|Die Another Day (2-Disc Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 03 June 2003|
Whether the Bond formula is due for a revision is a good question. Lots of other films have tried to copy this particular style of spy film and have blown it. If movies bearing the Bond brand name turn away from the expectations of this very specific subgenre, the form may die out altogether. Then again, the alterations suggested in the beginning of “Die Another Day” hold genuine fascination. We are primed for a look at what happens when a classic hero has to face his demons – but this is just what we do not get.
As soon as Bond slips from the clutches of his own side (they think he’s cracked under torture, but the information leak turns out to be someone else, of course) and tidies himself up, we are back to Bondage as usual. In “Die Another Day,” this takes the form of Bond’s quest to satisfy both professional duty and personal vengeance against North Korean renegade operative Zao (Rick Yune), and his investigation into the dealings of enigmatic diamond merchant Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a publicity-hound philanthropist who seems to have sprung up from nowhere. While working both these cases, Bond crosses paths with fast on (and faster off) her feet CIA agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) and Graves’ icy but beautiful publicist Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike).
Apart from the intriguing first act, the script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade is more or less by the numbers Bond, with events occurring more or less how and when we expect them – big action, sexual innuendo followed by PG-13 depictions of the act, and lots of super-cool super-agent cars and gadgets. It’s all perfectly satisfying and agreeable in its Bond way (well, the puns seem a little more awful and sometimes out of place than usual), but apart from one good character surprise, it also feels very comfortable, which is either an asset or a flaw depending on what the viewer wants from James Bond in 2003.
Director Lee Tamahori has a good eye, with a flair for thrilling shots. Amid all the spectacle, one of the best action sequences is a non-tech swordfight between Bond and Graves, where they manage to trash an entire fencing salon. Viscerally, though, “Die Another Day” doesn’t do much, which is really a shame after the melodramatic but involving fireworks of its predecessor, “The World Is Not Enough.” Brosnan does a great job, especially in the early sections where we see in his face the regrets he will not share with his captors as he believes he’s about to be executed. However, once he’s back in the regular plot flow, the character goes into superspy mode and Brosnan proficiently goes with it.
The two-disc DVD set contains a reference-quality rendition of the film. The widescreen imagery is beautiful, utilizing a deliberately grayed-down ‘60s look for the early sequences set in North Korea (actually, a mixture of Hawaii, Cornwall and London’s Pinewood Studios), then brightening to vibrant color and crisp blacks and whites as we return to Bond’s more customary glittering world.
DTS sound is beautiful, starting in Chapter 1, with the traditional Bond opening gunshot zinging from front to rears. We are then aurally planed smack in the center of a gigantic wave, so that we feel like we’re one of the three surfers surrounded by the ocean as we ride onto the beach. By coincidence, a real-life helicopter was hovering above my street at the same time a helicopter hovers over Bond’s rendezvous point in Chapter 2 – the onscreen sound was so realistic that the only way I could tell the real and DVD sounds apart was by their location (I don’t have speakers above my balcony railing). In Chapter 3, the discrete sounds of a shootout are exquisite, with individual bullets ricocheting in mains and rears, and pieces of debris kachoinging from left to right and front to back following an explosive crash. Chapter 4 continues with more discrete machine gun effects. James Barry’s horn-laden oh-so-familiar Bond theme zooms through and around the conflict, spicing it up without crowding the sound effects.
Chapter 5’s title sequence features brilliantly glowing figures along with Madonna’s title track – interspersed with Bond being brutalized. In Chapter 6, the first relatively quiet section, the dialogue track turns out to be comparatively low – unless you’ve been listening to all of the shooting and blasting at neighbor-complaint levels, you may want to turn the sound up for the discussions, especially as the characters tend to be soft-spoken.
Chapter 11 introduces Jinx in what the filmmakers acknowledge is an homage to Ursula Andress’ first appearance in “Dr. No.” The sight of Berry rising from the water in an orange bikini prompts Brosnan to suggest on his commentary track, “Freeze frame, rewind, freeze frame …” Chapter 14 provides another huge explosion with wonderful, subtle effects that create a sense of spatial reality, with distant alarms, screams and sprinklers giving us a feel of how far the damage spreads beyond the frame line. Chapter 15 has a full-bodied blast of the Clash’s “London Calling” on the soundtrack, while Chapter 16 features a cameo by Madonna and some very nice, authentic clashes and whooshes as Bond and Graves take each other on with rapiers. Chapter 22 boasts gorgeous whites, blacks and blues for a party sequence set in an ice cavern, though Jinx’s glittery dress does create a bit of visual jitter.
In a Bond film, an ice palace can be almost guaranteed to come apart at some point, and in Chapter 26, there are plenty of crashes and yet another wonderfully discrete and specific gun battle. Chapter 28 features a very nifty visual ripple effect with a not-quite-invisible car (it’s like the camouflage effect in “Predator”), and Chapter 31 has explosions that detonate in the mains, with fallout in each of the rears.
There are a lot of good extras here. On Disc One, there’s a choice of audio commentary tracks. Director Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson are articulate and informative, talking about how various sequences were shot, while Brosnan has some good yarns, including a pretty funny one about bringing his five-year-old son to the set. He is joined by actress Pike when her character appears – Pike comes across as charming, bright and downright fannish about Madonna (who plays Pike’s character’s mentor). The film also comes with an onscreen trivia track, which carries the helpful warning that the sound format must be chosen first. Apparently it’s not possible to activate both the trivia track and either of the commentaries to run simultaneously. Sound on the commentaries is in the center channel, with normal audio rising whenever the observations pause (which happens more often with the actors than with the filmmakers).
Disc 2 has a seven-part making-of documentary, including some comments from star surfer Laird Hamilton (who doubles Brosnan in the opening sequence). There are nice explorations of five different gadgets. The “Ministry of Propaganda” section contains not only trailers for the film, but both the actual Madonna music video for “Die Another Day” (in which she triumphs above abuse similar to the type heaped on Bond in the film) and a making-of for the music video, which features Madonna being pretty down to earth and funny as she talks about what they’re doing. The disc also contains a trailer and a making-of featurette on the CGI game “007: Nightfire.”
“Die Another Day” fulfills our expectations of a James Bond movie – enormous, complex and perfectly-executed action, breathtaking sets, gorgeous performers, a story with paint-by-numbers twists and almost no moral ambiguity. It is, in the end, what a Bond film is predestined to be – with just a few hints that it could have been something more.