Die Another Day (UK - BD)
Scott McKenzie endures rather than enjoys another Bond Blu-ray release...
While trying to thwart an arms deal in North Korea, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured and tortured for over a year by General Moon, only being released in exchange for Moon’s henchman Zao, who was being held by MI6. With his licence revoked by M, Bond sets off on the trail of Zao, which leads him to Cuba, London and Iceland, meeting NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry) and British philanthropist Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has developed the Icarus project, a satellite that can bring sunlight to anywhere in the world at any time.
Die Another Day was Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as 007 and watching it back now, just six years on from its release, it’s clear that the formula had got out of the filmmakers’ control in the same way Moonraker did more than twenty years earlier. With the exception of Goldeneye, I find watching Brosnan’s Bond movies less rewarding than when I revisit Connery, Moore or Dalton. I think it comes from the attempts to make his movies a combination of the best bits of everything that went before and as a result, I can’t think of a great character, stunt, gadget or line that defines his time as Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough or Die Another Day.
The formula here is simple: throw in plenty of big action scenes, gadgets, girls and one-liners and give the fans what they want. Unfortunately this means that the screenplay for Die Another Day feels like it was written through a process of picking lines and stunts out of a hat and piecing them together rather than having one definitive thread to link the story to. The fact that Bond goes rogue early on isn’t really given much focus, especially with the ease of his return to London with MI6 supposedly looking for him, and you don’t feel like he’s going to be in as much trouble if he does get caught than in Licence to Kill.
‘Overblown’ is a good word to sum up the whole production. The invisible Aston Martin and the CGI wind-surfing scene are the easiest targets, but there are still too many moments where a realistic plot is sacrificed at the expense of action or comedy. The scene where Jinx is chained up and Bond is fighting Mr Kil with a load of lasers flying round them is a prime example. Die Another Day stops being a movie and turns into a video game, but even with the obvious dangers to our hero on screen, you never feel like he’s actually going to get hurt by the lasers. Mr Kil is also one of the laziest names for a bad guy in the whole series and the only reason he’s given that name is so Bond can enjoy a ‘funny’ exchange with him when they first meet.
Die Another Day was supposed to prompt a spin-off series of movies with Halle Berry as Jinx. As a Bond girl, she’s the female mirror of 007 and lacks the depth our hero is also missing in this movie. It would have been interesting to see a spin-off movie with her though, but I wonder whether she would have been left as a relic of Brosnan’s time as Bond with Daniel Craig now on the scene, or would Brosnan have been kept on for a few more movies just to keep the brand going? However, the performance that really grates on me is Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves, who seems to have skived every day at acting school apart from sneering 101.
I could go on and on about this movie, but its only real crime is coming along at a time when the series was getting out of control. Die Another Day is the last old-school Bond movie and it was necessary to give us the more gritty and realistic Casino Royale. What Die Another Day does have going for it is that it was produced for the fortieth anniversary of Dr No so there are lots of references to the other Bond movies to be found here. It makes sense that the formula ended with the twentieth movie, but it’s a shame that Brosnan went out with just one truly great Bond movie to his name.
Revisiting Die Another Day in 1080p unfortunately brings more attention to the visual effects circa 2002. The things that made this movie difficult to watch upon its release are even more obvious in high definition. For such a recent production, the green screen work is incredibly dodgy, which I can only put down as a reference to the Bond movies of old. If it’s not, then I hope the visual effects guys were given a stern talking to. At some point (probably with Along Came a Spider) Lee Tamahori morphed from the great storyteller of Once Were Warriors into a journeyman action director and he uses all the tricks at his disposal here, including a few bullet time shots that now age the movie where they would have felt relevant just a few years ago. The quality of the picture is just as you would expect from a relatively recent release—clean, detailed and largely free of interference and compression. The colours are strong and there’s a real mix of styles between the different locations that is well-represented in this transfer.
From the opening bass of the Bond theme as Brosnan walks across the screen, it’s obvious a lot of work went into the sound production of Die Another Day and there’s no loss of quality in the DTS-HD Master Audio track on offer here. The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production of the movie also applies to the soundtrack, with the surround channels getting a real workout, so much so that I noticed a difference in the volume of dialogue at different times. During quieter scenes, dialogue is pitched at the appropriate level but during action sequences the dialogue is quieter. Either that or the loud explosions and music made me temporarily deaf for those sequences.
The first of two audio commentaries comes from Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, who only pops up during her scenes. Unfortunately this track is edited together to make it sound like they’re in the same room, even though they’re not. Brosnan seems rather oblivious to the fact that this movie is a bit of a stinker and instead focuses on anecdotes from the set and from other Bond movies. It’s interesting to know that one of his directions from Martin Campbell on the set of Goldeneye was that he shouldn’t blink during the action scenes because ‘Bond wouldn’t blink’.
The second commentary is from Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G Wilson, who were in the same room together and provide a more easy-going track where they discuss the production and behind-the-scenes details. Lee Tamahori gives Madonna a grudging nod but I’m not convinced the theme song grew on him as much as he says. There is also a trivia track that is pretty interesting, which gives the viewer bits and pieces about the production and general knowledge—for example, after watching the opening titles you’ll be overloaded with information about scorpions. Short video clips of interviews with the cast and crew come along now and again but those with a low profile player will only get the audio.
‘Shaken and Stirred On Ice’ looks at the production of the action sequences in Iceland, including the work that went into adapting the cars for the ice and the visual effects used to create the big set pieces. ‘The British Touch—Bond Arrives In London’ looks at British Airways’ involvement in one key scene, a lot of which was actually cut. During the movie I was left wondering why Bond wasn’t picked up by MI6 when he arrived in London but short clips from this featurette and the next one show how the original script addressed this. ‘On Location with Peter Lamont’ follows the production designer as he scouts locations, from the undercarriage of a 747 to a real ice hotel. The extras are finished off with the obligatory image database. The trailers and Madonna music video that were on the US release were not included on this disc so I’m not sure whether that’s a Europe-specific thing or that I got an incomplete screener to review.
Unfortunately for Pierce Brosnan, each of his appearances as Bond seemed to suffer from the law of diminishing returns (quality-wise I would put all four in reverse order) and whether you like it or not, Die Another Day signalled the death of Bond as we knew him. I have no complaints about the transfer on this disc, but I felt a bit let down by the extras. Unlike the Connery and Moore Bond movies, there are no retrospectives due to the movie’s young age, but the extras menus are noticeably sparser than the other movies I’ve reviewed so far in the series.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Release Date: 20th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Commentary with Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, Commentary with Lee Tamahori and Michael G Wilson, Trivia Track, From Script To Screen, Shaken and Stirred On Ice, Just Another Day, The British Touch - Bond Arrives In London, On Location With Peter Lamont, Image Database
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Michael Madsen
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 133 minutes
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