It is a fact universally acknowledged that the sanity of a man even as well-grounded as Alan Partridge was tested to its limits by spending 28 consecutive weeks in Linton Travel Tavern. Although I have not yet reached that milestone, I can happily report that the 26 weeks I have spent watching Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007) once a week every week have had, if anything, a positive effect on my mental well-being.
When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced six months ago, I immediately felt my grip on the passage of time being shaken loose. The usual landmarks by which I navigated my way through the week (Evensong at St Giles’ on Sunday, pub quiz at the Old Bookbinders on Tuesday, lunchtime concert in St Hilda’s on Wednesday, etc) vanished, and ahead of me lay a procession of undifferentiated days and nights.
In order to take back control, my wife and I set a plan in action to restore a sense of order to our lives. Taking inspiration from a favourite podcast, The Worst Idea of All Time hosted by two New Zealand comedians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, we decided to set ourselves the task of watching the same film every Monday to create a sense of order in our lives, and to see how our appreciation of the picture developed.
Choosing the film wasn’t actually too difficult. We knew that it had to be a film we would not regret being unable to watch ever again once the experiment was over (the prediction that it would ruin the film has proved unerringly accurate), and we decided it ought to be part of a series only one of us was familiar with (in order to gauge different reactions to motifs and to see how it functioned as a standalone film).
As we ran through the various possibilities, my wife (who is very keen not be associated with this project by name) was intrigued by my attempt to summarize the plot of Die Another Day – how, we reasoned, could we go wrong with a film containing an invisible car, John Cleese, a chase through a melting ice palace and a machine that can metamorphose a taekwondo star into the youngest son of Dame Maggie Smith?
On the grounds that if you are going to do something unbelievably stupid you should at least do it properly, we set ourselves the rules of watching the film without being distracted by our phones, of keeping an eye out each week for an extra who was really outdoing themselves, and to identify a moment in the film that sparked some modicum of joy in us (this last part has grown trickier as the weeks have rolled on).
Each viewing does have its upsides. Even after 26 viewings, one cannot help but admire the opening hovercraft chase, and it remains a treat to see Pierce Brosnan and Toby Stephens swashing buckles in a thrillingly choreographed swordfight. We have also found that the deeper we have got into the film, the keener we have become to devise elaborate backstories for characters who make the most fleeting of appearances – I’d be very grateful if Ian Pirie could get in touch to explain how he conceptualized his South African thug, and whether it matches up with any of our 54 (and counting) ideas.
Every silver lining, of course, has its cloud, and we have found no dearth of low points in the film. Bond’s flirtatious overtures to Halle Berry’s character seem more and more like legally actionable harassment with every passing watch, and the pseudo-scientific explanation of the invisible car continues to baffle. Worst of all, we hadn’t really clocked the run-time of the film before we started. What I had remembered as a fast-paced 90-minute romp actually extends to two and a quarter hours. Had we plumped for the similarly panned but far shorter Quantum of Solace we would so far have saved almost 12 hours of our lives.
A thought that occurs to us every now and again is when can we call an end to this project? Rather foolishly we got into this without really considering an answer to that question. We have stumbled into a morale-sapping and costly project with no obvious end in sight, and all because we failed to consider in advance what a realistic endpoint would look like. At least we’re not alone in that.