Tomorrow Never Dies’s 15th anniversary: tightrope

tndposter

This month marks the 15th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th 007 film and one whose drama behind the camera — a tightrope act to meet a tight schedule — may at least match that of the finished product.

GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond, revived the franchise after a six-year hiatus. So MGM’s United Artists wanted a follow up within two years’ time. The film had a $110 million budget, almost twice that of GoldenEye. That meant more resources but also more pressure.

Eon Productions for a time had employed writer Donald E. Westlake to do a story, which he said in interviews in 1995 concerned the U.K.’s 1997 return of Hong Kong to China.

For whatever reasons, Westlake didn’t work out and Eon hired Bruce Feirstein, who had done the final versions of GoldenEye’s script to have a go. Feirstein’s FIRST DRAFT (archived at the Universal Exports Web site) proved to be much different that the eventual final product.

Feirstein’s first draft concerned the theft of gold being transferred back to the U.K. from Hong Kong. The villain, Elliot Harmsway, also plans to create a nuclear meltdown in Hong Kong, because he opposed the giveback.

Co-bosses Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, working on their first film after the 1996 death of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, decided major surgery was in order. Other writers were summoned. Eventually, the Hong Kong angle was dropped; the movie would be out in December 1997, after the colony was returned to China. Sidney Winch, a former New York lawyer who runs a salvage ship, Feirstein’s female lead, was also a casualty.

In the rewriting process, a new heroine, Wai Lin, a Chinese agent, emerged. The move evoked Agent Triple-X from The Spy Who Loved Me two decades earlier. But the martial arts skills of actress Michelle Yeoh meant the new character would be deeply involved in the action sequences. One character that survived from Feirstein’s original story was Paris (Teri Hatcher), the villain’s wife who had a previous previous relationship with Bond.

Feirstein was then brought back to perform the final drafts of the revised storyline, in which a media mogul now named Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce) wants to start a U.K.-China war to boost ratings for his cable news empire and gain exclusive broadcasting rights in China. Feirstein ended up with the sole writing credit.

Director Roger Spottiswoode faced a tight deadline. The main until didn’t begin work until April 1, with the film set for a December release. The crew at one point was supposed to film in Vietnam but had to switch to Thailand. David Arnold, a new hire as composer, told journalist Jon Burlingame in an interview he had to score the movie in sections. That’s because the post-production time would be “non-existent,” Arnold told Burlingame. (To read a detailed account of filming, CLICK HERE for an article on the MI6 James Bond fan site.

In the end, the deadlines were met. Spottiswoode, in a commentary on the film’s DVD, while complimentary of Eon said he’d be in no hurry to repeat the experience. Michael G. Wilson, in interviews after the film came out, talked about being exhausted by the grind of making a 007 movie.

Tomorrow Never Dies ended up selling $339.5 million in tickets worldwide. That was down from GoldenEye’s $356.4 million (although Tomorrow’s U.S. ticket sales exceeded GoldenEye’s). All in all, it was plenty enough to ensure future film adventures for 007.

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2 Responses

  1. This was a potentially great film muddled by weak dialogue and too many action sequences that occur nearly back to back. Regardless, it still one ups Goldeneye with a with more confident Bond and a better villain.

  2. [...] Tomorrow Never Dies’s 15th anniversary: tightrope [...]

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