"Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it."
Although nowhere near the disaster that his next (and final) outing as James Bond would be, Pierce Brosnan's third 007 movie, 'The World Is Not Enough', nonetheless finds the franchise experiencing a drought of creative inspiration. I've often felt that Brosnan was never given his proper due in the role. The actor had all the necessary charm and charisma, but was saddled with some poor scripts and was ousted before he could redeem himself. Even Roger Moore was allowed to follow up 'Moonraker' with the superior 'For Your Eyes Only'. Brosnan wasn't so lucky; his movies started on a strong note but then grew progressively worse.
'The World Is Not Enough' recycles a lot of familiar elements from earlier Bond films. After her good friend is assassinated right in the heart of MI6 headquarters, M (Judi Dench) takes out a personal vendetta against the perpetrators, much as Bond had back in 'Licence to Kill'. She assigns 007 to hunt down Renard (Robert Carlyle), a dangerous killer who'd survived a gunshot to the head and now conveniently feels no pain. Searching through various Asian and Eastern European nations, our hero uncovers a plot to steal a nuclear weapon and irradiate much of Europe's oil supply, thus allowing the villains to gain a monopoly for their own financial interests. (Sounds a little like 'Goldfinger', doesn't it?) In the process of foiling this scheme, Bond must also protect the beautiful Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), daughter of the original victim, who may not be quite as helpless as she would have everyone believe.
Marceau makes a fine Bond girl, but 'The World Is Not Enough' remains infamous for casting Denise Richards as the nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones. Yes, it's a silly name, but Bond girls always have silly names like Pussy Galore ('Goldfinger') or Holly Goodhead ('Moonraker'). Fans have heaped scorn on the film for this casting, but I've never had a problem with it. In the context of any other normal movie, Richards wouldn't be even remotely believable as a nuclear scientist. But this is a James Bond film. In James Bond's world, Denise Richards running around in a tank top and short shorts is exactly what nuclear scientists look like. Richards was at the peak of her physical hotness here, and while not a very good actress, is certainly no worse than the likes of Lynn-Holly Johnson ('For Your Eyes Only'), Tanya Roberts ('A View to a Kill'), or countless of her other predecessors.
Disappointingly, Bond's globe-hopping takes him to few scenic locations in this mission. After brief stops in Bilbao and London, he spends most of the movie in what we're told are Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, both of which could just as well be any generic barren landscapes. Even a climax in Istanbul showcases little local color or exotic charm.
The theme song by Garbage isn't very memorable. Nor are the action scenes. Bond skis away from para-snowmobiles, outruns a few fireballs (a weird preoccupation in many late '90s action movies), and dodges helicopters with dangling saw blades. The endless boat chase down the River Thames is the franchise's longest pre-credits sequence. These scenes are professionally executed, but feel rote and mechanical.
This film marks the last appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. The character is given a proper sendoff and hands the reigns to a successor called R (John Cleese). Cleese's comic bumbling doesn't work at all in the series, which is why he was quickly dropped after the next installment, 'Die Another Day'. Like most of Brosnan's entries, this is a gadget-heavy adventure. Among the notable toys are a rocket-powered speedboat, X-ray glasses, and a snow coat with built-in inflatable avalanche cocoon.
Documentarian and occasional feature director Michael Apted ('Gorillas in the Mist') makes an odd choice to helm a Bond film. At the time, much publicity was made of the producers' desire to craft a more character-driven and psychologically complex piece. In reality, almost nothing of the sort is on display in the finished product. Regardless of his normal talents working with actors and nuanced material, here Apted is a mere figurehead standing on top of a machine that will plow along in one direction no matter what he does. I suppose there's not much a director can do when handed a mediocre script and told to stand out of the way while the 2nd Unit takes care of the action scenes.
The alleged psychological complexity appears in precisely one scene near the end, where Bond makes a cold-hearted decision that is admittedly a little shocking upon first viewing. Even so, this one admirable trait is completely undone by the screenplay's over-reliance on bad puns in almost every single line of dialogue. Bond's pithy quips have long been a staple of the series, but they're taken to a ridiculous extreme here. Even Roger Moore would be embarrassed to deliver most of these lines. 'The World Is Not Enough' has easily the worst dialogue of any 007 film, which makes it difficult to take the darker moments seriously.
'The World Is Not Enough' is not the worst James Bond film, or even the worst of Pierce Brosnan's run in the role. It is, however, further proof of how ready the franchise was for the much-needed reboot it would finally receive with 'Casino Royale'.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The World Is Not Enough' comes to Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment (distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) in a few packaging options. The movie is available singly in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover or in a Steelbook case exclusive to Amazon.com. 'The World Is Not Enough' is also included as part of the 'James Bond Collection: Volume 3' box set with 'Goldfinger' and 'Moonraker'.
The film has some brief Russian dialogue. Non-removable English subtitles for these scenes are burned into the image and appear entirely within the 2.35:1 movie picture, making them safe for Constant Image Height projection.
Being a newer movie, MGM must have felt that 'The World Is Not Enough' didn't require the type of full-blown restoration they'd commissioned for the older James Bond films. Although the disc has a Lowry Digital credit, it distinctly lacks any indication of being a new 4k scan, as you'll find at the end of 'Dr. No' or 'From Russia with Love'. As far as I can tell, the Blu-ray appears to be sourced from the same master originally used for the first DVD release in 2000, with perhaps a few digital tweaks by Lowry. That's a shame, because the transfer is quite dated. The movie could have used fresh remastering.
Presented in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is never downright terrible, but is merely adequate in most respects. It's a drab affair that looks about cable broadcast quality. Edge Enhancement artifacts are visible right from the opening gun barrel iris, and continue through much of the movie. The ringing may be tamed in comparison to the DVD, and isn't as noticeable in the second half of the film, but is still a distracting problem. Digital Noise Reduction was also clearly used. The picture is a little soft, with mushy on-screen text. Fine object detail is decent in close-up shots, but only fair in medium and wide shots. Objects tend to smear when in motion.
The opening titles sequence features some fabulous colors, but the rest of the photography is rather bland. The contrast range looks compressed on both the high and low ends. Whites are dull and shadows are milky. All in all, a mediocre Bond film has been given a mediocre video transfer.
I didn't find the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack all that impressive either. The film's mixers were apparently graduates of the "Louder is better" school of action movie sound design. The track has cracking gun shots and plenty of rumbly bass, both cranked to obnoxiously loud levels. Meanwhile, overall fidelity is OK at best. The theme song sounds particularly blasé, and David Arnold's score keeps wussing out, shrinking down to bare audibility when it really needs to rev up. Action scenes frequently go limp and collapse into a mass of indistinct noises.
The surround channels are constantly engaged with ping-ponging bullets and swooshing effects. However, they're only used in the most gimmicky and attention-grabbing of ways. There's been no attempt at all to create a truly immersive soundfield with ambient noises in the rears. Crowd scenes that should fill the room are curiously quiet.
This is a dull mix, and lossless encoding does little to bring it to life. I doubt anyone will be able to hear any difference between this and the lossy Dolby Digital track on the DVD. In fact, I know of many DD 5.1 soundtracks that are more engaging.
All of the bonus features from the Ultimate Edition DVD released in 2006 have been carried over to the Blu-ray. Written out in bullet points, they may look like a lot. Sadly, much of the content is promotional in nature and not very interesting.
'The World Is Not Enough' squanders its potential to be a darker, edgier James Bond film. Instead, it merely trots out the same tired formula that was so desperately in need of revamping by the end of the Pierce Brosnan years. The movie is pretty mediocre, as is the Blu-ray straight down the line from video to audio to supplements. 007 completists will be buying this one regardless. Everyone else can stick with a rental.