Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (Don HARLOW)

Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW

Tomorrow Never Dies


reviewed by Don HARLOW

   I remember going to see Doctor No when I was in college. That was so long ago that James Bond was wearing a hat. He wore it again in From Russia, With Love, but it seems to have disappeared by Goldfinger at the beginning of 1965. Shows you how much time has passed -- a third of a century since this franchise began making money for Albert "Cubby" Broccoli.

   And here we are on the eighteenth outing with Bond, James Bond. Cubby Broccoli is no longer around, but his wife (daughter?) is carrying on the tradition. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton are also no longer around, at least for this series, but Pierce Brosnan is carrying on their tradition, horrible puns and all.

   Movie opens with 007 investigating a "terrorist supermarket" somewhere in the south of Russia and videocasting it to a Royal Operations Center in Britain, where "M" (Judi Dench) together with a bunch of high Royal Military Brass are observing the proceeds. The Brass immediately order a missile from a nearby (?) naval ship to take out the center; only after the missile is launched and out of abort range do 007's cameras reveal that one fire-sale fighter plane is armed with plutonium-warhead missiles and that the explosion will depopulate most of Central Asia. This, of course, leaves "M", who wanted to hold off, looking smug ("Some may think that I don't have the balls for this job," she later tells the same Brass, "but at least I don't do all my thinking with them..."). It also leaves 007 with the unenviable task of having to fight his way through hundreds (well, maybe only a dozen or so) professional soldiers and terrorists, seize the airplane in question, and fly it out of the blast radius before the missile arrives in four minutes. Can anyone doubt that he succeeds? If he had failed, the movie would have been awfully short -- this all takes place before the opening credits...

   It is not clear what relevance this has to the rest of the film, except that it gives us a chance to contrast the clear heads at MI-7 with the we-must-show-these-wogs-a-thing-or-two thinking in the military establishment, a contrast that plays a (minor) role in the remainder of the film. It also introduces us to the much-touted techno-terrorist Henry Gupta (who, despite his family name, looks like a typical Mississippi biker), but his role in the rest of the film is so minimal that who cares?

   During the opening credits, Bond makes his way to Oxford for a Danish lesson (he is learning the language using the so-called "Horizontal Method", which leads Moneypenny to remark "I always knew you were a cunning linguist, James."). But he is forced to withdraw from the course because of a developing crisis in the South China Sea, where a British destroyer, ostensibly in international waters, is ostensibly destroyed by ostensible Chinese MIGs, which ostensibly proceed to murder the survivors in the water -- a vicious and unprovoked attack which is played up by media mogul Eliot Carver, almost before the event takes place. This quickness of response makes "M" suspicious, and she sends Bond to Hamburg to investigate the event in the South China Sea. [Note to Randy Robinson Your GPS won't do you much good if techno-terrorists get hold of the appropriate satellite encoder and use it to convince you that you are not in your own living room but somewhere near Shasta Dam...]

   Well, you can see where this is going, so I won't give away too much more of the plot. I will only refer you to William Randolph Hearst's famous quote before the destruction of the Maine in Havana harbor "You give me an incident and I'll give you a war." I will reveal that Carver is not happy with the mainland Chinese, because the government in Beijing -- apparently alone among governments in the world -- has refused him the right to broadcast to China's one and a quarter billion citizens.

   We get a quick look at Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane of Lois and Clark) as Carver's beautiful young wife Paris; it was apparently she who taught Bond English at some time in the past. Unfortunately, Carver's suspicions of the two are aroused when he overhears her ask Bond if he still sleeps with a gun under his pillow, and her time in the film is rather short. But, no worry; we also have the beautiful curly-haired Miss Win of New China News Agency, who also happens to be the beautiful straight-haired Colonel Win of the Chinese Secret Service -- Michelle Yeoh, of any number of action videos ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, all lovingly detailed by Vera H.C. Chan in last Friday's West County Times. Naturally 007 and Colonel Win will at some point get together to defeat the evil machinations of the evil Rupert Murdoch ... I mean, the evil Robert Maxwell ... I mean, the evil Eliot Carver. Unfortunately, James Bond, as we know from You Only Live Twice (of which this film is in some sense a replay), took a first in Oriental Languages at Cambridge, so he doesn't need to learn Chinese -- though at one point he tries to fool Colonel Win about this by pretending not to understand the characters on a Chinese keyboard.

   Scenery is rather limited; we get to see London, Hamburg, some American military base somewhere (a quick look only), a city which is purportedly Saigon where Carver apparently has his Asian headquarters, and some lovely seacoast terrain which looks like the mouth of the Li River but is actually somewhere in Thailand -- in fact, it appears to be the same area where Scaramanga holed up in The Man With the Golden Gun. It is here (or in some generic maritime area, actually) where the climax of the movie is played out, complete with machine guns, missiles, heavy artillery, and lots of the usual nifty explosions. Am I giving anything away by telling you that the good guys win and war is averted? Though this last is sort of hard to tell, through all the shooting...

   As I said earlier, this is in some ways a replay of You Only Live Twice (Asian setting, third party trying to start a war), though not a slavish copy of it; after all, Michelle Yeoh has taken over the role of Tetsuo Tamba, not that of Mie Hama (the latter was primarily decorative; Yeoh is both decorative and functional). It provides us with the usual high-powered hit man doing the bidding of his master (Gotz Otto, looking like a high-class Hitler Youth candidate, as "Mister Stamper"). One disappointment is Henry Gupta's very limited role; they could have done more with him, but unfortunately he seems to have outlived his usefulness to all concerned, though not for long. Fans of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country will be happy to know that this film gives us Yet Another Evil General Chang.

   Pierce Brosnan's Bond is creditable, but not outstanding; he still looks more like Remington Steele than like James Bond.

   All in all, an enjoyable film -- not at the top of the canon, but certainly better than many of the films that appeared during Roger Moore's period in the role.