Bond Pretitle Sequences: Tomorrow Never Dies
Simon Pitt |
Saturday 13th July
I’m watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.
Tomorrow Never Dies
It's a lot harder to be positive about things than it is to rip them to shreds, but the opening to Tomorrow Never Dies is a cinematic masterpiece.
This was the first Bond film I ever saw at the cinema, so maybe I’m biased because of that, but this opening sequence gets the balance of action, tension and wit perfectly. It’s certainly the best opening sequence I’ve seen so far.
Bond is at a “terrorist arms bazaar”. This is actually the second bazaar we’ve seen in a Bond opening sequence; the Grand Bazaar appears in Casino Royale. He doesn’t seem to get that bazaars are actually for buying things. Last time, he rode a bike on the roof, here he’s window-shopping.
At MI6 headquarters, Charles Robinson, Chief of Staff, is standing in for Tanner and narrating the operation. “It’s like a terrorist supermarket,” he says, “Chilean mines, German explosives, fun for the whole family”. This is Robinson’s moment, sitting centre stage, quipping happily to himself. “White Rook to White Knight, show us the pawns.” I bet he came up with those call signs himself. He makes Admiral Roebuck the “Black King” which sounds to me like a dig at the stuffy military man. It’s as if Roebuck is on the opposite side from the rest of them.
In many ways, this is a reverse of the beginning of Skyfall. We see M and her team at mission control, but we have yet to see who is actually out in the field. There’s very little actually happening; some suited types are watching some screens and chatting good-naturedly. But with David Arnold’s stonkingly good background music it’s edge of the seat stuff.
“That looks like an American encoder,” Robinson notices. “I wonder what will make the CIA more upset: they lost it, or that we found it?” M says. Everyone is on top form today. Robinson and M chuckle at each as they get on with the job.
“My man isn’t finished,” M says, “Thank you M, we’ve seen enough. This is now a military matter,” the Admiral says dismissively . “Get your man out of there, his job is over.” I love the tension between the military and MI6 here. With Geoffrey Palmer there as Roebuck opposite Judy Dench’s M it’s like an episode of As Time Goes By. It’s a clever bit of casting; and a surprisingly subtle sub-plot for Bond that the military and MI6 have an awkward power struggle.
There’s a real feeling of realism here. Many of the staff on HMS Chester are actual Navy personnel, and you get a sense of what it is like aboard a Navy ship. The one non-Navy person is Mullet from A Touch of Frost. This just keeps getting better and better.
But then something goes wrong. The first hint is in the music and Robinson’s irritation. “It’s a jeep in front of a plane. Now get the hell out of there.” He snaps. Suddenly, with a string chord and a zoom the scene is turned upside down. “Those are Soviet SP5 Nuclear Torpedoes!” He gasps. The fact “SP5 nuclear torpedoes” aren’t a real thing doesn’t make this moment any less chilling.
Roebuck is immediately on the phone (he’s like M in The World is Not Enough. When these military types panic all these seem to do is phone people). Strangely, as soon as he gives the order to abort the missile he slams the phone down, so I’m not quite sure how he finds out the missile is out of range. MI6 also don’t seem to have got modern telephones yet; instead he has to ask an operator to patch him through to the Chester. “Urgent,” he adds. I guess usually, the operators just lazily plug the cables in, maybe go and make a cup of tea.
But yes, bad has turned to worse. “There’s enough plutonium there to make Chernobyl look like picnic,” The Russian General Bukharin says in almost comically stilted English, “Can’t you people keep anything locked up?” Roebuck snaps. Even as the tension is mounting, there’s still time for these moments of wit. Even more impressive, they don’t deflect from the tension at all. In the way that Roger Moore dropping a fish out of a car would.
Out on the Russian border, while M looks worried, the Bond theme is starting as an unknown hand offers a light to a bearded terrorist. Cigarette lit, he looks up as Bond punches him. “Filthy habit,” Bond says, as we see him for the first time. Bond’s changed actually. Just a few films ago he was puffing like a maniac (and actually, he doesn’t say no to a cigar in The World is Not Enough). Throwing a grenade, Bond grabs a gun and opens fire on the terrorists.
“What the hell is he doing?” Roebuck snaps. “His job,” M says.
Bond meanwhile has rolled under the plane and taken out several more terrorists. “He’s going for the bombs,” Robinson says in wonder. It’s quite amusing he’s only just worked out what Bond is doing. What did he think he was doing up until then? Just going for a nice saunter around the terrorist camp as the cruise headed towards them?
“One minute to impact,” a man says back at the control room. Have they really employed a man to stand there and read out the time? What does he do when there are no countdowns? Just stare at the microwave going “30 seconds until sausage roll?”
Meanwhile, at Guns-R-Us, Bond is playing a deadly game of chicken with a swarthy looking villain. I love how set his expression is as he flies directly at the other plane. At the last minute, he takes off and flies through the flames as the missile hits. The screens turn to static. M looks as if she’s about to cry.
The screen is engulfed by flames. There’s a pause for a long time before a plane flies out of, accompanied by the Bond theme. But it isn’t over yet. The man who was unconscious in the back seat wakes up and tries to strangle Bond. At the same time, the second plane follows him out and starts shooting.
Amusingly, Bond out manoeuvres the other plane, using only his knees on the controls and positions his plane underneath the other one. Stretching, he hits the eject button and solves two birds with one button.
“Back seat driver,” he quips to himself. Switching on his radio he calls back to HQ, “I’ve evacuated the area. Ask the admiral, where he wants his bombs delivered.” Cheeky.
Everyone claps and cheers, except Admiral Roebuck, who looks a bit put out that Bond managed to escape and stop the nukes going off. You get the impression he’d rather than 007 would have failed. I love the infighting between the military and MI6 here. In fact, Bond and M’s victory against the admiral is almost more impressive than Bond’s escape from “half the world’s terrorists”. M certainly seems more pleased with that.
This is a perfectly balanced Bond opening sequence. It’s over the top, yes, but manages to maintain an element of realism and believability. And even when it is over the top (the idea that Bond is better at flying a plane he’s never seen before with his knees than an experienced pilot is with his hands) it makes you pump your fist in the air and say “awesome”, rather than just sighing.
There’s a three part structure of setup, twist and prestige that I’ve mentioned before so much better than in the later sequences. The setup is the huge terrorist arms bazaar. The twist is that there are nukes that are about to be blown up, and the prestige is Bond managing to escape with the bombs. There are no weird incomprehensible moments like the blind cord in The World is Not Enough. And unlike Quantum of Solace, say, the pacing is better. They allow the tension to sit for a few minutes before they resolve it. Look, for example, at how long Bond is strangled before he manages to eject the co-pilot. In Quantum of Solace, the flashes of action and tension are over in seconds. Even the moment when the police jeep rolls down the hill and nearly hits Bond is resolved before you even realise you need to be tense.
Tomorrow Never Dies doesn’t seem to have dated as much as some later Brosnan films. Other than one poor superimposed explosion, there’s very little wrong with it. Even the CGI missile is so fast that it looks fine on screen. I suspect part of this comes from the fact that there is very little green screen work. Actually blowing stuff up just doesn’t date as badly as putting fake explosions on.
I can’t say the same for the trailer for Tomorrow Never Dies, however. “This is a spoof trailer.” My girlfriend said when she saw it. “Why don’t you watch the real one?” It isn’t a spoof though. It just feels like one now. Trailers have changed a lot in the last fifteen years. I hadn’t noticed that we’ve stopped using the deep voice-over guy (except in spoofs) until seeing this one. The voice over sounds ridiculous now. “One man, must save the world…” it only belongs in spoofs.
It’s real heart racing stuff, with fantastic performances from Brosnan, Dench and Palmer along with David Arnold’s always-excellent score. This is the dream team coming together and doing what they do best. I can just keep watching this.
Name Rank and Number
I think he got the Point
- Bond’s code name is “White Knight”.
- M refers to Bond as “my man”
- In his first line, Robinson’s says, “Our man is in position.” They seem reluctant to use Bond’s name around Roebuck.
Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed?
- “Filthy habit,” Bond says, knocking out the man he’s just given a cigarette too. Bond’s changed. Just a few films earlier, in Live and Let Die, he smoked a cigar while hand-gliding. Just because he could.
- “Back seat driver,” Bond quips after ejecting the villain behind him in the plane
Listen Carefully 007
- As with Die Another Day, Bond causes carnage, but we don’t see many confirmed kills in the first sequence. A lot of his fire is just covering fire to get people out of the way
- We can probably assume that the magnetic grenade kills the driver of the missile carrier.
- We can also probably assume there’s someone in the van that Bond blows up with the his first missile
- Bond’s second missile takes out a jeep, and there must be someone in there too.
- When Bond ejects his “co-pilot” into the pursuing plane, both men die in the ensuing explosion.
Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office
- Admiral Roebuck seems to outrank M. I’m not quite sure how the ranks work between different government departments though. But when Roebuck says “this is now a military operation,” that seems to stop M.
- The text on the camera says the link is to “MOD HQ”, so this may not be an MI6 facility.
- The cigarette lighter Bond uses in the initial sequence is actually a grenade. Considering Bond throws it when no one is looking, it’s a bit of a waste of one of Q’s gadgets really.
- Bond also has a magnet grenade that he sticks to the back of a jeep.
SP will return…