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Die Another Day Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
ImageThis is the 20th James Bond movie actually in the Eon Productions series ("Never Say Never Again" and, lord knows, "Casino Royale" were independent productions), and it's an above average 007 adventure. As he's aged, Pierce Brosnan has smoothly blended his personality with that of the world's most famous spy; he's better here than in his other 007 outings, and he was fine in those, too.

The screenplay by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade roughly follows the same structure of their earlier script for "The World Is Not Enough," but almost all the Bond movies after, oh, say, about "Diamonds Are Forever" have been modeled on earlier Bond films ("Goldfinger," still the best 007 movie, was a favorite model), but they've also gone back to Fleming for some of the more interesting elements.

Like for instance, the opening. After a superb surfing sequence on the world's highest waves (photographed off the east coast of Maui) in which Bond and two Korean agents surf ashore in North Korea, we're quickly introduced to ambitious Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), who already has troops established in the North Korean section of the Demilitarized Zone. Bond replaces someone who's smuggling in "conflict" diamonds (illegal African diamonds) intended on financing Moon's ambitions. But 007's cover is blown, leading Moon's associate Zao (Rick Yune) ending up with diamonds embedded in his face, and on to a spectacular chase on huge hovercraft, with Bond leaping from one to another. This ends in a waterfall over which Moon plunges to his apparent doom, while Bond is captured by Moon's general father. And 007 is imprisoned for 14 months.

That's the Fleming element: the Bond books are much rougher on 007 than any of the movies have been -- until now. Bond is finally freed to walk across a foggy bridge to South Korea, where he learns that both an American agent (Michael Madsen) and M herself (the wonderful Judy Dench again) suspect him of being a turncoat. M essentially fires him, adding "you're no good to anyone, now." He (and we) know he's not, so he has to find out who is, as well as have his revenge on Zao. The expensive quest (where does he get all the money?) leads him to Havana and an encounter with American Jinx (Halle Berry) who emerges from the Caribbean just like Ursula Andress did in the first Bond movie, "Dr. No." (There are lots of references to earlier Bond movies in "Die Another Day," both in the dialog -- "Diamonds are for everyone" -- and in images.) Bond infiltrates an island where greedy scientists are experimenting in genetic/DNA manipulation, including on Zao, who ends up stuck half-way between Asian and white, with a bald head and pale blue eyes, and those diamonds still stuck in his face.

After lustily bedding her -- hey, he's been locked up for over a year -- Bond realizes Jinx is an American agent with her own agenda. On to London, where Bond meets billionaire entrepreneur Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens, son of Maggie Smith). At a plush, lavish club, Graves and Bond square off in a sword fight that begins with epees, goes on to sabers and finally to broadswords. It's spectacular and entertaining, one of the best swordfights in years, well-staged and -choreographed. (Madonna, who sings the okay title song, appears briefly here in an amusing cameo.)

M ultimately welcomes Bond back to the fold in London, and there's a great scene with Q (an arch John Cleese). "You're cleverer than you look," Bond says; Q responds "that's better than looking cleverer than you are." Equipped with a new Aston-Martin that can become invisible, Bond ends up attending Grave's giant press reception in a huge ice palace in Iceland. (The palace resembles a cross between the Sydney Opera House and the biggest McDonald's in the world. Only made of ice.) Jinx and Yao turn up here too, as well as British agent Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who's determined not to succumb to Bond's charms.

Iceland is the location for all the big action scenes at the climax which mostly involve Grave's new "gift to the world," Icarus, a huge orbiting mirror -- which, of course, is really a deadly weapon, firing town intense heat rays from space. The last big car chase is inside the ice palace, smashing through walls, even floors. Bond and Jinx manage to get aboard Graves' plane; the final big scene is their trying to escape from the big jet as it falls apart in the sky. There are some surprises, too.

Brosnan won my heart as Bond when, in "Goldeneye," he smashes a tank through a Moscow wall, and adjusts his tie as he emerges. As others have pointed out, the element shared by Sean Connery and even Roger Moore as Bond, is also shared by Pierce Brosnan: charm. Dalton and Lazenby lacked this altogether, but it's vital to 007 so we can stay with him, liking him, even though he is, as pointed out here, really an assassin. I hope he has a couple more 007 adventures in him, but I think that Eon Productions needs to rethink the idea of making each new James Bond movie more spectacular than the last. "Die Another Day" has great action scenes, but probably too many of them; the movie seems a bit too long.

Lee Tamahori directed, reflecting Eon's decision to hire "real" directors rather than promoting stunt directors to the chief spot, as they've done in the past. Tamahori, from New Zealand, is able to enrich characterizations and use a bit more creative camera work while still staying within the (too) rigid 007 plot structure. He previously directed (at home) "Once Were Warriors," and in the U.S. films as different as "The Edge" and "Along Came a Spider."

Oscar-winning Halle Berry is, as appropriate for a Bond Girl, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, perhaps the most beautiful woman who's ever shared James Bond's bed. She tends to be pretty much secondary to Bond throughout the film, but that's nothing new to a 007 movie. Berry fills the spot very well, as does Toby Stephens as the principal (among three) villains. He seems to be a genuine match for Pierce Brosnan, and rarely have Bond and his villain so obviously hated each other.

The classic opening credits involve naked female figures, some made of ice, some of fire (following the movie itself), but scenes telling of Bond's torture at the hands of his North Korean captors are skillfully interwoven. Madonna's song is appropriate, but still far, far from the great Bond title songs of the past, such as "Goldfinger" and "Nobody Does It Better" (from "The Spy Who Loved Me").

[Written by AVRev] [START]
MGM has given us a Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC transfer.  The video quality is on par with most of the films of its time period.  The most important aspects of the video are strong and intact.  The colors are rich and vibrant.  They are complemented by the excellent contrast levels.  Hot temperature video signals are not overblown.  The black levels are decent.  Some details occasionally get lost in the darkness.  The fleshtones are solid and do not appear plugged.  There is no evidence of vertical banding or digital noise reduction.  However, there is some artifacting, mainly due to the edge enhancement that was applied to the image.  All in all, a good Bond video presentation.

The audio is presented in the DTS-HD 5.1 format.  The remix of this film for the home theater environment is terrific.  The LFE has been given special treatment.  It is strong throughout the film.  The only issue is that it is not as smooth of a bass response as many action films on Blu-ray.  The surround channels have also received detailed attention.  They are prominent throughout the movie.  The discrete effects and panning are spot on.  However, at times it seems like the ambience in the rear channels are a bit too loud, distracting the viewer from the on screen dialogue or action.  The Ice Palace car chase sequence is an incredible demo of discrete sounds and heart-pumping bass.  Job well done MGM.

The Blu-ray comes with a decent supplemental materials package.  First there are two audio commentaries, which are fairly decent.  The first commentary is with actors Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike.  The second is with director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G.Wilson.  "From Script to Screen" focuses on the screenplay and its part in the overall Bond genre.  There are a handful of featurettes.  "Shaken and Stirred on Ice" covers the Icelandic shoot.  "Just Another Day" goes on location with the cast and crew.  "The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London" for some reason takes a look at British Airways.  "On Location with Production Designer Peter Lamont" is a production diary.  There is also a trivia track and photo gallery.

The last feature is pretty worthless - the mission control scene selection.

This a great Blu-ray presentation and should be added to your collection.

To my surprise, this has received some negative reviews. All I can say is that I had a great time.  It's not a great Bond movie, but it's a very good Bond movie; all concerned can take a deserved bow.

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