Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nicolás Suszczyk has been a James Bond fan since 1998, when at the age of seven, he first watched GoldenEye on the television, followed shortly after by Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough on the big screen. Since then, he has gone on to create and manage three Bond fan sites: The GoldenEye Dossier, dedicated to the 17th James Bond; Bond En Argentina, an online archive of James Bond publications from his home country; and The Secret Agents Lair, a blog dedicated to the fictional spies of cinema and literature, with Jack Walter Christian.
Following the success of his first three books The World of GoldenEye, The Bond of the Millennium and A View To A Thrill, Nicolás has published his fourth book Beyond the Ice: The For and Against Die Another Day and its Spanish translation Más Allá Del Hielo: A Favor y en Contra de Otro Día Para Morir.
You first saw Die Another Day when it opened in Argentine cinemas on 16 January, 2003. What were your first impressions of the film, and how have they changed over time?
I loved it back then and I was very excited to watch it because, unlike Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, this time I had followed the production more closely by going to cyber stations, heading to JamesBond.com watching the trailers and photos. With the other films, I didn’t follow the production that closely, I just knew when they’d be out and I watched them. So, it was almost like a ritual that combined the official site with trailers and TV spots appearing on TV from time to time and that contributed to the hype.
I was very positive about the movie, I felt it was different, much more violent and dark than the previous Pierce Brosnan films, also much more exaggerated, but I didn’t complain. Even then I felt Die Another Day represented the times we were living in. Over the years, my opinion changed and upon rewatches, I didn’t feel comfortable watching too much CGI and slow-motion effects. However, lately, I’ve been rediscovering the movie and many great things that –just like much of the Brosnan era- preceded the Bond era we had with Daniel Craig.
You state in the book that Beyond the Ice is, in essence, a revaluation of Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as James Bond in Die Another Day. Why did you feel the need to “revaluate” the film?
Because I feel the film is far from being “the worst Bond movie” as many point out, and it didn’t endanger the franchise as it is wrongfully stated. Die Another Day was a commercial success topping many other films in the series and I don’t recall anyone saying that “Bond was over” after it. Yes, there were many saying that the series needed to detach from the film’s exaggerated style, but everyone knew that Bond was coming back sooner or later.
So, I decided to rewatch the movie many times, with the Audio Commentary and the MI6 Data Stream track from the DVDs, and then the movie itself, to reassess it. I noticed the effort, the challenges they’ve had and how the team acknowledged a new era was coming and that they had to place Bond straight into the new millennium while also not taking him too much away from its essence. I also took attention to this idea of spies being a spent force next to technology, which was very present in the John Gardner novels and later in the Daniel Craig era, and that subtext in the movie where spies are not necessarily seen as heroes but as instruments that can be useful or stop being useful.
After so many years being “the best they’ve had” (M’s words in The World Is Not Enough) and so many vows of confidence from M to Bond, now we have 007 being treated miserably and having to clean his name on his own: resorting to old contacts, offering his services in a win-win situation (Chang wants to kill Zao as much as Bond does), and many other things. So, I don’t think a film with that much weight and transcendence in the series can be among the weakest films. And after this one, Bond got a human side that remains until now.
The James Bond films have always acknowledged the zeitgeist of the period they were written and produced in. Do you think the producers took the right approach with Die Another Day following the September 11th terror attacks? Or should they have taken the film in a different direction?
I’m quite pleased with the way they took the film. 9/11 was felt like a slap in the face for the Western society and things were quite heated under George W. Bush’s presidency. I remember many magazine articles pondering what was Hollywood going to do with it, particularly action movies: will they go fully political and have every FBI, CIA, NSA agent going against Middle Eastern extremists, or they’ll avoid hurting sensitivities and put heroes against trivial villains? The answer was right there: something that could be a plot of Blofeld or SPECTRE, it happened right there without previous warning. 9/11 was, essentially, “the plan of a Bond villain”.
Being in Argentina during the attacks, I remember people scared to go to McDonald’s or any place linked to the Americans feeling these “villains” could not only strike an American landmark in America but an American place everywhere in the West. “The West will shake with fear!” as Moon warns, and that’s what happened in September 2001. Even my mom was asking me: “What will they do with Bond? Hope they don’t make Al-Qaeda the villains or they may attack people watching the film!”
I think they crossed a line without crossing it too much. They took into account Bill Clinton’s words on the North Korean DMZ as “the scariest place in the world” and then Bush’s speech naming the country as part of an “axis of evil” along with those attempting to destroy the American Way of Life. Plus, North Korea is a very secretive country, there’s little to know about it apart from many human rights violations that went public.
You could feel Bond was going to a rogue nation and he was captured there, treated to infra-human conditions. There was also a huge scandal in South Korea for the way their country was depicted as unconditional allies of the Americans, and yet both countries are technically at war. They used a country that is known for opposing the Western culture, that is not exactly the place you could go out for a walk to take pictures as if it was Paris or Amsterdam, accused of having mass destruction weapons and shut to the world press as the enemy. The whole idea of “the world’s safest places aren’t safe any more, anything can happen, anytime” is very well represented in ‘Die Another Day’, perhaps more than in other Bond film to date.
Do you think there would have been a greater appreciation for Die Another Day had audiences viewed the film in terms of the socio-political landscape at the time of the film’s release in November 2002?
Probably, but I think back then people didn’t over-analyse Bond films as we do know, so that’s why they focused on the aesthetic value of the movie which involved CGI, impossible stunts and other things that were proper in early 2000s productions. Some critics weren’t even keen with getting inside Bond’s mind and emotions in The World Is Not Enough, they felt it was opening a door that was better kept closed, yet they welcomed that during the Craig era when Bond’s past comes after him.
I think Die Another Day combined both things quite well, the drama was gaining into action blockbusters in the 2000s, much more than in the 1990s, yet there was this trend of experimenting with visual effects and playing with the editing reel as in Swordfish, Mission: Impossible II, Charlie’s Angels. Bond followed suit as much as he went into orbit after ‘Star Wars’ and had a disco soundtrack in the 1980s. I would, personally, find a Bond movie very boring if it looked “atemporal”.
Screenwriter Robert Wade – “What’s the worst situation that [James] Bond can get into? It’s to be held prisoner in North Korea. We thought the idea that he’s been incarcerated, has been tortured for three years and doesn’t really know what happened to him in that time, was a particularly strong hook for the film.”
Do you think the films over reliance on new technology and a modern soundtrack, ultimately overshadowed this “strong” plot hook? Would a more traditional Bond film, in the vein of the previous Brosnan entries, have better served the films plot?
I don’t know, because for certain the first three years of the 2000s were very technological and modern. Take the TV spy drama Alias which was very popular back then and you see gadgets everywhere while also a lot of complexity into the characters and the darkness of the spy world, and that series’ soundtrack was very techno, too.
They could have toned down the slow motions effects that editor Christian Wagner seemed to love too much here and there, but technology advancements (what it was possible and what could be possible in a couple of years) was so much “in your face” that maybe denying that and going for a story with less technology involved wouldn’t have been positive either. The scenes in Cuba play with that: Bond has no gadgets and is given a revolver and a vintage car, then he gets “technological” after being reinstated into MI6.
They aimed for an audience between 18 and 30, and that group was very much into gadgetry, more than they would like to admit now. I’m sure most of them were more attracted by that than the entire “Bond captured” subplot. In fact, the Japanese trailer campaign avoided mentioning Bond’s capture in North Korea for political reasons, but also because they wanted to attract teenagers to Bond, and back then teenagers loved spectacular stunts, gadgets and Halle Berry. And it worked!
Equally. Why choose such a politically sensitive subject and treat is so casually? Is North Korea really appropriate as a source of light entertainment? Should the Bond films, which constantly look to model their films after the “next big global threat“, be more sensitive to these issues, and not “use another country’s current climate for its own entertainment purposes“?
I think it had to do with finding a “public enemy” that doesn’t feel like a “public enemy” and more like a “strong ally of the public enemy”. But all in all, Bond is very Western and Imperial British. He’s an MI6 agent and protects Britain from volatile elements, as Moon was. Maybe Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were more cautious in making the Soviet Union the enemy straight away as by 1962 Bond wasn’t that popular and felt that a highly political Bond film where the Russians are the enemy might have been risky.
By 2002, Bond was already very popular and I think the West felt 9/11 as a low blow outside the ring. It was an obvious target that if Bond couldn’t go against an Islamic fundamentalist to avoid labelling the film as “pro-American propaganda”, he would go to a similar enemy of the West given his idiosyncrasy. I don’t think that Bond shouldn’t be too political always, but it kind of made sense in 2002 when the zeitgeist was that murky nations were striking against the West and that North Korea was one of these countries were things didn’t look so neat for the Westerners.
How different a film, and how would it have been received, had Michelle Yeoh not turned down the opportunity to reprise her role as Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies?
It would have given the film a little touch of nostalgia for those who grew up with Pierce’s Bond, I think. It’s a shame we didn’t have her scene because it involved some action, but I don’t think it would have altered the reception of the film making it better or worse. Not too different from having Jack Wade or Valentin Zukovsky back, to be honest.
Gustav Graves was supposed to be “an over the top deconstruction of Bonds flamboyant side”, in essence, an elaborate and extroverted version of James Bond. Instead the character comes across as, and has long been criticised for, being too over the top, too exaggerated and, at times, over acted.
Do you think Toby Stephens was miscast and/or misdirected by Lee Tamahori? Who do you think would have been better suited to the role?
I think it has to do –as author John Cork also pointed out once- with a misdirection that caused Toby Stephens to be way too over the top. Come to think of it, the character was supposed to laugh at some of Bond’s flamboyant antics, but there’s something in Graves’ build-up that feels too overacted at times. Stephens had to be very much a Bond supervillain and Jinx way too much a “female Bond”, and I think the execution of those characters would have worked better with a subtler approach.
Why, when trying to make Jinx the female equivalent of Bond, did she become so “street”? Dialogue such as, “Yo mamma2 and “Read this, bitch!” are not phrases one would typically associate with characters in a Bond film, and take the viewer right out of the film. Is this again, another example of the director trying, if not essentially forcing, the film to be more modern?
Probably, I think Tamahori conceived Jinx as a cool, young and attractive American agent that could appeal to teenagers who have been very much into Halle Berry after Swordfish. My problem with Jinx is not that she’s a weak character, it’s just that I don’t feel she fits this “female equivalent of Bond” idea that seemed to be overhyped in every promo. Bond is more than just knowing how to disinvolve during a fistfight or a gunfight, it’s also about appreciating the finer things in life (casinos, exotic beverages, exotic locations) and I can’t imagine Jinx doing that. I feel Xenia Onatopp –had she been on the good side– could have been a “female Bond” more than Jinx. I do think she’s a relatively capable agent, can handle weapons well (can hold up a fight with an Olympic fencer like Miranda Frost), and do many things Bond can, but she lacks the exotic side and that’s a crucial ingredient in the Bond persona.
The use of new technologies, is not only a central theme in the film, but also seemingly a personal quest of director Lee Tamahori, as he strove to “push the film out of the traditional and into the new”. Visual Effects Supervisor Mara Bryan, noted that director Lee Tamahori “wanted to take Bond into this millennium in terms of technology“, with another visual effects crew member adding, “that there was a continued pressure from the director to have more spectacular visual effects to bring the movie in line with its contemporaries.”
Do you think Tamahori’s insistence on using the latest cutting-edge technology was the right decision? Would sticking to more traditional stunts and set pieces have better served the film and its legacy?
I’m not always too fond of CGI, but I understand their thinking as action cinema was veering into that way. Filmmakers were always eager to experiment with new technologies as soon as they could use them, and Bond is no exception to that. They have analysed the market and films or series that could compete with Bond, and technology was all over it, so maybe ignoring that could have also affected the movie.
Sometimes I feel people were unfair to Die Another Day or that they look it very much with today’s optic – and yet now we have super-exaggerated movies like those from The Avengers saga or Birds of Prey. I think Bond has to always give a nod to the trends of the time. Yes, perhaps Die Another Day went too far with it as For Your Eyes Only did with the disco music, but ignoring the advancements of technology in a Bond film in 2002 would have felt out of place. Like I said before, gadgets and exaggerated stunts were everywhere, so it’s not like you can do From Russia With Love or The Living Daylights when people have just landed in a new millennium.
Despite being the highest debuting single on Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts, Madonna’s title track for Die Another Day is considered by many to be one of the films low points, and the worst James Bond title track of all time. However, Tamahori “felt the piece fitted brilliantly to the titles“, with MGM Music ‘s Anita Camarata adding that, the song “nailed the essence of the film” and “helped to set up the story“.
However, both musically and lyrically, the song feels out of place, with main title designer Daniel Kleinman noting that “the images and music were quite difficult to reconcile […] with a sequence of Bond being tortured,” and that he “probably wouldn’t have chosen that particular song.”
Do you think Tamahori’s insistence on “pushing the film out of the traditional and into the new” went a step too far with Madonna’s techno bop? Would a more traditional Bond song would have better served the title sequence, and the film? Who could have been a better choice to write and perform the song?
Those are two different points of views there, and while I’m not really too much fond of the song, I think it fits with the sequence. The lyrics deal with “closing someone’s body” and “suspending your senses” and that’s pretty much what Bond does. On a strictly personal side, I would have avoided too much techno sound effects and hoped for Madonna to do something slightly more traditional with the same idea of song lyrics. ‘Beautiful Stranger’ for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is overall a better song, but it wouldn’t have worked with Bond tortured. But then again, we had people at MGM Music observing that Garbage’s ‘The World Is Not Enough’ theme song wasn’t popular in the US and Madonna was much more popular for radio stations. So, it’s controversial.
Most Bond fans will say the Garbage song was miles better than Madonna’s, but people working in the industry assess numbers and popularity impact, and they knew for sure what kind of music was trendy in the 2000s, so they went for that. It all boiled down to making the movie representative of its time – perhaps too much for someone’s liking. Regarding a “better choice”, I could have stayed with Madonna, but a track composed by David Arnold and written by Don Black would have pleased much more fans, like me.
In August 2000, a fake Bond 20 poster was label as official by the press and many James Bond fan sites, until EON Productions issued a statement, stating that “Official art will be posted on JamesBond.com before it is serviced to online outlets. After 19 instalments you would think that we could be more creative than that.”
The irony of this statement hasn’t been lost on many long-time Bond fans, who, by the middle of the Daniel Craig era, have openly complained at the lack of creativity and the minimalistic nature of the Craig era posters. What do you think ultimately lead to this change in style? Will we ever see a return to the more traditional style Bond posters?
Maybe they wanted to visually differentiate the Craig era from the Brosnan one. That our perception of Bond has changed somehow. Casino Royale is an atypical Bond film where the girl doesn’t stay with him and the villain is just a minion of a bigger, invisible villain, so I think that made them use minimalistic posters where it’s just Bond, the girl and a location. And then standard backgrounds like the casino, the gunbarrel or a 007 logo as in Skyfall and No Time To Die.
I can’t wait to see the day where theatrical posters are more inclusive with explosions and more characters around. We need to recover back the adventurous feeling of Bond, that invitation for a ride contained in the Brosnan posters. Depending on how the next Bond era is, we may hopefully have that kind of artwork back again.
Had the producers not acquired the rights to Casino Royale, what do you think a fifth Brosnan Bond outing would have looked like?
MGM’s Vice-president during ‘Die Another Day’ said the film was extremely successful and that it would have set the template for Bond 21 before that was Casino Royale. So, taking that into account, I can see a combination of violence, darkness and escapism. Maybe a fifth Brosnan film would have even been more violent than Die Another Day, in the level of Casino Royale, but much more formulaic and with plenty of gadgets and huge stunt-pieces. The ‘Everything or Nothing’ video game from 2004 should give us an idea of what it might have looked like.
How has the process of writing this book changed your view(s) of Die Another Day? Was there anything new or surprising that you learned about Die Another Day, be it the film or novelisation, that you hadn’t previously encountered?
After researching the book, I have to say I developed a huge respect for Lee Tamahori. Not all of his decisions were right, I don’t think he was among the best Bond directors out there, but I feel the man put his heart into the film and had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do. As for the rest, I’ve been confirming what I’ve noticed a couple of years ago: that the movie was far from being a setback and –in fact– explored many uncovered areas of Bond as a character. I think ‘Die Another Day’ prepared James Bond for the new millennium.
I agree the Craig films are tougher and overloaded with drama, but this film in a way prepared us for it: questioning Bond’s relevance, making him look less like an invulnerable hero and more like a man that could have slip-ups, or that his government could turn back on him due to political pressure. In certain areas, it failed short, but in many others, I think the film achieved what it was meant to achieve: to show us the real world of espionage, that spies aren’t heroes or soldiers but anonymous tools used by the governments and then ditched when they fail.
It was a huge challenge to bring Bond to the new millennium. Yes, they had the same actor and Bond wasn’t as lost as in the early 1990s, but definitely, they had to find a spot for him between the fear of terrorism and the emergence of new technologies in many fields. It got my attention that many have said that they wanted to attract audiences between 18 and 30, and you can feel that in the one of the film and the graphic campaigns.
I repeat, I was among those who said: “the film lost its way, it’s way too fantastic” until I reassessed it and came to the thinking that it really wasn’t and many of the things you see there –like the invisible camouflage in the Aston Martin– are not that out of this world as many have experimented with it from Top Gear to Mercedes-Benz and the US Army and showed us that we’re not really that far of that, but it’s likely something that will be classified and not available for civilian use. Yet everyone puts the focus on that and ditches the story. The script per-se may not be very good, but the story is interesting and relevant. Ground breaking, I’d even say.
After tackling ‘GoldenEye’ in your first book, and Die Another Day in your fourth, are there currently any plans to show a little literary love for Tomorrow Never Dies and/or The World Is Not Enough?
I doubt it, honestly. Thing is, I didn’t plan to do a book for each of the Brosnan movies even though I could. I first tackled GoldenEye because it is my personal favourite and I wanted to point out it’s greater than what people think it is, and now with Die Another Day I decided to take a new look at its legacy because I found out that 90% of the criticism is unfair and way off target.
I might, however, update The Bond of The Millennium one day taking into account some suggestions of people who have bought it. I’m sure the Brosnan era needs to be profusely explored and there are lots of things I didn’t notice, and I got the feeling that No Time To Die will also take a few things of the Brosnan adventures, one of them seems to be the improvised bungee jump over that bridge in Matera. So, expect an update in the following years.
For more on Die Another Day and the films of the Pierce Brosnan era, please read our previous interviews with Nicolás Suszczyk.