Die Another Day’s 15th: Eon discovers CGI is hard

Die Another Day’s gunbarrel, complete with CGI bullet

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Die Another Day, the James Bond film where Eon Productions decided to go all in on computer-generated imagery.

Eon had dabbled with CGI before, including the title designs of Daniel Kleinman who had taken over for the late Maurice Binder.

But Die Another was another matter entirely. First up was a CGI bullet fired at the audience by Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in the opening gunbarrel sequence. Evidently, Bond was a better shot than anyone knew. He was able to fire a bullet into the barrel of another person’s gun.

Later, U.S. operative Jinx (Halle Berry) supposedly dives backward into the ocean from a cliff — supposedly being the operative word.

There was also an Aston Martin that could turn invisible. For Bond, it helped that the thugs of villain Gustav Graves didn’t notice the tracks the invisible car was putting in the show.

But, of course, the movie’s most famously bad use of CGI came as Brosnan/Bond parachute surfs to avoid being swallowed up by a tidal wave. Much of the sequence looks like a mediocre video game with insert shots of Brosnan gamely trying to sell the audience he’s actually concerned about the proceedings.

Director Lee Tamahori was a big enthusiast of what digital imagery would bring to the table of the 20th James Bond film.

The “manipulations” enabled by CGI “are endless and effortless,” Tamahori said. “The high-end action sequences that are done for real are still going to exist …but I think …half of them will exist for real.” The rest, he said, might move into entirely digital effects. (You can view Tamahori’s comments at the start of the first of two videos reviewing the movie at the HAPHAZARD STUFF website.)

John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

Tamahori was indeed correct that digital effects would become more prominent in future Bond movies. Safety cables for stunt performers can be hidden, for example. Also, mice can be created and rail cars can be added to trains. (For the latter two examples, CLICK HERE for a post about CGI use in 2015’s SPECTRE.)

Unfortunately for Die Another Day, the director and production company found out CGI is hard. Better execution of CGI in a Bond would movie would have to wait for another day.

Poor CGI wasn’t the movie’s only problem. For the first time, Eon decided to make a big deal about a 007 film anniversary (2002 being the series’ 40th anniversary). Tamahori & Co. opted to put all sorts of Bond film references that tended to distract from the film’s plot. Look, a set based on a Ken Adam set from Diamonds Are Forever! Look, there’s the Thunderball jet pack! Look, there’s the same electronic noise that accompanied the Dr. No gunbarrel! Look, there’s a Union Jack parachute! And on, and on, and on, and….

At the same time, Die Another Day proved to be the end of the line for Pierce Brosnan.

When the film was released, Brosnan said during talk show appearances that Eon wanted him back for a fifth Bond film and he was looking forward to it. Two years later, Brosnan got a telephone call from Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson informing the actor that his services were no longer required.

Brosnan was the last Bond chosen by Albert R. Broccoli. “The kids” were about to pick their own.

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