“Tomorrow Never Dies’ major importance was in cementing Pierce Brosnan as the James Bond of that time period — a responsibility he fulfilled very successfully.” — 007 historian Lee Pfeiffer
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th official cinematic James Bond adventure and the second of four to feature Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007.
Our previous celebratory 007 articles include Die Another Day, Dr. No, The Living Daylights, The Spy Who Lived Me, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, GoldenEye, A View to a Kill, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger, and 007… Fifty Years Strong.
The Bits continues the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond scholars, documentarians and historians, who discuss the virtues, shortcomings and legacy of… Tomorrow Never Dies. [Read on here...]
The participants for this segment are (in alphabetical order)….
Robert A. Caplen is an attorney and the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010).
John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and value added material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles as well as Chariots of Fire and The Hustler. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He has recently contributed articles on the literary history of James Bond for ianfleming.com and The Book Collector.
Lisa Funnell is the author (with Klaus Dodds) of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and editor of For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond (Wallflower, 2015). She is Assistant Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program and Affiliate Faculty, Film and Media Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. Her other books include Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star (State University of New York, 2014), (with Man-Fung Yip) American and Chinese-Language Cinemas: Examining Cultural Flows (Routledge, 2015), and (with Philippa Gates) Transnational Asian Identities in Pan-Pacific Cinemas: The Reel Asian Exchange (Routledge, 2012).
Mark O’Connell is a punditeer, the grandson of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli’s chauffeur, and the author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Splendid Books, 2012). His next book, Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us, will be published in May 2018.
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Dave Worrall) of The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999) and (with Philip Lisa) The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
The interviews were conducted separately and edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to Tomorrow Never Dies, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Tomorrow Never Dies worthy of celebration on its 20th anniversary?
Robert Caplen: In our current era of “fake news,” Tomorrow Never Dies seems more relevant than ever. Released in 1997 with the Internet in its infancy, Tomorrow Never Dies addressed issues with which we grapple today: manipulation and dishonesty in journalism, cyberterrorism, and the threat of nuclear war. Tomorrow Never Dies was overshadowed by the success of Titanic, but it is arguably Pierce Brosnan’s second best performance as James Bond (after GoldenEye).
John Cork: Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. I think it’s Brosnan’s best performance as Bond. It is his most relaxed, his most confident. He moves with a fluidity in the film that seemed perfect for 007.
The film was a nightmare production on many levels. It is no secret that the director, Roger Spottiswoode, and the producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, did not get along during production. That’s always unfortunate. Having worked closely with Barbara and Michael, I felt for them. On the other hand, a friend started dating Roger during the production, and just before the film opened in the U.S., I joined my friend and Roger for dinner. It was fascinating to hear his experiences in that kind of casual setting. Regardless of why the communication and trust broke down, you could tell it was a very stressful experience for all involved. Pierce Brosnan had his battles on the set, too. He and Terri Hatcher had a well-publicized row when he bit her lip during the shooting of their intimate scene. He likely felt embarrassed by her response, but the result was a very mean-spirited piece on Hatcher on American television portraying her as a diva on the set. For various reasons, the script always seemed to be in flux, which frustrated actors and crew. Yet, I found the resulting film beautifully edited, filled with Bondian touches, some fantastic dialogue thanks to Bruce Feirstein’s scripting, two great songs, and a David Arnold score that gets my blood racing every time.
Lisa Funnell: Released in 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies reflects the fact that the world in which Bond is operating has changed geopolitically. First, the film highlights the porous nature of national borders (particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union) where alliances and allegiances are less clear. This is emphasized in the pre-credit sequence with the description of the weapons being sold at the “terrorist supermarket,” many of which have national descriptors: “Chinese longmark SCUD, a Panther A-658 attack helicopter, American rifles, Chilean mines and German explosives. Fun for the whole family.” Second, the film does the imaginative work of culture by (re)envisioning a new relationship between Britain and China after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. Bond works in concert with a Chinese agent, Wai Lin, and the pair take down a threat to the global order. Through this cooperative relationship, Britain via Bond remains a key player in East Asia even as the actual influence of the UK is waning in the region.
Mark O’Connell: I am struggling to pinpoint a Bond film which has never been more prescient twenty years on than Tomorrow Never Dies. Broadcast rights, fake news, rising tensions in Chinese territories, a Britain being told it is no longer the empirical player it once was, younger trophy wives, spun headlines, shoe-horning news into political ammo, a villain obsessed with ratings, media mogul cohorts of the Prime Minister, a villain obsessed with one-sided rallies, arms deals on Russian soil, loathsome press secretaries, talk of corrupt MPs, dubious bankers, an America still reeling from Vietnam and a bit of racist bigotry on the part of the villain — two decades on Tomorrow Never Dies is less a Bond movie, and more of lean, stylish, mature, yet inadvertent prophecy on a post-Obama, post-fact world. It’s also a markedly solid caper of a Bond film and warrants any celebration for that alone.
Lee Pfeiffer: It was Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film and was essential in proving that his success in GoldenEye wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan. Every Bond actor seems to get better and more assured in the role the longer he plays it. Brosnan’s performance in TND follows that pattern. The role of Bond fit him like a glove. He had been a popular choice for the part when Roger Moore left the series but, as we all know, Brosnan couldn’t take the role at the last minute because NBC decided to renew his TV series Remington Steele. They thought they could have the actor who plays James Bond appearing every week in their TV series. All they achieved was depriving Brosnan of the role, as Timothy Dalton was signed. Brosnan later admitted, however, that it was a blessing in disguise. By the time Bond did arrive at his doorstep, he was more mature physically and more refined as an actor.
Coate: Can you describe what it was like seeing Tomorrow Never Dies for the first time?
Caplen: I enjoyed the film when I watched it the first time. The title sequence initially struck me as odd with suspended female silhouettes randomly floating and looking like insects, but the remaining visuals were fantastic and a prelude to an exciting plot. I really enjoyed Tomorrow Never Dies and thought Pierce Brosnan made James Bond his own.
Cork: I saw the film numerous times before the Los Angeles premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I believe the first time was when MGM held a big pre-release screening in Westwood and Eon Productions gave me ten tickets. I invited a good group of friends. My favorite moment was as I was entering the theater from the lobby, James Coburn was walking in. When he was right beside me, I turned to one of my friends and so Coburn could hear it said, “Derek Flint could always kick James Bond’s ass.” Coburn smiled, nodded and went on to his seat.
Funnell: In the early 2000s, I was writing my MA thesis on the Bond Girl. I was doing a quantitative content analysis of all the James Bond films and exploring various facets of the archetype. This was the first time I saw Tomorrow Never Dies and I was so captivated by the dynamic performance of Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin that I stopped taking notes. I had to re-watch the film in order to complete my analysis (oh darn!). This film and especially the performance of Yeoh had a strong impact on me. It inspired me to research and write my first book Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star. Thus, my first viewing of Tomorrow Never Dies set me down a research path that has helped to shape and define my academic career! So the film occupies a special place in my heart!
O’Connell: I saw it on opening night, having returned earlier from university to continue the family traditions of seeing a new Bond together. From the white dots onwards, this was clearly a Bond movie that wanted to sprint from the starting blocks. It reminds of The Empire Strikes Back where everything and everyone is on the run. What immediately struck was just how frenzied and fast-lane it all was. The opening half hour is a slick unraveling of potentially convoluted events — but in using that initial surveillance room as a narrative crossroads for all the non-Bond elements vying for political and story attention, the film cuts off twenty minutes of exposition and quickly emerges as one of the tightest 007 movies (helmed by Sam Peckinpah’s 70s editor Roger Spottiswoode helps I imagine).
Pfeiffer: I saw the film at a press screening in London then went to the gala premiere that night at the Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square. I had not been as enamored with GoldenEye as most people, though I like it more today. I felt that TND started out as a vast improvement over that film but unfortunately fell apart in the second half of the film when it drops a compelling story line in favor of spectacular action scenes.
Coate: In what way was Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver a memorable/effective villain?
Caplen: Elliot Carver is two decades ahead of his time: a cold, calculating, manipulative, so-called journalist in charge of a large media conglomerate that carefully controls the dissemination of (false and manufactured) information. Today we would call Carver the editor-in-chief of a “fake news” network. Carver’s journalistic proclivities are accompanied by a wild fanaticism grounded in extortion (of individuals, including the American president, and governments). In an era that predated social media, Carver’s diabolical use of media is scary. Information is Carver’s weapon of mass destruction. Yet, he is no Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Cork: I love Jonathan Pryce as an actor. When I was working with Eon before GoldenEye, there was a discussion about whether it would be appropriate to bring back Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Of course it was. Desmond was a great asset to the first three Brosnan Bond films. But I had suggested Pryce as a potential replacement.
The character of Elliot Carver went through so many iterations, with his motivations ranging from originally wanting to destroy Hong Kong to desiring cable news rights in China. He was part Citizen Kane and part Robert Maxwell and part Rupert Murdoch. His original name, Elliot Harmsway, was a bit too close to Esmond Harmsworth, 2nd Viscount Rothermere, who had died in 1978. Why would anyone care? Well, Esmond Harmsworth was the prior husband of Ian Fleming’s wife Ann, and his son still ran the Daily Mail at the time (it is now controlled by his grandson).
Pryce plays Carver with unbridled, malevolent joy. “There’s no news like bad news” is a good line gloriously delivered. I love the scene where he’s creating headlines. “The Empire Strikes Back” is just so perfect. But Pryce gets the line of dialogue that for me is the single best line of dialogue in the Bond series, one that I quote often, one that other screenwriters have asked me if they could steal. That line is: “The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.” That’s a Bruce Feirstein line, and I’m glad I don’t have to pay him a dime every time I use it!
Carver’s weak spot is that his goals seem so out of whack to the lengths he goes to achieve them. At some point the audience is left wondering, wait, this is all for satellite rights in China? He also has the problem of “movie keyboard syndrome” where he is typing with one hand on a keyboard as he wanders around the scene. Don’t watch that closely while trying to swallow a mouthful of milk. He also suffered from a weak death scene. I love Bond’s line, but the moment onscreen does not work well, and on paper, it did.
Funnell: Jonathan Pryce delivers a compelling portrayal of a power hungry villain who delights in his ability to influence the thoughts and actions of the leaders of major world powers. But as a writer myself, what I envy the most about Elliot Carver is his ability to type on his keyboard with one hand without making any typos and without looking down at the keys. This is a truly remarkable skill that would serve him well in the era of smartphones!
O’Connell: Pryce certainly makes the best of a potentially hammy foe. He totally sells the Blofeldian machinations of possibly the first SPECTRE-framed villain since Sir Hugo Drax and 1979’s Moonraker. The importance of nearly being Ernst is all there in how the audience comes to his world. We don’t first see him on the racecourse, opera, chemical plant or auction house. He is stood alone facing banks of screens, monitors, buttons and mayhem. How that production motif by designer Allan Cameron unfurls and frames the villain of this film greatly aids Jonathan Pryce who was familiar with eating up a Broadway and West End stage or two. Conversely, there are some curious beats to Carver — not least his awkward predilection for blatant racism (his karate-chop tirade against Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin always jars). Yet, Pryce’s Carver has arguably one of the best lines of any character in any Bond film — “The distance between sanity and genius is measured only by success”. It is a mantra for the Bond movie juggernaut itself and great testament to writer Bruce Feirstein. Ultimately for this Bond writer the strength of the plotting and the contemporary machinations of Carver’s scheme props up the villain more than perhaps the performance.
Pfeiffer: Despite my criticisms of the film, I always felt Pryce — along with Vincent Schiavelli — proved to be two excellent villains in the style of the old Bond baddies. The villains were getting smaller-than-life and Pryce at least had some grandeur to his persona and his schemes.