Why ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ Film Was Almost A Total Disaster

The Big Picture: Tomorrow Never Dies – An Underrated Bond Film

The James Bond franchise has been a cinematic icon for decades, captivating audiences with its suave British spy and thrilling adventures. Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth installment in the series, faced a tumultuous journey from inception to the big screen. Despite its rushed production, script changes, and on-set challenges, the film managed to become a highly underrated entry in the Bond canon. In this blog post, we will delve into the reasons behind the rushed production, the decision to scrap the original script, the difficulties faced during filming, and the film’s re-evaluation in recent years.

The Rushed Production of Tomorrow Never Dies

The pressure was on for Tomorrow Never Dies right from the start. Just two years before its planned release in December 1997, audiences had been enthralled by GoldenEye, the seventeenth Bond film and Pierce Brosnan’s debut as the iconic spy. GoldenEye had garnered critical acclaim and reignited interest in the franchise, setting high expectations for its follow-up.

The urgency to produce Tomorrow Never Dies was influenced by the changing ownership of MGM, the studio behind the Bond films. The studio had faced financial troubles, leading to a court-mandated sale to the French bank Crédit Lyonnais. The new management, led by Frank Mancuso and John Calley, was eager to capitalize on the success of GoldenEye and fast-track Bond 18 into development to ensure the studio’s financial stability.

With a release date of late 1997 decided upon, the producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, faced a daunting challenge. GoldenEye had only recently completed filming, and post-production was set to dominate their time for the rest of the year. This left a narrow window for the production of Tomorrow Never Dies, leaving little room for error.

The producers, however, were determined to face this challenge head-on. Even before GoldenEye’s release, they began commissioning treatments for potential storylines for the next Bond film. The urgency was evident when one of the writers, Donald E. Westlake, was approached even before the success of GoldenEye’s box office performance. Westlake’s pitch centered around James Bond in Hong Kong, capitalizing on the imminent 1997 Hong Kong handover, a significant political event that was dominating the news in the United Kingdom.

The Original Script: Tomorrow Never Dies in Hong Kong

Donald E. Westlake’s pitch for Tomorrow Never Dies seemed promising, considering the buzz surrounding the 1997 Hong Kong handover. For 156 years, Britain had ruled Hong Kong, and the impending handover marked the end of British colonial presence in the region. This momentous event was irresistible to writers and filmmakers, including Westlake. His treatment featured Bond facing off against a rich American businessman, Gideon Goodbread, who planned to rob Hong Kong’s banks before sinking the entire city.

The idea of exploring Britain’s identity and its diminishing influence on the global stage through the lens of the Hong Kong handover was compelling. The Bond franchise had a history of dissecting the British national character and its place in a rapidly changing world, making it an ideal platform for such an excursion.

Around the same time, Bruce Feirstein, who had co-written GoldenEye, was also developing his treatment for the next Bond film. Coincidentally, Feirstein’s concept also revolved around the Hong Kong handover, drawing heavily from his experiences as a journalist working under influential business magnates like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch. In Feirstein’s treatment, a media tycoon, based on the disgraced UK media baron Robert Maxwell, planned to exploit the handover for his twisted advantage.

Both Westlake and Feirstein’s treatments had potential, and the producers were intrigued by the Hong Kong setting. However, the precarious political nature of the event and the sensitive issues surrounding it raised concerns. The producers, joined by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, were wary of the potential backlash and controversies that could arise if the film closely aligned itself with real-world events. As a result, they made the difficult decision to remove the Hong Kong angle from the script.

A Chaotic Writing Process

The decision to scrap the Hong Kong-centric plotline led to a series of changes in the script and a chaotic writing process. The creative team faced immense pressure to develop a new story in a short amount of time. The clock was ticking, and the film’s premiere was approaching fast.

Roger Spottiswoode, who came on board as director in September 1996, faced the daunting task of helming a film with a minuscule window for filming and post-production. By this time, the script had undergone several revisions, and tensions were building among the writers, producers, and the studio.

Spottiswoode convened a three-day brainstorming session with seven Hollywood screenwriters, including Leslie Dixon and Nicholas Meyer, at the Eon Productions offices in Mayfair, London. The goal was to refine the script and bring new ideas to the table. However, little writing was accomplished during this period, and the most significant change came from Spottiswoode himself – the addition of a Chinese agent, Wai Lin, who would serve as Bond’s female counterpart.

The constant script changes and additions took a toll on the writers, particularly Bruce Feirstein, who bore the brunt of the pressure. After he submitted his draft, the studio decided to fire him and bring in Nicholas Meyer as his replacement. Meyer’s changes were extensive, leading to a significantly different plot focusing on population control in China. However, upon reviewing Meyer’s draft, the producers decided to abandon it and brought back Feirstein to complete the script.

The writing process was arduous, and Feirstein found himself writing seven days a week for months on end. The final script was completed just nineteen days before production ended. The pressure and looming deadlines strained everyone involved, and the production faced immense challenges in bringing the script to life.

Challenges on Set: Tensions and Location Changes

As filming began for Tomorrow Never Dies, the challenges did not end with the completion of the script. The tight schedule and on-set pressures added to the complexities faced by the cast and crew.

One significant hurdle arose when the plan to shoot much of the film in Vietnam fell through. The filmmakers had obtained permission to shoot in Hanoi, making it the first Hollywood production to shoot in Vietnam since the Vietnam War. However, the agreement was suddenly rescinded, leaving the production team in a difficult position. Roger Spottiswoode had to make a quick decision, and Thailand was chosen as a replacement location for the Vietnamese scenes.

While Thailand’s scenic locales proved to be a beautiful backdrop for the film, the sudden change in locations added to the production’s logistical challenges. The team had to adapt quickly to the new setting, making the best of the situation under tight time constraints.

On-set tensions between some actors also contributed to the challenging atmosphere. Teri Hatcher, who played Paris Carver, had won the role over Pierce Brosnan’s preferred choice of Monica Bellucci. Additionally, Hatcher’s tardiness to set due to her pregnancy led to delays, leaving Brosnan waiting for hours before filming could commence. Despite these reports, the cast and crew have clarified that such rumors were exaggerated, and the production, while challenging, remained professional.

Tomorrow Never Dies’ Premiere and Reception

After a tumultuous production, Tomorrow Never Dies finally premiered on December 9, 1997. Critics’ reviews were mixed, with some praising the film’s action sequences and performances, while others criticized its formulaic plot and lack of innovation. The film’s box office performance was solid, but it did not match the record-breaking success of its predecessor, GoldenEye.

Despite the initial mixed reception, Tomorrow Never Dies has seen a re-evaluation in recent years, gaining newfound appreciation from both critics and fans. The film’s themes of media manipulation and its prophetic plot have become increasingly relevant in the age of disinformation and fake news. Additionally, Michelle Yeoh’s portrayal of the resourceful Chinese agent, Wai Lin, has been praised as one of the strongest and most capable Bond girls in the series.

The Cast of ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ featured a talented cast, led by Pierce Brosnan in his second outing as James Bond. Brosnan’s portrayal of the suave and sophisticated spy garnered praise from both critics and fans.

Joining Brosnan was Jonathan Pryce, who played the film’s main antagonist, Elliot Carver. Pryce’s portrayal of the megalomaniac media mogul brought a sense of menace and charisma to the character.

Teri Hatcher portrayed Paris Carver, a former lover of Bond’s and the wife of Elliot Carver. Hatcher’s performance added emotional depth to her character’s complex relationship with Bond.

Michelle Yeoh delivered a memorable performance as Wai Lin, a skilled Chinese agent who becomes Bond’s ally in his mission. Yeoh’s portrayal of the capable and resourceful Wai Lin earned her praise as one of the strongest Bond girls in the series.

Other notable cast members included Judi Dench as M, Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewelyn as Q, providing the film with a sense of continuity from previous Bond installments.

Plot Summary: What Happens in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’

In ‘Tomorrow Never Dies,’ the story revolves around media tycoon Elliot Carver, who owns a global media empire and seeks to manipulate world events for profit and power. Carver plans to provoke a war between the United Kingdom and China to boost his media ratings and establish exclusive broadcasting rights in the region.

To achieve his nefarious goals, Carver orchestrates a series of events, including sinking a British warship off the coast of China and hijacking a British aircraft to make it appear as though China is responsible for the attacks. He uses his media outlets to spread disinformation, intensifying tensions between the two nations.

James Bond, MI6’s top agent, is assigned to investigate the incidents and prevent a global catastrophe. His mission leads him to cross paths with Wai Lin, a Chinese secret agent also investigating Carver’s activities.

Bond and Wai Lin team up to uncover Carver’s plans and thwart his evil schemes. Their journey takes them to various exotic locations, including Vietnam and Hamburg, as they race against time to prevent a full-scale war.

As Bond and Wai Lin dig deeper into Carver’s operations, they uncover a web of deceit and betrayal. They must use their intelligence, combat skills, and resourcefulness to outmaneuver Carver and his henchmen, including the deadly henchman Stamper.

In the film’s climax, Bond and Wai Lin infiltrate Carver’s stealth ship, where he plans to launch a stolen British cruise missile to escalate tensions between the UK and China. In a thrilling showdown, Bond and Wai Lin thwart Carver’s plans and prevent the missile launch.

Ultimately, Bond confronts Carver, and a tense fight ensues. Bond emerges victorious, and Carver meets his demise at the hands of his own deadly creation.

With Carver’s plans foiled and peace restored, Bond and Wai Lin part ways, each returning to their respective intelligence agencies. As always, Bond’s mission is a success, and he continues to serve Queen and country, ready for his next adventure.

Conclusion: Tomorrow Never Dies – A Resilient Gem

Tomorrow Never Dies stands as a testament to the resilience and creativity of the filmmakers who overcame numerous challenges to bring the film to the big screen. Its rushed production, chaotic writing process, and on-set hurdles could have derailed the project, but the dedicated efforts of the cast and crew prevailed.

The decision to scrap the original Hong Kong-centric script allowed the film to explore themes that have only become more relevant with time. Tomorrow Never Dies’ prophetic plot and standout performances have led to a re-evaluation of the film, elevating its status in the James Bond franchise.

As we reflect on the journey of Tomorrow Never Dies, we are reminded of the enduring appeal and cultural significance of the Bond series. Despite its challenges, the film continues to captivate audiences, proving that even in the face of adversity, the world’s most famous spy can overcome any obstacle to deliver a thrilling cinematic experience.

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Stevie Flavio
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