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Die Another Day: A Film of Two Halves

By Adam Farrington-Williams (FelixLeiter)
August 9, 2007

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By no means am I a fan of Die Another Day. In fact, I regularly rate it the worst Bond film of the series. The cringe-worthy dialogue, the repetitive settings, the redundant plot, pathetic acting, safe directing and lazy screen writing all contribute to this negative view on the twentieth Bond film. But, what many Bond fans may not consider is that the first half an hour of the film is quite possibly the best Bond beginning in the history of the series.

Colonel Moon

What are some of the attributes that attract Bond fans to the series? Is it the exotic, sadistic villains? Would Colonel Moon answer this question? He's certainly exotic and anyone who beats their therapist in a punching bag holds a fair amount of sadism. Or could it be the delicateness of Bond's missions? Bond's life is perpetually on a knife's edge. Is it the brutal torture sequences? The torture certainly doesn't let up in Die Another Day. If you're looking for a film to put your feet up and enjoy a few explosions here and there...actually make that everywhere, then Die Another Day is probably going to be a favourite. However, if you're up for a more complex plot and something that is going to make you think, I'd only advise tuning in for the first half an hour. Not that the opening is particularly complex, but it at least makes you think a little. Bond notes “someone set me up to get Zao out, so I'm going after him”, so the film already has you thinking by this point. Vic Armstrong's direction, for the second unit, during the Hovercraft sequences are also extremely memorable, although these scenes verge on something from a Van Damme movie.

The pre-title sequence is packed full with action and debatably a lot of it goes over the top, but afterall, it is a Bond film. Whats more, a Brosnan Bond film. We must at least expect one or two redundant action set pieces here and there. The opening shot of the film is certainly a highlight for me, as the three MI6 agents move in professionally, on their surf boards to infiltrate a beach line highly populated by North Korean soldiers. Arnold's superbly eerie “Surf's Up” musical cue builds the mood of the piece just nicely.

Colonel Moon's North Korean
Once again, the second unit action team do a brilliant job of capturing the dangerousness of the moment, yet at the same time keep it plausible (when it clearly isn't it!).

After Bond infiltrates Mr Van Bierk's smuggling operation, we see a stunning opening shot of Colonel Moon's Army fortress, which is indeed one of director Lee Tamahori's few fine moments of the film. Even the cinematography is marvelously spot on during this sequence. And it is here we get our first glimpse of the latest villain, Colonel Moon and his henchman Zao. From Moon's discovery of Bond's true identity, ensurers a dramatic Hovercraft chase bubbling with explosions and tense action. Eventually, Bond wins out, utilising his quick thinking, he manages to seemingly dispose of Moon, only to be met by Moon's father, who also presumes his son dead. As punishment, for the killing of his son, General Moon tortures Bond (even though, admittedly, he doesn't condone what they do there). Although this sequence ends in effect, it does continue through the title sequence, as we see Bond become increasingly fragile and weakened by his captors. However, with the commencement of title sequence, quite possibly the best first ten minutes of a Bond film is over.

A beaten and tortured
Bond with General Moon

Things continue positively, however, following the title sequence, as Bond is freed from prison, via a trade for North Korean terrorist Zao, who was captured by the Chinese after blowing up a summit on the border. The dialogue during the scene is memorable but on the weaker side, as for the delivery...well Zao's “not as soon as yours” is an example of just one of the many terribly delivered lines during the film.

Next up, Bond is hospitalised in a Hong Kong MI6 facility, which in turn, of course he escapes, setting up a typically Bondian moment, where a wet and tattered James Bond saunters casually into a room full of smartly dressed riches. Naturally, strings of Norman's famed Bond theme play proudly as he struts his way up to the counter and asks for the Presidential suite. Although, once again poor dialogue (“get out, unless you really want to give me a massage”) is a feature of the scenes at the Yacht Club and despite the 'safe directing' from Tamahori, in such sequences as the one described above, the story moves along nicely and intrigues its audience.

Bond arrives in Cuba

Bond is still on the trail of the villain who set him up in North Korean and after agreeing to deal with Chinese Intelligence agent, Mr Chang, Bond is informed that his enemy Zao is hiding out in Havana, Cuba. Unfortunately, as soon as the opening bars of “Cuba” by David Arnold are heard, the film goes steadily down hill and crashes and burns, as the worst Bond film in the official series to date.

Both Brosnan and Dench have their good moments, whereas Arnold's score is a saving face, but too much of the rest of Die Another Day fails terribly. The dialogue of screen writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade help no one, however some actors (Lawrence Makoare) struggle to deal with their banana lines more than others. Try and watch (without cringing) the scene where he introduces his character; “I'm Mister Kill”. Makoare even manages to turn a quite simple line (“Oh, I'll use the laser”) into a somewhat hideous one.

Gustav Graves' "Ice Palace"

By the time the film is counting down to its climax, we're back in one of the most cliched Bond settings- the snow! It's just lazy screen writing and exploits an opportunity to set up another elaborate set design by Peter Lamont. It's one of those instances where the audience can tell the writers are attempting to “wow” them, whilst they slip a weakened storyline past them, hoping that the extended action sequences and banana lines cover up the fact that the film doesn't actually have any depth!

So, whilst I am extremely negative towards this film, I think it's important to remind fellow Bond fans that the entire film is not a failure...just half of it is!

Article written by Adam Farrington-Williams (FelixLeiter)

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