A corrupt media tycoon (Jonathan Pryce) attempts to start a war to profit from the news coverage. Only two people seem placed to prevent the death of millions: a Chinese intelligence officer named Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), and British secret agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan).
In 1995 the film studio MGM/UA scored a massive commercial hit with GoldenEye, a revival of their long-running “Bond” franchise directed by Martin Campbell and starring Pierce Brosnan in his debut as James Bond. It earned the studio more than US$120 million in profit and shored up MGM/UA’s value on the eve of a massive corporate buy-out by investor Kirk Kerkorian. A slow-down of film production during the studio’s sale, however, left it with a dearth of theatrical releases heading into 1996.
Thanks to the commercial success of GoldenEye, another James Bond feature was a top priority for MGM/UA. Immediately following GoldenEye’s release, however, franchise producer Albert R. Broccoli – who had established the Bond films back in 1962 with his partner Harry Saltzman – had died. His company Danjaq – and its subsidiary production house EON Productions – was left in the hands of his daughter Barbara Broccoli and step-son Michael G. Wilson. For the company it was a case of uncharted territory.
GoldenEye, the 17th Bond film by the company, had been an enormous hit. The key question that hung over the in-development 18th instalment was simply whether GoldenEye’s nostalgia-driven success could be repeated.
GoldenEye had entered development after a four-year hiatus for the franchise. In 1989, and following the release of John Glen’s Licence to Kill, Albert Broccoli had entered a protracted legal dispute with MGM’s then-owner Qintex. Broccoli’s contention was that Qintex had deliberately sold international broadcast rights of the Bond films to their own television subsidiary at a reduced rate. The lawsuit took until 1992 to be settled out of court, after which development of a new Bond film could finally resume.
Knowing that GoldenEye would in all likelihood lead to further Bond films, Broccoli took the measure to commission storylines from writers for prospective sequels at the same time that GoldenEye was being written. Company spokesperson Charles Juroe explained that ‘when you get up to 17 in one series, you do things differently. You don’t want until 17 is a success to say, “Oh, we’d better do another one.” This two-year cycle does not give Danjaq the luxury to wait another 10 or 11 months down the line to get started on the next one. They’ve learned to be ahead of the game.’[i]
Following GoldenEye’s release, these pre-prepared storylines left Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson with several ready-made options for Bond 18 going into 1996.
The first storyline to be properly considered came from crime novelist (and Oscar-nominated screenwriter) Donald Westlake. He had been commissioned to develop a treatment and returned with a story about the United Kingdom’s handover of Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China.
A full explanation of the 1997 handover and why it occurred is well beyond the scope of a filmmaking essay. The short version is that in 1897 the United Kingdom leased from the Empire of China a large amount of land on the Kowloon peninsula directly north of Hong Kong Island. That lease was set for 100 years. A century later, and to avoid a Berlin situation with Hong Kong bifurcated on a north/south basis, both countries negotiated for Hong Kong to be transferred to Chinese sovereignty in its totality. A Bond film based around a villain disrupting or attempting to prevent that handover – scheduled for 1 July 1997 – would make for a timely Summer blockbuster.
Westlake’s treatment, which came with suggested titles such as Dragon’s Teeth, Never Look Back and On Borrowed Time, pitched Bond against the rich American businessman Gideon Goodbread. Goodbread – described by Westlake as ‘John Goodman with a Southern accent’[ii] – had a plan to rob Hong Kong’s banks before sinking the entire city.
Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson were not happy enough with Westlake’s treatment, particularly the Hong Kong setting; it was clear that Bond 18 would not be completed until late 1997, at which point the Handover would be several months out of date. Of Westlake’s pitch, the only elements that continued through to the finished film were the idea of pitting Bond against a wealthy businessman, and pairing Bond with a female Chinese agent while defeating him. Donald Westlake returned to his original storyline in 1998, adapting it into the original novel Forever and a Death. It was ultimately published by Hard Case Crime in 2017, nine years after Westlake’s death.
Bruce Feirstein, who had written GoldenEye, was brought back into the fold to develop a new storyline and screenplay. The first draft was delivered in August 1996: the same month that Broccoli and Wilson settled on a director.
Martin Campbell, who had so successfully directed GoldenEye, declined the offer to return. Campbell’s agent, Martha Luttrell, confirmed to Variety that ‘Martin just didn’t want to do two Bond films in a row.’[iii] Instead he signed on to direct a big-budget Zorro relaunch for Amblin Entertainment and producer Steven Spielberg. In Campbell’s place, EON hired Canadian-British filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode. In the 1980s Spottiswoode had directed several popular American films including Shoot to Kill (aka Deadly Pursuit, 1988), Turner and Hooch (1989) and Air America (1990). In 1993 his made-for-television drama And the Band Played On was awarded three Emmy Awards. Of his hiring, Spottiswoode said: ‘I tend to balance “commercial projects” with more intimate ones. With Bond, I knew it would probably allow me to pursue my TV series further. So, I signed.’[iv] Spottiswoode’s very first task as director of Bond 18 was to read Feirstein’s new screenplay and judge whether it was feasible – or indeed advisable – to shoot it.
Spottiswoode was unhappy with Feirstein’s draft, He suggested an informal ‘writer’s room’ be set up to investigate ways to best rewrite or even replace it entirely. Seven screenwriters were flown to London and put up in the Athenaeum Hotel to discuss and share ideas. All seven were required to sign legal waivers to bypass a Writers Guild of America rule that film productions could not hire multiple writers to develop simultaneous competing drafts. Another condition of the process was that none of the writers be paid: to do so would, perversely, get both writers and producers in trouble with the WGA. ‘It was made clear to everyone that no writing was to be done,’ said one of the seven, Robert Collector (Memoirs of an Invisible Man). ‘It was a free weekend in London.’[v]
Among the assembled writers was Nicholas Meyer, a friend of Spottiswoode’s who had written and directed the films Time After Time (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and Company Business (1991). After screenplay rewrites by Daniel Petrie Jr (Beverly Hills Cop) and David Campbell Wilson, it was Meyer who conducted a final polish to complete Spottiswoode’s preferred draft – which was submitted to Wilson and Broccoli for approval. Both producers hated it.
At Broccoli and Wilson’s insistence, Bruce Feirstein was re-hired to work on the screenplay again. His changes, while pleasing the producers, infuriated the director. Constant debate over both narrative and dialogue ran so long that Feirstein wound up accompanying the production crew throughout the shoot and rewriting scenes on a daily basis.
Back when GoldenEye had been first developed, the key villainous role of Alec Trevelyan was intended to be a mature ‘father figure’ to Bond. At the time, the ward-winning actor Anthony Hopkins had expressed interest in playing the role. When the screenplay was reconfigured to make Trevelyan a contemporary of Bond’s rather than a role model, Hopkins was no longer suitable. He maintained interest in appearing in a Bond film, however, and correspondingly the Bond 18 role of Eliot Carver was deliberated styled to suit him. Bruce Feirstein recalled: ‘I was in my hotel room, flipping channels one morning between different news networks watching their coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and getting two very different takes on the same story. And it stuck with me. At that moment, I thought the villain would be in the media.’[vi]
Despite lengthy and positive negotiations, in late 1996 Hopkins elected to sign on to Martin Campbell’s The Mask of Zorro instead. This left a major role in the production that Spottiswoode and EON struggled to fill. For a period, it seemed as if Albert Finney would take on the role of Carver. Negotiations ultimately fell through. While negotiations started with Jonathan Pryce, they were still ongoing by the time the cameras started rolling.
The intended title of the film was Tomorrow Never Lies, a reference to Eliot Carver’s newspaper Tomorrow. A smudged facsimile was famously misread at MGM, however, and the inaccurate title of Tomorrow Never Dies sound so Bond-like that it ultimately stuck.
Finding a place to actually make the film was proving to be another headache. From the 1960s to the 1980s, EON had traditionally used soundstages at London’s Pinewood Studios to shoot the Bond films. When GoldenEye had been produced, Pinewood was unavailable, leaving the company to cobble together its own soundstages in a disused Rolls-Royce factory in Leavesden.
The intention was to re-use the Leavesden facility for Bond 18, however before permission could be arranged ownership of the complex was sold to a Malaysian company. That company in turn leased the studio out to writer/director George Lucas for his widely anticipated prequel Star Wars: Episode I.
Yet another set of disused warehouses were found nearby and adapted for EON’s use. Dubbed “Frogmore Studios”, they were used in combination with the famed “007 Soundstage” back at Pinewood – where the franchise had spent so much of its history.
With such tight production deadlines looming, it was determined that the film needed to secure a composer as soon as possible. Music would need to be developed and written while the film was shooting, since by the time photography was completed there would be barely two months for the score to be recorded and incorporated into the final edit.
GoldenEye had used the French electronic musician and composer Eric Serra, an experiment that had not proved popular with either audiences or EON Productions. For the new film both Broccoli and Wilson were keen to adopt a more traditional style of music. Their first – and most obvious – choice was the English composer John Barry, whose brass-heavy compositions had formed the soundtrack to 11 out of the 16 pre-GoldenEye Bond films. Barry, however, turned EON down after they failed to offer his minimum asking price.
Since 1995 the English composer David Arnold had been producing a passion project titled Shaken and Stirred, a compilation of all-new cover versions of past Bond theme songs. The album included recordings by popular bands and singers including Leftfield, Pulp, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, and Iggy Pop. The album was scheduled for release in late 1997, and Arnold had been regularly sending the tracks to EON for approval during the recording process.
At the same time Arnold had been developing a successful career as a film composer, beginning with Danny Cannon’s independent crime film The Young Americans in 1993. For that film he also wrote and produced the decidedly Bond-like theme song “Play Dead” for pop singer Bjork. Subsequently Arnold had scored Roland Emmerich’s popular science fiction blockbusters Stargate (1994) and Independence Day (1996), followed by Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary (1997).
Recognising his talent and knowing of his openly declared love for the James Bond film franchise, Barbara Broccoli invited David Arnold to compose the score for Bond 18.
Arnold composed the score throughout production, based on the footage he saw as it had been shot and loosely edited together. It would require significant reworking and arranging in the weeks between shooting was complete and the film edited together. He deliberately employed a Barry-esque score, heavy on brass and bombast, but also included contemporary electronic percussion and music with the participation of dance group the Propellerheads. ‘I wanted to do it with one foot in the 60s and one foot in the 90s,’ Arnold explained. ‘There are 35 years of musical heritage attached to this film, and audiences need to hear it. Without that music, you’ve got an action movie, you haven’t got a Bond movie.’[vii]
Arnold’s creative approach pays remarkable dividends to the finished film. The Barry-esque score gives Tomorrow Never Dies a tremendous sense of authenticity, something that GoldenEye lacked slightly due to Eric Serra’s minimalist and near-ambient style. His score does not simply tip its hat to Barry; it directly references him from time to time with riffs and melodies drawn from several Connery-era Bond films.
The use of electronica side-by-side with the orchestra has a pronounced effect. For the moviegoer in 1997 it made the film feel aggressively contemporary, particularly through the composition “Backseat Driver” – co-composed by Arnold and Alex Gifford of the Propellerheads. For the viewer coming to the film two decades later, it positively dates it. Thanks to the music, Tomorrow Never Dies cannot be taken for anything other than a movie from the mid-1990s. It helps to give the film as distinctive an identity as Goldfinger has for the 1960s, or The Spy Who Loved Me of the 1970s.
EON Productions were clearly very happy with Arnold’s work: he was rehired for another four Bond films, only stopping when Skyfall and Spectre director Sam Mendes elected to use his regular composer Thomas Newman in Arnold’s place.
As a film franchise based around an iconic, culturally attractive character, the James Bond films had an advantage of being able to utilise product placement to reduce each film’s production budget and maximise studio revenue. Why simply put Bond in a car, after all, when an automobile manufacturer would pay handsomely for the opportunity to put Bond in their car? This was certainly the case in 1995, when MGM/UA executive Karen Sortito successfully arranged for James Bond to abandon his famous Aston Martin sports car in favour of a BMW Z3.
For Bond 18, Sortito arranged for an unprecedented $100 million dollar promotional campaign, placing goods into the film from a wide variety of companies. Bond continued to drive a BMW, wore an Omega watch, drank Heineken beer, used Avis car rental services, and carried an Ericsson mobile telephone – all paid for with a Visa card. When the film was ultimately released, some critics would chafe at all the visible product placement; Sortito proudly defended it. ‘It’s all cool and hip,’ she told the New York Times, ‘if this wasn’t creative, we would not be doing it.’[viii] Whether audiences appreciated the product placement or not, the industry certainly did: in June 1998, MGM/UA was awarded the “Promotion of the Year” award by the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association.
While delays plagued the casting of Eliot Carver, the production found more success casting its female lead: the Chinese agent Wai Lin.
The female lead in a James Bond feature – known informally as the ‘Bond girl’ – has always been a subject of intense media attention. Played by glamorous and seductive women, they have always been convenient fodder for tabloid publications to ‘sex up’ their issues a little bit reporting on casting. Over the preceding 17 films the popularity of individual actresses had varied, with several stand-outs grabbing the public’s attention.
For Tomorrow Never Dies Broccoli and Wilson were keen to make an impact with something a little fresher and new. Wai Lin was developed as an equal to Bond. She was not simply a secondary character requiring rescuing from danger and seducing in the bedroom; instead Wai was scripted as a professional agent skilled in hand-to-hand combat and espionage. They found their Wai Lin in Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh. ‘I wanted a contemporary woman who has her own point of view,’ said Spottiswoode. ‘Michelle fulfils everything I was looking for: very strong without being manly, a very centred, extraordinarily gifted athlete of a particular kind.’[ix]
Michelle Yeoh originally trained as a ballet dancer, attending London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dance before a spinal injury closed off dance as a serious career option. After a brief period as a beauty pageant contestant Yeoh found success as an actor in the Hong Kong film industry. As remains the practice in Hong Kong, Yeoh performed her own stunts in a range of action films including Yes Madam (1985), Royal Warriors (1986) and Easy Money (1987). In 1987 she married her producer Dickson Poon and retired from performing. Five years later, and freshly divorced, she returned to acting with the 1992 Jackie Chan sequel Police Story 3: Supercop.
It was her performance in Supercop, which involved Yeoh not only engaging in complex fist-fights but riding a motorcycle off a ramp and onto the roof of a moving train, that cemented Yeoh’s popularity and reputation in Hong Kong. She followed it with performances in The Heroic Trio (1993), Butterfly and Sword (1993), Wing Chun (1994), and The Soong Sisters (1997) – which earned her a Hong Kong Film Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
As Wai Lin, Yeoh produces one of the all-time best ‘Bond girls’ in the history of the James Bond franchise. She is not simply Bond’s equal; she regularly presents as the superior agent. She has her own authority and purpose, and for the most part never assumes a subservient role. She gets action sequences of her own to perform, and certainly in terms of martial arts Yeoh performed most of her own stunts.
While shooting one of the film’s fight sequences, Pierce Brosnan’s stunt stand-in questioned Yeoh’s ability to convincingly perform the scene herself. She responded with a barrel of kicks and punches, each landing a few millimetres from his face. ‘It was terribly quick,’ recalled Roger Spottiswoode, ‘over in a second, and her head didn’t even move. She didn’t touch him, of course. He went white and never made fun of her again.’[x]
So successful was Yeoh’s performance that in 2002 she was invited back to reprise the role of Wai Lin in Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final Bond film Die Another Day. At the time she was committed to Peter Pau’s Chinese action film The Touch – on which she was also working as a producer – and was forced to decline. Her role was split between Halle Berry’s character Jinx and a male Chinese agent named Mr Chang (played by Ho Yi).
Tomorrow Never Dies commenced principal photography on location in the Pyrenees mountain range on 1 April 1997, although second unit photography of the prologue sequence had been shot in February.
The screenplay remained incomplete. The roles of Eliot and Paris Carver remained vacant. Pierce Brosnan, who was to begin performing his scenes for the film’s pre-titles prologue, was suffering badly from influenza and running a temperature of 38.8°C. When the cameras rolled for the first time, shooting close-ups of Brosnan in the cockpit of a jet aircraft, there were 252 days before the film was to screen its world premiere.
Brosnan’s luck did not improve as the shoot progressed. On 16 June, while performing an action sequence, a stunt artist’s helmet hit him hard in the face. The blow was hard enough to open a deep gash on the right side of Brosnan’s face more than an inch wide. The injury took him out of action for several days while the swelling went down; the injury was healed with the use of eight internal stiches, and the wound was hidden with a combination of make-up and favouring the left side of Brosnan’s face for the remainder of the shoot.
While shooting in the Pyrenees it was necessarily to match the second unit footage – shot back when the site was covered in snow – with the new material. This required physically bringing in fresh snow via trucks. A decommissioned Russian rocket launcher was purchased in Moscow for the shoot and transported via road all the way to the location.
The film begins with James Bond infiltrating a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. His reconnaissance is observed from London by MI6 director M (Judi Dench) and the British Navy’s Admiral Roebuck. Satisfied with the opportunity to eliminate several dozen terrorists and overriding M’s demands for Bond to finish his task, Roebuck orders a missile attack on the bazaar. When Bond discovers two nuclear torpedoes attached to an L-39 Albatros jet fighter – and the already-launched British missile fails to self-destruct – he must steal the jet and fly it to safety before the missile strike occurs.
Bond’s portion of the opening scene was the first to be filmed. Feirstein’s first draft included a longer introductory sequence that included Bond ascending a frozen waterfall to reach the bazaar, although the concept of the arms fair dated from an early draft of the 1987 Bond film The Living Daylights.
Judi Dench returned for her second performance as M, following her debut in GoldenEye. She had made a hugely positive impact in her first appearance: she was the first woman to play the role, and her sharp demeanour and dim view of Bond’s traditionally sexist output allowed GoldenEye to in effect have its cake and eat it too. Bond could continue to be a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’, as M described him in that film, while the film itself could gently criticise his behaviour at the same time.
Admiral Roebuck was played by Geoffrey Palmer, a popular British television star. At the time of shooting he was five seasons into a nine-season run with Judi Dench on the BBC situation comedy As Time Goes By.
Michael Kitchen was originally set to reprise his GoldenEye role of MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner. A scheduling conflict, however, prevented his return. Rather than recast the role, the character was replaced by the new character of Charles Robinson – played by Colin Salmon. Salmon returned as Robinson in both The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Michael Kitchen also returned, as Tanner, in The World is Not Enough.
Bond, of course, manages to steal the jet and avoid a thermonuclear explosion in the Khyber Pass. The film then jumps into the opening titles.
A key element of each Bond film since From Russia with Love (1963) has been its theme song. Performed over the opening titles, each song has utilised the services of popular singers and pop groups of the time including Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney and Wings, Duran Duran, Sheena Easton, Tom Jones, and a-Ha.
David Arnold had initially contacted singer and song writer David McAlmont to help him compose a new song and hired noted lyricist Don Black to write the accompanying lyrics. MGM/UA, however, was keen to hire a popular band or singer without restricting them to a pre-written song. Numerous artists were independently approached; however, none were informed that they were only one of several approached at the same time. Among the names approached during this period were Pulp, Duran Duran, The Cardigans, Marc Almond, and Saint Etienne. The result was a wave of potential theme songs simultaneously submitted to the studio – and a wave of b-sides titled with variations of “Tomorrow Never Dies”, released over the subsequent months and years as artist after artist learned they had been unsuccessful.
Arnold’s attempt, with the participation of McAlmont and Black, was completed and recorded. American singer k.d. lang performed the final version, which heavily incorporated the orchestral themes of the film. MGM/UA, however, favoured using a song composed and performed by singer/song writer Sheryl Crow. At the time Crow was hugely popular internationally, having released three top 20 singles into the American music charts in the past year. Crow’s version was purchased as the opening theme and titled “Tomorrow Never Dies”; lang’s song was retitled “Surrender” and was played over the film’s closing credits.
Crow’s song was popular enough to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, which it lost to Celine Dion’s Titanic theme “My Heart Will Go On” in early 1998. Despite its popularity, it is a weaker song than the one performed by lang. It lacks the direct connection to the film’s orchestral score, and it also lacks the emotive power than lang brought to “Surrender”.
Using a stolen encoder programmed by cyber-terrorist Henry Gupta, media baron Elliot Carver confuses the GPS signal of the British frigate HMS Devonshire and sends it wildly off-course into Chinese waters. When the Chinese air force warn the Devonshire off, Carver’s henchman Stamper shoots down a Chinese jet fighter from a specially constructed stealth ship before sinking the Devonshire and stealing one of its missiles. The surviving Devonshire sailors are executed with Chinese machine guns.
The role of Stamper was played by the German actor Götz Otto. A television actor in his home country, his only Hollywood role prior to Tomorrow Never Dies was as a Plaszow SS guard in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 drama Schindler’s List.
The role of Henry Gupta was played by stage magician turned actor Ricky Jay. The role had been written for a 25 year-old Indian man, yet Roger Spottiswoode cast the New York-born 49 year-old instead.
One of the reasons Spottiswoode wanted Jay was because of Jay’s well-known skill at throwing playing cards: it seemed like the perfect talent for a Bond henchman to have. Jay recalled: ‘At one point, they wanted me to throw cards as weapons to attack Bond, but the first time they asked me to do it in rehearsal, I was an enormously long distance away from Pierce Brosnan, and I warned them that the cards went very, very hard and fast, and they said no no, they had someone in front of it to block the shot, and I again said, “I don’t think you should do that,” they said, “No, no, it’ll be okay.” And Pierce seemed to be fine with it. So I whaled a card, I don’t know how, 50 or 75 feet away, and they said, “Just throw it at his face,” and I hit him right above the eye, and realized that I almost ruined the most lucrative franchise in the history of film. Suddenly that scene was no longer in the movie.’[xi]
A scene involving Jay’s card throwing was shot, to be inserted between Stamper’s murder of the HMS Devonshire survivors and his informing Carver of the fact, but it was excised from the finished film.
Attentive viewers of the sequence may note future action star Gerard Butler (300, Olympus Has Fallen) as one of the HMS Devonshire’s seamen: Tomorrow Never Dies marked one of his earliest on-screen appearances.
In London, the Minister of Defence has ordered the British fleet deployed to recover the Devonshire, and potentially retaliate against what is believed to be a Chinese attack. This leaves M just 48 hours to investigate the sinking and avert a Chinese-British war.
An interesting aspect of the Brosnan-era James Bond films is their aggressive attempt to position the United Kingdom as a formidable global power. Tomorrow Never Dies presents the UK as an equal to the People’s Republic of China, with Russia portrayed as a bumbling post-Soviet state and the United States – via CIA agent Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) – professing a desire to stay out of the British/Chinese conflict altogether.
Despite this artificial enhancement of Britain’s power and influence, the Cold War narrative that drove the pre-GoldenEye Bond films is side-lined. Instead the greatest enemies to world peace in the Brosnan era are (in film order): terrorists, media magnates, oil barons, and rogue military generals.
Bond is summoned to London for an emergency briefing. At the time he is having sex with a Danish language instructor in Cambridge. Feirstein’s original draft had him bed a Chinese interpreter instead; this was abandoned when the film lost its Hong Kong setting.
As M’s car races through London under police escort, she assigns Bond to travel to Hamburg and secure evidence of Eliot Carver’s criminal activities, using Carver’s wife Paris – also Bond’s ex-girlfriend – as a means of getting close to his operations. Carver’s newspaper Tomorrow confirmed details of the dead British seamen before the Vietnamese authorities who recovered the bodies were aware of them, proving that someone inside Carver’s operation had inside knowledge of the attack.
Tomorrow Never Dies is a film with a curious lack of suspense. The audience is informed of the entirety of Carver’s plans remarkably early. What is more, James Bond is informed of them in his first briefing. There are no twists or surprises to throw the narrative into a loop or to surprise the audience. The entire film is a linear exercise in finding Carver’s stealth ship and destroying it. Compare this to Brosnan’s three other Bond features, all of which obfuscate the identity of the villain for a solid hour each time.
During the first attempt at shooting this scene Spottiswoode had the entire cast – Brosnan, Dench, and Salmon – drink cocktails as they talk. It looked ridiculous (you can see for yourself in the deleted scenes on home video) and was reshot in a more straight-forward manner.
Bond arrives in Hamburg (Venice, in Feirstein’s original draft) to attend the launch of Eliot Carver’s new global television network. At the airport he is met by Q (Desmond Llewelyn) of MI6’s quartermaster branch and given a gadget-filled and remote-controlled BMW sedan.
During pre-production there was an intention to give Q an assistant – early drafts of the screenplay named him Saunders – who could replace Q in future films. Actor Desmond Llewelyn, who had played Q in all but one of EON’s Bond films from From Russia with Love to GoldenEye, was already 82-years-old and had requested the producers give his character a dignified exit rather than simply use him until he passed away. Q’s assistant was excised from the screenplay before shooting, but the idea was revisited two years later. In The World is not Enough John Cleese was introduced as Q’s assistant (code-named “R”), and Llewelyn received the definitive exit scene he desired.
At Carver’s media launch Bond introduces himself to Carver, meets a mysterious Chinese woman named Wai Lin, reunites somewhat awkwardly with Carver’s resentful wife Paris, and acts suspiciously enough that Stamper sends a group of security guards to beat him up – Bond easily turns the tables.
The crisis over casting the role of Eliot Carver was averted halfway through the shoot, as Jonathan Pryce finally accepted the role. He recorded his first scene – Carver’s global press conference – on 11 June. There were 181 days left before the premiere.
By the time the production moved to shooting Paris Carver’s scenes, the role had been cast with the American actress Teri Hatcher. At the time Hatcher was best known for playing Lois Lane on the prime-time drama series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
Julia Bremermann and Monica Bellucci were among several women to audition for the role of Paris. Bremermann was reported to be Spottiswoode’s favourite, however his choice was overruled by his producers – who were resolute in casting Hatcher. Bellucci did ultimately appear in a James Bond film, playing Lucia Sciarra in Spectre (2015).
At one stage of pre-production there was an intention to bring back Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky, playing by Robbie Coltrane in GoldenEye. Zukovsky was to be attending Carver’s press launch in his new capacity as President of Ukraine and facilitate an introduction between Bond and Carver. While he was excised before production – it is unknown if Coltrane was even approached – the character did return in the subsequent Bond film The World is not Enough.
In the earlier Venice-set drafts of the screenplay, Bond’s fistfight with Stamper’s guards took the form of a late-night foot chase through Venice.
That night, Paris goes to Bond’s hotel room and tells him where the GPS encoder is hidden – inside one of Carver’s newspaper printing facilities. She spends the night with him. The next morning Bond steals the encoder, running into Wai Lin while he is there – she is attempting the same theft he is. Bond returns to his hotel room to find Paris murdered. Her assassin sits in wait: the eccentric professional killer Dr Kaufmann.
Kaufmann was played by cult actor Vincent Schiavelli. A regular performer for director Milos Forman, Schiavelli had previously appeared in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Man on the Moon, The People vs Larry Flynt and Amadeus, as well as numerous science fiction and cult films including The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Batman Returns, Ghost, and Lord of Illusions.
Bond coldly murders Kaufmann and returns to his BMW where he has hidden the encoder. He escapes from Carver’s henchmen by leading them on a high-speed car chase through a multi-story car park; driving from the back seat using the car’s remote control.
The car chase was shot in a multi-story car park in the London suburb of Brent Cross. While the car chase appeared be shot over seven different levels, it was shot on only one – the level was re-painted and re-arranged to simulate the chase from floor to floor.
While shooting one stunt on 16 June a controlled explosive stunt went awry, creating a much larger fire – and a lot more smoke – that had been intended. The local fire brigade arrived and forcibly evacuated the entire 150-person crew from the premises.
‘We were filming a stunt which involved setting fire to three crashed vehicles,’ admitted unit publicist Geoff Freeman, ‘but it created more smoke than we anticipated. No one was injured but the smoke was seen by a member of the public who called the fire brigade. We were all evacuated from the car park, but the shops were not evacuated. The smoke was very thick, too thick for our extractor fans to cope with.’[xii]
The car park chase is a highlight of the film, combining strong editing and photography with a playful sense of humour and an arresting musical score thanks to the electronic track “Backseat Driver”. It is arguably the scene where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond finally comes into his own. The sense of play and adolescent glee that Brosnan periodically brings to the role separates him from his predecessor Timothy Dalton’s more dour, driven persona.
When Bond learns that the encoder has been tampered with to specifically set the Devonshire off-course, he uses the assistance of CIA agent Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) to make a HALO (high altitude low opening) jump from a spy plane over Chinese waters near Vietnam.
After the original Hong Kong setting was abandoned, the production kept a firm intention to set the second half of the film somewhere in Asia. The production team researched and visited several countries while narrowing which would be the most effective setting. While the screenplay ultimately settled on Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) as the location of Carver’s business tower, the Vietnamese government refused permission for the film to shoot there. The Thai capital of Bangkok was used instead, standing in for its Vietnamese neighbour.
Rumours circulated that Vietnam banned the Bond shoot due to pressure from China, whose government reportedly bristled at the depiction of its military and intelligence agencies in the film’s screenplay. ‘The Chinese put pressure on the Vietnamese to kick them out,’ commented one anonymous source.[xiii]
While investigating the wreck of the Devonshire, Bond stumbles upon Wai Lin once again. When they surface together, Stamper and his men are waiting for them. They are taken at gunpoint to the top of Carver’s corporate tower in Ho Chi Minh City, where Carver orders for Bond to be tortured. Bond and Wai Lin immediately escape, tearing down a massive banner of Carver’s face on the building’s exterior.
‘I’ve always loved the classic image of Douglas Fairbanks Sr in The Black Pirate,’ said stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, ‘plunging a knife into a sail and riding down while hanging on the knife’s hilt as the sail splits. I thought it would be great to do something similar when Bond and the girl jump off a building in Tomorrow Never Dies.’[xiv]
Bond and Wai Lin reach the street and escape on a motorcycle, awkwardly perched as their wrists are shackled together. A chase ensues, with a Carver helicopter pursuing them with machine gun-wielding shooters onboard.
The motorcycle-versus-helicopter chase sequence was filmed in sections in Bangkok and England, depending upon the individual requirements of each part. To accommodate the motorcycle’s drive across the city rooftops, a production crew reinforced the roofs of several adjacent buildings in Bangkok. Michelle Yeoh was reportedly keen to undertake the rooftop drive herself, having performed her own motorcycle-riding stunts in the 1992 Jackie Chan action film Police Story 3: Supercop. Insurance restrictions – and a desire to keep the lead actress safe – put paid to that ambition. ‘In Hong Kong,’ Yeoh complained, ‘we would do that scene in one shot; it can be done. But the producers go: “What if she slips and she falls or something happens?”’[xv]
The motorcycle jump over the helicopter was undertaken as a physical stunt, however the shot used a static helicopter chassis with the blades removed; blades were subsequently added to the relevant shots using CGI. The stunt itself was rehearsed for two weeks before it was performed on camera.
CGI blades were also used for the moment when the helicopter angles itself downwards to slice Bond and Wai to pieces: such a manoeuvre is impossible for an actual helicopter to perform.
After causing the helicopter to crash, Wai Lin picks the lock of the handcuffs and leaves Bond to his own devices. He follows her, ultimately helping her fight an ambush inside a Chinese secret service safe house – one disguised as a bicycle shop.
‘I loved the idea of Wai Lin’s dirty old bicycle shop,’ said Allan Cameron. ‘It was a small set but I loved designing it. It was supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. The geography of it was dictated by the fight that went on in the earlier part of the sequence. And then I loved the fact that we had a complete textural change from this dirty shop into this ultra-modern, high-tech control room.’[xvi]
All of the shifting and rotating panels in the bicycle shop’s transformation were manipulated by hand, with no mechanical apparatus used at all. It was both the cheaper and more reliable option.
By late May rumours were circulating to the press that Tomorrow Never Dies was an unhappy production, with cast and crew fighting one another while making the film. London’s Daily Mail suggested Spottiswoode and writer Bruce Feirstein were no longer on speaking terms, with one anonymous source claiming that they ‘seem to have such a mutual disregard that they never speak.’[xvii]
The conflicts, as reported to the press, suggested that: Spottiswoode was fighting with Wilson and Broccoli over the screenplay and Feirstein’s draft; Pryce and Hatcher were fighting with all three over cuts and changes made to their characters between them signing on and reporting to set; Brosnan was unhappy with Hatcher’s apparent tardiness to set (actually a result of her then-pregnancy, and miscommunicated to the press at the time); and both Pryce and Judi Dench were angry with unprofessionalism of a constantly revised screenplay, with Feirstein reportedly scripting new dialogue each night in his hotel room for the next day’s shoot.
Judging the veracity of such tabloid claims is always difficult, but the sheer quantity of reports flooding out of the production at the time – not to mention the occasional admission by those involved after the fact – strongly indicates that, for the key cast and crew at least, Tomorrow Never Dies was an extremely stressful and difficult film to make. Brosnan, for one, apologetically admitted both to complaining about Hatcher’s lateness on set and being unaware she was pregnant and suffering severe morning sickness.
The climax of the film sees Bond and Wai Lin warning the British and Chinese navies of Carver’s plan before infiltrating his stealth ship. During the final fight, Bond takes Gupta hostage before killing him, Carver is killed by his own submersible drill, and Stamper ties Wai Lin up with chains before throwing her into the ocean to drown.
It is unfortunate that the weakest part of Tomorrow Never Dies is its climax. There is something rather generic about it, and a slow-moving ship seems a pedestrian setting for a pitched shoot-out. The most frustrating element is the film’s treatment of Wai Lin: throughout the entire picture she has been represented as a confident and immensely capable agent, right up to the point where she somehow gets herself captured and restrained by Stamper. It turns the first fully pro-active Bond girl in the franchise into a stereotypical damsel-in-distress, and results in a cliché where a nicely innovative climax could easily have been filmed.
Principal photography on Tomorrow Never Dies concluded on 5 September 1997; 95 days before the premiere. This left precious little time for visual effects to be completed, and the footage to be edited. The timeline to complete the orchestral score was so tight that by the time the soundtrack CD was released in store, Arnold was still working on the music. What was released on sale was based on just two-thirds of the film’s final score.
The Chemical Brothers were approached to compose an electronic remix of the classic Bond theme. When they proved to be unavailable, American musician Moby agreed to produce one instead.
Tomorrow Never Dies was completed just in time for its premiere in London on 9 December 1997. While Bond premieres were usually attended by a member of the British royal family, in this case no royal attended; it was the first premiere without once since The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977.
One unexpected challenged faced Tomorrow Never Dies at the global box office: James Cameron’s lavish romantic drama Titanic.
When MGM/UA scheduled the new Bond film for December 1997, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures had already scheduled Cameron’s movie to open in early July. As production costs spiralled and Cameron ran badly behind schedule, both studios were forced to delay Titanic’s release by five months and release it for Christmas instead. That move brought it head-to-head with Tomorrow Never Dies – and no studio was prepared to shift their release date.
On their joint American opening weekend, Titanic came first – but only by small majority. To Titanic’s $28.6 million, Tomorrow Never Dies managed an impressive $25.1 million. The third new feature, Gore Verbinski’s family comedy Mousehunt, was relegated to fourth place with just $6 million. The opening gross was down slightly on GoldenEye’s $26.2 million in November 1995, but that film opened to weaker opposition; just Rob Reiner’s political drama The American President and the comedy It Takes Two.
By the time Tomorrow Never Dies had concluded its theatrical run, it had amassed a gross of $333 million. While that was down slightly from GoldenEye, it was higher in the USA: $125 million versus $106 million. This trend continued with Pierce Brosnan’s remaining two Bond films: The World is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002).
At the time of writing EON Productions have made 24 Bond films, and understandably their quality varies. Tomorrow Never Dies is not the best of the Bond movies – in my opinion that would be Casino Royale – but neither is it anywhere close to the worst – for that you can take your pick. Instead it is a good example of the franchise when it is working at its typical quality. The story has its faults, and the odd moment of comedy can get a little cringe-worthy, but the action is excellent, and the overall film is a hugely enjoyable slice of populist entertainment.
Pierce Brosnan is fully comfortable in the role of James Bond here, eliminating any minor moments of awkwardness that came in GoldenEye. His supporting cast – particularly Judi Dench as M – are well established and effective. The musical score is particularly strong, with David Arnold defining the sound of James Bond for the next decade of films.
The real highlight for me is Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin: smart, talented, seductive and self-assured, she marks what should have been the template for Bond girls going forwards.
[i] Rex Weiner and Adam Dawtrey, “MGM’s completion Bond”, Variety, 30 December 1996.
[ii] Phil Nobile Jr., “Exclusive: first look at Forever and a Death, Donald Westlake’s lost James Bond story”, Birth Movies Death, 31 August 2016.
[iii] Rex Weiner and Adam Dawtrey, “MGM’s completion Bond”, Variety, 30 December 1996.
[iv] Kevin Collette, “An interview with Roger Spottiswoode”, From Sweden With Love, 9 June 2004.
[v] Rex Weiner and Adam Dawtrey, “MGM’s completion Bond”, Variety, 30 December 1996.
[vi] Laurent Bouzereau, The Art of Bond, Abrams, New York, 2006.
[vii] Jon Burlingame, The Music of James Bond, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012.
[viii] Adam Bryant, “Agent 007: License to shill”, New York Times, 7 December 1997.
[ix] Jane H. Lii, “At lunch with Michelle Yeoh; Bond meets his match”, New York Times, 30 December 1997.
[x] Jane H. Lii, “At lunch with Michelle Yeoh; Bond meets his match”, New York Times, 30 December 1997.
[xi] Nathan Rabin, “Ricky Jay”, AV Club, 19 November 2009.
[xii] Judith Keeling, “Bond goes down a bomb in Brent Cross”, Evening Standard, 17 June 1997.
[xiii] Rush and Molloy, “China resists western efforts to Bond”, New York Daily News, 10 March 1997.
[xiv] Laurent Bouzereau, The Art of Bond, Abrams, New York, 2006.
[xv] Winnie Chung, “Much more than just a Bond girl”, South China Morning Post, 30 May 1997.
[xvi] Laurent Bouzereau, The Art of Bond, Abrams, New York, 2006.
[xvii] Anne Shooter, “Brosnan unhappy as feuding breaks out on set of new movie”, Daily Mail, 27 May 1997.