007 has now been on-screen for 40 years, going on 20 adventures. Over the years, special effects have gotten consistently more seamless, action scenes are always trying to top the latest one and movies in general have become a bigger business. This continues to be an issue lately, as franchises like "Star Trek" and Bond continue to face newer, sleeker competition. Aside from "XXX", which most have talked about as a new "Bond"-ian series, other films such as "The Bourne Identity" and maybe "Spy Game" have done Bond better lately.
"Die Another Day" is really just another Bond film - no more, maybe a bit less. The action is a cut above the last couple of pictures, the story is sufficently entertaining, but getting down to the bare basics, there's really nothing out of the double-0-ordinary for a Bond movie here. The picture opens with Bond surfing into Korea to do a diamonds-for-arms deal which goes sour when the bad guys in question find out that Bond's....well, Bond. He's captured, leading to fourteen months in a prison before being transfered out in a trade. His superiors are displeased, believing that Bond gave up secrets while in prison.
Displeased with possible suspension, Bond escapes, heading to both Cuba and Iceland in an attempt to catch Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), the lead in a new weapons program. There's also an American agent called Jinx (Berry) and a North Korean agent named Zao (Rick Yune), who Bond was traded for to be released. Michael Madsen even shows up as a US agent, and Rosamund Pike shows up as a mysterious fellow MI6 agent.
Director Lee Tamahori takes over as a Bond director this time around and the results are simply okay. The movie starts off fairly well, with a nicely done action sequence, but the story by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade is awfully bland, making all the exposition mid-movie rather uncompelling. There's also a few noticably ripe pieces of dialogue. The action-heavy last quarter of the picture becomes ridiculous, and although the scenes are fairly good in theory, the effects are surprisingly mediocre (there's a surfing sequence late in the film that looks particularly bad, almost as if it was a few stages away from completion) for such a major production. Berry's light performance also seemed out-of-place in a film that seemed to lack the usual 007 humor. Hopefully, the character's spinoff (which seems odd, given that we really don't learn much of anything about her here) will be better. As for the villians, Yune makes a far better one than Graves, as Stephens' performance really wasn't at all intimidating. Sean Bean's villian in "Goldeneye" remains the best villian out of the Brosnan pictures (and, I think, the best of the Brosnan Bond films, as well.)
"Die Another Day" has moments, but it doesn't succeed in its attempt to be a little bit darker than the usual Bond fare and, as a result, the picture lacks the spirit and humor that these films occasionally weave in so well. I wonder about the choices of director for these films lately...while directors like Lee Tamahori ("Once Were Warriors" and Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin picture "The Edge") and Michael Apted (the "7-up" series, the brilliant "Enigma") are talented filmmakers, they have never handled a movie of this size, nor have either really done action previously. Where's Tony or Ridley Scott when you need them?
Overall, "Die Another Day" certainly started off well, but it falls apart in the second half as it gets continually more ridiculous. Although absurdity in the action is certainly to be expected from a Bond film, the best Bond sequences in recent years (the tank chase in "Goldeneye", which was perfectly just over-the-top, with a few tidbits that showed the scene not taking itself entirely seriously) are at least somewhat grounded in reality and, while effects-driven, are largely built on practical effects and not computer-generated ones. Bond needs a stronger director, more experienced with action for the next one. Director Martin Campbell might be a good choice to return as director, as Campbell's "Goldeneye" offered the right balance of all of the Bond elements. Here's hoping that next one - whoever helms it - will be a lot better.
VIDEO: "Die Another Day" is presented by MGM in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a separate, heavily cropped pan & scan edition is also available). Sharpness and detail throughout the presentation are generally quite good, although some occasional softer-looking moments were spotted. Cinematographer David Tattersall ("Star Wars Ep. 1, 2, 3") gives the picture a look that's a tad muted in sections (at least more than the usual Bond feature), going along with "Die Another Day"'s slightly darker tone.
While sharpness and detail were generally quite satisfactory, this transfer failed in several other regards. The most distracting and unpleasant flaw of this presentation is edge enhancement, which seems to be almost a constant presence throughout the movie, with obvious halos visible quite often. Unfortunately, that's not all. Occasional slight specks were visible on the print used in a couple of scenes, while a few traces of compression artifacts were also spotted.
As mentioned, the color palette varies. The opening scenes have a subdued palette, but much of the rest of the movie offers a nice, naturalistic tone in regards to colors. Colors remained vivid and without any concern throughout. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. The presentation did offer some nice aspects, but there's certainly more concerns here than I'd like to see on a new release, especially one this major.
SOUND: "Die Another Day" is presented by MGM in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX and DTS 5.1-ES (The DTS track is ES Matrix, not 6.1 ES Discrete). The audio presentation is wonderful, with plenty of aggressive surround use for the action scenes and pleasing, light ambience in the rear speakers for most of the more subtle sequences. Those who have back surround capability will find that its use really does make for a more enveloping and enjoyable experience, especially during some of the action scenes. This is also certainly a dynamic soundtrack, with fierce sound effects and some pretty superb deep bass at times. Dialogue and music remained crisp and clear, as well.
Commentaries: director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson offer one screen-specific audio commentary for the DVD, while actors Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike are on the other commentary track. I liked Brosnan's contribution to his commentary, as I did with his commentary on the "Evelyn" DVD. He's complimentary and sincere about the cast and crew without turning whole stretches into "happy talk" and he gives some additional insights as to why he appreciates their work. He's also intelligent about the production process, going into fine detail about obstacles encountered during filming, and providing some very enjoyable discussion of the characters and the series. There are a few short bits of silence here and there, but it's generally a fine track.
Tamahori and Wilson offer exactly what's expected: Tamahori discusses his feelings about helming a Bond feature, the two share stories about shooting on various locations and problems that occured, they chat about how this feature varies from others and offer the occasional joke about what's going on on-screen, although the Brosnan commentary seemed consistently a bit lighter.
Datastream This feature offers an "enhanced" version of a fewature that many DVDs use. When enabled, viewers will see facts regarding the movie popping up in small boxes throughout the picture. Viewers will also be taken to additional featurettes about the making of the film at various points throughout the picture. However, unlike the usual fare where you have to click on a logo to jump to the featurette, this feature automatically opens up a larger screen for the featurette, while the movie continues on a smaller window. I appreciated not having to do all the clicking, like these features usually require.
Inside "Die Another Day": This is a feature-length documentary (80 minutes, to be exact) that starts off the second disc. Although essentially a bunch of featurettes that can be played together, these are well-produced pieces that get right to the point and take the viewer inside the making of each specific section. Rather than interviews going on about how great or wonderful each scene is, the viewer is taken behind-the-scenes through clips of the production at work and interviews that are informative. The sections are: "Intro & Surfing", "Hovercraft Chase", "Cuba", "Quartermaster', "Ice Palace", "Car Battle" and "Post Production and Finale".
Propaganda: Two teasers for "Die Another Day", the film's theatrical trailer and several TV spots are included. There's also Madonna's "Die Another Day" video, a trailer for the "007: Nightfire" video game (good video game, by the way) and a "making of" for both the video game and the music video. Lastly, trailers for "Agent Cody Banks", "Bulletproof Monk", "Evelyn: Special Edition DVD", and the "Windtalkers: Special Edition DVD" are included here.
Mission Deconstruction This section offers multi-angle looks at: "Hovercraft Chase", "Blades", "Car Battle" and "Antonov Fight" scenes. There are also script-to-screen comparisons for "Hovercraft Chase" and "Car Battle". Finally, a piece on the title sequence and another on the digital grading process used to correct skies and alter the look of the film round out the section.
Also: Rounding out the supplemental section are short pieces on Bond's gadgets, an image gallery and additional DVD-ROM features that will be available on the release date.
Final Thoughts: "Die Another Day" is a bigger Bond film than some of the other recent ones, but it's just that - bigger; the action or plot aren't particularly imaginative or original and some of the other recent Bond films have been more energetic, involving and simply, more fun. "Another Day" passes by quickly enough and has a few entertaining moments, but I was expecting more. MGM's DVD edition offers surprisingly average video quality, excellent audio and lots of supplemental features. Recommended for fans.