After being hailed as the successor to Sean Connery’s now-iconic rendition of suave superspy James Bond, exciting Bond junkies with droll wit and pitch-perfect delivery in ‘Goldeneye,' and earning the respect of series fans the world over, it seemed as though Pierce Brosnan would be in the 007 driver’s seat for years to come. But as pre-packaged bores like ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘The World is Not Enough’ abandoned much of what made the franchise so successful, Brosnan somehow became the scapegoat. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down in ‘Die Another Day.’ Even though the film raked in impressive box office cash, it was an artistic failure that nearly destroyed the integrity of the Bond franchise and a film that remains one of the worst high-budget blockbusters I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching in the theater.
The twentieth (and arguably worst) entry in the Bond series introduces our favorite MI6 agent to an evil North Korean colonel (Will Yun Lee) who spends his free time exchanging weapons for African blood diamonds. After killing the colonel and scarring a renegade named Zao (Rick Yune), Bond is captured. After being held for fourteen months, James is released and M (Judi Dench) is forced to revoke his 00 status. Going rogue, Bond tracks Zao to Cuba, teams up with an NSA agent called Jinx (a miscast Halle Berry), and traces several blood diamonds to a British billionaire named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Bond must discover the link between Graves and Zao, deal with deep-cutting betrayal, and uncover the true purpose of a deadly satellite codenamed Icarus.
‘Die Another Day’ starts off with a bang, delivering an effective opening volley of action and intrigue, but it quickly falls apart. Not only does the $140 million film feature some laughably bad CG effects, action choreography, and production values, it buckles under the weight of a Madonna cameo (seriously), groan-inducing subplots, an ice palace (literally), an invisible car (I can’t make this stuff up), and a third act that completely and utterly jumps the shark. Brosnan really tries to do something different and authentic with Bond, but bland and gimmicky casting, flat dialogue, and convoluted logic prevent the character from emerging as anything more than a caricature. In fact, I can’t think of another film that so inadvertently parodies the tried-and-true elements of its own heritage to the degree that ‘Die Another Day’ unwittingly spoofs the Bond series.
All of the film’s shortcomings boil down to a lame screenplay that adds nothing to the Bond mythos, several limp encounters that fail to generate legitimate tension or pulse-pounding action, and a main villain that’s more contrived and implausible than even Bond purists could ever reasonably defend. Worse still, expositional developments occur for no apparent reason. Little thought is given to plot progression, character cohesion, or internal series logic, and I never felt as if director Lee Tamahori (‘The Edge,’ ‘Along Came a Spider,’ ‘xXx: State of the Union’) had a solid grasp of the story he was telling. I’ll admit the film isn’t a complete waste of time (there are still a few chase scenes, series nods, and gunfights that keep things mildly interesting), but I couldn’t help but feel as if I were watching a cheap imitation of the Bond series instead of the real thing.
I could go on and on about ‘Die Another Day’s failure to reenergize the franchise and its shortcomings as a standalone film, but I’ll save myself the time and you the exasperation of reading a longer review. I know there are people out there who have and will continue to enjoy ‘Die Another Day’ for what it is -- a flimsy romp that continually pays homage to its forerunners -- but I’m not one of those people. There are far better Bond films on the market, as well as plenty of hollow actioners that don’t trample a classic character to death. ‘Die Another Day’ almost killed the Bond series… don’t give it the chance to do any more damage than it has already done.
Whether you love or hate the film itself, there’s no denying MGM’s excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer trounces its DVD counterpart and offers a much improved presentation of ‘Die Another Day.’ Colors are vibrant, primaries are bold, skintones are spot on, and contrast is wonderful. Black levels are nice and deep, whites aren’t overblown, and delineation is natural but revealing. Detail is also exceptional. Aside from a few blurry backgrounds and softer-than-usual foregrounds, fine textures pop, objects are well-defined, and minor elements like stubble, falling snow, and splintering wood look great. To top it all off, the picture doesn’t suffer from any substantial source noise, banding, or any pesky DNR.
I did catch minor bursts of artifacting and some lingering edge enhancement (both of which affected the SD DVD to a far greater degree) that’s sure to briefly distract more discerning viewers. Even so, ‘Die Another Day’s lush palette and sharp detailing should easily please fans while leaving little doubt that MGM has the ability to right its high-def course and deliver exciting and reliable video transfers.
’Die Another Day’s audio is even better. MGM has included a booming DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that drops every explosion, ricochet, and laser blast directly into your home theater. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and well prioritized, LFE support is healthy and powerful, and the rear channels are startlingly aggressive throughout the film. It’s impossible to convey how convincing the interior acoustics and environmental ambience actually are without first noting how involving and immersive the track is. For a film that features so many over-the-top, nonsensical action sequences, the resultant soundfield is unexpectedly realistic, nuanced and, ultimately, a real treat to experience.
On the technical front, directionality is precise (even helping the track rival a few 7.1 mixes I’ve encountered), pans are transparent, and the soundtrack is nicely balanced and properly distributed throughout the soundfield. In fact, the only complaint I have is that crowd chatter and background noise is sometimes too distinct, ever so slightly drawing attention away from key conversations. Still, ‘Die Another Day’ sounds as good as (if not better than) it looks. I breathed a huge sigh of relief with the knowledge that MGM has finally figured out how to produce a solid Blu-ray disc.
The Blu-ray debut of ‘Die Another Day’ repurposes all of the significant special features that have appeared on both the new and previously-released DVD editions. Unfortunately, the video content is presented in standard definition.
’Die Another Day’ may not get my guns blazing, but I have to admit that MGM (who I nearly wrote off earlier this year) has really taken advantage of its Bond catalog, stepped up its game, and finally delivered the goods. The Blu-ray edition of Bond’s twentieth outting includes an excellent video transfer, a near-reference level lossless audio track, and a generous helping of supplements. What more could any ‘Die Another Day’ fan ask for? Well done MGM… well done.