Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Music

Éric Serra's attempt to combine the Bond sound with synth music in GoldenEye had been a failure, but film composer David Arnold was more successful. After scoring Stargate and Independence Day, Arnold more or less auditioned for the Bond gig by putting together an album of techno and rock covers of Bond songs. He called it Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project.

It's an interesting album with covers by Aimee Mann ("Nobody Does It Better"), Chrissie Hynde ("Live and Let Die"), and Iggy Pop ("We Have All the Time in the World"), as well as a bunch of techno bands I'm less familiar with. It's experimental though, so if you're turned off by albums with the word "project" in the title, it may not be for you. It's not something that I'll listen to over and over again except for Iggy Pop's song and Propellerheads' nine-and-a-half minute version of the theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Rumor has it that John Barry heard and liked the album so much that he recommended Arnold to Broccoli and Wilson as the composer for Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not sure about that timeline since Shaken and Stirred was released only a little over a month before Tomorrow, but maybe Barry heard the album while it was in production? Who knows. However he got the job, Arnold was hired to score Tomorrow and he was a great choice.

He uses the Bond Theme a ton in the movie. Pretty much any time that Bond's doing something cool the Theme - or a portion of it - is playing: during the teaser when Bond steals the plane, as Bond pulls into MI6 HQ in his Aston Martin, when he's test-driving the BMW, escaping from Carver's printing press, finishing up the remote-control chase in the parking garage, getting out of a helicopter, fleeing on a motorcycle while handcuffed to Michelle Yeoh, or stopping a missile. I don't think the Bond Theme had been used that much in any other movie so far.

Arnold also took a stab at writing the theme song, teaming up with lyricist Don Black (who'd co-written with Barry the songs for ThunderballDiamonds Are Forever, and The Man with the Golden Gun) and singer-songwriter David McAlmont (who covered "Diamonds Are Forever" on Shaken and Stirred). Sadly, MGM wanted a more popular artist for the theme and invited several to submit their own versions. Sheryl Crow won.

Crow's isn't a bad song. It combines a) the tradition of writing a love song using the movie's title with b) the school of writing about a character in the movie. In it, a Bond Girl laments how Bond's treated her while holding hope for the future ("tomorrow never dies," you see). In fact, "not bad" is an understatement. It's a very good song. My problem with it is the wispy airiness of Crow's voice. That's always been a barrier to my enjoying her work. She's just not a strong enough singer to pound out a Bond song the way it needs to be delivered.

Contrast her with kd lang, who sings Arnold's stab at the theme song (re-titled "Surrender") over the closing credits. Lang belts it out as strongly as Arnold's bold, blaring arrangement. It's catchy, it's beautiful, and it's totally Bond. That should have been the main theme. One more bad decision by the filmmakers. It would have made my Top Five Theme Songs list.

[UPDATE: After three days of having "Surrender" pleasantly stuck in my head, I'm putting it on the list. Doesn't matter which credits it goes with, it deserves it.]

Daniel Kleinman is back to design the titles again and he's still doing great work. Borrowing from the movie's themes of television and technology, the opening credits feature lots of TV screens (often being smashed) and computer circuitry (often in the shape of women's bodies). There's also a lot of x-ray imagery that I'm not sure where it comes from, but is very cool nonetheless. Maybe it's something about the power of the media to reveal hidden things? Dang. That would've made a great premise for this movie if it had been about that.

There's one puzzling sequence at the end where a woman dives from a floating circle of enormous diamonds and splashes into a TV screen. It might be weirdness for its own sake, but I can't help connecting it with Paris, whose fall from her position of wealth as Carver's wife contributes to the downfall of his television empire. I feel like I'm stretching there, but maybe it's another example of the credits sequence understanding the thematic potential of the movie better than the movie does itself.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. "Surrender" (end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies)
3. The Living Daylights
4. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. Diamonds Are Forever
7. You Only Live Twice
8. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
9. Live and Let Die
10. Dr No

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. GoldenEye
6. From Russia with Love
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
8. Tomorrow Never Dies
9. Diamonds Are Forever
10. Live and Let Die

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