Judge David Johnson drives an invisible 1995 Nissan Altima.
"So you live to die another day."
With Quantum of Solace looming, it makes sense for MGM to blow out its James Bond catalog for Blu ray—and which installment sports the bombast well-suited for the format as Pierce Brosnan's swan song?
Facts of the Case
James Bond (Brosnan) is sent into North Korea as a diamond trader, tasked with neutralizing the threat of a despotic North Korean commander, who feverishly envisions the worldwide march of Communism. Things go wrong and Bond is ratted out and there are some huge explosions and a clumsy hovercraft fight and our hero is captured by the North Koreans and held prisoner and tortured for a long time.
Following a traumatizing theme song by Madonna, Bond is swapped for a lunatic terrorist, and so it begins, his latest adventure, which brings him face-to-face with Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a diamond-grubbing megalomaniac with a shifty past and a humongous ice palace. Meanwhile, Bond is aided by CIA operative named Jinx (Halle Berry) who sucks.
Die Another Day is objectively ridiculous, pretty much the direct antithesis of the grounded, gritty adventure that was its follow-up, Casino Royale which effectively rebooted the franchise. Less a serious action movie dealing with authentic geopolitical tension and more a comic book movie, Pierce Brosnan's final outing as 007 is riddled with the sort of overwrought, realism-pulverizing sensibilities that called for the drastic reset of the property. For example…
The opening sequence: Bond covertly surfs (!) into North Korea, then, before the opening credits roll, engages in an awkward hovercraft shootout that leads to nonsensical explosions aplenty (a hovercraft running into a tree = Hiroshima), the dangerous misuse of a flamethrower and just about the worst post-death Bond one-liner in the franchise: "Saved by the bell." The less said about Madonna's song the better.
The swordfight: this is actually not too bad, except the rapid rate of escalation between Bond and Gustav is just way too hard to swallow—these guys are swinging broadswords at each other's heads and then almost immediately laugh it off. The less said about Madonna's cameo the better.
The invisible car: I don't quite grasp the science of making an Aston Martin transparent but you'd figure that outfitting an actual agent with active camouflage might make all this dangerous spying a lot easier.
The ice palace: already the shining example of the worst excesses of Bond, Gustav's pointlessly ostentatious evil headquarters looks about as real and believable in action as an interior shot of Elf. Faced with sleeping on an ice block or lodging in the local Motel 6, I know my choice, no matter how hot the ice-skating cocktail restaurants are.
The sun laser beam: the writers were obviously challenging themselves to outdo each other in the "This is some unbelievable @#%$!" department. The winner is whoever came up with the idea of a satellite that captures the sun and concentrates it into a lethal Death Star beam from space—controllable by a Nintendo Power Glover no less. This of course leads to --
The tidal wave parasail: desperately trying to outrun the sunbeam o' death in his rocket car, Bond flies off a glacier, fashions a parachute and surfboard out of cockpit debris and proceeds to ride 30-story ice waves to safety. Yikes.
Still, as goofy as this movie it is, the thing entertains—at least in that not-bound-by-the-physical-sciences-of-Planet-Earth way. The villains are memorable (guy-with-diamonds-in-his-face stands out especially), the gadgets are far out and the action scenes, as over-the-top as they may be, leave no budget surplus on the table. The car vs. car chase on the frozen lake is my favorite. All in all, if you're going to leave one phase of the franchise in a ludicrous manner, Die Another Day is the way to do it.
On Blu, the film looks good (2.35:1 widescreen), clean from start to finish and sporting some solid detailing work. The colors tend towards the colder, as the majority of the action is set in Iceland, though sequences in Britain and Cuba offer a nice juxtaposition, allowing the warmer colors a chance to pop. However, the bump in visual fidelity isn't that large a leap from the impeccable DVD Ultimate Editions that were just released. And considering that the extra features from that release were directly transported over with no additional high-def supplements, the weight lies on the technical achievements. So if a slight increase in clarity (and a boisterous 5.1 TrueHD audio mix) is enough for an upgrade over the Ultimate Edition, then go for it—the film does look and sound great. If you don't own the Ultimate Edition, then this release is definitely the way to go.
Extras that made the jump: audio commentary with the cast and crew and a trivia track; featurettes about the making-of ("From Script to Screen"), the production design ("Shaken and Stirred on Ice"), a day on the set ("Just Another Day"), shooting in Britain ("The British Touch: Bond Arrives in London"), on location with production designer Peter Lamont; and an image database.
The movie is beyond ridiculous, but still fun to watch. Blu-ray offers a moderate bump in tech, but not so dramatic that owners of the excellent Ultimate Edition DVD need to feel like they're missing out.
Not Guilty. Ice, ice baby.
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Scales of Justice
• Two Commentary Tracks
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