Saturday, December 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicolás Suszczyk