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DIE ANOTHER DAY – David Arnold

November 22, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

dieanotherdayOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

You know, I’m beginning to think that David Arnold is running out of ideas. When he burst onto the film music scene in 1996/97 with Stargate, Independence Day and so on, he was a breath of fresh air, bringing new life and orchestral acumen to a genre which generally suffers from a lack of emerging talent. When he took over from Eric Serra after the lamentable GoldenEye as the composer of choice for the Bond movies, it was heralded as a step in the right direction, and he has proved himself to be the only composer to “get” the series in the way John Barry did. Die Another Day is Arnold’s third Bond movie score. It is also, by a long way, his weakest.

Following on from the exploits of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough, the opening of Die Another Day sees British agent James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) surfing into North Korea to stop an arms deal taking place. However, things go unexpectedly wrong for the super-spy, and he is captured by the ruthless Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee). Months later, and still in captivity, Bond is unexpectedly traded by the Korean Government in return for the release of their operative, renegade Zao (Rick Yune). Upon his return to Britain, Bond quickly finds himself embroiled in the affairs of multi-millionaire diamond magnate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) and his assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), a trail which leads him to Cuba and CIA agent Jinx Jordan (Halle Berry). It seems that Graves is developing a super-conducting diamond satellite in space, but what has that to do with a secret laboratory in the Bahamas, and an ice-castle in a remote part of the Arctic? And why are the Koreans hovering in the shadowy background of it all…?

Much like the film itself, Die Another Day suffers from the fact that it could be any old action score; other than the frugal use of John Barry and Monty Norman’s familiar themes and a nod and a wink to A View to a Kill and You Only Live Twice in the more romantic moments, there is nothing identifiably “Bondish” about it – and if one thing a Bond movie needs, it is a tangible musical link to its predecessors to give it a place in the world, and to cement it in history. The second main problem that mars this score is the terrible over-use of electronics all over the place, and the irritating digital editing that make the whole thing sound like the CD is broken: it pops, loops, jumps, and totally spoils the listening experience. Finally, and most unforgivably, there is no “proper” new theme in Die Another Day, leaving it strangely anonymous. None of Arnold’s underscore bears any resemblance to the thematic content of the Madonna main title song – although this is perhaps a good thing.

Madonna’s song, co-written with dance music guru Mirwais Ahmedzai, is perhaps the worst Bond song in living memory. I like Madonna a lot, and have come to appreciate her various incarnations over the years, but “Die Another Day” is quite appalling, a faux techno effort with more bleeping and blooping effects underneath a staggered vocal effect. Admittedly, some of Michel Colombier’s string arrangements are nice, but what ever happened to the big power ballad? Bring back Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra, Sheena Easton, Carly Simon… Duran Duran for heavens sake! Maybe I’m turning into an old cynic…

The score proper, admittedly, does have its moments. The second half of ‘On the Beach’ mixes Korean percussion instruments with the orchestra and is dramatic in an Independence Day sort of way. ‘Some Kind of Hero’ opens with a moody cimbalom line before becoming quite dark and threatening; ‘Icarus’ provides a surprisingly superb burst of choral majesty; and ‘Whiteout’ is actually a quite superb action cue, fast and exciting with especially good brass writing.

‘Antonov’, the 12-minute finale set piece, is an entertaining but strange mish-mash of styles and techniques which seems to suffer from the most schizophrenic case of temptrackitis I have ever heard; one minute it sounds like Randy Edelman, the next minute vocalist Natacha Atlas seems to want to sound like Lisa Gerrard. Then it’s Stargate, then Shaft, then the “trench run” from Star Wars. And then there’s ‘Welcome to Cuba’, a completely unexpected, but completely wonderful Latino flamenco track with samba rhythms, big Tito Puente brasses, bold bongos, a rolling piano, and virtuoso performances by trumpets and trombones. As a musical extravaganza, it’s probably the best track on the album.

The love theme for Bond and the Halle Berry character, as heard in ‘Jinx Jordan’, ‘Jinx & James’ and the finale ‘Going Down Together’, could actually have come from the pen of John Barry – as has been mentioned before, it alludes to both A View to a Kill and You Only Live Twice among others. It’s soft, gentle, and flowing, and provides a welcome instrumental interlude from the techno madness. Perhaps it is an auditory illusion; perhaps it only sounds this good because it is so at-odds with the rest of the score, but the sweeping string work and longing aspect make it very appealing. And then there are the recapitulations of the Bond themes, usually with a powerful mix of horns and trumpets: opening ‘On the Beach’; interpolated into the mix of ‘Hovercraft Chase’ but rendered messy and jumbled by the digital editing; at the end of ‘Whiteout’, and towards the finale of ‘Antonov’.

Once again, though, I come back to the problem of the electronics, and especially their mixing. Now, I like electronics, in context. Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Elliot Goldenthal, all the big-name composers have used synths to great effect in many, many scores. The electronics in Die Another Day, to me, seems as though they have been thrown together, as if they were created away from the orchestra, and simply overlaid to give the illusion of modernity and power with no thought as to how it would all sound in the final dub. The quite impressive orchestral parts of ‘Hovercraft Chase’, ‘Laser Fight’, ‘Iced Inc.’ and others are totally overshadowed and undone by these seemingly innocuous effects, and are to the detriment of the entire score.

After forty years, twenty-one films, five Bonds (Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan) and nine composers (Norman, Barry, Martin, Hamlisch, Legrand, Conti, Kamen, Serra and Arnold) – and with Brosnan signed on to make his fifth film – perhaps it is finally time to give another shot at the 007 mantle. Die Another Day, to me, sounds like the work of a composer trying hard to emulate the great successes of the past while making it relevant for 21st century audiences, but inadvertently alienating both sets of fans by finding some sort of muddy, intangible middle ground. My choice for the man to take over? Edward Shearmur.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Die Another Day (written by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmedzai, performed by Madonna) (4:38)
  • James Bond Theme – Bond vs. Oakenfold (written by Monty Norman, remix by Paul Oakenfold) (4:05)
  • On the Beach (2:51)
  • Hovercraft Chase (3:49)
  • Some Kind of Hero? (4:32)
  • Welcome to Cuba (2:07)
  • Jinx Jordan (1:29)
  • Jinx & James (2:04)
  • A Touch of Frost (1:52)
  • Icarus (1:23)
  • Laser Fight (4:35)
  • Whiteout (4:55)
  • Iced Inc. (3:08)
  • Antonov (11:52)
  • Going Down Together (1:36)

Running Time: 54 minutes 56 seconds

Warner Bros. 93624-8389-2 (2002)

Music composed by David Arnold. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. James Bond Theme by Monty Norman. Featured musical soloists Dave Hartley, John Barclay, Richard Edwards and Pete Lockett. Special vocal performances by Natacha Atlas. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Dina Eaton. Mastered by Tim Young. Album produced by David Arnold.

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