Die Another Day

(2002) *** Pg-13
127 min. MGM/UA. Director: Lee Tamahori. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune.

Though the 20th James Bond movie has plenty going for it, it's some measure of the franchise's long-winded fatigue that Die Another Day had me thinking, "Okay, fine, but let's call it a day now, shall we?" Presuming that Bond won't actually return in perpetuity, shouldn't the old boy hang up his tux with dignity?

Perhaps Brosnan will press for a Connery-matching two more films before the inevitable recasting and onward soldiering, but I can imagine worse cinematic crimes than another bloated, Byzantine Bond every few years. In fact, for most of Die Another Day's incorrigible 132 minutes, I had a bloody good time. For starters, Pierce Brosnan makes a damn good Bond, with his rakish face registering the fierce determination which makes the incredible credible or betraying Bond's sexual Achilles' heel at the sight of the latest femmes fatale. Each smirk and sneer has the comforting familiarity of the Bond franchise embedded in it.

Here, too, are the globe-hopping adventures, with outlandishly outsized settings, extra helpings of videogame-styled action, and the eternally sexy and sexist Bond "girls." The film's propulsive opening sets Bond on edge, which is a good place for him to be (On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Licence to Kill momentarily mined some of the same dark territory). Journeyman director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, The Edge) delivers the requisite in-camera stunt mania while Peter Lamont admirably apes Ken Adam's renowned Bondian production design. Halle Berry makes an impression as the not-so-good-girl Jinx, though the script's damsel-in-distress machinations come off as unseemly for the character. Rosamund Pike similarly makes the most of her recycled role as due-for-defrosting ice queen Miranda Frost.

Most modern Bonds coat a thin political veneer over the proceedings that lends a bit of gravitas to the inherent nonsense, and Die Another Day is no exception. If modern Bonds trump the campy past on this score, they often fail to reach the beloved, loopy heights embodied by Goldfinger. Instead, Die Another Day is seriously overwrought, with a now-trendy anti-climax extending a good fifteen minutes beyond the audience's goodwill for a noisy, muddled climax. The occasional acquiescence to blurry CGI (notably in a solo snowboarding sequence for Bond) also comes as a disappointment, but for the most part, action fans looking for a fix will get their money's worth and then some (a swordfighting sequence easily ranks among the series' best fights).

Die Another Day enjoyably teases the Bond mythos without ever challenging it, and numerous verbal and visual in-jokes celebrate the franchise's platinum anniversary. Early in the film, a Hong Kong beauty purrs, "I am Peaceful Fountains of Desire, the masseuse," and later in the film, a Maori henchman gutturally intones, "I'm Mr. Kill." Somewhere in between, you know James Bond is alive and well.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

Street date: 10/21/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Part of the new Blu-ray wave of Bond releases, Die Another Day looks and sounds terrific in full HD while preserving the full suite of extras from the recent DVD Ultimate Edition. This relatively recent Bond entry looks as it should, with impressive detail and a pleasingly natural level of film grain (the film's subtitled dialogue and location markers remain "burned in," a tactic preferred by purists). The image has a hint of flicker to it, and it may not have the sheen and "pop" associated with the snazziest hi-def titles, but this is certainly the best presentation available for the 20th Bond adventure. As remastered in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio, the film's soundtrack has never sounded so good on home video, ably balancing the dialogue, music, and pulse-pounding effects for a full and immersive multi-channel experience.

As with all of the Bond titles, Die Another Day comes with a staggering array of bonus features, beginning with two commentaries. The audio commentary with director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson is a conversation allowing Tamahori to take the lead in describing the myriad effects, stunts, gadgets, sets, and locations that make up a Bond picture. The two also discuss the general visual and tonal approaches, casting (including John Cleese as the new “Q”), Brosnan’s stunt work, and the always tricky development of the story. The commentary with actors Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike is a stitch job (the actors aren't in conversation), but it's a pleasure to hear their reflections on their respective characters, the mania that is a Bond shoot, and the future of the franchise.

The MI6 DataStream is a trivia track by John Cork (co-author of James Bond: The Legacy) that nineteen times during the film incorporates video material. The track covers locations, connections to other Bond films, stunts, effects, and story points, and the video clips offer footage of fencing training and effects development, as well as comments by model effects supervisor John Richardson, writers Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, actors Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Rick Yune, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Michael Madsen, and Samantha Bond, makeup supervisor Paul Engelen, costume supervisor Lindy Hemming, workshop supervisor Nick Finlayson, and special effects supervisor Chris Corbould.

The Declassified: MI6 Vault kicks off with the documentary "From Script to Screen" (51:37), whose talking heads include Wilson, Brosnan, Tamahori, Wade, Purvis, Corbould, Pike, Hemming, Richardson, co-producer Barbara Broccoli, executive producer Tony Waye, action unit director Vic Armstrong, storyboard artist Martin Asbury, workshop supervisor Andy Smith, Eon director of publicity and marketing Anne Bennett, Empire Magazine associate editor Ian Freer, film journalist John Millar, casting director Debbie McWilliams, production designer Peter Lamont, stunt coordinator George Aguilar, surf double Laird Hamilton, costume supervisor Graham Churchyard, production manager Philip Kohler, action unit production manager Terry Bamber, Iceland facilities manager John Hindrick, sound recordist Chris Munro, senior modeler Brian Smithies, sword master Bob Anderson and actors Halle Berry and Toby Stephens. As the title implies, we follow the film from script discussions to selection of a director, production, and post-production.

"Shaken and Stirred on Ice" (23:33) covers the challenges of shooting "on the rocks" with Tamahori, Stephens, Corbould, Smith, Lamont, Finlayson, Purvis, Wade, Pike, Broccoli, Wilson, Hemming, Berry, Armstrong, greensman Tim Cale, visual effects producer Alex Bicknell, senior compositor David Rey, wave sequence supervisor Dottie Starling, Iceland production manager Chris Brock, ice safety coordinator David Rootes, and stuntman Ray De Haan. Icelandic locations, cars and stunts, sets, visual effects, and costumes are eludicated.

"Just Another Day" (22:37) gathers Wade, Stephens, Brosnan, Tamahori, Pike, location manager Simon Marsden, parachutist Allan Hewitt, and Parks Police Sgt. T. Hale to explain a day's shoot, specifically the scene in which Graves parachutes in front of Buckingham Palace. "The British Touch: Bond Returns to London" (3:32) takes a quick look at Bond’s /promo partner, with Tamahori, British Airways global advertising manager Abby McGowan, BA promotions executive Vanessa Orange, and actor Deborah Moore. "On Location with Peter Lamont" (13:52) is narrated by the veteran production designer as we view the film's location scouting.

The 007 Mission Control Interactive Guide offers access to selected scenes in the categories of “007,” “Women,” “Allies,” “Villains,” “Mission Combat Manual,” “Q Branch,” and “Exotic Locations."  Here one can see the opening credits (3:23) without the titles, which is nifty. “Locations” (3:06) also presents a series of clips narrated by Samantha Bond.

The Image Database presents still galleries for “Cast Portraits” (38 photos), “Special Shoot” (49), “Sets and Locations” (73), “Stunts and Special Effects” (43), and “Vehicles and Gadgets” (23).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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