James Bond
Die Another Day
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Pierce Brosnan
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 12
Available 17 July 2006

Captured and tortured while on an assignment in North Korea, James Bond is eventually liberated more than a year later. Vowing to find the person responsible for setting him up, 007 embarks upon a dangerous mission that takes him from Cuba to Iceland, where he makes the acquaintance of a formidable and alluring fellow spy called Jinx...

Following 19 excellent 2-disc sets, Sony lets us down badly with this one. Whereas the makers of the other Ultimate Editions have taken great care not to omit any of the previously released special features, a staggering two hours' worth of material from the previous 2-disc special edition of Die Another Day has vanished like Bond's invisible car.

Both audio commentaries (featuring director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G Wilson, and actors Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike respectively) and the "MI6 Datastream" (which cues in 19 behind-the-scenes featurettes at appropriate junctures, and displays on-screen information text throughout the film) are present and correct. So too are the documentaries Shaken and Stirred on Ice (25 minutes) and the fascinatingly in-depth From Script to Screen (50 minutes).

But where are the 75-minute documentary Inside Die Another Day; the storyboard to final shot comparisons and multi-angle views of scenes such as the hovercraft chase, car battle and innovative main title sequence; the trailers; the TV spots; Madonna's music video; the making of the music video; and the making of the 007: Nightfire PS2 game? I can't quite believe all this stuff has been missed out, but I've pinched myself, double-checked the review discs and the product information - no, there isn't a third disc that I haven't been sent.

This so-called Ultimate Edition throws us a few scraps to try and keep us happy: the "making of" featurettes Just Another Day (23 minutes), The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London (3 minutes) and On Location with Peter Lamont (14 minutes).

And there's always the movie itself. Die Another Day remains a curious blend of innovation, comforting familiarity and irritation. Nowhere is this more evident than during the opening credits, which, in a novel break from tradition, inter-cut the usual surreal and erotic imagery with the ongoing events of the story. However, this visual feast is let down by a very un-Bond-like title song by Madonna (who also plays a cameo role as the fencing instructor, Verity).

Director Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Along Came a Spider, xXx 2: The Next Level) provides us with some very exciting fight scenes, including a visceral fencing match between Bond and the main villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). And, of course, there are the usual outrageous stunt sequences, involving hovercraft on minefields and cars on ice, courtesy of action unit director Vic Armstrong. However, the notion of an invisible car seems far-fetched even by Bond standards.

In fact, this is the most fantastical Bond film in years. With its themes of gene manipulation, cloaking devices and heat rays, we haven't seen this many sci-fi elements since Moonraker. Coincidentally, scriptwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have plundered Ian Fleming's Moonraker novel for story elements such as the transformed villain and his apparently benign orbital weapon. At one point, Rosamund Pike's character Miranda Frost was going to be Moonraker's Gala Brand, as the documentary From Script to Screen reveals.

Novel aficionados will also appreciate the fact that James Bond borrows a book on ornithology, just as Fleming "borrowed" the character's name from the author of a bird-watching book. Another novel name-check comes in the form of the Korean Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), a character inspired by the villain of Kingsley Amis' Bond book Colonel Sun. In addition, the frozen Icelandic location and 007's icy water torture are both reminiscent of John Gardner's Icebreaker.

The writers and Brosnan continue to explore Bond's humanity and vulnerabilities. It is quite unnerving to behold his condition after he has been imprisoned and tortured for 14 whole months. Who would have thought we'd ever see 007 as a shuffling wreck of a man with an unkempt beard? This image puts the injuries sustained in Licence to Kill and The World Is Not Enough in the shade. As it happens, there are a few plot similarities to Timothy Dalton's controversial second and final Bond movie, with the agent embarking upon a private vendetta.

But don't go thinking that the trademark comical quips have been omitted, because they are present in force. These range from lines that really work ("So this is where they keep the old relics then, eh?") to those that are rather awful ("That's a mouthful").

Following a rather stilted introductory scene, in which she has to deliver the above dreadful line, Halle Berry makes a big impression as the tough and resourceful Bond girl, Jinx. The elegant Rosamund Pike does an equally splendid job as 007's other love interest, the appropriately frosty Miranda.

The main baddie is a sort of pastiche of Bond himself. With his toothy upper-class sneer, Toby Stephens plays Graves like a cross between Hugh Grant and the dapper Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf. Writers Purvis and Wade throw in a fair few surprises in terms of certain characters' identities and motivations.

This being the 20th official Bond film, which marked the franchise's 40th anniversary in 2002, the production team also include copious references to the past, including a range of vintage gadgets in the workshop of the new Q (the amusing John Cleese). Jinx rises from the waves wearing (if that's the right word) a costume that echoes Ursula Andress's famous bikini and belt combination in Dr. No. Later on, Bond plucks a grape from a bowl in a hospital ward, a la Thunderball, and reads a magazine article bearing the pull quote, "Diamonds are forever". However, the plot strays from homage to out-and-out repetition when Graves's Icarus satellite plays a similar role to Blofeld's orbital laser in Diamonds Are Forever.

Despite its flaws, Die Another Day is an enjoyable film. The franchise seems to suffering from an identity crisis at the moment, with the departure of Brosnan and mixed messages coming out of the studio as to exactly how action- and gadget-based the new movie will be, or how faithful to Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. Meanwhile, the books have headed back in time with Charlie Higson's Young Bond series. However, I have little doubt that 007 will live to fight another day.

And hopefully some day Sony will release a genuine Ultimate - No, We Really Mean it This Time, Honest Guv - Edition of this movie.

Richard McGinlay

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