Tomorrow Never Dies’s 20th: Jigsaw puzzle

Tomorrow Never Dies poster

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies, a jigsaw puzzle of a production.

Just when the pieces seemed to be coming together one way, they had to be disassembled and put together another.

That condition certainly applied to the script. Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli initially employed Donald E. Westlake. That effort was dropped.

Next up, Bruce Feirstein, who had penned the later drafts of GoldenEye, started a new story line. Other scribes worked on the project before Feirstein returned, doing rewrites on the fly while filming was underway.

Locations ended up being a puzzle as well. Much of the story was set in Vietnam. But the Asian country abruptly revoked permission to film there. The Eon Productions crew had to quickly go to Thailand as a substitute.

The score from composer David Arnold would also be a jigsaw puzzle. The newcomer scored the movie in thirds. (He explained the process in detail in an audio interview with journalist Jon Burlingame that was released on a later expanded soundtrack release.) There would be next to no time for normal post-production work.

Principal photography didn’t begin until April 1, 1997, and production would extend into early September for a movie slated to open just before Christmas.

It was star Pierce Brosnan’s second turn as 007. In the documentary Everything or Nothing, he said his Bond films other than GoldenEye were all a blur. That blur began with this production.

Also, during the film’s buildup, the publicity machine emphasized how Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, a Chinese agent, was Bond’s equal. This wasn’t exactly a new development. Barbara Bach’s Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me was “his equal in every way,” according to that movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. Nor would Tomorrow Never Dies be the last time “Bond’s equal” would come up in marketing.

In some ways, Tomorrow Never Dies was the end of an era.

It was the last opportunity to have John Barry return to score a Bond film. He declined when told he wouldn’t be permitted to write the title song. That opened up the door for Arnold, who’d score the next four 007 movies.

This would also be the final time a Bond movie was released under the United Artists banner. UA was a division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1997. Two years later, MGM decided to release The World is Not Enough under its own name.

The movie, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, generated global box office of $339.5 million. That was lower than GoldenEye’s $356.4 million. Still, it was more than ample to keep the series, and its Brosnan era, going.

John Wick 2 and Logan: Peckinpah for the 21st century

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

The name Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) doesn’t come up much these days. But somewhere old Sam has to be amused that two films following in his footsteps are among the best reviewed movies of 2017.

Those movies would be John Wick Chapter 2 (with a 90 percent fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website) and Logan (at 93 percent).

Peckinpah, meanwhile, became known mostly for film violence in movies such as The Wild Bunch and The Getaway. Monty Python in the 1970s did a Peckinpah parody titled “Salad Days,” where a party is the English countrywide becomes an orgy of blood and severed limbs.

Peckinpah was more than that, of course. One of his earliest films, Ride the High Country, is a mix of ode to classic Westerns with key updates in the movie’s middle section. The 1962 film also lacks the kind of violence he’d be known for later.

There’s an edge to Peckinpah’s work. In a 1956 episode of Gunsmoke scripted (but not directed) by Peckinpah titled The Guitar, citizens of Dodge City manage to lynch two villainous types. But there’s nothing Matt Dillon (James Arness) can do about it. It’s also strongly implied his assistant Chester (Dennis Weaver) was in on it.

Hugh Jackman in Logan's poster

Hugh Jackman in Logan’s poster

Also, there are a few of James Bond-related things related to Peckinpah.

Tomorrow Never Dies was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who had an “editorial consultant” credit on Peckinpah’s The Getaway and was an editor on the director’s Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Spottiswoode favored a slow motion technique similar to Peckinpah’s in Tomorrow Never Dies. Years later, the climax of the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall was compared by some to Straw Dogs.

Anyway, Peckinpah’s name tends to be overshadowed by classic director such as John Ford and Howard Hawks as well as directors who started their career later, such as Steven Spielberg.

Still, in 2017, John Wick Chapter 2 and Logan seem to dip deep into Peckinpah techniques and themes.

In the two R-rated movies, the title characters kill dozens of people in messy ways. John Wick’s violence is a bit more stylized, akin to Peckinpah’s work. Both feature characters who are drawn into their situations reluctantly but don’t back down, not unlike Peckinpah’s Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) in Ride The High Country.

This isn’t to say the similarities are intentional. Logan cites a classic Western (and it’s about as subtle as a heart attack) not directed by Peckinpah (don’t click if you’re spoiler adverse).

Nevertheless, Peckinpah enthusiasts may find themselves amused if they sample either movie.

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.