

*Photos sourced by Thunderballs.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Orwellian Nature of 'Tomorrow Never Dies'

 

Many could argue that, out of all the James Bond films of the Pierce Brosnan era, Tomorrow Never Dies is the most simplistic one. By no means I'm saying that makes it a bad film and I immensely enjoy it with every rewatch, since I love its pacing and action scenes although, in comparison with GoldenEye, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, the film feels a bit more urbane and rough when taking into account areas like the cinematography and editing - understandable, as production was very rushed with EON compromising to deliver the product for a Christmas 1997 release (a far cry from 2020!)

However, I have been recently re-reading George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984, and I found more than one connection to the 18th instalment in the Bond series. Previously, in my book The Bond of The Millennium, I pointed out a few similarities starting with the fact that Allan Cameron, the film's production designer, had previously worked in the big screen adaptation of Orwell's novel starring John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton and Richard Burton, appropriately released the year the novel written in 1948 was set. I found out a couple extra connections that will make you think twice before saying Tomorrow Never Dies is a shallow action film from the 90s.
 
Onboard a MIG jet containing a nuclear torpedo, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) escapes
from a missile fired by his own people!

 
One minute into the story, a small candid camera appears taking footage from a terrorist arms bazaar near the Russian border. The footage is received live and direct on the other side of the world: the Situation Room at the MI6 Headquarters in London. James Bond has infiltrated the improvised "terrorist supermarket" to identify the terrorists and the weapons present at the exchange. The material Bond is providing through the cameras causes a stir up at the British situation room: Admiral Roebuck from the British Navy insists in firing a cruise missile, while M, Head of the British Intelligence, wants 007 to finish his job. This is just the beginning of the underlying theme of the movie: the fight of a human being against technology. And, literally, once the missile is fired, Bond will have to evacuate a nuclear missile stored in a MIG fighter to avoid a catastrophe. 
 
The man goes against the technology that is meant to protect him as the weapon is in fact fired not by his enemies but his own people. In Orwell's classic, the protagonist Winston Smith begins a silent crusade against the ruling party and is constantly trying to hide his thoughts and reactions from the telescreen: a device operating simultaneously as TV screens, security cameras and microphones installed supposedly to "protect" citizens, although these are actually used purposedly for surveillance and to detect enemies of the Party ruled by the Big Brother.
 
Cybergirls are made attractive when TV screens slide over them in
Daniel Kleinman's main title sequence for
Tomorrow Never Dies.

 
Moving on after Daniel Kleinman's main title sequence, which shows us a couple of bald cybergirls looking enticingly attractive as a TV screen slides over their faces, we are introduced to the main villain: Elliot Carver, played by Jonathan Pryce. A media mogul whose biggest ambition is to "reach every human being on Earth", something he could have achieved if the Chinese hadn't refused broadcasting rights to their country.

Reach every human being on Earth. Isn't that Orwellian? More specifically, this is precisely what the Big Brother has achieved in the dystopian Oceania: through the telescreens installed at workplaces and residences of the members of the Exterior Party, he can go as far as detecting small unconscious tells that could give away a conspirator. One of the members is even imprisoned and ditched to oblivion because he muttered "Down with Big Brother" in a dreaming state. The only difference between the Big Brother and Carver could be that while the leader of Oceania completely disregards the proles (lower-class) and treats them as subhumans, the media mogul will always want to control any kind of audience and it's precisely this rejection from the Chinese government that makes him put his plan in motion.

 
Elliot Carver offers his "impartial" services to China and the United Kingdom during the launch of a new Carver Media Group Network satellite - hours after lighting the fuse between both powers.
   

Aided by American technoterrorist Henry Gupta, Carver tampers the position of a British warship on the South China Sea to pit the tripulation against the Chinese Air Force. Then, using a stealth boat universally undetected by radars, he sinks the warship with a torpedo/drill and destroys one of the Chinese jet fighters with a missile. Both countries are at the brink of war while Carver "has fun" making up the headlines for the new edition of his newspaper Tomorrow
 
The sighting of the villain in a dark room only illuminated by huge TV screens is quite reminiscent of the actions of the Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth, where Winston works to modify old articles from the Times when a news archive might compromise the apparent integrity of today's leaders. "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past," is one of the Party's slogans which justifies the Ministry of Truth's actions. Carver's plan relies precisely on manipulating the truth and making things look in a completely different way than how they really are. In 1984, Winston and Julia discuss at a point in the novel if the battles between Oceania and Eurasia are really taking place, and she argues that these "wars" actually don't exist but serve a purpose to manipulate society. The media mogul from Tomorrow Never Dies also uses a war instigated by him to provoke a state of chaos where he could act as an "impartial" middleman between the belligerent powers, improving his rating numbers and facilitating the rise to power of General Chang in China, which would grant him the broadcasting rights he had been refused. Written in 1948, during the post-war depression in England, 1984 offers a grim and hopeless perspective provoked by a post-war period in which a totalitarian and mighty man took advantage of the power granted to him in order to subdue society. Most likely, a China ruled by General Chang would feel pretty much similar to the Big Brother's Oceania with the Carver Media Group acting as an unconditional ally to the new, unelected government in a win-win situation.

Bond visits two of Carver's headquarters in Tomorrow Never Dies: one is located in Hamburg, where he holds a party to announce the launch of a new satellite, and there's another one which is a tower in Saigon, where 007 and his ally Wai Lin are taken after being captured in the aftermath of investigating the wreckage of the Devonshire - the warship sunk under orders of the media mogul. In both places, something in the decoration stands proudly: a huge banner featuring the face of Caver.
 
 
A heated "Two Minutes Hate" session in Michael Radford's big screen adaptation of
1984, which is about to turn into relief when the face of Big Brother is shown on the screens.


In 1984, Orwell frequently mentions the impact that the face of the Big Brother -which is prominently featured in banners or posters at working places and public buildings- produces in the members of the External Party: it's not really important what he says or if what he says is true, but everyone seems to be relieved by his presence as perceived during the Two Minutes Hate session that opens the novel:
 
"Drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother, (...) full of power and mysterious calm, and so vast that it almost filled up the screen. Nobody heard what Big Brother was saying. It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken."

It is clear that Carver wants to provoke similar feelings with his building in Saigon, a feeling that Bond and Wai Lin openly disrespect when they escape from the top floor of the edifice by using the banner as an improvised elevator, ripping off the media mogul's man. With more grace and style, but without any other kind of fear than the fear of heights as both agents are clinging to the edge of the banner hung on the building, hanging in the air meters away of the ground floor, this way, 007 can extend the courtesy of loud disrespect to Carver that Winston Smith couldn't extend to the Big Brother, which was limited to writing DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER in bold, capital letters on a page of his illegally acquired notebook.

When James Bond attends Carver's party in Hamburg, posing as a banker, he comes across the media tycoon's wife, Paris, who had a past with 007 years before their reencounter. Of course, Bond's womanizing attributes and line of work deteriorated the relationship and the secret agent ended up walking out on her in the still of the night, leaving Paris alone and eventually leading her to marry this powerful man because "he told her he loved her". Mrs Carver greets her former boyfriend with a loud slap, and eventually senses that he isn't there to socialize: "Tell me, James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?"

In order to protect Bond, Paris doesn't reveal to her husband the real identity of the secret agent, although Carver senses she's "a terrible liar". As the woman decides to forgive 007's actions and spends a night of passion with him in the posh Atlantic Hotel, Henry Gupta has been sitting before the monitors and analyzing the camera footage only to catch Paris' innocent quip about Bond's signature weapon and report to his boss. Comparing this to 1984, Gupta would be acting as the Thought Police who was tasked to detect and expose traitors to the regime in order to vaporize them: wiping them away from society, which was another way to say they were locked up, tortured and "re-educated" before they were killed. "Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up (...). There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to."
 
Winston Smith (John Hurt) avoids the two-way telescreen to write words against
the Big Brother on his notebook in
1984. It would be the beginning of the end for him, just
as it happens to Paris Carver in
Tomorrow Never Dies.

 
Near the third part of the novel, Winston and Julia are about to make love only to be discovered by a telescreen hidden beneath a picture framed on the wall of the apparently safe location they chose for their encounters. The telescreen, of course, was registering everything they were talking about as well as their intimate interactions, both things condemning them forever as they were breaking rules established in this dystopian version of London.

In the case of Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond discovers Paris Carver dead in his suite, the same place where they made love the night before. Paris' "crimes" were not only betraying her husband (or tacit "Big Brother") sentimentally, but also betraying his trust by hiding the fact Bond was a government spy. It was through her actions and words that she gave herself away, much like Julia in the novel who was a member of the Anti-Sex League and, like Winston, member of the External Party. During the event at Hamburg, Paris friendly chatted with Bond indistinct to the fact that her husband had this kind of "Thought Police" handled by none other than cyber-terrorist Gupta, who, despite the uncomfortable ambient noise, could isolate the conversation between the two and the woman's reference to 007 being a man who carried weapons - also disclosing that she knew him so intimately that she was aware he hid them under his pillow. That was crucial for Carver to sentence her to death.

Bond (Pierce Brosnan) gives the people what they want during his
final confrontation with Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce)


We move to the final minutes of the film and the final pages of the novel, both with a remarkably different ending: while Winston and Julia have succumbed to the torment imposed by the Ministry of Love, have betrayed each other and "re-educated" themselves into loving the Big Brother; Bond and Wai Lin share a big kiss underwater as Carver's stealth ship explodes in a massive ball of fire over the South China Sea, provoked by the detonation of the cruise missile he intended to fire into China. Moments earlier, the media mogul was confronted by 007 and left to be shredded by the Sea-vac, a gigantic drill he used to sink the HMS Devonshire. "You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot. Give the people what they want!", the secret agent yells before sending the tycoon to his inevitable doom. 
 
This is the exact opposite of 1984's climax, where readers aren't given what they want: we hope the protagonist and his girl to defeat the totalitarian regime, sending the Big Brother and his perverse intelligence apparatus to oblivion, imprisonment or even death, but in the end, the bad guys triumph and the "heroes" can do nothing to thwart this grim status quo they live in, not even the proles can do anything to do so. Tomorrow Never Dies, in contrast, is ruled by the laws of the action movies of the 90s and the formula of the (classic) James Bond films where the hero saves the world and gets the girl, thus giving us exactly what we want. What Bond tells Carver could very well have been said aloud on a board meeting of any media group or in a brainstorming session done between screenwriters, directors and producers: "Bond must kill the villain and get the girl, give the people what they want!".
 
As an epitaph for Elliot Carver and his broken dreams, we have the exaggeratedly Orwellian end credits song: "Surrender", performed by k.d. Lang and written by Don Black. "Your life is a story I've already written. The news is that I am in control. And I have the power to make you surrender. Not only your body, but your soul", Lang's enticing voice sings, evoking something that the Big Brother himself would have said. In fact, Winston Smith is tortured by the treacherous O'Brien to the point his soul is controlled, and he is forced to betray the woman he loved, which is at a point the debate the couple had: "They can make you say anything, but they can't make you believe it. They can't get inside you."

"The truth is now what I say. I've taken care of yesterday", the song says, bringing us back to the essential function of the Ministry of Truth where Winston worked: taking care of yesterday to make sure what the Big Brother said was established and confirmed as the truth - particularly with political promises he made or allegiances he had in the past. 
 
While many think Tomorrow Never Dies wasn't a worthy follow-up to Martin Camobell's hit actioner GoldenEye, the truth is that the Roger Spottiswoode film dealt with a subject that is quite relevant today as it evidences the power these media moguls have. Not so long ago, there was a debate on how the businessmen behind social media platforms could limit some of the most powerful leaders of the world, or how some of these leaders accused mass media of spreading "fake news". Two decades earlier, the eighteenth James Bond adventure brought that to the table and reinforced the key ideas of mass surveillance present in George Orwell's classic. Therefore, next time you watch it, you should take Tomorrow Never Dies far more seriously.
 
 
Nicolás Suszczyk
 

Friday, November 20, 2020

IO Interactive To Develop And Publish A New James Bond Video Game

It all took us by surprise, yesterday, when video game developer studios IO Interactive announced their upcoming project to be a video game concerning the origins of the world's most celebrated secret agent, James Bond, as he climbs up the ranks to earn his 00-status. A teaser announcement video debuted on both the developer's official social media channels as well as the James Bond film franchise pages.

This is all - of course - a call for celebration among Bond fans in the video gaming subdivision of the fandom as it always has been a dream to see developer IO Interactive to work on a James Bond video game, especially when their original series, Hitman, has paid several homages to Ian Fleming's super-spy for two decades since its debut release in 2000. IOI's recent two efforts in the series even doubled down on the Bondian atmosphere regarding locations, stealth, outfits, methods of tackling the missions, characters, even going as far to hiring Sean Bean, who played Alec Trevelyan in the 1995 film, GoldenEye, to provide his voice and likeness for a special antagonist in the second installment in the World of Assassination trilogy, two years ago.


Last we've had a James Bond video game officially licensed by Danjaq (the company holding the rights to Eon Productions and the James Bond intellectual property on the screen), it was all but unfortunate effort that almost eliminated chances of seeing another entry in a video gaming form, called 007 Legends, released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the franchise back in 2012. Of course, its poor commercial performance and inadequately realized execution led to its developer Eurocom to shut down, and Activision, the publisher of the title with exclusive rights to release video games based on the 007 property, let go of the license a couple of months later. Another albeit a less extravagant attempt to bring Bond back to video gaming form was made in 2015 on mobile phones developed by Glu Mobile, entitled World of Espionage, which was universally panned due to its uninspired content and was pulled from digital stores in a year's time.

Since then, several attempts by the fandom to bring Bond back to the video gaming format was made, including the successful Half-Life 2 conversion mod, the multiplayer game GoldenEye: Source among others. Another fan project based on Nintendo 64's GoldenEye 007 entered development in 2017, which has been ongoing for three years with positive reception from fans, aimed for release sometime in August 2022 at the time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film the game was based on. However, that was not meant to be, as Danjaq issued a cease and desist letter to the developers which ended plans to construct the game furthermore. The project, instead, diverted into an original title called Spies Don't Die, which is an original first-person shooter experience inspired by the aforementioned game as well as other 1990s titles from the same video game genre.

With the upcoming Bond film, No Time to Die, experiencing several delays, and adding to that it will be a long wait till the next era in the film franchise comes along with a new actor in the role of the secret agent, this video gaming experience will be a welcome change to soften the wait. At this point, development on the video game is understood to be in its very early stages, possibly having gotten past only the rough sketches to outline the game itself, IO Interactive, in its announcement description, stated that they were looking to hire elite talent from around the world to join their team. Currently, the project is only given a working title, conveniently named Project 007.

From a speculative standpoint, this upcoming video game could very well be played from third-person perspective in the style of the Hitman video games, even possibly drawing similarities between the two titles, and even probably to be developed on IO Interactive's very own Glacier engine the same as the last four Hitman titles, including the upcoming one, which is due for release on 20 January 2021. It is also entirely possible that full development on the new Bond game won't begin until Hitman III is released. We previously had third-person shooter Bond video games during both Electronic Arts and Activision's reigns – those being Tomorrow Never Dies (1999), Everything or Nothing (2004), From Russia with Love (2005), a port of Quantum of Solace (2008) on PlayStation 2 and Blood Stone (2010). Whether the video game is developed within the film universe or adopting a separate timeline of its own, featuring none of the cinematic actors who portrayed Bond before but a new one, remains to be seen. What also is intriguing is whether the origins story of Bond working his way up to 00-status will be inspired by Fleming's outline of the two-kill initiation program, or adapt the one seen in the pre-title sequence of Casino Royale (2006).

All in all, this is a very exciting news. To keep up with the official coverage, visit the official site here.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to comment on the topic below!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The music of 'No Time To Die': title song by Billie Eilish, soundtrack by Hans Zimmer


It was confirmed today that Californian singer Billie Eilish will perform the main title song for the upcoming James Bond film, No Time To Die, which will be released in April. The motion picture soundtrack will be in charge of legendary composer Hans Zimmer after the silent departure of Dan Romer due to "creative differences".

There are no more details regarding No Time To Die's title song, only that it was written by Eilish's brother FINNEAS, nominated for five Grammy awards. Eilish is, at 18 years of age, the youngest Bond main title performer in history.

It is understood that Zimmer has been working on the score of the film for weeks before his  official announcement. In 2020, the German composer will also work on the soundtrack for Top Gun: Maverick and Wonder Woman 1984. In 2000 he composed the soundtrack for Mission: Impossible II.

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 JamesBond.com 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.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Explore the James Bond film trailers with 'A View To A Thirll', out now


The James Bond films have been entertaining audiences from all over the world for nearly six decades, and 2020 will see the return of agent 007 once more when No Time To Die hits theatres in April. Just like Ian Fleming’s character has been adapted to different audiences, different marketing approaches were made through the years to sell each one of the 25 official films and other two unofficial productions. A View To A Thrill focuses on the trailers of each James Bond film and analyses how these promotional features had presented radical changes over the years, from the old times when a narrator shouted that James Bond was back in action to the present day where a fast-paced editing of action scenes and dialogues gives the potential viewer a thrilling look to an upcoming 007 adventure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicolás Suszczyk became a James Bond fan when he first watched GoldenEye at the age of 7 on his native Buenos Aires. He has contributed on many publications related to the world of James Bond and film entertainment, besides running the websites The GoldenEye Dossier and The Secret Agent Lair, which he co-admins with Jack Walter Christian. In 2019 he published the books The World of GoldenEye and The Bond of The Millennium, also available on Amazon stores.

To purchase the book, please visit the official site. You can also get updates on the book's Facebook and Instagram pages.