It is 1997. The relaunch of the James Bond series in 1995 with GoldenEye proved tremendously successful, as the film raked in over $350 million worldwide. Now, two years later, the next 007 adventure Tomorrow Never Dies was to be
released unto the world. But the censorship issues the film would encounter would prove to be the most lengthily and complex for a Bond film to date, particularly with regards to the BBFC's handling of their records on the film.
Tomorrow Never Dies would prove problematic with both the MPAA in the US, and the BBFC in the UK. On September 23rd 1997, the BBFC first viewed a rough cut of the film (known as an Advice Viewing), after which the producers made a verbal
agreement to tone down the violence and sexual scenes in the film for the BBFC and the MPAA.
BBFC's Chief Cutter
Following a resubmission on film to the BBFC a little later, then-BBFC director James Ferman made a list of the changes that had been made since the initial advisory screening. However, records of these notes were not retained in the BBFC file
for the final cinema classification. In November 1997 when the film was issued a formal 12 cinema certificate, no further cuts were required before issuing a certificate because the film had already been reduced to a level of
acceptability for a 12 rating. This is why no specific cuts are listed in their database for the cinema release. The entry simply states:
This work was cut. Cuts were made by substitution. Cuts were Rough Cut.
It is worth mentioning that not all of these cuts were reinstated for the uncut Ultimate Edition of the DVD released in 2006, despite the DVD carrying the uncut tag. The version of the film contained on the DVD is simply the
MPAA-approved PG-13 (i.e. international) version, which had never been able to receive a UK release before then. This US/international version still contains the majority of the initial BBFC and MPAA cuts, but one could argue that since
most of the edits were made during post-production, the version released worldwide is the final uncut version. Readers may wish to read the article on GoldenEye elsewhere on Melon Farmers for a similar situation regarding that film's DVD
Before we begin, consider this statement from the BBFC that was released after the film was classified for home viewing:
Tomorrow Never Dies followed the pattern of the recent Bonds of being slightly too violent for its intended audience. When it opened in the cinema, the Board considered that, on grounds of violence, the film had just scraped through as a 12,
yet to our surprise, the British public, for all their reported concern about screen violence, lapped it up, content to treat James Bond as fantasy violence. The producers were alerted to the probability that, if 12 were to remain the target
category on video, the film might need further cuts in violence, since the Video Recordings Act laid down the need to assess the likelihood of underage viewing, which in this case was a virtual certainty.
Notice the phrase further cuts , implying that the heavily-cut cinema version may need additional alterations to it, before receiving a home video release. Indeed, when the film was submitted for VHS (and later, DVD) the BBFC requested
six seconds of cuts to retain the 12 rating for home viewing. So one would assume that the British VHS and pre-2006 DVD releases were the original UK cinema version, plus an additional six seconds of cuts. But this is not the case.
As mentioned earlier, an initial rough cut of Tomorrow Never Dies was seen by the BBFC in September 1997. Following an agreement with the producers to recut the film, the following changes are those noted by James Ferman following a second
submission of another rough cut. Details of the changes made specifically for the MPAA are also noted. What will become apparent, however, is the incongruity of the BBFC's list of cuts and the application (or rather lack, thereof) of them in the
various UK versions of the film.
Reel 2: No Survivors
The first cut in the film occurs in Reel 2, about 19 minutes into the film. Stamper murders the surviving British sailors in the water by gunning them down with a machine gun, as a henchman callously records the act on a video camera. A wide
shot showing the sailors being riddled with bullets was replaced with a close-up shot of the camera lens filming the action, as muzzle flashes are reflected in the lens. The BBFC were satisfied that the detailed suffering is now implied,
as it happens off-screen. However, this cut is present in the US/international version (which I will refer to, for ease, as the uncut version from this point forward).
Reel 2: Inga's Nip Slip
During Bond's brief encounter in Oxford with a Danish woman, the sight of her nipple appearing above the bed sheet was removed at the request of the MPAA. This cut too is present in the uncut version (to avoid an R rating in the US).
Looking at the scene in question, it is difficult to tell where the altered footage is, and it is possible alternative angles were used, as opposed to a straightforward removal of contentious footage.
Reel 3: Bat Attack
This is where things begin to get less cut and dried. We are now in Reel 3, when Bond is taken away by Carver's men to be interrogated. The BBFC's notes to the producers instruct them to:
Reduce beating up of Bond at Carver's opening party by removing first two heavy blows.
What is strange about this, is that this footage appears to be intact in all UK home video versions of the film - in both the original VHS and pre-2006 DVDs. Around 37 ½ minutes into the film, Bond is seen
entering to the right of the frame, unharmed, before being struck with a baseball bat in the back - complete with a heavy impact sound. As he attempts to stand, he is punched in the gut (again with a heavy sound effect) and falls back to the
ground. This brings us back to the BBFC's quote from before, where they said that further cuts in violence [to the cinema version] might be required for home viewing. If this footage was indeed part of their initial changes, why was it
reinstated for the VHS and subsequent DVD releases in the UK?
Reel 4: Head Shot
We move ahead now to Reel 4. Around 58 ½ minutes, Bond overcomes the assassin Kaufman and aims Kaufman's gun at his own head. When Bond kills him, the BBFC asked that the sequence be altered so that the sight
of Kaufman's wound was not visible as he falls to the ground. This edit persists in every version worldwide, including the uncut version.
Reel 4: Spear Gun
Still in Reel 4, around 61 ½ minutes into the film is where the next change occurs. Here, the BBFC instructed the producers:
Remove close sight of spear gun killing man on boat, retaining only wide shot and then cutting away quickly to avoid seeing body tremble.
Similarly to the Carver interrogation scene, this footage is clearly intact on the supposedly more heavily censored UK VHS and DVDs. In one single shot, we see the man on the boat struck from behind with an arrow, tremble, clutch his chest and
fall to the ground dead, before we cut to Bond and Wai Lin in the water. But this was removed from the UK cinema version, so why is it present in the UK home video releases?
Reel 5: Just a Flesh Wound
Now in Reel 5 of the film, and Bond and Wai Lin escape from Carver's headquarters. In the sequence, around the 76 minute mark, Bond throws a chakra torture knife into Stamper's leg. During the rough cut stage, the BBFC requested to the producers
the following change:
Re-edit scene of Stamper being knifed to clarify that it is only his leg and not a fatal wound
This change persists in the uncut version. In the initial assembly of the escape scene when Bond throws the knife, it flies into Stamper's leg as in the uncut version, and Stamper grabs it. But we then see Stamper in a wide shot struggling to
A few seconds later, following Bond throwing a guard to the floor, we then see Stamper remove the knife.
The footage was simply rearranged slightly to appease the BBFC, so that the withdrawal of the blade immediately followed its impact. In the cut version, Bond does not throw the aforementioned guard to the floor until after Stamper removes the
Reel 5: Chinese Lovers
The MPAA objected to a brief sequence in the motorbike chase. As ever, they were more concerned with any sexual material than violence. At approximately 82 minutes into Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond and Wai Lin fall into a bedroom via the ceiling.
Bond tells Wai Lin to pop the clutch . Immediately following this, we cut to a wide shot of the motorbike roaring through the bedroom. A few frames were removed during this sequence, because there was sight of the two Chinese lovers on
the bed in the background having sex. What's curious is that right at the moment of impact, as the bike falls into the room, there is clear sight of the Chinese woman straddling her partner in the background as she bounces up and down.
Furthermore, there is a very brief sight of her nipple towards the end of the scene, just before she smiles and lowers herself off camera. These two instances seem to have gone unnoticed by the MPAA, or - rather less likely - the fleeting
sexuality simply didn't bother them enough to remove them.
Reel 5: Stealth Cut
Still in Reel 5, the next change occurs. The details on this are vague, but by examining the film closely it seems probable that the following scene is the one the BBFC changed. Around the 97-minute mark, Bond kills a guard on the stealth ship
by stabbing him from behind. Following Ferman’s second viewing of the rough cut, he confirmed its deletion from the initial edit:
Bond grabbing and dispatching sailor on Stealth Boat has been removed entirely and replaced with shot of Bond creeping forward
All that remains in the film is a rather odd medium shot of Bond moving towards the guard from behind, followed by a brief shot of Bond grabbing the guard. This has resulted in a clumsy jump cut, as one moment the guard is barely through the
door with his hands full of equipment, and the next moment he has jumped ahead of himself, his hands suddenly empty, as he examines a control panel. These two images are of adjacent frames in the film, either side of a cut, and show the jump in
It appears the filmmakers removed the more explicit version of the guard’s death, and instead filled in the time by extending Bond’s approach towards him. Annoyingly, this alteration has survived into the uncut version of the film.
Reel 6: A Spurt of Cuts
Reel 6 is the most edited reel in Tomorrow Never Dies. Gupta's death was the first sequence to be altered, and was originally composed of two shots - a closer shot of the gunshot to Gupta's torso with a blood spurt, followed by a wide shot of
Gupta falling. Changes were made to this sequence, reducing it so that only the wide shot remained, and Ferman noted this after his initial viewing. When Carver is seen to shoot Gupta, we cut to Gupta falling with the wound already present, but
with no blood spurt. As before, this edit is present in the uncut version of the film.
Reel 6: Star Censor
James Ferman implemented a policy in the 1980s whereby almost any use (or even sight of) illegal martial arts weaponry such as ninja stars, nunchaku, switchblades and balisongs were removed from a film, regardless of its certification or the
context in which the weapons appeared. So the most obvious missing footage from Tomorrow Never Dies to UK viewers will be the ninja star sequence.
Moments after Gupta is killed and Bond creates havoc, Wai Lin attacks a guard around 102 minutes into the film. Following a series of high kicks to the man, two more guards enter at the end of the corridor. Wai Lin kills one of them by throwing
a ninja star into his neck, and Bond appears and shoots the other one. During the second viewing of the rough cut (i.e. the version that had been cut already for the BBFC), Ferman noted the following:
Wai Lin's throwing of ninja star into throat of opponent has been trimmed so there is little blood and much less emphasis on star insignia being plucked from shell case and landing in man's neck. This scene should be further reduced to minimize
sight of ninja throwing star and resulting wound.
This footage is missing entirely from the UK VHS and pre-2006 DVDs, but Ferman's notes seem to indicate that the sequence was actually present, albeit in a slightly edited form, in the UK cinema version. This is likely because the video cuts the
BBFC requested to the sequence in 1998 are more detailed, which we will come to later.
Reel 6: Ferman stamps his foot down
After some dialogue between Bond and Wai Lin, the previously-downed guard that was kicked to the ground comes to. Bond looks down at the man, and kicks him in the head, knocking him out. The act is accompanied by a heavy impact sound and a groan
from the man. This was a sequence not completed in the first rough cut submission, and Ferman was alarmed on his second viewing to find the scene more violent than it was initially. He noted at the time that:
The sight of Bond's foot pressed into man's head has become far more violent through the addition of a loud stomping noise which suggests that Bond's heel has cracked his skull; this sound must be removed altogether and the shot shortened still
These changes were made, and the footage was absent from the UK cinema version.
Reel 6: Staircase to Heaven
Some minutes later, around the 105 minute mark, Bond kills a man on a staircase using his Walther P99. In the original version, multiple bullet impacts into the guard and his subsequent collapsing was contained in one lingering shot. The BBFC
objected to this at the first advice screening, and Ferman noted the changes had been made on the second viewing:
Detail of Bond shooting man down stairs has been cut so we now see Bond shooting followed by separate shot of man falling.
Once again, this edit persists in all prints of the film, including the uncut version. Bond is seen to enter the frame, and then we cut to the man walking down the stairs. We then cut back to Bond, who fires towards the guard off-screen, but we
now hold this shot of Bond as the man cries out and falls down the stairs in the foreground, out of focus.
Reel 6: Suspense before pain
Perhaps the most tampered with scene in the UK cinema version was the fight between Bond and Stamper. The BBFC initially suggested cuts to the scene as follows:
Reduce violence of final fight between Bond and Stamper so there is less emphasis on infliction of pain and injury and more on suspense of Bond's hand maneuvering into position to detonate explosive. In particular, remove clear sight of Bond
Ferman commented on this sequence in detail in his notes from the second rough cut screening:
Final fight between Bond and Stamper has been extensively recut so that there is less emphasis on infliction of pain and injury and more on Bond's hand maneuvering into a position to detonate explosive. In particular, there is no clear sight of
Bond stabbing Stamper, which is now played on Bond's face and then cuts to his stabbing action. A sinister laugh has now been added for Stamper as if he is laughing off the pain. Two shots of Stamper pushing Bond against steel pillar have been
removed and replaced by shots of Bond's hand moving to detonator, which helps to clarify action and emphasize suspense rather than violence.
As a Bond fan reading that, you may well be confused. And rightly so. As with some of the earlier cuts in the article, once again all of this supposedly removed footage appears in the UK VHS and DVD versions. The only BBFC change that appears to
have survived into the final releases is Stamper's laugh. But anyone familiar with the film will release that the acts mentioned above have always been present on home video. Bond is seen to stab Stamper twice, and both times it is quite clear.
In addition, Bond is seen to be clearly pushed against the steel pillars on the boat a total of three times; twice at the beginning of the fight and once again towards the end as Stamper's foot is trapped behind the missile. Another curious
Reel 6: Muted Response
As it stands, those changes cover the initial requests of the BBFC and MPAA for theatrical showing. James Ferman's final request to the producers was to:
Remix the sound to reduce the noises of kicks and blows, particularly in the second half of the film, while maintaining levels of dialogue and music.
These changes were implemented, and are particularly obvious in the VHS version. The producers seem to have gone somewhat further, removing screams of pain as well as reducing sounds of kicks and blows. Good examples of sound effect changes
include the greatly reduced sounds of Wai Lin's kicks to the guard in the ninja star scene; the muting of screams of pain as Wai Lin scalds guards with steam; and Carver's death cries as he is pulverized by the drill are missing.
On the 24th of November 1997, the final UK cinema version (with heavy pre-cuts) was passed 12 by the BBFC for action, some strong violence, sexual innuendo and sex . It would go on to take over £
19.5 million in the UK by early 1998, a sum that would have been reduced if the film had been released with a 15 rating.
In late May 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies was presented to the BBFC for home video certification. You may recall their earlier quote, where they suggested that further cuts may be needed for video release. This was indeed true. Six
seconds of cuts were made to the film for the UK VHS and DVD release - but the version the BBFC classified was not the pre-cut UK cinema version at all.
The version of the film submitted for rating was, in fact, the US PG-13 version. Only some of the violence cuts the BBFC suggested at the rough cut stage had been retained, presumably because the MPAA had issues with those scenes too. As
the BBFC admitted in 2004:
None of [the rough cut details] are included in the formal details of cuts made to the finished version.
This is why their database entry is so vague. This is why some of the objectionable footage has always been present in the VHS and Special Edition DVD and why those two database entries fail to mention that some cuts have, in effect, been waived
- the BBFC had no formal list on file listing what they originally removed from the rough cut in 1997.
The producers were obviously not content releasing the heavily butchered UK cinema version on video, and so submitted the PG-13 version for classification. Since the information on the rough cuts was not present at the time of rating the
film for video, the BBFC took no objection to some of the footage that they had deemed unsuitable a mere year beforehand, and thus much footage that the UK did not see in the cinema version was unveiled on video. Bond's beating at the party, the
death of the Chinese fisherman, and the final fight with Stamper were expanded in length.
Ferman's star obsession
However, six seconds of cuts were still required. With the previously mentioned notion of underage viewing in the home, the ninja star scene was completely removed. The BBFC demanded:
After sequence of high kicks by Wai-Lin on gantry, remove close shot of throwing star being handled by her, subsequent throwing action and sight of star embedded in bloody neck wound
Ferman also agreed in his notes, stating:
The ninja star sequence must be reduced even further so that neither the star nor the sight of it landing in man's neck can be clearly registered.
As previously mentioned, these more detailed cuts in comparison to the cinema cuts, coupled with the use of phrases like reduced even further , give credence to the fact that this scene was censored differently for the cinema release. The
final sequence on the Special Edition DVD is a little choppy, as the sound has been remixed slightly. Bond's gunfire has been repositioned to begin earlier than it should do, as it now starts over the shot of Wai Lin looking up at the guards
ahead of her just before she throws the ninja star. In the uncut version however, Bond does not enter and beginning firing until after Wai Lin throws the ninja star. Due to the elimination on video of the entire ninja star episode, Wai Lin now
appears to be looking up at the guards falling as Bond shoots them, yet the corridor behind her is empty. In other words, Bond isn't present yet. After the two men fall, we cut back to her and suddenly Bond has appeared in front of a closed door
behind her. What a man.
As per the cinema version, Bond kicking the prostrate guard in the head was also removed. In the VHS, Bond simply seems to walk over the guard but in the earlier DVDs, the sound of the impact is played over a shot of Wai Lin looking at Bond.
This plays better, as at least it is implied that Bond somehow took out the guard.
In 2001, MGM tried their luck by re-submitting the PG-13 version again for DVD classification, but due to the BBFC's guidelines at the time the same six seconds of cuts were required before a 12 could be issued. It would be three more
years before their policy of allowing cut and uncut versions to be released with different certificates would come into play.
However, the UK VHS/DVD situation is complicated even further. The VHS reduces a lot of sound effects and even cries of pain, but the 2000 barebones DVD and Special Edition DVD restore almost all of these changes. As the PG-13 version was
the basis for the VHS and DVD, these sound changes were minimal, and certainly the BBFC's suggestion of remixing the sound throughout seems to have been heavily relaxed.
It would be 2006 before the uncut version of Tomorrow Never Dies would be released in the UK, almost a decade after the rest of the world had been enjoying it. In May 2006, the BBFC passed the uncut (i.e. PG-13 version) of the film
with a 15 certificate for frequent moderate violence . This version restored the ninja star/head kicking scene, and the previously muted/reduced sound effects. To some, the 15 certificate may have seemed a little harsh.
Perhaps it was, as a mere six years later in July 2012, the BBFC passed the same version of the film uncut with a 12 rating for the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray box set. Clearly they felt their decision in 2006 was overly cautious, when there
were more violent action films scraping by with 12 ratings - Casino Royale being one of them, that same year.
In retrospect, Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode seems to have misjudged the boundaries of the James Bond formula somewhat. From examining the BBFC cuts, it's not difficult to agree that if all of the footage from the rough cut had survived
into the final theatrical version, the result would have been a rather strong film in terms of violence. Even some of the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray special features contain some quite vicious moments, including an extended version of the
sequence when Carver notices that Bond and Wai Lin have snuck aboard the stealth boat. The henchman responsible for not watching the security cameras on the boat has his hair ripped out, is punched by Stamper, has his neck broken and is then
crushed by Stamper's knee as he lies on the floor. There is also an extended version of the chakra torture escape, where another of Carver's men is stabbed in the arm with some mildly bloody results. Sean Connery once said that Bond was sadism for the entire family
but tastefully done . The original fight scenes read as if they were tastefully done, but the degree of detail described in James Ferman's notes does seem a little much for a young audience. One wonders what Spottiswoode was expecting
to get away with when he was shooting the film.
And thus comes to a close one of the most bizarre situations regarding James Bond's time at the British Board of Film Classification.
The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day would pass uncut through the BBFC in 1999 and 2002 respectively, but Casino Royale would require minimal cuts in 2006. These films and their censorship troubles in other
territories are outlined elsewhere on Melon Farmers. Quantum of Solace would also not escape unscathed in 2008, and the changes the BBFC made to that would end up having a larger-reaching effect.
Cutting Edge Video, Season 1, Episode 1 Tomorrow Never Dies
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.