Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Story

Plot Summary

A stupidly short-sided news mogul tries to beat his competition to stories by creating events and reporting on them before they happen. Bond and Michelle Yeoh put a stop to it.


Fresh out of Fleming influences to pull from, Barbara Broccoli and her step-brother Michael G Wilson (Cubby Broccoli had passed away shortly after the release of GoldenEye) turned to screenwriter Bruce Feirstein. He'd been one of the writers on GoldenEye and came up with a story based on his own experiences as a journalist, creating a villain along the lines of Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. Drawing inspiration from the Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows," Feirstein named his bad guy's newspaper Tomorrow and the name of the movie was going to be Tomorrow Never Lies. Which makes tons more sense than Tomorrow Never Dies, but (so the story goes) thanks to a bad fax, that was what MGM thought the title was going to be and they fell in love with it.

How Is the Book Different?

Tomorrow Never Dies is the first Bond movie to take none of its name or plot from anything Fleming-related. Other than the standard cast of characters, I can't think of a single thing that it owes directly to the books.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

There are a couple of Fleming-like elements though. A tiny one is that Bond keeps his gun in a special container in his glove compartment, but a major one is the way he approaches his case. He's in total Blunt Instrument mode.

As soon as he knows that Elliot Carver is his man (which is really early, thanks to Carver's stupidity), Bond's whole tactic is to go meet Carver and just stir crap up. Bond lets Carver know right away that he's under suspicion; then moves in on Carver's wife. I don't even know why Bond's "investigation" is necessary, because MI6 has enough evidence already to seize Carver's assets and launch a full inquiry, but whatever. Bond doesn't pussyfoot around with Carver and that's very much like Fleming's character.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

There's a bunch about Tomorrow that feels off, but I'll mention two big ones. The first is Carver's wife (and a former girlfriend of Bond) named Paris. It's cool and all that Carver is married to someone that Bond used to date - that's kind of novel - but the movie claims that she was a major, important person in his life. It makes the claim super unconvincingly, but it makes it. That not only doesn't feel like Fleming's Bond, it doesn't even feel like the movie version. There's only ever been one significant woman for Bond and it ain't this one.

Paris is an example of an even deeper problem though, and that's the inconsistency of Tomorrow's tone. One of GoldenEye's strengths was that it reconciled Bond's humor with the darkness of his world. Tomorrow doesn't have that balance. It just gives us dark moments right next to goofy ones with no attempt to bring the two together. The silliness robs the tragic moments of their weight, and the grim stuff makes the humor inappropriate. Fleming was a way better writer than that.

Cold Open

The teaser starts with a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border (because we still don't trust those Russians). It's cool that the movie shows us this from the perspective of the MI6 command center with no Bond in sight for a while. Instead, M and her new Chief of Staff are at odds with an admiral about how best to handle the market. M wants to gather intelligence, while the Navy just wants to bomb the place and get it over with.

The admiral pulls rank and orders a missile strike over the objections of "White Knight," M's agent at the bazaar who's supplying them all with the video they're watching. Of course, White Knight is actually Bond and he's right that they should've held off the attack, because one of the planes for sale is carrying nuclear weapons and an explosion will kill far more than just the terrorists.

Since it's too late to abort the missile strike, Bond's only choice is to steal the plane and get it out of the area, which he does. There's a nice moment when the admiral wonders what the hell Bond is doing and M replies, "His job!" It's an unnecessarily combative question for the admiral to be asking - creating some extra tension that doesn't need to be there and doesn't really make sense - but I like that M defends her man despite their disagreements in GoldenEye.

We can't have a teaser without some kind of action set piece, so Bond steals his plane with the gunner still in the backseat. The gunner chokes Bond, who has to fly the plane with his knees, get it under a pursuing plane, then eject the gunner into the other plane, making it explode.

It's one of the more implausible teasers, made even clunkier by its not having much to do with the rest of the movie. Carver's tech guy makes a cameo appearance at the bazaar where he's seen buying some equipment that will help in Carver's plan, but he's totally unconnected to what Bond's doing there and as far as the rest of the movie's concerned he could have gotten that tech anywhere.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity

M's traditional Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner (from the novels and a few movies including GoldenEye) has been replaced by the extremely handsome Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon from Alien vs Predator, the Resident Evil movies, and Arrow). I wonder if it has anything to do with Tanner's calling M the "evil queen of numbers" last movie? At any rate, Robinson's going to stick around for the rest of the Brosnan films and I'm glad. Like him a lot.

The only other bit of movie continuity I noticed (besides Paris, I mean) is that Bond is still a secret agent. He hasn't been a world-famous spy since the middle of the Moore era. Carver does figure out who he works for, but has to do some digging to come up with it. And he also comes up with Michelle Yeoh's employer, so it's meant as an example of Carver's resourcefulness, not Bond's notoriety.

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