James Bond
Die Another Day

Starring: Pierce Brosnan
RRP 24.99
23751DVD Z1
Certificate: 12
Available now

Captured while on a mission in North Korea, James Bond is eventually freed more than a year later. M thinks 007 may have given away vital secrets under torture, but he insists that he has not. The agent believes he has been set up, and vows to find the person responsible. But first he must escape from MI6 captivity...

I was a little disappointed by this film when I first saw it at the cinema, but I am happy to report that I enjoyed it more this time around.

But 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 images with the ongoing events of the story. However, this visual feast is let down by an entirely un-Bond-like title song, sung by Madonna (who also plays a cameo role as the fencing instructor, Verity).

Director Lee (Once Were Warriors, Along Came a Spider) Tamahori 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 hovercrafts over 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 (though the special features assure us that cloaking technology is not so far down the line as you might think).

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 in a 007 movie since Moonraker. Coincidentally, scriptwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade plunder Ian Fleming's original Moonraker novel for previously unused story elements such as the transformed villain and his apparently benign orbital weapon.

The writers and Pierce Brosnan continue to explore the humanity and vulnerabilities of Bond's character. It is quite unnerving to behold his condition after he has been imprisoned and tortured for 14 whole months - who ever would have thought we'd see 007 as a shuffling wreck with an unkempt beard? This image puts the injuries Bond 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 Bond movie, with 007 setting out on a private vendetta.)

But don't go thinking for one moment that the trademark comical quips are absent, because they are in force in a big way. They range from lines that really work ("So this is where they keep the old relics") to the 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 icy Miranda Frost.

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 have also included copious but unobtrusive references to the past, including a range of vintage gadgets, which are seen around the workshop of the new Q (the amusing John Cleese). Jinx rises from the waves wearing - just about - a costume that echoes Ursula Andress' 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 which bears the pull quote: "Diamonds are forever". However, the plot strays from homage to out-and-out repetition when Graves' Icarus satellite plays a similar role to Blofeld's orbital laser in Diamonds are Forever.

Novel aficionados will 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 Bond's icy water torture are both reminiscent of John Gardner's Icebreaker.

The first disc in this two-DVD pack allows you to play the movie with a choice of two audio commentaries or with an "MI6 Datastream". The latter cues in 19 behind-the-scenes featurettes at appropriate junctures, and displays on-screen information text (like the production notes offered by the BBC's Doctor Who DVDs) throughout. The featurettes manage not to be as intrusive as those on certain other DVD releases, such as X-Men 1.5.

The second disc contains more than two hours of documentary footage, as well as Madonna's music video, numerous stills galleries, storyboard to final shot comparisons and multi-angle views of several scenes. I found the examination of the visual elements used to create the innovative title sequence particularly interesting.

However, I was somewhat disappointed to find that there are no deleted or extended scenes on either disc, despite the fact that we are told footage was cut from the scene in which Graves makes his speech about Icarus. I was also a little annoyed that the special features use American spellings, even though this is a Region 2 product. However, British viewers can take solace in the fact that the Region 2 release contains an exclusive documentary, the in-depth From Script to Screen.

Collectors who already own the previous special edition DVDs need not be concerned by the cover design. The opposite side of the reversible sleeve will match the rest of your Bond collection.

Despite a few flaws in the extra features and in the movie itself, I have no doubt that the 007 franchise will live to fight another day.

Richard McGinlay

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