Tomorrow Never Dies | Also Never Lives

“Tomorrow Never Dies,” Pierce Brosnan's second outing as 007, grossed $360,000,000 worldwide, even more than the spectacularly successful “Goldeneye” that revived the James Bond films after a painful six-and-a-half-year layoff. Too bad that “TND” continues the tradition of fouling up the follow-up to a sea-change film in the Bond series.

All the way back in the 60s, when the Bond pictures became the first international movie phenomena, 007's fame and fortune continued ever upward until the fifth movie, “You Only Live Twice,” was unveiled as a flabby and flatfooted parody of all that had come before. One of the film's most egregious aspects was helping to convince Sean Connery that it was time to go.

And so George Lazenby got his one shot at stardom, playing Bond in 1969's “On Her Majesty's Secret Service.” To sell a new Bond to the public for the first time, director Peter Hunt convinced producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli to dump the fatuous, bloated spectacle of “You Only Live Twice”—replete with hijacked spaceships and secret Disneylands hidden in volcanoes—and return to Ian Fleming's novels as the basis for a great romantic adventure. They succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, and “OHMSS” is still widely considered the best Bond film of all.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, it tanked at the box office. Saltzman and Broccoli decided the only answer was to revert to formula. So “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) was Bond produced on autopilot. The pulpy plot and labored humor gave the film—despite the one-last-time return of Connery—the look and feel of a cheap 60s Bond rip-off instead of the genuine article. And it set the stage for the 70s Roger Moore films, each one bigger and dumber than the last.

But by 1980, Broccoli, now producing solo after Saltzman bailed out, was persuaded to reorient the films again. In a move uncannily similar to that of a decade earlier, 1979's “Moonraker” (again with the hijacked spaceships, though this time the secret base was in orbit) was followed by 1981's “For Your Eyes Only,” a return to Fleming that used a nifty plot device to join two Bond short stories into a remarkably enjoyable romp through the Cold War. Bond fans who had suffered through five consecutive dimwitted movies that were Bond films in name only rejoiced at this surprising turn of events.

But once again, the next movie fell jarringly short. “Octopussy” (1983) suffered from a muddled plot that included an astoundingly maladroit attempt to insert the “Octopussy” short story into the middle of the screenplay, and the return of some of the silly humor of the worst Moore pictures. Moore's appearance in the climax, disguised as a circus clown, seemed to sum up his years in the role. After filming the utterly forgettable “A View to a Kill” (1985), he finally retired from his long run as Bond, setting up the next change in the series.

To introduce their fourth Bond, the filmmakers again returned to Fleming (though there wasn't much left by now) to spin off another refreshingly down-to-earth tale of international intrigue in the “OHMSS” mode. “The Living Daylights” (1987) was a little too long and lacked the usual villainous mastermind, but was a great success with fans and critics nonetheless. And Timothy Dalton was hailed by all as the long awaited return of the “real” Bond—suave as ever but with a gravitas not seen since “From Russia With Love” and “OHMSS.”

So, one would think, a whole new and improved series of films was about to appear. And yet, somehow, Broccoli and crew managed to blow the follow-up again. Dalton's second—and as it turned out, last—picture, 1989's “Licence to Kill,” was a highly questionable attempt to make Bond more “realistic,” or a response to the exercises in mayhem and explosions fronted by Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the like. After a ridiculously contrived blowup with M, Bond becomes a rogue agent, on the run as he tracks down the drug lord who mutilated old pal Felix Leiter. It was all very grim and brutal, lacking Bond's customary savoir faire. It didn't go over with American viewers (although it did well overseas), and Dalton lost much of his cachet.

And then none of that mattered. Broccoli was engulfed in legal battles with the new owners of MGM and Bond went into limbo. Dalton resigned in the interim, probably with a helpful push from the studio, and when Broccoli was finally able to resume production in 1994, Brosnan was tapped to lead Bond in his latest new direction.

Surprisingly enough, “Goldeneye” (1995) managed to distill the best of the films into a 90s approach that instantly wiped out the scurrilous speculation that Bond's days as a leading movie hero were over. The picture pandered a bit to fans of mindless destruction and the forces of political correctness, yet was strong enough to survive the worst musical score ever heard in a Bond movie (by European new-wave wacko Eric Serra), pulling in more money than any previous Bond adventure. Brosnan, who many feared would be a lightweight Roger Moorish Bond, picked up the character from Dalton's “Living Daylights” persona and ran with it. Brosnan and Bond were a hit and the pictures were—dare I say it—set for another relaunch.

So, as if to perversely stick with tradition, once again they've blown the follow-up. “Tomorrow Never Dies” is chock full of great ideas for a Bond movie, but they never quite come together. It was so close to working that the paperback novel based on the script (written by the new official Bond novelist, Raymond Benson) was a much better story with the insertion of a few deft character touches and reordering of plot points. But the movie was scripted by committee and rewritten as it was shot, with the holes in the story covered by endless machine-gun fire in an attempt to hide the fact that the plot was recycled from “You Only Live Twice” and nearly every Roger Moore film: rich megalomaniac starting World War III for his own profit.

Elliott Carver, the Rupert Murdoch-style media baron played by Jonathan Pryce, was touted as a new type of Bond villain, but turned out to be another Blofeld trying to expand his cable-TV holdings. Teri Hatcher gives a one-note performance as his wife, this film's “sacrificial lamb” character, the one whose death always sets Bond off in righteous pursuit of the villain. Michelle Yeoh is the standout this time as Chinese agent Wai Lin, who eventually teams with Bond to defeat Carver.

The best contribution to “TND” came from composer David Arnold, who set out to write a score that echoed John Barry's 1960s Bond music. The result is laudably ersatz Barry—too bombastic here and there, too reliant on “The James Bond Theme” instead of new material—but undoubtedly the best Bond score since Barry started phoning them in during the Moore years.

The 19th James Bond film—tentatively titled “The World Is Not Enough”—starts shooting in January for release next November. We'll have to wait until then to see if Bond bounces back on track one more time.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Special Edition DVD

Released by MGM Home Entertainment

November 1998

Color, Widescreen

Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

Closed Captioned

Spanish, French and English subtitles

Keep Case

117 minutes

Special Features:

Audio commentary by director Roger Spottiswoode,

Producer Michael G. Wilson and stunt director Vic Armstrong

“Secrets of 007” featurette


Digital effects reel

Sheryl Crow music video

Isolated music track

Interview with composer David Arnold

Theatrical release trailer and teaser trailer