I’m taking a break from “creating a better world” to talk about something just as important: the James Bond franchise.
We can rank the James Bond actors and movies until we’re blue in the face, but I want to rank an aspect to these films that get overlooked: the directors.
To date, there have been 12 directors for 25 films (including Never Say Never Again). Here’s how they ranked:
12. Lee Tamahori
Die Another Day (DAD)
The obvious choice for the last spot.
Perhaps more than any other franchise in history, the Bond films are more of a team effort than the vision of any one person. While the producers have made this method work for them, it makes it exceptionally difficult to assign praise (or blame) for the performance of a given film.
As for DAD, many like to blame the screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade for most of its problems. That’s understandable. In a series that had Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, DAD manages to out-crazy both of them. That’s no small achievement.
But I don’t share that opinion. In fact, I’d say that one of the things the movie did right (or was interesting, at least) was have James Bond be a prisoner for two years. That’s a bit of plotting that could have worked had it of been in more competent hands. While there were absolutely INSANE things that had no business being in a Bond film, Purvis and Wade at least did ONE THING right.
Lee Tamahori, on the other hand, had lots of tools at his disposal. Yet nothing in the film worked: The theme song by Madonna was infamously bad. Academy-Award winning Halle Berry put in what was arguably the worst performance of her career. The special effects were noticeably awful. There was an invisible car. And the movie just plain LOOKED terrible. Were all of these things Tamahori’s fault? Well, the performances and cinematography largely rest on his shoulders. But with all of the things that were out of his control, he did nothing to elevate it or maximize the talent involved…which, as we’ll see, other directors on the list DID manage to do with their films.
One thing about DAD though, because it’s SO bonkers, it is worth a revisit.
11. Roger Spottiswoode
Tomorrow Never Dies (TND)
I’ve only watched TND a handful of times. Not much about it sticks out to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid 90s action flick…but that’s also why it’s so MEH.
The 90s was a terrible decade for film.
But one of the biggest criticisms of the Brosnan-era was tone. The elder statesman of Bond fandom, Matt Gourley, is particularly vocal about this. Pierce Brosnan wanted to have it both ways: he wanted his Bond to be both intense and lighthearted. It just didn’t work. This is especially apparent in TND.
Spottiswoode attempted to channel this in what might be the worst directed scene in Bond history. When Bond discovers Teri Hatcher’s character dead in the hotel room, he also finds Vincent Schiavelli is there to kill him. This is intended to be a tense scene (I think)…Bond was emotionally attached Hatcher but Schiavelli is playing his role as comic relief. Finally Bond gets the upper hand over Schiavelli, to which he tells 007 “I am only doing my job” and Bond replies “So am I”. 007 then shoots him in the face. This should have been a VERY tense scene. Instead it’s all over the map. This isn’t the fault of the actors, this is squarely the fault of their director. But this scene perfectly sums up the Brosnan Era.
Spottiswoode doesn’t completely fail here. Like I said, it’s a solid 90s action flick. But unfortunately, TND doesn’t rise above that.
10. Michael Apted
The World is Not Enough (TWINE)
When I think of TWINE, I get the feeling that there was a lot left on the table.
Outside of Bond, Apted has a pretty strong career. In my opinion, I don’t think that he did a terrible job here. There are MANY things that this movie does right:
GREAT theme song. Strong PRIMARY Bond Girl and villain. A few well-written scenes of character development. A decent performance by Brosnan (although he’s still trying to have it both ways). Overall, TWINE, on paper at least, should have been one of the best in the series.
Many like to blame Denise Richards and some of the reverse engineering regarding the gadgets and Richards’ character name. Truthfully, I’ve always felt that the Bond gadgets were reversed engineered and although the “pun” at the end (“I thought Christmas only comes ONCE a year”) was bad, I didn’t think it was worse than Moonraker’s sex joke (“I think he’s attempting re-entry sir!”). In either case, I don’t think these things were enough to ruin the film, and I don’t think they could be blamed on Apted specifically.
I don’t think that any director could have saved Denise Richards’ acting.
Am I being fair to Apted? Perhaps not. BUT because I feel that there’s a lot missing from the film, TWINE leaves me with a MEH feeling.
And nothing’s worse than that.
9. Irvin Kershner
Never Say Never Again (NSNA)
I’ve been wanting to do a “NSNA Revisited” post, but I’ll just go ahead and say what I wanted to say here….which isn’t much.
It’s hard to believe that the same guy that directed Empire Strike Back also directed this. Perhaps Empire is just a better preserved film, so naturally its aged a lot better. But Kershner’s decision making didn’t completely pay off in NSNA. I’ll let you be the judge.
Perhaps he should be lower on the list, however Kershner did make one decision that saved the day: let Sean Connery carry the load.
To be fair, there were many solid performances in this film. The villain was great. Barbara Carerra as Fatima Blush was, well let me just say this…this movie came on a lot on HBO growing up, and her performance (and what she was wearing when she first meets Bond) changed a lot for me. Plus, Edward Fox was great as M.
But this was Connery’s show. There were many times when watching Roger Moore deliver lines that I though “Sean Connery would have CRUSHED that line.” So I always wondered “what if” Connery had stayed on through the 70s and 80s. NSNA gave us a peek into that possibility. And while this isn’t necessarily the best Connery Bond film…I’m just going to say it…it is the BEST Connery as James Bond.
In fact, this film proves why he was the BEST Bond.
Because Kershner was behind the camera when this happened, that keeps him out of the last spot.
I had intended to keep this a short post, less than 1,000 words, but I went off the rails. So once again, due to time constraints, I have to break this down into two (or more) posts.
Will the madness ever end? (It won’t)