Die Another Day (Ultimate Edition) Review
The waves roll over the Pacific Ocean, on which Bond, dressed in a wetsuit, surfs. Arriving on the beach, there is, in place of miles of golden sand, heavy armaments, unique to the fortified borders of the Communist state of North Korea. Using a homing beacon to divert a helicopter, Bond changes places with an illegal diamond dealer and continues on to the latter's final destination, a location on the border of the demilitarised zone and a meeting with Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee). However well-planned Bond's infiltration is, though, an MI6 mole betrays him and, setting off the C4 explosives hidden within the box of African conflict diamonds, he escapes in the direction of South Korea, avoiding the mined demilitarised zone in one of Tan-Sun Moon's hovercraft. But with the North Korean army closing in, Colonel Moon is apparently killed falling over a waterfall while Bond, as the title sequence rolls, is arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
Years later, Bond is hauled from his prison cell and brought, one again, to the demilitarised zone where he is exchanged for Zao (Rick Yune), once one of Colonel Moon's loyal troops but who has lately been working as an assassin. Hospitalised, Bond is ordered to rest but, driven by a need to identify who it was that betrayed him, he escapes into the night. Eventually and in finding further examples of conflict diamonds circulating, his search brings him, via a trip to Cuba, a meeting with Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson (Halle Berry) and another run-in with Zao, to British billionaire Gustav Graves, parachuting that morning into London to receive his knighthood from the Queen. As Bond is welcomed at Graves' fencing club, he is invited to a presentation being given by Graves later that week in Iceland, where, amongst the hospitality, Graves presents Icarus, a satellite capable harnessing the sun's power to illuminate inhospitable regions of the earth. Promising to make hunger a thing of the past, Graves is hailed as a saviour but, seeing Zao in Graves' shadow, something about Icarus draws out Bond's concerns. Least not the clue in its name...
I tend to describe James Bond in terms of Bank Holiday viewing, which contains a degree of flippancy but is otherwise quite truthful as regards a typical British audience. Indeed, in spite of owning all of the MGM Special Editions, including the simultaneous release of Never Say Never Again, I've actually watched very few of them but, on the contrary, have seen the films when ITV have shown them on a Bank Holiday afternoon. And, given that I'm in the mood for confessions, I've never seen a Bond film in the cinema, making do with pan-and-scanned versions that are interrupted with adverts, edited for an audience of children and looking as though the VHS tapes containing them were dusted off mere minutes before broadcast.
But it matters not, only that there is something comforting about a Bank Holiday Bond, when the kids are off school, when a lazy morning is brought to an end by an equally lazy afternoon and when there's little to rouse oneself off the sofa for. As such, I tend to think that the popular perception of James Bond films is based on how frequently we've seen them with films like Diamonds Are Forever, which really isn't one of the better Bonds, being looked upon favourably largely because we're so familiar with it. Even the audiences of the early Brosnan films are now experiencing that sensation, with Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies settling into the routine of annual midweek showings and the double-dip of Bank Holidays, Christmas and Easter.
Die Another Day, being the most recent Bond film, suffers somewhat in this respect, having not had the years with which to build up that sense of familiarity. Unfortunately, this has left something of a stain on the film with it being rather unfairly rubbished over the four years since its release. Granted, the poor quality of the CGI doesn't help but it seems to be criticised more than is warranted. The CG effects on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone looked much, much worse than did Die Another Day but it's the Bond film that continues to be vilified for it. I can only assume that, thanks to the efforts of Vic Armstrong, the Bond films were always rooted in a sense of realism - no matter how unbelievable the action, there was, we knew, a stuntman behind it - which the CGI of Die Another Day clearly rubbished. In the case of this film, the action is spectacular but possibly too fantastic, with Bond's surfing away from what would be classified a tidal wave being one stunt too far into the realms of the unbelievable. That said, there's nothing to stretch the imagination quite like Denise Richards' nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough, leaving this at least as credible as its two predecessors.
But in so many other respects, Die Another Day is vintage Bond and not only because, as Bond 20, the writers paid homage to the nineteen films that came before it. The Aston Martin is back, Halle Berry emerges from the sea a la Ursula Andress in Dr No and if you look closely you can see Q's battered old briefcase and Rosa Klebb's deadly shoe. In that sense, there's plenty of fun in Die Another Day, not all of which is due to Bond. As Gustav Graves, Toby Stephens is the best Bond villain since Goldeneye's Alec Trevelayn, his sneer, possibly based on that worn by Billy Idol for the last three decades, being a close relation to those other staples of the arrogant bastard, the waxed moustache, cane and top hat. First time through, I was cheering on Bond during his sword fight with Graves but next time, and from that point on, I've found myself enjoying the whole setpiece, which just gets better and better the bigger the swords they wield. Not even the presence of Madonna can ruin it. With Zao running Bond a close second in his gadget-laden car - he drives a Jaguar XKR to Bond's Aston Martin - this is terrific fun throughout with not even the politics of the demilitarised zone intruding on the action.
As Brosnan's farewell to the series, it's a fine way to go with plenty for the fans and lots of action for those new to the series. Perhaps not a classic entry in the series but certainly better than most and one, I suspect, that, as the years and the Bank Holidays pass, one that we'll be a lot more comfortable with.
As you might expect with Die Another Day, the only Bond release from the original run that was granted a two-disc Special Edition and a DTS audio track, this is largely unchanged. As you can see from the screenshots below, the amount of detail is almost exactly the same whilst the framing of the two images is comparable. There is, however, slightly more blue in the image of this Ultimate Edition than there was in the Special Edition but not, I suspect, something that would bother anyone with the original release of the film.
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
The audio tracks sound identical, though, with, I suspect, the DD5.1 and the DTS tracks being brought over unchanged from the Special Edition to this Ultimate Edition. They were both excellent on the old release of this film and there was really no reason why they should be remixed. Sounding crisp and alive with action, these are both excellent audio tracks with, as you might expect, the DTS edging it in a comparison.
As well as what the producers have called an MI6 Datastream, essentially a trivia track that plays over the film, there are also two commentaries, one with Director Lee Tamahori and Producer Michael G. Wilson, recorded together and another featuring Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, who have been recorded separately. The trivia track is the usual nonsense with something related, or even unrelated, popping onto the screen every twenty seconds or so. Of the two commentaries, Brosnan is alright but lacks the sense of humour that Roger Moore brought to the tracks that he recently recorded for his era of films with the occasional interruption by Rosamund Pike, who is only heard on the commentary when she's on the screen, being most unwelcome. Tamahori and Wilson are much better, being chatty, in good spirits and with, as you might expect, an outstanding knowledge not only of this production but of the entire series.
On to the second disc and the extras new to this Ultimate Edition include Just Another Day (22m38s), The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London (3m31s) and Location Scouting With Peter Lamont (13m52s). The first of these is a look at the events of one day during the shoot, specifically that of the arrival of Gustav Graves at Buckingham Palace via parachute, which, regardless of its place in the story, is a good one to choose given that it began early - a 5.30am start...and who says the film business is glamourous? - and has the security situation around the palace to consider. The second of these features is a rather nice little promotional opportunity for British Airways, in which a pair of their advertising people discuss the film's use of a couple of their 747s whilst the third, that with Peter Lamont, crisscrosses the globe and the various locations used in the film, from Heathrow to Iceland and on to Cuba. Finally, there is the Interactive Guide Into the World of Die Another Day, which is as worthless here as it is on all of the other Ultimate Editions.
Extras that have been carried over from the original MGM Special Edition are From Script to Screen (51m39s), Shaken and Stirred on Ice (23m34s), a web link and a Photo Gallery. The first of these is a fairly straightforward making-of, progressing through the production a month at a time, which begins with the writing of the script and ends with the movie still in production and with Lee Tamahori shooting the fencing scene. The second of these features is actually a fairly good look at the shooting of the car chase between Bond and Zao in Iceland with the best moments being those in the workshop as they adapted four Jaguar XKRs and four Aston Martin Vanquishs to be four-wheel drive and fitted with automatic weapons, rockets and, in the case of the latter, an ejector seat.
Now seems as good a time as any to summarise my thoughts on these James Bond Ultimate Editions and how they compare, to those with an interest in such a thing, to the old MGM Special Editions. Contrary to a typical MGM release, the distributor did well with the Bond films, even to the menus that were, unlike these Ultimate Editions, designed with the themes of the accompanying film in mind. With each Special Edition having a commentary, a rather good making-of and all manner of features, trailers and period audio pieces, the original Bond releases really weren't at all bad. Even until the restoration work on these Ultimate Editions, the Special Editions didn't look or sound at all bad and had at least the bonus of, in most cases, the original audio tracks.
These Ultimate Editions are, therefore, something of a mixed bag. The early Bond films, particularly Dr No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, have scrubbed up the best with things becoming less clear as the series progresses through the Connerys and into the Moore and the Daltons. In addition, the move onto a second disc hasn't added a great deal with the best of the special features on these Ultimate Editions being those that have been brought over from the Special Editions. With the odd exception - the Roger Moore commentaries are rather good - the new extras aren't awfully impressive and whilst the Special Editions kept a structure about them, these are a bit of a ragbag of features that have a hint of desperately seeking new material about them.
I don't begrudge Sony looking to realise some value to their newly-acquired assets but, equally, there's little that's appealing to anyone who already owns the Special Editions. As one of those, who bought them individually soon after getting a DVD player, I certainly wouldn't upgrade being perfectly happy with what I already have. But for anyone who doesn't own any Bond, attache case is a good deal, working out at less than £10 a film and are more than good enough, at least until the HD versions come around.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:55:47