Die Another Day? Try Another Film.

By Craig Henderson

British Secret Service Agent 007, James Bond, the most successful and long-lived movie hero of the 20th century, enters the 21st century combining the worst of both eras.

Die Another Day, the 20th in the series of films produced by the late Cubby Broccoli and his various erstwhile partners and heirs, also commemorates the 40th anniversary of Bond in the cinema. Dr. No, the first in the series, was released in England in October 1962, 40 years and one month prior to the wide theatrical release of Die Another Day (now available in a two-disc, special edition DVD package).


As the anniversary release, Die Another Day was written to include a number of nods to the previous films — the most oft-mentioned being bikini-clad co-star Halle Berry’s emergence from the sea in homage to Ursula Andress’s unforgettable entrance in Dr. No (though truth to tell, Berry is no Andress). The villain’s plan, however, is not homage as much as an outright retread of the comic-book plot from Diamonds Are Forever — bringing the world to heel by putting a diamond-powered super-duper laser into orbit.

DAD also is the fourth film since the Bonds were revived in the 90s with Pierce Brosnan as the star. Unfortunately, as Brosnan has continually tweaked the role — keeping 007 as unflappable as ever while increasing the hints of world-weary melancholy displayed by the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels — the screenplays have continually let him down. Only Goldeneye, Brosnan’s first Bond film, showed echoes of the best of the earlier Bonds. Since then, the scripts have been a collection of ideas — often good ideas, admittedly — that everyone connected with the production throws in a hat but which the screenwriters and the director fail to weave into a satisfying movie.

In fact, DAD looks very promising for nearly an hour. In the virgin Bond movie territory of North Korea, 007 is investigating a massive armaments deal when he’s betrayed by an unknown compatriot and actually captured and imprisoned. Wow, that never happened before. Well, actually it always happens, but only briefly, until Bond escapes and defeats the latest in his long list of vanquished enemies. This time he’s really captured and imprisoned by the army of a very unfriendly power.

The usual flashy titles sequence also displays a new wrinkle by advancing the plot — Bond is seen being questioned and tortured throughout, so when the titles end, 14 months have passed and Bond is at the end of his rope. When he’s finally led out of prison, he believes he’s going to be executed. Instead, he’s traded for a North Korean spy, and finds himself at long last back in friendly hands, only to learn his own people believe he broke and talked.

So now he makes the usual daring and rather too easy escape and begins tracking down whoever betrayed him. The trail leads from Hong Kong to Cuba, then back to London. And there the film starts to fall apart. After this series of picaresque adventures, living only by his daring and wits, Bond is welcomed back to the Secret Service. He picks up his usual bunch of gadgets from Q, tracks down the customary evil genius (this time a renegade North Korean army officer who’s used experimental DNA resequencing to pass himself off as an Englishman), thwarts the villain’s fiendish plan (to make North Korea the dominant world power through the use of that orbiting super-laser), and destroys the villain’s bizarre headquarters (a palace literally built of ice in, where else, Iceland).

Bond’s biggest gadget this time out is another weapons-laden Aston Martin with a new gimmick: it can become invisible.

Yes, invisible. In this picture, James Bond drives an invisible car, and no amount of pseudo-scientific gibberish about tiny cameras and LCD screens all over the car’s body spouted by John Cleese as the merely adequate new Q can change the fact that it’s an invisible car. It’s even more invisible than Wonder Woman’s airplane, and it plunges the picture back into the cartoonish era of the Roger Moore Bonds.

The car also heralds the coming of computer-generated imagery to the Bond movies. Over the years, the Bond team has become tops in the visual effects field by doing it the old-fashioned way, with model work and opticals. But that won’t do anymore, especially when you have an invisible car to create.

CGI always tempts filmmakers into ludicrous stunts just because they now have the technology to do it. The biggest CGI set-piece in DAD shows Bond surfing away from the collapsing ice palace on a gargantuan arctic tidal wave. The sight is laughable rather than breathtaking, but it’s also a peculiar choice for a big FX shot since water is so difficult to render convincingly. And in fact the wave looked patently phony on big theater screens. It barely passes muster in a DVD-generated TV picture.

The film also includes computer-generated “bullet time” super-fast zooms and pans because, well, because they looked cool in The Matrix so why don’t we do that?

And the seeming attempt to make each new title song worse than the last continues with a truly execrable techno-whine written and performed by Madonna (who also continues to prove she’s no actress by appearing in the film as a fencing instructor). David Arnold’s score bows a bit less this time to the legendary John Barry sound, but that doesn’t matter since the music can’t be heard under all the screaming sound effects.

Today’s target audience laps up all this stuff, of course, and has no idea what trendsetters the original Bond pictures were in the 1960s. 21st Century Bond succeeds by aping every other modern action blockbuster. It tenuously hold your attention for two hours, then every last bit of it evaporates from your synapses before the end credits finish rolling.


Like the movie itself, the special-edition DVD features are seemingly endless and ultimately forgettable. There are so many, a second disc is needed to hold them all. Apparently they were all produced by MGM’s promotional department rather than by the knowledgable Bond fans who made the behind-the-scenes featurettes on previous Bond DVDs. It shows. Somehow there’s more to see and less to care about than ever before.

Die Another Day

Released by MGM Home Entertainment



Color, Closed-captioned

Widescreen anamorphic (2.35:1)

DTS Surround Sound

Spanish, French and English subtitles

Keep Case

132 minutes

Special Features

Commentary by director Lee Tamahori, producer Michael G. Wilson,

star Pierce Brosnan, co-star Rosamund Pike

Theatrical trailers and TV spots

Trivia track with video streaming

“Inside Die Another Day” documentary

Storyboard-to-final-shot comparisons

Multi-angle look at stunt sequences

Inside look at opening titles sequence

Before-and-after digitally altered footage

Gadgets featurette

Photo gallery

Madonna’s Die Another Day music video

The Making of Madonna’s Die Another Day music video

DVD-ROM features

SRP: $29.98

Released June 2003