Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The only way to redignify James Bond

 



It’s October 5, 2022. Happy 60th anniversary, James Bond!

That’s what I would say if I was enthusiastic to celebrate this anniversary. Unfortunately, I’m not. One year ago, the worst spectacle ever to be associated with this great and glorious character was about to be screened in US theatres. Misleadingly titled No Time To Die, the film not only pushed Daniel Craig’s Bond to commit suicide in the bombastic climax but also made him lose every battle in every war: he takes every action after being outsmarted by the two villains; rarely acts like a spy, deciding just to break up and leave to an unplanned Jamaican vacation, ignoring the red flag that the man he put in prison could have a connection to his girl, and even bows down with a pathetic “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I apologize, I apologize, I’ll do whatever you want” to the main villain, the needle-thin Lyutsifer Safin played by Rami Malek. Let’s not forget Safin pathetically ambushes and shoots him four times in the back, turning the legendary 007 into a rookie first-person shooter player who had just tried Call of Duty for the first time in his life. Before that, he rejects Ana De Armas’ advances and barely touches a girl in the whole film, which is another death – the death of a well-known characteristic of his personality which is his frequent womanizing.

Using the #60yearsofBond hashtag, today we are celebrating a funeral and the fact that it all ended in a film that would make General G and the whole of SMERSH proud. And we are ordered to get past behind it, pretend nothing happened, and trust in that April Fools’ Day joke at the end of the movie reading “James Bond Will Return”. Apparently, people are way too reassured by that end credits line that was once a promise and it now feels like a mockery to those who have grown to admire and respect the character.


You would say that I’m just complaining and not offering a solution. Is there a solution? Can James Bond return after his death? Can we still depend on this man in this new world of new threats and new enemies?

A well-known Bond fan, someone I respect a lot and I have been following his work since my childhood, proposed that the character should return to the 1960s, his glory period, and from Bond 26 on every film should be a period-piece because in that way today’s society wouldn’t complain of 007’s “uncomfortable” attitudes. His intentions are noble, but I beg to differ. I think James Bond is a man for all seasons that always imposed his place in every era: the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and so on. GoldenEye, my favorite film of all time, is the perfect example of this: we have a new world, a world that clearly has no place for Bond in terms of ethics and ambitions. In a world where technology replaces the man in the field, women have more prominence, and the utility of a Cold Warrior began to wane… but Bond still saved the world and despite his “questionable” attitudes, the world depends on him and he doesn’t have to change a thing. Okay, maybe leave the cigarettes for a change, but not much more. The formula, with small tweaks, can work every time and in every era and will still achieve a huge number of followers. As much as Bond offends them, will they stop watching the films? Certainly not.

Leaving that aside, where’s the guarantee that setting future Bond films in the 60s will avoid the woke radar and have these people enjoy it and ignore whatever they find unsuitable? Don’t forget, the social justice warriors don’t judge the films only after 2013, they question “offensive” scenes of Dr No, Goldfinger and Thunderball knowing very well that those films were made when the world had different values. And they come over and over again with the same arguments. So, I bet that “Bond 26 will be set in the 60s” might be a way to attract the Sean Connery nostalgics, but in the end, we will get Bond films in a retelling of the 60s adapted to today’s moral viewpoints: things like making Bond black, Moneypenny a field agent, Tanner a queer secretary, a “multicultural” England. In the end, we had a film of the 2020s with a 1960s makeover. Check out this year’s version of The Ipcress File to have this pseudo-60s feeling that could be applied to 007 and you’ll get my points.

Then again, which is the only way to give a dignified return to James Bond?

If the series was rebooted, I’d say the first step is to deboot it. Return to where it was left in 2002, heal the damage caused by No Time To Die with a film that will remind us what Bond is and why we enjoy his films. I don’t think we should simply ignore what happened. The Cary Joji Fukunaga film is a cavity in a molar that can’t just be covered, it has to be healed for benefit of the franchise. Considering that a brand of the Heracles nanobot-based virus is still killing everyone with the Blofeld DNA around the world and Bond’s suicide, contrary to the official version, didn’t solve anything… this brand of Heracles could be something the villain is threatening the world with.

Gareth Mallory is arrested for ordering the development of a mass destruction weapon. The Defense Minister appoints Sir Miles Messervy (who else but Anthony Hopkins to play him) as head of the 00 Section again. He is informed that between 2006 and 2021 there was a political takeover of the British Secret Service that led to the demotion of all active personnel and recruits were assigned with cover identities. One of them was given the new “James Bond 007”, who committed suicide after being infected with a variant of Heracles. Messervy brings back to active duty none other than the real James Bond, now exiled in Nassau…


Yes, Pierce Brosnan. And no, I don’t oppose a 70-year-old Bond if it means debooting the franchise and restoring it to where it belongs. Liam Neeson still does action movies at this age, so we can argue that the 70s are the new 50s. Both Roger Moore and Sean Connery played Bond well into their 50s. And if
Never Say Never Again made some fun of 007’s “advanced” age, why not make the opposite with Brosnan’s return? Make him scuba dive, being incredibly fit and strong for his age: still desired by women in their 40s, impeccably looking in his tux. This is the same Bond from GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Removed from the job by political influences in 2005 mimicking real-life facts about Brosnan’s exclusion from the role, and now brought again when the world is in danger.

The new Bond –correction, the genuine Bond – will be as womanizing, courageous and debonair as we last saw him. Sleeps with the heroine and the villainess, enjoys a bottle of Bollinger like a connoisseur instead of a drunken guy in the nearest dark alley, is respectful and obedient to M, gets assigned a mission instead of going rogue, defeats the mastermind and brings hope back to the world. He survives, naturally. And the franchise survives as well, leaving the “James Bond” from No Time To Die in the only place he belongs: next to Sir James Bond, Evelyn Tremble, Dr Noah and the whole lot from the 1967 satirical version of Casino Royale.



I can’t personally see another way to restore the myth of James Bond back to his early days of glory with this single deboot film so we can move on with another British, straight, white male actor in the role in original stories set in the current times. There is no way to avoid the complaints of a sensitive society so there’ll be a huge deal of protest for Bond antics in today’s world, but honestly, why should we care? The Bond films or books weren’t made for them, so they have every right to dislike them and surely Netflix can offer plenty of alternatives to satisfy their interest. Speaking of sensitivity, it surprises me nobody is offended by the fact that Craig-Bond preferred to die instead of assuming his parental duties and taking care of his daughter. Or the fact that right after two years where people died of a virus transmitted by touch, “James Bond” commits suicide after contracting a similar type of virus – a hopeless message that the world didn’t need in 2021, let alone coming from a name associated to saving the world from a madman who wanted to exterminate the human race with poisonous gas or another madman who plotted to drop an atomic bomb in the United States or Great Britain.

Since we are all so adamant about returning to Ian Fleming, and the producers themselves always insist that they turn back to Fleming whenever they get lost, why not understand him better when he said “I don’t write for a suffering humanity”? I think that makes it very clear that he would have shrugged at the sole thought of No Time To Die as the film is overloaded with people who suffer – and Bond’s demise is even caused by someone else’s suffering, as the villain has nothing personal against him. His apparent vendetta is against Mr White’s family, and Bond becomes a target only for being attached to the woman he is obsessed with!

Speaking of Fleming, an ending of No Time To Die that would have garnered all my applause would have been to have Bond living in Jamaica after recovering from his wounds or Heracles and an envoy of the Minister of Defense handing him a Colt weapon with the words FOR SPECIAL SERVICES engraved, which would serve as a homage to John Gardner as well. Since I doubt this idea never entered the minds of the ones who wasted five years in delivering that lacklustre and insulting production, I would propose this moment to conclude a deboot film with Brosnan.

That said, on this 60th anniversary, I thank EON for 40 years of James Bond films.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

‘Confidential Mission’: An Arcade Game For Those Who Speak Spy

 


The popularity of secret agents reached a new height in the late 1990s thanks to the success of Pierce Brosnan’s first three James Bond films –GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, released in 1995, 1997 and 1999, respectively– and the 1996 film version of Mission: Impossible starring Tom Cruise. Not only the aforementioned films were a critical and financial success and revamped a phenomenon that began in the 1960s, but that effect was increased by its video game versions.

Rare’s GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64 is still considered among the best first-person shooters ever made, and while the game adaptations of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough by Electronic Arts (the former for Playstation only, the latter with multiple console versions that included both Playstation and Nintendo 64) didn’t reach the quality of its predecessor, they still delivered hours of fun that helped to solidify the success of Brosnan’s Bond on the big screen. Something similar happened with the video game adaptation of Mission: Impossible for Nintendo 64 in 1998, later ported to Sony’s console.

By 1999, both Nintendo and Sony were able to exploit James Bond and Mission: Impossible. It was time for SEGA to make a move ahead of the release of their Dreamcast console.

When Bernie Stolar joined SEGA of America as President and COO and began work on the Dreamcast console, he was given some unfortunate news. Electronic Arts would not be supporting the system. To combat this, Bernie acquired Visual Concepts to create the 2K Sports franchise to replace games like Madden NFL Football. The titles were so spectacular that many actually preferred them to Madden. This became such a problem for Electronic Arts, that in 2006, they acquired NFL license exclusivity. Mr. Stolar, according to ZOOM Platform CEO, Jordan Freeman, was a massive James Bond fan. Mr. Freeman says he spoke about Confidential Mission with Bernie and learned some interesting details. For one, being the James Bond he was, he would always request at conferences to walk out to the original 1962 version of the James Bond Theme. A sample of one such occasion can be seen in the video below:


Mr. Stolar also expressed to Jordan his mutual love of Pierce Brosnan’s work, particularly the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, which Brosnan starred and co-produced, and it’s multiple doppelgangers with hats ending scene.

In 1999, the Bond license was in Electronic Arts’ hands. Bernie still wanted an espionage-based Bond-esque game, though. He ended up convincing SEGA of Japan to create a SEGA Naomi arcade game that paid tribute to all the best spy thrillers including James Bond, Mission: Impossible, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., etc. He requested that the arcade game be eventually ported to Dreamcast as well. The Dreamcast was to be known for near perfect or even sometimes superior arcade ports.

The answer came with Confidential Mission, a title that in many ways married both franchises along with the usual checklist of spy films of the 90s: a female Russian scientist, a luxury train going through the snow, a submarine and a satellite weapon – plus the obligatory tuxedo-clad action hero, in this case, Howard Gibson: someone who should be aptly described as a Brosnan Bond look-alike with the voice of Sterling Archer (actually, voiced by Barry Gjerde), working the CMF – Confidential Mission Force, a not-so-subtle nod to the Impossible Mission Force integrated by Jim Phelps or Ethan Hunt. Following a tradition more attached to Bond than Cruise’s IMF agent, Gibson is joined in all of his missions by Jean Clifford, a sexy blonde who is as competent and skilled as he is, and controlled by the one who has to take the Player 2 joystick or a lightgun.



The game, first released as an arcade title and then ported to Dreamcast, is an on-rails shooter mimicking most of the assets of The House of the Dead and Virtua Cop, two of SEGA’s most popular titles. Throughout the game, the players will have to go from stage to stage doing the usual “shoot everyone” antics of the on-rails adventures, avoiding innocent bystanders and completing some quick-time events that involve escaping from death-traps or rescuing an asset from the hands of enemy agents.

A narration takes us into the plot, briefing the players that a group of international terrorists seized control of the World Coalition’s latest hi-tech spy satellite. The first place to visit is an Archaeological Museum where the last information concerning this satellite has been found. There, Gibson and Clifford find out that an organization known as Agares has been behind it all. As they are about to retrieve a disc with valuable information, they are attacked by an unnamed associate of Agares apparently running the museum. As Gibson and Clifford move through the stage, they’ll face off this level boss who (shades of Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights) activates weapons hidden on the ancient Egyptian statues with remote control as he tries to shoot down our hero.



The second mission takes place on a train travelling through snowy mountains, where programmer Irina Mikhailova has been kidnapped and forced to reprogram the satellite guidance recovered by the agents in the museum. This level, so reminiscent of the Train stage in GoldenEye 007 for the ambience filled with narrow corridors, will prove to be a huge challenge for the untrained player as the chance of provoking casualties are all around us with the many passengers not involved in Agares’ activities. The stage will end over the roof of the carriages, with Howard and Jean shooting down enemy snowmobiles as well as an armoured vehicle commandeered by the Agares leader. In a way, this stage anticipated some of the schematics seen in Activision’s mainstream version of Quantum of Solace (2008) and seemed to be slightly inspired by the final levels of N64’s Mission: Impossible video game, based on the climax of the film.

For the third and final mission, the agents are ordered to infiltrate the Agares headquarters as the satellite control system is about to be transported on a submarine. Fighting their way in, they face off with the organization’s leader once more, who programs the satellite to strike at the CMF headquarters. In order to defeat him, the player will have to avoid tiny explosives thrown by the leader, outfitted with a suit that gives him the illusion of invisibility (similar to the NanoSuit we’ll see four years later in 007 Everything or Nothing) as he fires a golden weapon. Gunned down by the agents, the leader will use his last breath to destroy the base and escape aboard the submarine. In a typical Bondian fashion, Gibson reprograms the satellite and directs it to the submarine, defeating Agares and his leader for once and for all. Escaping on a boat, Clifford asks Gibson if he has any plans for the holidays, to which he simply replies that is “a confidential mission”.

While it can be argued that Confidential Mission is a mere attempt at ticking off all the boxes to make a Bond-like game avoiding by little the watchful eye of EON’s lawyers, and taking huge inspiration from the action/spy films of the 1990s with a simple story and they didn’t seem to hide it, that is perhaps what makes the game so enjoyable for fans of the genre. Even the soundtrack, by Seiichiro Matsumura, aims to the relaxed and cool side of espionage with a dynamic and catchy melody stage after stage. Enhancing the humorous side of the game, the end credits feature a couple of “outtakes” of the cutscenes in the style of the Jackie Chan films.

Let’s just say SEGA attempted to take advantage of the cultural impact of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond as its bigger competitors, Sony and Nintendo, had already placed their hands into it, and despite the naturally limited means of an on-rails shooter, never forget that GoldenEye 007 originally was meant to be an on-rails shooter that eventually evolved into a first-person game as we know it. Not counting the GoldenEye pinball machine from 1996 (curiously manufactured by SEGA), Confidential Mission was for Bond fans the closest we had to an arcade Bond game. And, interestingly, also for the spy genre fans since most light gun arcade machines at the time dealt with police officers, monsters or dinosaurs.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Teaser Trailer for 'Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One' is out

 


After having leaked online for a couple of minutes, the official trailer for the seventh outing in the Mission: Impossible film series initiated in 1996 is finally out. Dead Reckoning is the first chapter of a two-part stories and will be released in July 2023, with its second part set for a June 2024 release.

The trailer promises great action scenes and a huge challenge for Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt as his old IMF superior Eugene Kittridge, returning from Mission: Impossible and once again played by Henry Czerny, forces him to "pick a side". James Bond fans will see Christopher McQuarrie homaging Tomorrow Never Dies and For Your Eyes Only as Hunt and Grace, played by Hayley Atwell, escape handcuffed on a very small car in Italy. Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) are also returning along with regular IMF members Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).

Stay tuned for more news about this film!

Friday, March 18, 2022

The 007 Women, Pierce Brosnan Style - How Beauty, Brains and Erotism Can Get Along Very Well


The physical beauty of the James Bond girls always comes up whenever we discuss the 60-year-old franchise. Apart from the gun barrel sequence, the 007 gun logo, the tuxedo and the silenced Walther PPK, probably two of the most iconic images associated with the saga are related to women: Ursula Andress coming out of the water in a white bikini and a belt holding a hunting knife, or Shirley Eaton’s dead body painted in gold, originated in
Dr No (1962) and Goldfinger (1964), are continually bought back in magazines or TV sketches and cartoons parodying the saga. 

Bond’s womanizing was fully exploited in the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, with many ladies turning their eyes to the secret agent as he walked through the lobby of a five-star hotel. There was always a “harem” of ten or twelve girls that barely interacted with him, but they had the purpose of spicing up the interest of the male audience: geishas in You Only Live Twice (1967), astronaut trainees in Moonraker (1979) and circus acrobats in Octopussy (1983), to name some examples. George Lazenby mingled with a couple of patients on the villain’s “clinic”, but he was best remembered as the Bond who married and tragically lost his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), while Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence To Kill (1989) gave us the least sexualized Bond films until the recent No Time To Die (2021), which concluded Daniel Craig’s reboot era initiated with 2006’s Casino Royale.

So, how can we describe Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond cycle, extending from GoldenEye in 1995 to Die Another Day in 2002 –not forgetting the original video games 007 Nightfire (2002) and 007 Everything or Nothing (2004)– in terms of womanizing? As a very good, pleasant mix between erotism and romance.

"The Next Girl". Xenia Onatopp chalenges
Bond to race her in the treacherous mountain
roads of Monaco, to Caroline's disgust.

The fifth Bond actor has a particular predilection for well-educated women. In his three first films he seduces some kind of schooled girl: MI6 therapist Caroline (Serena Gordon) in GoldenEye, to convince her to write a good report to the new M after he recklessly tried to race a red Ferrari driven by a beautiful girl; Oxford professor Inga Bergstrom (Cecile Thomsen), who has a particular way of teaching Danish which involves a bed and intimate contact with 007; and Dr Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas) whom Bond "bribes" with sex to have a clean bill of health. One could think of these women as people who have burned their eyelids for years in a library to get their precious doctorates. The type who focused way too much on their career until Bond appeared, showing them a world outside academia. It is important to note that 007 was hardly emotionally involved with professional women, unless we count army careers, until the late 1970s and early 1980s: Holly Goodhead was an astronaut, Melina Havelock an archaeologist, Stacey Sutton a geologist. The 1990s films followed this trend of making us notice the modern Bond girls had a life other than dealing with crime (Pussy Galore and Tiffany Case), esoterism (Solitaire) or simply living out of villain as their kept women (Domino Derval, Andrea Anders, Jill Masterson).

As he seduces Caroline and Dr Warmflash, Bond uses his sex to achieve a goal: being declared apt for active service. While it could be argued that this is not a gentlemanly thing to do, the moment feels romantic and Brosnan’s delicate moves and soft voice are visibly different to a somewhat similar situation in Thunderball (1965), where Bond seduces Pat Fearing (Molly Peters) after an “accident” (actually the work of SPECTRE agent Count Lippe) could have killed him due to her negligence. While both moments are comparable –a compromising situation, unethical actions, insinuation of sex– you never feel that Brosnan’s Bond is taking advantage of the girl, unlike what happened with Sean Connery in the Terence Young film.

Bond and Natalya escape from an explosion.
At this point of the film, she got used to this
long before he appeared in her life.

The leading ladies of these films are built over contrasts. GoldenEye has Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen joining the new Bond: Scorupco plays Natalya Simonova, a computer programmer whose life is threatened after witnessing the thief of the dangerous satellite weapon the film is titled after. Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp, a former KGB agent and Soviet fighter pilot who enjoys murdering her targets during lovemaking.

We first meet the bad girl, Xenia, driving a red Ferrari 355 challenging Bond to a race over a winding mountain road in Monaco. He later encounters her playing baccarat at the Casino de Monte Carlo. She is completely luxurious, flaunting her fortune, suggestively smoking a cigar and with palpable sexual energy. People who watched the recent Netflix production, Inventing Anna, could find a slight rescemblance between her and the Russian scammer, in the sense of two women suffering shortage in their countries during their childhood and living the luxury and goods of the West in full as soon as they had the opportunity, something already represented by Daniel Kleinman's main title sequence for the film.

It is thanks to Xenia that we have the very first sex scene in a James Bond movie, not with him but with one of her victims – one she kills in a tide of passion, crushing him with her strong tighs. Her dresses, mostly black, always show her cleavage. There’s something in her that says “tempting”, “evil”, “dangerous”. On the other hand, Natalya, the good girl who leads the story, is completely benevolent: one of the least glamorous girls in the series, most of the time she wears the same outfit: alight blue cardigan, a cream shirt and a black skirt. As a frightened victim, she isn’t initially too open to Bond until she confirms he is on her side and her only hope. While we can imagine in Xenia being the “Queen Bee”, Natalya is the shy nerdy girl: the only time we see her looking dashing, she is on a Caribbean beach with 007 wearing a La Perla white bikini and, when she makes love to Bond, everything looks tender and romantic: we get to see a post-coital moment, barely lit by the fire of the hearth, which is incredibly calm considering the film’s fast pacing. To make things more romantic, she even worries that Bond may mean nothing to her. This is the polar opposite of Bond’s steamy moments with Xenia in a sauna room, where she tries to crush him with her legs and it all becomes a sadomasochistic dance where the secret agent’s biggest fight isn’t with the woman, but with her strong sexual magnetism and his feelings as a man.

In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), both of the main girls are on the side of good, but they are far from being equal. Paris Carver, played by Teri Hatcher, is the wife of the media mogul villain portrayed by Jonathan Pryce. She is the archetype of the American socialite, enjoying the good life and wealth provided by marrying one of the most powerful men in the world. Wai Lin, the Chinese Intelligence agent played by Michelle Yeoh, wears a silver dress at one point, but seems to be much more comfortable in leather combat gear and carrying an MP5 sub-machinegun in her hand rather than a cup of champagne. Interestingly, we never see her in a bikini or semi-naked at one point, which makes her the less sexualized Bond girl of this era.

A provocative Japanese teaser poster for
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), featuring
Bond kissing Wai Lin and a sexy pose
of Paris Carver.

Paris had a past with James Bond before she met Elliot Carver. Of course, she didn’t forgive Bond for leaving her one day without previous notice and has resented ever since, giving him the slap she has owed him for quite a long time when he reappears in her life, but things aren’t better with Carver. She feels empty, inside a bubble of false security provided by this man, barely noticed and treated as a mere decorative element –exactly the way people have many times perceived the Bond girls to be. Her dissatisfaction reaches its height when Carver sends her to extract information of Bond after the secret agent leaves him off the air during his inaugural speech, not believing the fact that she “barely” knew him. When she visits Bond's hotel room in Hamburg, we see what is probably the most suggestive moment in the series: the secret agent slowly undresses her, letting her black Ocimar Versolato dress falling to the floor. The way he does it an important connotation: Bond is freeing her, stripping her off that armour of false security given by her marriage with Carver. She doesn’t live too long, but she can feel like a woman again before the media tycoon exacts revenge.

Wai Lin isn’t initially too open to collaborating with James Bond: in separate ways, both infiltrate Carver’s offices in Hamburg. While he is avoiding gunfire from the security guards and fighting anyone coming at him, she just rappels down with one of her little gadgets, mockingly waving her hand as he spots her. Both are captured moments later, when they coincide exploring the wreckage of the HMS Devonshire warship, sunk under the villain’s orders. They have a perfect coordination as they escape Carver's hitmen through the streets of Saigon, on a motorbike while being handcuffed to each other. Nevertheless, she prefers to work alone and abandons Bond. When he saves her from several mercenaries she finally agrees that they should join forces to go after Carver together. She provides equipment for 007, an array of gadgets and even a new Walther, the P99 model. This girl fulfils a function generally attributed to the people of London, which gives her particular importance we haven’t seen before as Bond was always armed by the people at Q Branch or through an ally, like Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice. It isn’t until the very last moment of the film, where both are floating on the wreckage of the villain’s Stealth Boat, that they decide to “stay undercover” from the rescue boats and kiss.

"Don't go. Stay with me". Elektra King gets 
romantic with Bond, but he knows he has
a lot to investigate first.

The World Is Not Enough (1999) delighted us with the European exoticism of Sophie Marceau and the sympathy of America’s sweetheart Denise Richards. While we are describing the actresses, these words could also describe the characters: oil tycoon and businesswoman Elektra King and IDA nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones, both with very different manners and styles. Elektra King is in many aspects a deconstruction of Tracy Di Vicenzo: she is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who enjoys different kinds of thrills, from winter sports to losing a fortune at a casino table. Like Tracy, Bond’s mission involves staying close to her and acting as some kind of a guardian. Unlike Tracy, she is the film’s main antagonist and we learn later that she orchestrated the death of her father and seduced her former captor, terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle), to carry on her plan of provoking a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul, which would turn out in an increse of her pipeline's profit. She lives in a palace-looking residence in Azerbaijan, dresses in the finest silk and looks impressively beautiful on the red dress she wears at the L’Or Noir casino. She is the perfect reflection of a woman who grew up in the manly world of oil business and has a gender-related hidden agenda, secretly resenting her father for overtaking the business of her mother's family. Despite knowing James Bond goes against her plans, she can’t resist sleeping with him and later, when all is said and done, we see she feels disappointed at his apparent death. Renard senses this: “Was he a good lover?”, she bluntly replies: “What did you think? That I’d feel nothing?” referring to the terrorist's sensorial incapacity, a product of a bullet wound in the head that is slowly killing him. As it has been happening at this point in the series, sex is not shown but insinuated with post-coital moments. The World Is Not Enough offers us the chance to perceive the girl having an intimate moment with Bond and the villain. We see that everything is romantic, idylic and natural with the secret agent, but it’s all completely dull and insipid with the villain. Examples of a woman being more pleased with Bond than with the antagonist abound in the series, but this one has the distinction of having the woman being the main villain and showing her sexual satisfaction with the enemy and dissatisfaction with her co-conspirator, who was basically a tool for her intentions.

Don't judge her by her looks –
Christmas Jones has saved
Bond's life many times
in
The World Is Not Enough.

After Elektra’s betrayal, Bond’s love is transferred to Dr Christmas Jones – another professional woman. Richards’ character is a smoking hot nuclear scientist who isn’t comfortable with the constant sexism of her partners, and a name that doesn’t help. Bond seems to appreciate her more than her colleagues: “Don’t make any jokes, I’ve heard them all”, she warns him during their first meeting. “I don’t know any doctor jokes”, he replies. Dr Jones dresses in tank tops, shorts, tennis shoes, white blouses, more sporty wear than the distinguished wardrobe of Elektra. With the strong influence of Sophie Marceau’s role in this movie, it seemed natural that her counterpart would lack the same importance although she is crucial in saving Bond’s life at least two times. While Christmas, just like Natalya, is a civilian, the secret agent never diminishes her or tries to keep her completely out of danger. In a film like Dr No or For Your Eyes Only (1981), Bond always tried to keep ladies out of the business. This time, he never orders her to stay away from the battlefield and treats her as someone whose special knowledge would be useful to foil the enemy plan, another of the big changes the Brosnan era gave in building stronger female characters. After avoiding a huge blast, buzz-saw choppers, drowning and a nuclear explosion in a submarine, Dr Jones celebrates Christmas with James Bond in Istanbul. They make love on a bed as red and green lights, presumably coming from a Christmas tree, are reflected on their naked bodies. “I thought Christmas only came once a year”, Bond allows himself to joke as the film leads us to the end credits.

The franchise entered the new millennium in 2002 with Die Another Day. The film, which would be the cinematic swansong of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, presented one of the most diverse pairings of Bond girls to date: Afro-American Oscar winner Halle Berry and British blonde Rosamund Pike, of Gone Girl fame, in her first big-screen role. In his book Licence To Thrill, author James Chapman notices a “fire and ice” contrast of elements represented by the two girls of the 40th anniversary Bond film. There is also a reversal of loyalties when we compare the other two films that had an interracial pairing of Bond girls, Live And Let Die (1973) and A View To A Kill (1985), the films that opened and closed the Roger Moore era. In this case, the black girl is Bond's ally and the white girl is the vilainess, the exact opposite of what happened in those films.

Jinx showing her beautiful
anatomy to a Bond who has
"missed the touch of a 
good woman"

Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson, played by Berry, is an NSA agent who eventually teams up with Bond on his quest against General Moon, a radicalized North Korean officer threatening the West with a solar-beam based space weapon. She has the tradition of being the first black woman to be completely on Bond’s side, as previous coloured characters like Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) and May Day (Grace Jones) switched sides throughout the films they appeared in. Jinx's appearance in Caribbean waters is a clear nod to Ursula Andress, although her bikini is orange and not white. Orange is a bright, vibrant colour evoking passion, while white evokes pureness – we could see how Honey Ryder was lost in the ways of the world, unlike Jinx who has full control of her actions and acts like a well-trained operative. This subject may be something trivial if it wasn’t for Jinx’s predilection of vivid colours in her clothing, particularly during Gustav Graves’ Ice Palace party in Iceland where all the girls are outfitted in icy gammas to tune in with the surroundings. Jinx wears a bright pink/purple Donatella Versace dress, standing out in the crowd of beauties. She is passionate and open to 007’s feelings, which the film shows by having 007 actually having sex with her on camera. Halle Berry is not only the first Afro-American female lead in Bond film, but also the first to have proper sex with him instead of the usual post-coital moment. Compare her to Miranda Frost, Rosamund Pike’s character: she is an MI6 agent, completely cold towards Bond, as her surname implies. Her sex scene with Bond lacks the ardour he experienced with Jinx, even David Arnold’s music underlining the moment feels “cold” in comparison to the fully orchestrated theme we hear when Brosnan and Berry make love in Cuba. Miranda barely has an expression and has aristocrat antics which are too different to the streetwise Jinx. We can see this in their final showdown, involving cold weapons: the NSA agent wears army fatigues and defends herself with throwing knives and the occasional elbow hit here and there, the MI6 agent winds her sword, using all of her fencing knowledge, and is dressed for the occasion on a black leather sports bra and white pants. An exchange also reveals the different nature of these two women: while Frost comments that Bond was with her last night, Jinx replies: “He did you? I didn’t know he was that desperate”.

But why would these two girls fight? Because Miranda Frost is actually a villain. Much like Alias’ Sydney Bristow, this woman has three identities: (a), Gustav Graves’ publicist and personal assistant, (b) an MI6 agent sent undercover to investigate Graves, and (c) Graves’ long-time accomplice from the days before he adopted –through DNA transplant– the Western facade of Gustav Graves and was Colonel Moon, the man Bond is sent to kill at the beginning of the film. She may be comparable to GoldenEye antagonist Alec Trevelyan, but while the former 006 just staged his death and resurfaced nine years later; Miranda was right there under everyone’s nose and tipping Moon of each of MI6’s movements against him, including a British operation which involved his assassination and the intervention of James Bond.

Miranda Frost threatens Jinx. Die Another Day
saw the first time two Bond girls have a
showdown together.

Twenty years on, the merits of Die Another Day are continually diminished –if not blatantly insulted– considering that the film had to introduce 007 in a post-9/11 world and the story did represent the subjects that were on the media’s agenda back in the early 2000s: people threatening the West from the inside, North Korea being part of the “Axis of Evil”, the prominence of the NSA, just to name a few. Given the popularity of Halle Berry and the successful box office numbers of the Lee Tamahori film, EON planned a spin-off Jinx movie which was even written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and set for a 2004 release. It didn’t get made for multiple reasons and the producers decided to focus on Casino Royale instead. But to this day, no Bond girl got that close to having her own film.

People who grew up with the Pierce Brosnan James Bond adventures on the big screen could enjoy –and control– their Bond through the digital environments of the Electronic Arts video games 007 Nightfire and 007 Everything or Nothing. The former, coinciding with the premiere of Die Another Day, took Bond from Austria to Japan and outer space and had the ace of spies joined by three female spies: French Intelligence agent Dominique Paradis, CIA’s Zoë Nightshade (returning from the 2001 title Agent Under Fire), and Australian operative Alura McCall, not forgetting the treacherous Kiko Hayashi. The latter had a high-sounding Hollywood cast lending their voice and likeness which included Shannon Elizabeth as geologist Serena St Germaine, top model Heidi Klum as the villainous Katya Nadanova and singer Mya as NSA agent Mya Sterling.

The Bond girls of the Pierce Brosnan era were attractive in many ways. They were beautiful and desirable, but also smart and relevant. These characters aren’t afterthoughts and they all carry a function in the film, in two occasions moving the story along and with her stories fully developed. Brosnan’s Bond was so gentlemanly that to date he is the only actor to have accomplished Moneypenny’s dreams, even in a rather dreamy sequence. And while Judi Dench’s M called him “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, she quickly ended up seeing the big picture in Bond’s way over the advice of her analysts. So in a way –a very different way, mind you– it could be said that even M fell for this Bond’s charms.


Straight Up, With A Twist: The Daring Women of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond is out now on Kindle. Click here to order.

 

Nicolás Suszczyk

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