I may have expressed at length in an earlier post why "greatest" is an incredibly problematic term. Well, forget that. Today I'm here to show you that Die Another Day (DAD) is most definitely, without question the greatest bond film of all time. Set across North Korea, London, Havana and Iceland, Bond confronts a rouge North Korean colonel set on hegemonic designs. DAD is so good because it is a richly abundant film.
First, the film looks beautiful. The setting of Iceland is a treat. The blue of the ice is deep and cold and rich. The white is rugged and hard. A single smooth strip of tarmac makes its way between layers of snow and rich brown earth towards Bond's destination. It is as if God and man had conspired to create a road. Aside from the giant ice palace hosting guests for a solar demonstration is the Eden Project, a geometric delight that appears organic, a few neatly formed man-made bubbles congruently placed on the surface of a perfectly natural world that stands in for a diamond mine.
Even at the start of the film North Korea looks pleasingly wild with a dense forest, bristling dark green trees and a roaring watercourse. Later at a Hong Kong hotel Bond asks for some food (a '61 Bollinger with lobster) and the tailor to be sent up to his room. Our main villain Gustav Graves encounters Bond at a fencing club, an expensive haven of dark wooden walls, waiters with silver trays of drinks and Corinthian columns complete with fluting. There is even a Gainsborough. Brosnan is correspondingly smooth in manner and milieu, enjoying an Aston Martin Vantage, a slow-burning Volado tobacco in Havana, and a room of his own in the ice palace made, not surprisingly, entirely of ice. Bond glosses his way through the film with self-assurance and aplomb. This is a rich indulgence in the abundance of life and through Brosnan we are invited to participate, whether in the material world, the natural landscape that surrounds us or the state of mind that we might inhabit.
The music by David Arnold is another chance for delight. The thick brass is matched with fast-paced electronics as Bond arrives in Iceland. This is old-new but the two do not clash, the Bond theme weaving its way between them. It is classily exciting without being gleefully triumphant. Overall it helps to buttress an array of particular scenes that can't help to bring a smile to my face. DAD is full of cool moments. Bond being surrounded in the Eden Project by his enemies is brought low to the ground by a punch to the chest. Assuming Bond is not going anywhere, a gun is aimed down at his head, “I enjoyed last night James, but it really is death for breakfast...", at which point Bond places his hand to the glass floor making it break with his sonic agitator ring, crashing through to the green fernery below in slow motion and making his escape, tuxedoed security firing in vain. Or what about the best bit in the film, where Bond in his Aston Martin is suddenly flipped over by a missile from a Jaguar, skidding along the ice upside down, only to use the ejector seat button to flip the car back round as another missile passes underneath? Or perhaps later in the chase when Bond still in his car is trapped in a narrow corridor in the ice palace about to be rammed by a huge metal spear from the Jaguar, but uses his car's camera-generated invisibility and spiked traction tyres to dodge at the last minute, only to roll back down and deal with the Jaguar driver who having surfaced from a pool of water below is killed by Bond shooting down a chandelier. There are so many cool moments to enjoy in DAD, its a long piece of stylish action.
All of this richness is itself beneficial. DAD ultimately is a thick slice of a pre-crash world that confidently ignores a bleak post-9/11 outlook. The whole film is what an Omega Seamaster watch would look like if it was magically turned into a story. The abundance of it all, the smooth moves with the car, the food, the scenery, the assuredness of Bond, the music, the Gainsborough, its all for you and its all for you to savour. The film reminds us that the world can be an abundant place, something we can enjoy, right here, right now.
Cover photo: Aaron Burder/Unsplash via Wix.