Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Tomorrow Never Dies Score: a Retrospective

         When James Bond returned to theaters after a six year hiatus in 1995's Goldeneye, it revitalized what many felt was a dying franchise unfit for the post Glasnost Era of the 1990's. Pierce Brosnan's debut film proved that James Bond was still relevant and that the world was in need of him more then ever. Goldeneye featured a unique music score by Luc Besson veteran Eric Serra; In the hopes that his distinct style would make for a contemporary Bond score suitable for the new era of 007. The score itself is either highly loved or looked down upon with great disdain by Bond fans. As it is a radical departure from John Barry's brassy orchestration's that have become synonymous with Bond's character as much as his tuxedo or Aston Martin. Serra's heavy techno/synthesized music created a highly unusual musical landscape for the film. In this reviewer's opinion, the unique score fits the dark Cold war atmosphere of the film perfectly. Had the score been for any other Bond film other then Goldeneye, it would have very obviously been out of place rather then fitting the tone of the film.

        Since the score for Goldeneye was seen as a disgrace to the Bond tradition. It was obvious Serra wouldn't return to score the follow up to Goldeneye. The musical reigns then fell on the shoulders of British composer David Arnold, who at the time was most known for scoring the films Stargate and Independence Day. Arnold was known to be a long time Bond fan and remembers how the opening title music from 1967's You Only Live Twice had a profound effect on him. He become a blip on the producer's radar after he composed a James Bond tribute album called Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project. This tribute album would serve as the blueprint for Arnold's first Bond score.

          When James Bond returned to battle an evil media mogul in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies. He found himself in familiar territory, his daring escape from a Terrorist arms Bazaar in the snowy mountains of the Khyber Pass was accentuated with a Jazzy and bombastic orchestra blaring his famous theme tune as he escapes just in time. In another moment in a typical day for 007 where his life was in imminent danger, the iconic guitar blasts as he frees himself from the clutches of the evil henchman who intended to take Bond down with him. Arnold's score for Tomorrow Never Dies successfully united the classic jazzy brass orchestra of the 1960's John Barry Bond score's with modern techno beats and percussion. Monty Norman's iconic theme for Bond himself is quoted often throughout the films score, as the producers felt the previous score used the theme too little. Arnold himself stated that the Bond theme often serves as a “safety net” and usually only used when Bond does something cool or heroic where his theme has to be played. Arnold also makes a few references to themes from previous Bond scores such as a motif from From Russia with Love Appears in the “White Knight” cue. A motif from Thunderball can be heard before Bonds fist fight at Carver's party. as well as a subtle hint to the five-note theme from Goldeneye in “Hamburg Break in”. While Tomorrow Never Dies was the perfect blend of the classic Bond brass of John Barry with modern techno instrumentation; Arnold's two proceeding Bond scores relied too much on the techno beats and electronic percussion that it often overshadowed the orchestra.

      Tomorrow Never Dies has long been my absolute favorite Bond soundtrack. Though I cant recall when I first saw the film, I remember the music had a great effect on me. In December of 2003 I finally procured the soundtrack to the film through Amazon, my first ever James Bond soundtrack. I remember vividly the excitement of when it finally arrived on my doorstep. After tearing through the packaging I sat in a chair in the living room, put the CD In my player, and pressed play. I was instantly in Bond heaven as the opening bars of the Gunbarrel music welcomed me for what was going to be a thrilling listening experience. Although it wasn't until years later I finally got my hands on the complete score to the film that I really fell in love with it.

       My two favorite cues were absent from either of the commercial soundtrack albums. The first being the “jet fight” cue that opens with a bold statement of the Bond theme before getting cut short as Bonds co-pilot attempts to strangle him. I love this short yet intense cue because it prominently uses Arnold's title theme for the film. This title theme also serves as a secondary heroic theme for Bond throughout the film alongside his iconic theme by Monty Norman. Its heard when Bond struggles to kill two birds with one stone by ejecting his “backseat driver” into the enemy jet shooting at him. The title theme is heard in just about every major action cue. Its grandest statement is in the album version of “Backseat Driver”, when 007 puts his gadget laden BMW 750il to good use against Carvers thugs. It punctuates the scene when Bond jumps out of his car and then drives it off the roof of the parking garage. The actual film version is slightly different, the title theme is played briefly before segueing into the Monty Norman theme, while the album version is just the title theme.

          The second of my two favorite cues is called “Carving Carver”. As the name suggests, Its heard during the finale of the film when Bond uses the sea-drill on Elliot Carver. One of the The highlights of this track is the serene arrangement of the Monty Norman theme as our hero emerges beaten and bloodied from the debris of a prolonged gunfight with Carver's men. It expresses 007's tenacity to keep fighting even when the odds are stacked against him. From here the track shifts gears to a slowly raising orchestra with hints of the Bond theme backed by percussion. The cues raising orchestra hits its peak when Bond swings across the stealth boat to the bridge. When 007 reaches the other side, grabs his mp5k, and walks towards two unsuspecting bad guys before nonchalantly gunning them down. the music instantly changes to a rendition of the Monty Norman theme played under aggressive electronic percussion conveying Bond's "pissed off" state of mind.

        Since Tomorrow Never Dies, David Arnold has gone on to score four more Bond films. Ranging from the techno-excess of Die Another Day to the subtle intrigue of Quantum of Solace. In retrospect, I feel that Tomorrow Never Dies is still his best score for the franchise. I say this because its often my go to score when im down or just want to feel like im in a Bond film. It captures everything that Bond music should be, Jazzy , heroic ,explosive , romantic and fun.

By Dean Dunlevy

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