With Casino Royale now out in theaters and being shown to a mostly positive audience, let’s all take a step back and remember that James Bond just celebrated an anniversary in 2002 with the release of Die Another Day. The film was the twentieth in the Bond legacy, and Brosnan’s fifth (and last) in the role. How does it stack up?
Directed by Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors), the film puts Bond in North Korea, attempting to procure some diamonds from a young Korean Col…nel named Moon (Will Yun Lee, Elektra), who runs a post near the DMZ along with his brother Zao (Rick Yune, The Fast and the Furious). During the mission Bond is set up and held prisoner in Korea for several months, before taking the life of Moon and severely scarring Zao. He is released as part of a prisoner exchange, much to the displeasure of M (Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love, Iris). So while he rests and relaxes, he decides to get some retribution, as Zao is walking around in the world, and James decides to stop him before he does something on a grander scale.
On the plus side, the movie does take a couple of bold steps when it comes to dealing with the Bond character. Bond is debilitated for an extended period in the first part of the film, and the playful rebellion that Bond and M share over the course over the whole franchise borders on blatant animosity in this film. A weaker, darker Bond is something that the creative team on Casino Royale must have caught onto when it came to getting the story together for this one.
The disappointing thing is that the bad stuff borders on amateurish. I understand the need to do the occasional special thing to celebrate Bond XX (the working title for the film), and the need for Bond to look at the old gadgets with Q (John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda) before looking at what admittedly is a cool Aston Martin. And hooray, Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) gets a chance to show off her boobies in a swimsuit, like Ursula Andress did way back in the first Bond film. But some of the other stuff was just stomach turning. The one-liners were flat, the talk about Berry’s character getting a spinoff film afterwards in retrospect was atrocious, but thankfully discarded after the Catwoman debacle. And for god’s sake, Madonna? The skis had clearly landed on the ramp after jumping the shark on that one.
I hope that Craig and company manage to turn things around and evolve Bond into a different kind of action icon, I really do. But after seeing Die Another Day for the first time in a long time, I can say without hesitation that the franchise clearly was on life support, despite Brosnan’s intentions to keep its collective head above water.
2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen returns for enjoyment and pleasure, though the picture does look a little bit clearer and realistic than the previous version (which looked a little bit on the blue side). While flesh tones appear natural, it really exposes some of the production values, a lot of the film looks more on the rear projection side than initially thought.
The DTS track from the old version appears to be a repeat from the first version. However it’s almost like the Region 2 version which sounds like a full bitrate Asian version of sorts. Either that or I don’t remember how the first one sounded. There’s a lot of explosions, gunfire, songs and general things to make your speaker jump up and down with joy. If nothing else, it might be the best sounding Bond film of those I’ve heard.
Things have been streamlined a little bit when it comes to extras on the film, some of the extras have the obvious British taste in mind. The two commentaries have been retained on Disc 1. The first, with Tamahori and Producer Michael Wilson is surprisingly active and discusses a wide range of material, with Tamahori leading the way. He discusses some of the shots in great detail, and talks about some of the various Bond icons (read: the music, the girls and the gadgets) and how they were interpreted for this film. It’s also pretty thoughtful that Tamahori’s voice is on one speaker while Wilson’s is on the other, like you’re in the middle of the discussion. It’s a subtle choice to make, but one I always like. The second track, with Brosnan and Rosamund Pike (who plays Miranda Frost) is a little more lethargic, with Pike not appearing until midway through the film. Brosnan’s is somewhat tongue in cheek and stream of consciousness, which probably explains the gaps of silence, but he talks about the challenges in this film, compared to other Bond films he’s done. Pike’s role in the film was her first part, and she talks about what it was like to work with Dench. Overall, while it’s a nice track to brag about, it’s not as good as the Tamahori/Wilson one.
Disc Two kicks things off with the “Declassified: MI6 Vault” section, which is a little light, but focuses on the production itself. There’s a 20 minute look at a day on set of the film near Buckingham Palace, and a three minute look into the product placement for British Airways is forgettable. Longtime production designer Peter Lamont shows off some of his location scout footage and narrates behind it, and it’s almost a cool vacation film of sorts. Moving on to the “007 Mission Control” section, it’s the usual montage of quick clips, looks and highlights from the movie’s villains, damsels, weapons, gadgets and locations. The “Mission Dossier” starts back up on the production with a piece called “Shaken and Stirred on Ice”, another 20 minute look at the production, but this time focusing on the scenes in Iceland. There are a lot of looks at how the car chase was prepped (including rehauling the cars and some blown shots with a crashed Aston Martin), and moving on from there, the hotel designs were shown, along with how they managed to create fake ice for the interior shots. All in all it was a pretty good featurette. The “script to screen” featurette on the making of the film is by far the longest extra on the disc at almost an hour and the most informative. Producers Wilson and Barbara Broccoli discuss the creative process, and features interviews with writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, along with many Bond regulars. This is the closest thing to a production diary for the film, and it’s quite good, with much of the footage acting as a fly on the wall to the numerous meetings before, during and after production. It’s kind of cool to be in on the anticipation of it all, as some “leaked” reports of casting (a Selma Hayek article was false, along with one of many different articles linking Clive Owen to Bond, long before Halle Berry was even a sure bet). More of the pre-production focuses on the cars and the special effects and stunts that wound up being used for the film, and Bond crew regulars Vic Armstrong and Peter Lamont are given some more interview time. The physical stunts are rehearsed several hundred times over, and Laird Hamilton (who surfs in the opening scenes) is given some screen time to discuss his role in the film. The press surrounding the announcement of who’s in the film is shown (as indicated by a press conference for the film), and Brosnan suffered an injury during production, which is discussed here. Berry and a Bond crew member received Oscars for separate films, and their reunion on set is documented, which is a nice moment. Bouncing around from location to location is covered, and yes, some time is given to the scene where Berry walks out of the water. All in all, it’s a hearty recommendation. Some DVD-ROM material completes this section, and a stills gallery completes the set.
Die Another Day can be found in Volume 2 of the Bond collection along with a couple of other snoozers in A View to a Kill and License to Kill. If MGM does release these titles individually, you should pass on this, no matter how good it sounds.
Special Features List
- Cast Commentary
- Director/Producer Commentary
- Making of Featurettes
- Location Footage
- Interactive Guide
- Trivia Track
- DVD-ROM Material