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Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Dead already

The twentieth James Bond film - marking the fortieth anniversary of the first one, Dr No - Die Another Day broke all the records at the box office.  Everyone was taken in by the hype.  In truth it's nothing other than an atrocity, by a very long way the worst Bond film, abandoning everything that made the best ones good and accentuating everything that made the lesser ones bad.  It seems a bit daft to criticse a Bond film for being silly, given that the classic ones had carved-out volcanoes and all the rest of it, but Die Another Day is just silly.  No matter how ludicrous Goldfinger and Thunderball might be, there's just something sexy about villains in huge rooms plotting global domination while our hero works out smart ways to outfox them.  On the other hand - there's not much sexy about an invisible car.  Similarly, back in the good old days, when all the stunts actually had to be performed, there was something amazing about them - it really did look like the person you were watching was in mortal danger and was doing pretty incredible things.  That car stunt in The Man With the Golden Gun is surely the best stunt ever seen in a film.  But these days, of course, everything is computer generated, nothing looks or feels real.  It's meant to make it even more awe-inspiring.  It actually just makes it boring.  Films no longer try to out-do each other by getting stuntmen to do ever-more-dangerous things - they try to out-do each other by paying as many computer operators as possible to come up with things that could never actually happen.  Die Another Day is a puerile piece of nonsense, proof that far from dying another day, Bond is well and truly dead already.

Unfortunately, the film's atrocity extended to its music.  First, there's the now-infamous title song by Madonna.  A groaning vocal performance, dull and dated techno bleeps and squirts and not much of a melody at all mean that there could be no other candidate when considering the worst Bond song of all time.  It fails musically and it fails dramatically and the producers should be ashamed of going for such a blatant marketing attempt instead of choosing someone even half-way appropriate.

Back for a third time with Bond is David Arnold.  Now, there's nothing more boring than reading yet another film music critic recalling the good old days of John Barry scoring Bond films, but in all the ones he did - every time, he seemed to manage to find something new to say, a new way of approaching the score without ever compromising the overall vision or reducing the level of sheer sexiness in any way - and without fail, his scores are as fresh and exciting today as the day they were recorded.  Contrast this with Arnold, who in the space of three scores seems to have well and truly run out of ideas, whose music sounds dated already, whose music isn't vaguely sexy, whose music is just one more generic orchestral/techno combination.  The World is Not Enough seemed a bit of a shock at first with the amount of electronica thrown over the orchestra, but in the end it worked fairly well, and some of it was really quite impressive, but in Die Another Day Arnold has just gone too far.  Throwing in every gadget and gizmo he can find, it's a huge disappointment.  The orchestra is recorded for a few bars at a time, then those few bars are manipulated electronically, perhaps played backwards, with various noises laid over the top.

There are a few exceptions.  The lively "Welcome to Cuba" is a nice bit of source music; "Jinx Jordan" is a nice throwback to Barry's style; and "Going Down Together" is an homage to You Only Live Twice.  But that's three fairly short tracks, leaving an awful lot of music that fails to impress on any level at all.  While it's true that not even a score as good as Goldfinger would have made Die Another Day anything other than an imbecilic, brainless piece of nonsense, I can't imagine a score further from the sensibilites of Goldfinger.  This music is cold, calculated, unsexy.  It must have seemed so clever to those involved in its production.  It seems anything but to those involved in listening to it.  After all these years, Marvin Hamlisch can finally relax - they said it couldn't be done, but someone's actually written a worse Bond score than The Spy Who Loved Me.  Eric Serra's Goldeneye sounds like On Her Majesty's Secret Service next to this.

Goodbye, Mr Bond.

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  1. Die Another Day Madonna (4:38)
  2. James Bond Theme Oakenfold (4:05)
  3. On the Beach (2:51)
  4. Hovercraft Chase (3:49)
  5. Some Kindof Hero? (4:32)
  6. Welcome to Cuba (2:07)
  7. Jinx Jordan (1:29)
  8. Jinx and James (2:04)
  9. A Touch of Frost (1:52)
  10. Icarus (1:23)
  11. Laser Flight (4:35)
  12. Whiteout (4:55)
  13. Iced Inc. (3:08)
  14. Antonov (11:52)
  15. Going Down Together (1:36)