Now pay attention 007: another very special anniversary is with us. The 18th EON James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, which starred Pierce Brosnan in his second smash-hit 007 adventure, is celebrating its 25th birthday (it received its World Premiere at the famous Odeon Leicester Square, in central London, on 9th December, 1997).
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, and with a screenplay by Bruce Feirstein, Brosnan’s second stab at the iconic role of James Bond saw him up against the manipulative media mogul Elliot Carver, played by the award-winning stage and screen actor Jonathan Pryce. The film also co-starred Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher.
It was a plot very much shaped by the idea that, with the dramatic and revolutionary emergence of the internet in the mid-1990s, the creation of 24-hour news cycles, and the increasing rise of powerful and unaccountable media tycoons, ‘information’ and news were being increasingly weaponized and employed not just for factual education but also for controversial versions of mass entertainment. Moreover, in the case of Elliot Carver, monopoly control of media outlets was also being used to build a powerful and criminal empire.
As part of the 25th birthday celebrations, the JBIFC takes the opportunity to briefly look back on the film and present (00)7 interesting facts and memories about Tomorrow, some familiar, others perhaps less well-known.
007 and Counting…
001: In the months prior to the start of filming, the British press regularly speculated that none other than top Welsh thespian Anthony Hopkins, acclaimed star of stage and screen, was the front runner choice for main villain in TND. However, after having made such an impact as Hannibal the Cannibal, it was said by industry insiders that Hopkins was growing tired of being regularly offered villainous roles: he made it clear he was now more interested in playing a good guy in the new Zorro movie, as Don Diego de la Vega, mentor to the black-masked swashbuckler (Sean Connery had originally agreed to play the role of Zoro’s mentor, but had dropped out, enabling Hopkins to step in). Ironically, what became The Mask of Zorro (1998) was directed by Martin Campbell, who had made such a success of Brosnan’s first Bond movie Goldeneye.
002: In January, 2001, the fantasy and sci-fi film expert John Brosnan (now sadly departed) wrote a fascinating piece in Starburst magazine about an interview he had conducted with director Roger Spottiswoode about his memories of Tomorrow. Spottiswoode revealed that they had to junk the entire original script of the movie shortly before shooting was due to start. The first version of TND had involved the British hand-over of Hong Kong to the Chinese and a nuclear reactor that was about to explode. But the former U.S. politician Henry Kissinger had been hired by EON as the film’s ‘diplomatic adviser’, and he had advised against using this sensitive plot scenario. Consequently, Spottiswoode had no proper screenplay on the first day of shooting!
003: In an interview with a British newspaper a few days after the premiere of Tomorrow Never Dies, Vic Armstrong, the Second Unit director and stunt coordinator on the movie, explained some of the tricky challenges involved in the spectacular pre-credits sequence: ‘We had all sorts of dramas filming this one. We needed to shoot an aeroplane lifting off, coinciding with lots of explosions and flying through a fireball. The runway we had was in France – for the snow – and it was too short to land or take off planes, so we had to get four jets, two of which we shipped out in pieces and two more parked 80 kilometres away for the air shots… We also had to get approval from avalanche guides…’. He revealed that, although some key shots were done with models and special effects, a shot where Bond looks over his shoulder as he comes through a fireball required a wide shot: the latter was achieved with a major overall explosion on location in France. But: ‘When we did that one, we nearly wiped out the whole mountainside!’
004: News, information and hi-tech communications, together with one man’s murderous desire to dominate and manipulate global media markets, were at the heart of the plot to Tomorrow. Greedy newspaper mogul Elliot Carver (Pryce) was given some now classic lines: ‘Words are the new weapons, satellites the new artillery’, and: ‘There’s no news like bad news’. In a sense, the screenplay skilfully combined traditional ‘Bondian’ elements with a social message: the underlying theme of the plot was a subtle critical commentary on the way that news and facts were being distorted and falsified through new forms of media in the run-up to the new Millenium. The movie anticipated what is today called ‘fake news’. Moreover, the character of Elliot Carver was also partly modelled on egotistical media barons past and present, such as Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.
005: In a great piece of marketing, tie-in coverage of TND was published by the UK’s Mirror newspaper in December, 1997, in the form of a supplement mocked up as an edition of Elliot Carver’s newspaper Tomorrow, with the same masthead to the paper as in the movie. The front-page story to this special supplement also had a typical piece of Carver ‘news’, revealing details about the formerly top-secret existence of top MI6 spy James Bond! It quoted a Ministry of Defence official admitting: ‘He exists all right and he costs Her Majesty’s Government an absolute fortune’. It was a great souvenir for Bond fans. Interestingly, this ‘story’ was penned by Diplomatic Editor ‘Roger Connery’ (get it?!).
006: Other key pieces of TND tie-in marketing included a special deal between MGM and German car manufacturer BMW, where the latter car company supplied the movie with ten real-life models of its most expensive saloon, and ran a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign to promote both the film as well as its vehicle. Second Unit director Vic Armstrong took full advantage of the BMW vehicles so generously supplied during filming: in a 3-week location shoot at Brent Cross shopping centre car-park in London (doubling up for Hamburg), the crew had a ‘smashing’ time wrecking up to £1m worth of BMWs for the stunt car sequence! As Armstrong commented to a local Hendon newspaper during the filming: ‘There is obviously pressure from the producers not to go over budget, but my job is just to get some great shots. The price of this sequence is small change when you look at the end result’.
007: How did the critics react to the new Bond movie upon its release? The influential American film industry journal Variety decided that Tomorrow had plenty of ‘bang-bang but very little kiss-kiss’, heavily favouring ‘straight-ahead action above all else’; the journal predicted the movie would ‘perform handsomely’, and noted: ‘For his part, Pierce Brosnan now looks so at ease in the role that it seems like second nature to him…’. On the other hand, Variety argued that ‘elsewhere the excitement and satisfaction is rather more intermittent, with too much running time devoted to good guys and bad guys spraying machine gun fire at one another’. In the UK, the respected Sight and Sound movie magazine decided that the new 007 film had ‘cannibalised’ too much from previous entries in the series: ‘Tomorrow is like a photocopy of a collage of previous Bonds…’, and was ‘far from premium Bond’. But the British cinema-going public clearly had no time for this rather harsh verdict: TND quickly stormed the box-office charts. The movie opened in the UK, for example, with the highest three-day grosses ever for a James Bond film up to that point, even eclipsing Goldeneye‘s 1995 November release.
Many Bond fans feel that, twenty-five years later, Tomorrow Never Dies has stood the test of time really well, and remains a highly exciting and successful James Bond adventure.
Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh prepare for another TND take.