Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flick of the Week: "Believe me, Mr. Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect."

The first Flick of the Week for the year takes us with Pierce Brosnan from The Thomas Crown Affair to his second effort as James Bond with Tomorrow Never Dies.

It can be said without fear of contradiction that Pierce Brosnan saved the James Bond franchise. When he appeared as Bond in Goldeneye in 1995, it had been a whopping 6 years since the previous Bond film starring Timothy Dalton Licence to Kill. This was after the Bond films up to that point had come out on average once every 19 months. There were 6 Bond films in the '60s (the first in 1963); 5 in the '70s; and 5 (not including the unofficial Never Say Never Again) in the '80s. And yet by half way through the 1990s no Bond had made its way to the screens.

This is not surprising when you consider that Licence to Kill made only $34.7m in the United States, which meant it was only the 36th biggest grossing movie in the States for 1989. By comparison, Octopussy, released in 1983, grossed $67.9m in the USA, and ranked as the 6th biggest film for the year. Licence to Kill actually earned less money (in nominal terms) than Live and Let Die which had been released in 1973, and given that the average price of theatre tickets in 1989 was $3.97, and in 1973 it was $1.77 you don't need to know much about inflation to realise that meant Licence to Kill did not do all that well, and that the Bond flicks were on the nose.

So from Moonraker in 1979 to Licence to Kill the Bond films ranking in the year's US box office went 6th, 8th, 6th, 13th, 19th, 36th... Not a good trend line.

And if these stats aren't enough to make the point, consider this - in 1989 in the USA, Karate Kid Part III earned more money than Licence to Kill (c'mon be honest, you didn't even know there was a Part III - let me give you a tip, it isn't the best of the three). And if that's not enough, ask yourself would you even bother switching a TV channel to watch Licence to Kill? I did once and lasted about 5 minutes. It was dull (which I don't think was the adjective the producers were hoping to be linked with the film).

The solution was to go to Brosnan (who had wanted the role in the 1980s after Roger Moore finally handed in his 007 badge). The result was Goldeneye, which in 1995 grossed $106.4m and came in 6th for the year; Tomorrow Never Dies, which made $125.3m in 1997 (10th for the year); The World is Not Enough which took in $126.9m (14th biggest in 1999); and Die Another Day which made another $160.9m to come in 12th place for 2002.

These figures don't account for the non-American takings as the Bond brand kept making money in the rest of the world even during the Dalton years - Licence to Kill came in 12th worldwide. But even here Brosnan vastly improved the franchise - Goldeneye came 4th worldwide in 1995, as did Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, The World is Not Enough dropped to 8th, but Die Another Day got it back to 6th in 2002.

Before Brosnan took over the role, actors didn't want a bar of it; after him there was a year long fight amongst agents desperately trying to get their man up - would it be Hugh Jackman? Colin Farrel? Clive Owen? Will Smith?? When Brosnan took over all he had to do was resurrect a fading, tired, 20 year old franchise, and make it relevant in a post-Cold War world. All David Craig had to do was not bugger up one of cinema's true golden geese. Which demonstrates the difference in expectations of the two actors.

I liked both Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, thought The World is Not Enough was okish - apart from the imbecilic casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist, but by Die Another Day Brosnan and his brand of Bond had done its dash - did they really need to bring in an invisible car?

But while his reign as Bond was short, it was great for the franchise, and Tomorrow Never Dies is my favourite of the four. While Goldeneye has the best female Bond villain with Famke Jannsen as Xenia Onatopp, Tomorrow Never Dies has the best ever "Bond girl" (though that phrase does not do her justice) with Michelle Yeoh as Chinese spy, Wai Lin.

The film, like all good Bond films, is rather convoluted and involves media magnate Eliot Carver (played by Jonathon Pryce as a sort of evil Rupert Murdoch - or is that a tautology?) attempting to cause China and England to go to war so that Pryce can get broadcast rights to Chinese TV for the next century (or something like that).

It lets Bond go to Russia, Germany, Vietnam and Thailand. He is able to remotely drive a BMW, get beaten up and then chased through a newspaper printing factory, threatened with torture bythe creepy Dr Kaufman (played by the wonderful Vincent Schiavelli), ride a motor bike while handcuffed to Yeoh, bed old flame Teri Hatcher, sky dive and scuba dive, as well as destroy a "stealth boat".

It's all good fun, and the accent is on fun - yes Brosnan gives it some drama with the whole relationship with Teri Hatcher and briefly wrestles with emotions after she dies, but for the most part this film keeps in the forefront that belief that Bond means action, a few quips, a quick bit of putting 2 and 2 together and then more action.

Now I like the Bourne Identity films, but I'm not all that sure Bond films should go that way, which seems to be the case with the Daniel Craig versions. Bond films should be "for the whole family", and while that genre can do with a bit of pushing, Casino Royale and the dopily named Quantum of Solace want to push it well into the adult intense drama genre. And while I like that, it's not what I want from Bond. It's like going to McDonalds and being told you'll have to wait 30 minutes because your burger is going to be made with wagu beef and each French Fry is being individually cut and fried. Now, I like a good meal, but when I go to McD's I know what I want and it doesn't involve standing around and waiting.

When I go to a Bond film, I know what I want - action that is a thrill, but not so intense that you want to question the goodness of humanity. I'll rent out The Departed if I want to see that. The action should also not be so stupid that you quickly work out everything is implausible and done with CGI - I'll rent out Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull if I want to see that.

When I was 9 I went with my family to see Raiders of the Lost Ark and For Your Eyes Only play at the local cinema (now there was a double feature!). I doubt you'd want to take your 9 year old to see any of the last two Bonds. And ok, maybe that's a good thing but I hope they don't go too much the other way in the future.

Tomorrow Never Dies got the mix about perfect - yes the villain could be a bit more "evil" - but at least with a media magnate you can imagine him being able to gather a few henchmen. Teri Hatcher fits the mould as the disposable girl, and Michelle Yeoh is great as the take no prisoners Chinese agent who can pretty much do anything Bond can (and in a few cases, better).

Best of all it's a film that hasn't dated - try and watch some of the later Sean Connery Bond films without cringing. It also survives viewing after seeing Austen Powers - mostly because it doesn't involve anything to do with a "laser".

So if after seeing Quantum of Solace, you want to remind yourself of what Bond used to mean, give this one a go and have a couple of hours of fun.

Best line:
Dr. Kaufman: This is very embarrassing. It seems there is a red box they need in your car, only they can't get it open. They want me to get you to tell how to open it. I feel like an idiot, I don't know what to say.
[Bond just smiles]
Dr. Kaufman: I am to torture you if you don't do it.
James Bond: Do you have a doctorate in that as well?
Dr. Kaufman: No, no this is more like a hobby... but I am very gifted.
James Bond: Oh, I believe you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed on the violence in Q Solace. It was too much for me and scene where he puts the corpse of his side kick in a garbage can was extremely un Bond like.

However I must admit to loving License to Kill and the soundtrack which I own for some reason. Grace Jones in View To A Kill has to go down as the scariest and yet most interesting bond girl of all time.