Die Another Day

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is having a really bad day. He’s been captured by the North Koreans after trying to sell them some “conflict diamonds” in a sting operation, and he has been treated — gasp — the way a captured spy is generally treated in these circumstances. That is, he’s been tortured and interrogated and thrown in a filthy cell, instead of being handcuffed to a nuclear bomb or dropped into a shark tank or strapped to a laser table (that comes later). This has pissed him off. The torture and confinement is probably bad enough, but to add insult to injury, when he is released by the North Koreans he looks almost exactly like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, drawing one of the most unfair invited comparisons in the history of filmmaking.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? You’d never guess, but the bad guy has, unbelievably, a big space laser. After Diamonds Are Forever, after Goldeneye, after Austin freaking Powers, the bad guy has a big space laser. This time, he’s a Richard-Branson-esque capitalist who is really a believed-dead North Korean Army officer who’s gotten some kind of face transplant or mind-meld or something. He promotes the big space-laser as a “second sun” (ironically, he is, himself, a “second son” of a North Korean general) and calls it Icarus. So apparently he either has a keen sense of irony or else he believes everyone on the planet is a complete idiot.

Anyhoo, Mr. Diamond Merchant Who’s Really A Presumed Dead North Korean Army Officer builds a giant space laser so that he can blow up the DMZ at the border of North and South Korea, allowing North Korea to invade South Korea. If it wants to — I can’t remember if they even mention that in the movie.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Bond, as I say, is captured by the North Koreans, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured. He’s let out, kicked out of MI6, and goes looking for this Xao fellow, a North Korean guy who happened to be standing nearby when a suitcase full of diamonds exploded. He tails Xao to Cuba and meets Jinx, who’s apparently some kind of American girl spy or something. He and Jinx try to get Xao, but he gets away.

Then, like in A View to a Kill, the plot completely changes halfway through the movie. Unlike A View to a Kill, the second half of the movie turns out to have something to do with the first half. This guy Gustav Graves shows up and he’s got a big space laser. Bond doesn’t like him because he deals in conflict diamonds, so he goes to the guy’s fencing club and challenges him to a duel. The duel ends up taking over the entire club (and destroys Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy,” which, I’ll bet you didn’t know, hangs in a private fencing club in London).

Bond then pursues Graves to this place with a lot of ice, where Graves is showing off his big space laser. Bond has come with MI6 agent Miranda Frost. Jinx is there too. Bond is certain Graves is connected to Xao somehow. What he learns is that Graves is actually Xao’s brother, believed dead but actually having a face transplant or something and calling himself a British diamond merchant now.

Anyway, Bond finds this out (or Jinx does, I think) and Xao shows up and chases Bond across the ice. Graves turns on his big space laser and melts a giant piece of ice, forcing Bond to surf, which he actually does twice in this movie. And at a certain point your mind just snaps, because there are no two activities more incongruous than surfing and big explosive action thrillers (Point Break notwithstanding).

Oh, and Miranda Frost turns out to be a bad guy.

Bond and Jinx team up to stop Graves from blowing up the DMZ in a big action set-piece featuring a sword fight between two women on a plummeting, flaming 747.

WOMEN? Jinx, the good girl, is played by Halle Berry. Miranda Frost, the bad girl, is played by Rosamund Pike. Guess which one is memorable?

Halle Berry won an Oscar while working on Die Another Day but she still ends up having to be rescued by Bond, not once but twice.

Madonna, in addition to singing the title song, shows up as a fencing instructor. It’s almost like the 1967 Casino Royale, with stars big and small showing up to do their cameos.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Gustav Graves isn’t cool at all. He’s a sneering, obvious bore. Having a literally fake face is no excuse. Xao is slightly more cool as the Second Villain, but I have to wonder about the diamonds imbedded in his face. Did his doctor, when operating on him, say “I have bad news for you, you will lose all your hair, all your skin pigment, and your irises, and worst of all, it is impossible to remove the diamonds imbedded in your skin”? Or was it more like this:

DOCTOR: Those diamonds imbedded in your face look painful. I’ll have to operate.
XAO: Are you crazy? With a gimmick like this I’m sure to make Lead Villain for sure!

WEATHER ANOMALIES: The sun shines in Cuba, giving everything a golden, summery glow. It does not shine, however, in North Korea, where everything is dingy and gray. Which I guess means that Communism is not, in and of itself, capable of extinguishing the sun. All of this explains why Graves is interested in creating a sun of his own — he didn’t get any of it in North Korea.

NOTES: I watched this movie with actor/blogger James 

in attendance, so forgive me ifI’m not getting everything in the plot right. It was weird to watch this, the 20th Bond movie, after watching the other 19 in a row, and watching no other movies in between, with a comparative Bond neophyte. He kept vocally protesting the movie’s detachment, artificiality and dramatic inertia, all things that moviegoers generally overlook when watching Bond movies. Here I was appreciating the lighting and the relatively complex plotting, and Urbaniak is trying to compare it to a real movie. Which, at the end of the day, it is not.  (As a kind of palette cleanser, we watched the opening of Citizen Kane — as head-snapping juxtaposition of artistic realities as I think is possible on a movie screen.)

A note (sorry) on music: During the action-packed climax, Urbaniak made note of the Carmina Burana knockoff playing on the score.  I noticed it too, and noticed another Carmina Burana knockoff playing under the climax of Pirates this weekend.  And I realized that Carmina Burana has, somehow, in the past 20 years or so, become a staple of a certain kind of film scoring.  How did that come to be?  Dr. No gets by with “Three Blind Mice” but Die Another Day must bring in Carl Orff.  But whenever there’s some kind of high-stakes action sequence now, here comes the furiously chanting choirs again.  How did film scores become showcases for 20th-century classical music?  In fifty years will people watch movies like Die Another Day and Pirates and think “Wow, those Early 21st-centuryers sure loved their imitation Orff!”

I don’t remember noticing all the gadgets when the movie came out, but they sure stick out now. They’re all over the place. I didn’t mind the invisible car when it showed up in 2002 but it bothered me now. Who knows, maybe in ten years everyone will have invisible cars and we’ll watch Die Another Day and chuckle at how outdated and clumsy Bond’s Vanquish is.

I also remember enjoying Cleese’s performance as Q in the theater, but it seems just as dreary and unfunny now as any late Cleese performance.

It never occurred to me before, but there’s a scene in the beginning where the North Koreans find a photo of Bond and he’s a dead ringer for Peter Jennings. And suddenly the career of Peter Jennings became 100% more interesting.

Xao, as I say, chases Bond across the ice in his Jaguar. Like Bond’s car, Xao’s is outfitted with rocket-launchers and machine guns and so forth. Now, I can see why Bond’s car has all that stuff (or, to be honest, I can’t see why it has all that stuff, but I’ve grown accustomed to the tradition of it) but I can’t for the life of me understand why Xao feels he needs to have a chaingun and rocket launchers in his Jaguar. And the whole sequence falls apart for me there. I don’t know why that’s the breaking point for me in a movie that includes a big space laser, a hotel made out of ice and Madonna as a fencing instructor, but here we are.

Bond sneaks into the bad guy’s arctic lab, a glass dome that is, of course, made up of hexagons. Nothing futuristic was ever accomplished without hexagons. Hugo Drax knew that.

Bond and Jinx sneak into the bad guy’s airfield using — what? I’m sorry, they use what to breach the airfield’s security system? Wirecutters? To cut through a chain link fence? Does Bond’s watch no longer have a miniature buzz saw on it?

In the explosive climax, Bond and Jinx bail out of a crashing 747 by climbing into a helicopter in the plane’s cargo bay and starting it up as it plummets toward earth. I could be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure it is possible to do that.

There is a valedictory aspect to Die Another Day, a kind of summing-up. Lots of in-jokes, clever references and navel-gazing. Or maybe I’m confusing “valedictory” with “not having any original ideas.” The problem with the Brosnan Bonds is that they feel the constant burden of The Bond Movies, that they’re part of a tradition, that they have something to live up to. In Die Another Day the whole construction, the whole hall of mirrors, finally collapses like, well, like an ice-hotel under the beam of a big space laser.

hit counter html code


40 Responses to “Die Another Day”
  1. teamwak says:

    Die Another Day was released on the 40th aniversary of Bond. It is intentially stuffed with knowing bits and in-jokes. One of the books in the Cuban contacts office is the bird watching book that the original Mr James Bond wrote, that made Flemming borrow the authors name for his new spy book. Thats the only one I remember, but the whole movies stuffed with geeky bits like.

    I knew it was time for Brosnan to end after this one. John Cleese and his invisible car were awful, and giant laser, surfing tsunamis was just plain bad! Silly ice palace, silly car, silly bad guys, although the Lurtz the chief Orc from Lord of the Rings was the Maori henchman, which was nice.

    • Todd says:

      Ah yes, “Mr. Kil,” Die Another Day‘s idea of an ironic name for an assassin.

      • teamwak says:

        There is also the classy casting of UK drum & bass DJ Goldie (gimmick has gold teeth) as the goon Mr Bullion in the TWINE.

        John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane. When your movies are full of commedians, DJ’s, and reality stars; surely that says something about what you think of your movies.

        Thats why the casting of Daniel Craig was such a bold statement. “This ain’t gonna be funny anymore!”. By casting acting heavyweights in more flippant fare can really lend the most outrageous premise a gravitas and reality that can really make a movie work. I credit Bryan Singer with his casting of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewert in X-Men as really selling his premise. It has also worked a charm in Lord of the Rings, the Bourne series, and now Casino Royale.

  2. autodidactic says:

    you are totally right about that carmina burana thing, btw

    I have to wonder though: any ill effects after having been exposed to this many 007 movies?

    (They’ve become some of my favorite reading on LJ.)

    • Todd says:

      Re: you are totally right about that carmina burana thing, btw

      any ill effects after having been exposed to this many 007 movies?

      I’m going to need a total thrillectomy.

  3. I seem to recall that the current resurgence in pseudo-Orff was set off by The Phantom Menace.

    • On that topic, can you tell if most of the pseudo-Orff compositions have real words? Orff’s O Fortuna has actual Latin lyrics, but in the other compositions, for all I can tell, the singers are just saying “NA! NA! NA NA! NA! NA! NA NA!”

      • teamwak says:

        Best ever Techno tune I ever heard was a mix of Carmina. Now theres a tune that was the techno of its day. Great, great tune.#

        Ruined slighty when Gladiators the TV show used that mix as the music for one of their rounds called DangerBall or Deathball (where contestants tried to climb a 40 foot giant swing ball, whilst trying to avoid a hairy guy in lycra shorts called Wolf or Rhino.

        “NA NA NA NA. NA NA NA NA.”

    • Todd says:

      I seem to recall that the current resurgence in pseudo-Orff was set off by The Phantom Menace.

      The first time I noticed it was for the 1987 John Schlesinger movie The Believers. I noticed it because I had heard it a few years earlier in a concert setting and wondered what it was.

      (The IMDB says that Orff is actually not featured in The Believers. It’s entirely possible that this is so. What I may be remembering is that the music was used for the trailer for The Believers, which I would have seen many more times than the movie itself [for six years I managed a movie theater in NYC and saw trailers many, many times a day].)

      • If we’re going back that far, Wikipedia says that Carmina Burana was originally introduced to pop culture by 1981’s Excalibur. But I think Phantom Menace may have set off a second boomlet, leading knock-offs to show up in every “big movie” after that for a while.

        • Todd says:

          Carmina Burana was originally introduced to pop culture by 1981’s Excalibur.

          [raises fists to sky] BOORMANNNNNNN!!

          • popebuck1 says:

            I’m pretty sure Carmina Burana was also used before that, in The Omen in 1976. Because it’s the Devil’s theme song, don’cha know.

          • I was just humming “O Fortuna” to myself tonight (this is the overused piece from Carmina Burana), and I realized that for all the places it’s pretentious or inappropriate, Excalibur isn’t one of them. “O Fortuna” is about the way fortune constantly changes, which is the theme of the entire cantata. On the cover of the score is a figure traversing the Wheel of Fortune, illustrating the phrases “I reign,” “I have reigned,” “I am without reign,” and “I will reign again.” So the music is actually thematically appropriate to the scene where the decrepit Arthur is healed, and once again leads his knights into battle.

  4. eronanke says:

    Halle Berry made me stay away from this movie- I’m glad I made the right decision. 🙂

    • Todd says:

      How is it a decision if Halle Berry made you do it?

      This is the whole problem with this country — we only think we’re living in a democracy.

      • eronanke says:

        It’s *my* decision, but Halle Berry was the deciding factor.

        God, she can ruin anything she puts her name on. If I am given a cake, and that cake says “HALLE BERRY” on top, I will THROW it out a window.

        • But she was Storm! STOOOOORM!
          Can you really hate Halle Berry when she is the master of the winds!?

          • eronanke says:

            She’s Storm like she’s Catwoman.

            (To sum up: NO. NOT AT ALL)

            • Oh man! She *was* Catwoman wasn’t she? She’s like– the only big actress/actor to star in a superhero flick! That must be worth something.

              Actually, I just respect Halle Berry endelssly for her speech at the Razzies. (Haven’t seen it since 2004, but last time I saw it, it seemed pretty hard rockin’.)

              • eronanke says:

                NO, NO, NO. She has no out on this one. Everything she put forward from her Razzie speech gets taken away by her shameless pandering at this past year’s Video Game Awards.

  5. urbaniak says:

    He kept vocally protesting the movie’s detachment, artificiality and dramatic inertia, all things that moviegoers generally overlook when watching Bond movies

    I should point out that I’m all for detachment and artificiality when it results in some sort of dramatic tension (like in Barry Lyndon or Speed); but the direction of Die Another Day is just so much passionless gloss. And for all their flamboyance, the action sequences are devoid of kinetic energy or excitement. With its slick professionalism and utter lack of interest in dramatic momentum the movie comes off like a demo reel.

    It was a pleasure, however, to finally experience the Alcott screening room.

    • Todd says:

      the direction of Die Another Day is just so much passionless gloss.

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. Just wait ’til you experience The Man With the Golden Gun, where the direction is just so much passionless flatness.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You say “palette cleanser”, I say “palate cleanser.”

    Sounds like this film was heavy lifting, maybe it was actually a pallet cleanser.

  7. greyaenigma says:

    I think I managed to not see this. To the Bat video store!

  8. I really enjoyed the first half or so of Die Another Day.

    The imprisonment stuff, which I enjoyed, seemed to me to be the producers’ way of saying “The 9/11 attack wouldn’t have happened if Bond had been free.”

    This is, as I said before, the Brosnan movie where he smokes. And, of course, he actually impersonates somebody at the start (the South African guy, iirc).

    So he has an invisible car, but has to wait until Casino Royale to get a bloody cellphone?

  9. r_sikoryak says:

    I recall one shot (probably when he’s wind surfing over the tsunamis, or something) where Bond is represented by CGI. Somehow, that took me completely out of the movie. To me, Bond will always be a real guy, in front of rear projection, not some generic computer model.

    • Todd says:

      Mostly the spx in the Brosnan Bonds look pretty good. That one does not. It’s what I call the LOTR problem — when it’s a bunch of CG characters fighting a bunch of other CG characters in front of a CG background, it can be as spectacular as it wishes, it still doesn’t involve me.

  10. randymonki says:

    I remember seeing this movie during a rough patch in my life where it was a hard decision whether to buy dinner or go see a movie with friends. It’s no wonder i hated this movie from the bad Madonna theme to the end credits.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Invisible Car!!

    Now I’m all for enjoying movies as pure entertainment, giving little thought to plot or reality. I love Daredevil, The Phantom, Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3, and even the new Star Wars stuff. Sure, none of them were classics, but they’re all great entertainment. Similarly, I walked out of the cinema very happy after this movie, and have since seen it a number of times on DVD or TV.

    But the one bit that gets me every time, the bit that has me rolling on the floor with laughter is when Bond hides BEHIND the invisible car!! WTF?!? Hah!! I just love that scene, especially considering when Q was first showing off the car they made a point of there being a weird distortion at the corners, giving it a really nice “Wow, that might be real” feel. And then he goes and hides behind it! Shouldn’t that have been done as Bond sniggering to himself like Muttley from that “catch the pigeon” cartoon at his own ingenuity, while the guards just look at him, scratching their heads?

    Also, to finish on a positive, this movie is one of the rare occasions that he makes use of one of Qs gadgets twice!! That glass-shattering ring device. I’m sure I remember him getting better milage out of it than the one-shot stuff he usually has.


  12. This has nothing to do with anything, but Johnny Ryan posted a comic adaptation of ‘Waiting for Godot’. To call it anything but brilliant would be a crime. ( http://johnnyr.com/comix/kkk2007-05-28.html )

    As for the movie at haaand… it seems that audiences expect more out of fantasy these days, which is most likely a good thing. When this came out I remember people grumbling about how it was yet another Bond adventure, it was then followed by Casino Royale, a film which was more serious and intelligent (and also almost directed by Quentin Tarantino). Maybe this film is the last of its kind…

  13. ladylavinia says:

    Why do so many of you hate Halle Berry? Your attitude baffles me. What has she ever done to you? Do you hate the fact that an African-American woman was the leading lady in a Bond movie? Or even worse, was portraying an American spy? Do you hate her for winning an Oscar on the same night as Denzel Washington? Or are you pissed at her for trying to re-create Ursula Andress’ scene from DR. NO?

    She’s not my favorite Bond girl, but I had enjoyed her performance in DAD. She was fun and had a sly sense of humor.

    And yet, she is virulently HATED by Bond fans. Are many Bond fans that reactionary and bigoted? I’m beginning to think so. You lavish praise on Ursula Andress who really did nothing in DR. NO, yet, Berry is deemed the worst Bond girl. Amazing. It must be bigotry of some kind. I can think of no other reason.

    What he learns is that Graves is actually Xao’s brother, believed dead but actually having a face transplant or something and calling himself a British diamond merchant now.

    Graves was never Xao’s brother. Graves was Colonel Moon, the young No. Korean officer that Bond had “alledgedly” killed. Xao was his henchman and friend.

    • Todd says:

      Graves was never Xao’s brother. Graves was Colonel Moon, the young No. Korean officer that Bond had “alledgedly” killed. Xao was his henchman and friend.

      That’s what I get for watching this movie with Urbaniak.

    • Todd says:

      And I agree with you about Halle Berry. She’s not my favorite Bond girl either but there’s nothing wrong with her as an actress (except some choices she’s made).

      I see the same thing with the Fantastic Four movies. People are outraged because Tim Story was chosen to direct them. Now you may dislike the movies, but they’re no worse than many other superhero movies that are warmly received. Why is Tim Story singled out for such virulent hatred?

      • I found my way here from another livejournal and, as a veteran of this same slog through the entire Bond cannon in rapid succession, had to stay and read. Very entertaining – thanks.

        I actually think Halle Berry makes an interesting Bond girl in the aftermath of Tomorrow Never Dies. One of the problems for me in Tomorrow Never Dies is that Michelle Yoeh is, well… Michelle Yoeh. She’s so clearly Bond’s superior physically and, if not mentally, then at least in her maturity. She has a very quiet, calm, authoritative presence. So much so that, by the end of the film, it seems like Bond is her kind of annoying younger brother who she’s letting come along because her mother stopped her in the gadget room and said, “Young lady, you’re not going out on another covert op without taking your brother – he’s driving me crazy!”

        By contrast, for better or worse, Halle Berry was operating at exactly the right level to play off Bond. In fact, a comment that I heard from more than one person, is that Halle Berry was playing a better Bond than Pierce Brosnan – Halle Berry’s performance can afford to be shallow and fun-loving because she was just being introduced, as opposed to Brosnan who was saddled with finding some new angle to bring new depth to a well trod charcater (don’t get me wrong, I loved Brosnan as Bond, but the writing had started to turn in on itself trying to find ways to give depth to Bond by that point in the series).

        It reminds me of Goldfinger – a film which is often mistaken for the third Bond film when in fact, as you correctly noted, it was actually the first film in the ill-fated Pussy Galore series, starring Honour Blackman with Sean Connery as her amusingly incompetent, bumbling sidekick who’s primary role is to get captured a lot and then almost blow up all the gold while she actually saves the day…

  14. greyaenigma says:

    Finally saw this a couple of nights ago. I think it’s the first film to fully take advantage of the AEnigmaTheater experience.

    Xao’s car took me right of it. The giant gun mounted in the back was bad enough, but the way new stuff kept popping up was maddening. And Bond’s invisible car would have bothered me less if there were any dramatic reason for it. The one scene I can think of where it was useful was the fake-out in the hotel with Xao. Car vanishes — clearly Xao had no control over his own car or he would have stopped or steered away. So why didn’t Bond just back up at the last minute? I think that would actually add to the tension. And, by the way, there really are hotels made (mostly? entirely?) out of ice.

    I actually loved the fencing scene. They clearly wanted to kill each other (Graves of course knew Bond, Bond just knew Graves was involved), and didn’t care what they destroyed along the way, but they were still somehow pretending to just be playing a game.

    Final linguistic note — apparently the Koreans have a word that means both killing and sleeping with a woman. And I don’t think it’s “nailed”. Somehow I think Bond would get a lot of mileage out of that.