With the internal conflict and success of "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) behind them, producers Barbara Broccoli & Michael G. Wilson sought out new writers for a totally original story which featured a title originating from the mottos of Baronet Sir Thomas Bond, the Bond family as mentioned in Ian Fleming's novel "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1963), and the epitaph of Alexander the Great. Fortunately the speculated title "Bond 2000" wasn't it, nor were the various other rumored titles. For the story, they turned to Neal Purvis & Robert Wade after seeing their historical action/comedy "Plunkett & Macleane" (1999) which starred Robert Carlyle who'd be cast as the film's lead villain. The screenwriting duo still write regularly for the Bond franchise. But for a director, offers went out to Joe Dante & Peter Jackson. Barbara Broccoli liked Jackson's film "Heavenly Creatures" (1994) about a famous Christchurch murder. However she disliked Jackson's film "The Frighteners" (1996)--his most popular at the time--and rescinded the offer. Ultimately, english director Michael Apted was chosen, along with a November release date to keep up the two year model.
For the two new Bond girls, Sophie Marceau who'd best been known for "Braveheart" (1995) was cast as the overly dramatic Elektra King, daughter to a recently murdered oil tycoon whom had been kidnapped by a terrorist--Robert Carlyle cast in said role--and was now apparently his next target. Her performance was the more accusing, and somewhat annoying rich girl who tries to appear intelligent, though has loads of tricks up her sleeves. And for the classic geeky scientific nerd Dr. Christmas Jones, the relatively unknown Denise Richards was cast. She too would be somewhat annoying, though unlike Elektra, there is no good reason behind it. She was just too abrasive and geeky. Although the filmmakers chose to keep in line with Natalya Simonova in how she wouldn't immediately fall for Bond's charm, but rather than make it due to her personality, it was due to her continuous fretting over the issue at hand, which while realistic in some respects made her out to be a very forgetful Bond girl who desperately needed a rewrite. Not to mention that when she deliberately tries to look sexy for Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) it just comes out horribly. Unfortunately, only the return of Valentin Zukovsky made for an intriguing supporting role, as his bullion laced thug Bullion (Goldie) wasn't cutting it. Though at least there was a reason for that too.
In his nineteenth adventure, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) must protect oil baroness Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) from her former kidnapper, the Albanian terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) whom apparently is seeking to acquire nuclear technology to destroy her oil pipeline because she escaped his custody before a ransom was delivered. But why go through the trouble of acquiring nuclear technology to destroy an incomplete pipeline which runs for hundreds of miles? Why is the ex-KGB agent and former gangster turned Caviar Baron Valentin Zukovsky taking million dollar payments from an oil baroness? And why does Elektra so desperately want 'M' (Judi Dench) to leave headquarters to be at her side? The answers to these questions form a not great, but good Bond film with a truly unique twist that the saga needed, once again proving that the franchise which recycles the same formula again and again can still get creative when you least expect it.
Production began in early 1999, with the pre-credit sequence which was filmed from Bilbao to London becoming the longest ever, at fourteen minutes due to an underwhelming first half which prompted Apted to extend the sequence by making the post-credits scene the second half of the pre-title sequence. A Russian Victor Class III submarine was used extensively for filming the climax, with underwater sequences shot in the Bahamas, while the Eilean Donan castle in Scotland served as MI6's northernly base. Neft Daslari (Oil Rocks) in Azerbaijan portrayed itself. The Bardenes Reales in Nevarre, Spain stood in for exteriors of the Kazakhstan ICBM base, while interiors were shot at the 007 Stage at Pinewood. All the while, the pre-credit boat chase with Q's fishing boat took several weeks of filming on the River Thames from the SIS HQ in central London to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. Maiden's Tower off the coast of Uskudar in Istanbul, Turkey was also used as a prominent location. It was built in 408 B.C.E. and was meant to control the movements of Persian ships in the Bosphorus Strait linking the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea. Chamonix, France stood in for the ski chase where an avalanche prompted delays and crew participation in rescues, while Stowe School in Berkshire, England stood in for the King Estate along Loch Lomond. The RAF Halton's Officer's Mess at Halton House which many films have used as a location was utilized for interior & exterior filming of Zukovsky's casino L'Or Noir, which in the film was set in Baku, Azerbaijan--where other location filming did take place--while the adjacent military base served as the ICBM base runway in Kazakhstan. Surrey & Wales stood in for Elektra's Oil Pipeline, while Elektra's villa in Baku was all shot on location in Baku. Lastly, Bond's souped up BMW Z8 was the last in a three film product placement deal between MGM & BMW. Filming concluded in summer 1999.
While Brosnan remains the same, the dynamic of storytelling with a unique twist on your average villainous duo is utilized here, making for one of the most bizarre, yet uniquely character driven plots. There really is no singular villain here. They're both equally responsible, and are both equally seductive of each other, as each has fallen victim to the other's charm; a truly unique spin on the average Bond villains. The trend which remains the same however is the unique quirk that at least one villain has in each film. This time it's for Renard, whom has a damaged nervous system, making him impervious to pain, though also incapable of a sense of touch, which accounts for a self loathing character who can't satisfy his lover, but of course, Bond can. Given that Renard is distracted by his self loathing rather than always remaining on the ball made for a unique villain, for the rest of the performance is rather typical of a no-name terrorist. There's that word again, unique. It pops up a lot here, but that's what made this film shine. The performances by the two new leads really shines here, and is not to be missed.
The plot itself centered around manipulating petroleum prices by monopolizing the western oil supply, which in itself resurrected the villainous plot of monopolizing a market. For Auric Goldfinger it was gold, for Max Zorin it was microchips, and for Renard it is oil. This theme will never tire. It was most recently used as the villain's plot in "Quantum of Solace" (2008) which showcased a modern version of this classic Bond story, though with less fantasy and a more Jason Bourne world than what we get here, which I preferred greatly. To accompany this existing theme with another existing one, the screenwriters incorporated popular allies of Bond, such as giving Valentin Zukovsky a complete turnaround in fortunes just for the sake of bringing him back for a few scenes which outlast the runtime of his two scenes in "GoldenEye" (1995). Similarly, CIA Agent Jack Wade was worked into a brief scene in "Tomorrow Never Dies" simply to expand the Bond mythos when it comes to popular existing characters, whereas he himself was a continuation of his popular personality in "The Living Daylights" (1987), so continuing this theme here is nice too. It was even utilized as recently as "Casino Royale" (2006) & "Quantum of Solace" with Renee Mathis, and as far back as "Live and Let Die" (1973) with Sheriff J.W. Pepper who returned for "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1974). So I hope they continue this trend. But of all these continuing supporting allies, Valentin Zukovsky was my favorite. He was the most like James Bond as far as his aspirations, and was just shady enough to be the best of them.
Properly balanced action, storytelling, and characterization is prevalent here. However I didn't find this one as great because of the two Bond girls, as well as the 'bodyguard' role Bond assumes for the first half of the film. The second half flows much better, while the first just featured him snooping around luxurious estates and the like. But the best thing about the whole film had to be the final scene in the franchise with our beloved Quartermaster Major Geoffrey Boothroyd (Desmond Llewelyn) who's in the process of training his completely incompetent replacement 'R' (John Cleese) [Maybe he really wants Bond to die after all?]. Though Q's departing words are essential to Bond's survival, and has been demonstrated time and again over seventeen films across thirty-six years. During production, it was understood that Desmond Llewelyn would be retiring from the role, and so a proper exit was written in. Tragically, Desmond Llewelyn wouldn't get to enjoy his retirement from Bond in his high tech fishing boat, as on the nineteenth of December 1999, he was killed in a car accident on his way home from a book signing in East Sussex, England. Rest In Peace 'Q,' we all miss you. ;(
When released, the $135,000,000 budget was met with mixed reviews, and $361,832,400 in revenues. The title song by David Arnold & Don Black which was performed by 'Garbage' is considered the ninth best James Bond theme song of all time. It also marked the fourth and last time that Don Black participated in writing a theme song for the franchise, which he'd previously done for "Thunderball" (1965), "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), and "The Man With The Golden Gun." And in fears of Bond being considered too old school for younger generations, MGM entered a brief partnership with MTV which broadcast one hundred straight hours of Bond related programs right when the film was released, with nearly all of them being presented by new Bond girl Denise Richards. The partnership worked. However, unfortunately for Denise Richards, she won a Razzie for worst supporting actress, and was rated by 'Entertainment Weekly' in 2008 as the worst Bond girl. But what could she expect when she's wearing a tank top and skimpy shorts, yet is trying to convince us she's a nuclear physicist? Despite these criticisms, I still regard the film as a good installment in the franchise, and is well fitting of the Brosnan Era which like "Tomorrow Never Dies" before it, modernized an ongoing theme, being monopolization, whereas with that film it was the megalomanic in the modern day. For that, the film earns kudos. Oh, and 'M' getting in on the action was cool. Not to mention Zukovsky's 'victory' over Bond. On that note, had Zukovsky not been in it, then it probably would've been worse. But overall, it was a good 'B' grade James Bond adventure which aided the franchise in its modernization department.