Friday 7 October 2011

Tomorrow Never Dies

A James Bond film is much like a Christmas pudding. It contains a combination of ingredients that you just don't get elsewhere. Someone will always try to take over the world. A series of zany gadgets will be deployed in exotic locations. Impossibly beautiful women will fawn over 007, and there's always a strong possibility a helicopter may explode.

And, much like a Christmas pudding, you only ever get it once a year. 

Those ingredients are mixed-up and served to us again in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond outing after the hugely successful GoldenEye. Tantalisingly, the film opens with in an arms bazaar in mountains bordering Russia.

I say tantalising because the impressive array of military aircraft on display suggests that the viewer might be about to witness one of the earliest helicopter explosions in celluloid history.

Alas, it's not to be. Whilst a helicopter lurks enticingly in view, we never get to see it explode - even when the entire mountain top is vaporised whilst Bond escapes in a fighter plane.

This begins a convoluted plot in which a media baron attempts to to boost his fortune by secretly triggering World War III. It's curious plan at best. Especially as Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver seems not to have considered the fact that survivors of a nuclear holocaust are unlikely to see reading a newspaper as much of a priority. No matter, this is Bond after all, so plots as thin as a sheet of newspaper are good enough to carry the film.

So, to the exploding helicopter action. This occurs after Bond teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yeoh. After escaping Carver's clutches, the pair jump off a skyscraper in central Saigon (this is Bond after all) and race through the city on a motorbike hotly pursued by some anonymous henchmen.

Eventually, they find themselves stuck on a busy street. The chasing chopper pitches forward, using its rotor blades to clear the street and rip through a couple of hundreds of market stalls like some kind of aerial garden strimmer. (It’s unclear why one of the henchmen doesn’t just lean out with his machine gun but as the director didn't trouble himself with this detail we won't either).

Cornered in a dead end street, Brosnan improvises boldly - throwing a washing line into the chopper's tail rotor.

Our heroes take cover while the helicopter very slowly hits a a corrugated iron shack before immediately combusting as if coated in dynamite. We then cut to Brosnan casually taking a post-explosion shower with Yeoh. Well, at least she’s roughly his age.

Artistic merit

After such an elaborate build up, including a stunt in which Yeoh climbs over Brosnan on a moving motorbike, the pay-off is quite disappointing. The chopper seems to explode at the slightest of touches, although the fireball is satisfyingly expensive looking.

Worst of all though, are the clearly visible crash test dummies sitting in the chopper as it goes up. You would think the budget could stretch to some models that don’t have hinges showing.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None at all. It feels as if a day’s shooting needed to be completed so rather than inject a tailspin or a prolonged and dramatic tumble from the air, the chopper just gently pokes a paper house with its nose. It’s all over in about three seconds.

Number of exploding helicopters



The director should at least be applauded for injecting a helicopter into a chase scene in downtown Saigon, when an automobile would easily have sufficed. And I can’t think of many other films where a helicopter has met it’s demise with a piece of washing line.


You have to wonder what seasoned thesp Jonathan Pryce was thinking when he took this role. Perhaps he thought “It hasn’t done Dame Judi Dench any harm has it?”. But then she’s never been asked to wear a despot chic Nehru collar suit whilst trying to take over the world with a small, wireless keyboard.

Interesting fact

Teri Hatcher was three months pregnant when she played Bond’s other love interest, Paris Carver. Are there no depths to which he will not stoop?

Review by: Jindy


  1. It seems like all the Brosnan films after Golden Eye were living off the momentum of that success, and slowly losing steam. I agree about the missed opportunity of the early exploding helicopter. It's a Bond movie, they should just go for it-- it's not like they won't just eventually anyway.

  2. I started reviewing the Bond films on my site and got sidetracked. I really need to get around to finishing that project.

    As far as TND goes, I hated it at first. I wasn't fond of Michelle Yeoh's character. It's always bothered me when they try to shoehorn a female equivalent to Bond into these movies, because they're even less believable than eyebrow arching Roger Moore as badass killer. At least Yeoh, an established martial arts movie star, has some credibility on her as a lady 007 (unlike the epic hole of suckitude that is Halle Berry). I also originally thought the Stamper character was quite underwhelming as the modern day version of an Oddjob. Then for some reason I mellowed and did a complete 180 on the film. Maybe as DTV Connoisseur points out, the subsequent Brosnan films were even worse by comparison (not Pierce's fault, more the fault of those knucklehead writers they brought in, Purvis and Wade) and I unconsciously realized TND wasn't *that* bad?

    Since I'm a sad Bond connoisseur, I can share two useless tidbits you didn't ask for. 1. The screenwriter Bruce Feirstein did indeed intend Elliot Carver to be a send-up of real life media moguls. He used both Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch as the inspiration for the character. 2. And probably more interesting to you, the rooftop motorcycle chase and subsequent helicopter 'splosion has its origins in John Gardner's James Bond novel SeaFire. Instead of the Vietnamese village, Bond is chased over the ramps and rooftops of some Roman ruins, but the sequence is in essence the same (sans the dummy of Wai Lin handcuffed to the obvious Bond stunt double). Though the filmmakers swore up and down they would never adapt a non-Fleming 007 novel to the screen, they sure did liberally lift elements from the continuation authors' books.

  3. Like the Connery and Moore era's, the Brosnan era also ran out of steam at the same time as going relentlessly down a blind alley. Can't remember the film but the one with the invisible car and surfing on a car bonnet was just totally ridiculous and killed this reboot.

    Good points about the John Gardiner Bond novels. I've read a few of them and the script writers and producers could have done far worse than use those for source material. They were good books and could have worked as films.

  4. Invisible car - Die Another Day. Yes. Utter, utter crap. The last truly great Bond for me was probably License to Kill. GoldenEye is also good, but I can't help but think how much better it could have been had Dalton stayed on as 007. I'm thinking mostly of the betrayal of a best friend aspect; he would have been superb in the beach scene before the climax. Broz is a bit smaltzy by comparison.

    You know there's a brief helicopter explosion in The Spy Who Loved Me, right? It helps that the scorching hot Caroline Munro is the pilot.

  5. Yes, we're trying to get round to The Spy Who Loved Me. And also You Only Live Twice where I think there are at least 4 exploding helicopters.

  6. I would have thought that you would really liked a helicopter exploding over downtown Saigon.