James Bond
Tomorrow Never Dies
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Pierce Brosnan
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 12
Available 17 July 2006

James Bond investigates the ruthless media mogul, Elliot Carver, who is attempting to provoke an armed conflict between the United Kingdom and China so that his media empire can obtain exclusive rights to the coverage. 007's investigation is hampered and then helped by a resourceful female Chinese counterpart, Wai Lin...

Following the noticeably cautious approach taken by GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies blasts on to the screen, oozing confidence from every pore, exactly as a Bond film should. From the powerful pre-credits sequence, via the exciting car-park chase with Bond's remote-controlled BMW, to the handcuffed motorcycle ride through Saigon, the pace of this movie rarely lets up.

While the success of the action sequences can be credited to director Roger Spottiswoode and second-unit director Vic Armstrong, thanks must also go to writer Bruce Feirstein for a script that is richly laden with wit and cheeky innuendo. 007 delivers a degree of double entendres unheard of since Roger Moore's tenure, but Brosnan manages to carry them all off with aplomb. Even Samantha Bond's Moneypenny and Judi Dench's M join in with their respective classic lines: "You always were a cunning linguist, James," and "Pump her for information!" At the time, a friend of mine likened GoldenEye to a Connery film, with Tomorrow Never Dies being more akin to a Moore movie, and he had a point.

Admittedly, Feirstein's script regurgitates several elements from previous Bond classics, sometimes to the point of resembling a greatest hits compilation. These elements include the underwater theft of nuclear missiles (Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me) and the exploration of the sunken wreck (For Your Eyes Only), even to the point of Bond and his love interest (Michelle Yeoh) getting captured by the baddies immediately afterwards. And, of course, the notion of a third party attempting to provoke a third world war has been done several times before.

Conversely, Bond appears unable to use a keyboard with Chinese characters, which would seem to contradict You Only Live Twice, in which Bond states that he gained a first-class degree in oriental languages at Cambridge. Perhaps he was just boasting to Moneypenny at the time, or maybe the course was oral rather than written - after all, he is a cunning linguist!

Jonathan Pryce has met with criticism for his allegedly dull portrayal of the villain, Elliot Carver, an amalgam of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Bill Gates. However, I rather like Pryce's understated eccentricity, his slightly quavering voice betraying his insanity. Carver's media-baron status provides a topical brand of Bond villainy, akin to the silicon-chip industrialist Zorin in A View to a Kill or the drug lord Sanchez in Licence to Kill. Clever inter-cutting of one of Carver's speeches emphasises his own variation on the Bond baddie's standard desire for world domination - in this case, domination of the world's media.

Meanwhile, female lead Yeoh more than holds her own alongside Brosnan (who beefed up and got a haircut after GoldenEye). As an Asian action-movie star in her own right, her experience with martial arts and stunt work greatly benefits this movie.

Underscoring the action every step of the way is David Arnold's dynamic soundtrack. Traditional and modern in all the right places, the impact of the musician's work cannot be understated. It delivers all the essential requirements of the "Bond sound", paying homage to the classic soundtracks of John Barry while also adding contemporary techno-pop elements, with which Arnold is also intimately familiar. The score culminates in the powerful end-title song performed by k.d. lang, which unites various themes that are developed throughout the film, demonstrating a valuable lesson that an effective and integrated title song really does need to be written by the movie's main composer. Fortunately, this was a lesson that the production team learned in time for The World Is Not Enough.

The main title song, performed by Sheryl Crow, is weaker by comparison, but works well in context when set against another excellent Daniel Kleinman title sequence. (Pulp also wrote a theme song for the movie, which was ultimately rejected by the producers, but later appeared on the B-side to the single "Help the Aged" as "Tomorrow Never Lies".)

The DVD extras range from an extremely useful isolated music track to a rather pointless gadgets guide - which offers scant few details on three devices, but nothing that cannot be gleaned from the movie. Storyboard presentations of nine sequences are rather let down by the fact that, laid out as they are on top of the movie action, the drawings are difficult to decipher. As with the other Brosnan DVDs, there is plenty of production information, including two feature-length commentaries, but scarcely any analysis of the movie's pre-production development, including its infamous last-minute script revisions (which, by the way, are not evident in the bold and strident finished product). Additional, never-before-released material (which was not available for review) includes deleted, extended and multi-angle scenes introduced by Roger Spottiswoode; the hour-long 1997 TV special Highly Classified: The World of 007, hosted by Desmond Llewelyn (Q); and Moby's remix of "The James Bond Theme".

This two-disc set, like the movie itself, truly gives us Bond for the information age.

Richard McGinlay

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