Film discussion

James Bond – The Road to Bond 25, Part Sixteen: A View to a Kill (1985)

Roger Moore celebrated his 57th birthday days after filming commenced on A View to a Kill.  In chatting to the female lead of the film, Tanya Roberts, a lady 28 years his junior, he was horrified to learn that he was older that Roberts’ mother.  Years later, Moore would reveal that it was at this moment that he knew his time as James Bond was up.  After seven films, and a total worldwide gross of comfortably over $1 billion, it would be time to turn the role over to a new man.  Strangely, after all of the casting debate around Moore in both of the previous films, there was never any public conversation about his being replaced for this film: his deal was completed quickly, and with a minimum of fuss.  Also making her final appearance would be Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.  The sole remaining onscreen Dr No alumnus, Maxwell remains the benchmark against which all subsequent actresses to grace the role would be measured.

It was simply time, though: with Moore aged 57, Maxwell at 58, Desmond Llewellyn now 70, and Robert Brown (Bernard Lee’s replacement as M) 63 years of age (a little more understandable for the head of section), this cinematic depiction of the British Secret Service was starting to look rather long in the tooth.  This is never clearer than when the characters are lined up alongside each other at Ascot races.  With a 42-year old Christopher Walken playing the villain, Max Zorin, and 37 year old Grace Jones supporting as henchwoman May Day, the passage of time was even more obvious.  In a decade that was about to see an invigorated action genre – with fare such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon – the Bond series was looking a little tired.

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A View to a Kill (announced as “From a View to a Kill” at the end of the Octopussy credits) commences with a pre-title sequence in Siberia.  Bond has been sent to recover the body of a dead 00-agent, and recover a microchip; which he is able to do, after fighting off some competing interests.  When the chip is analysed, it is found to hail from Zorin Industries.  Bond is sent to Ascot races to observe the owner, Max Zorin.  Zorin’s horse wins one of the races, but in a manner that trainer, and MI6 contact, Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), considers suspicious.  The horse being of such an uncontrollable temperament only adds to suspicions.  Bond meets with a private detective in Paris, who informs him that Zorin is holding a horse sale at his private estate.  Before Bond can learn more, the detective is assassinated by a mysterious figure (immediately obvious as Grace Jones – whether director John Glen meant to reveal this or not).

Bond and Tibbett attend the horse sale, and learn that the horses are being affected by an adrenaline-releasing device implanted under their skin, which is released by a microchip, controlled by the jockey.  Bond also meets a mysterious lady we learn to be Stacey Sutton.  Learning that Bond is a British agent, Zorin has Tibbett killed, with Bond escaping the attempt on his life – unbeknownst to Zorin.  We learn that Max had been in the employ of the KGB until going rogue, and that he is planning to destroy California’s Silicon Valley in order to gain a monopoly over the microchip industry.  After a conversation with a contact in which Bond learns that Max Zorin is the result of post-war genetic testing which has left him a psychologically unstable genius, Bond is able to re-connect with Stacey.  Sutton’s involvement is in Zorin attempting to purchase her father’s oil business (this man’s business interest are remarkably diverse).  Sutton’s training as a geologist will come into play later in the film, as she is able to note the rise in seismic activity in Silicon Valley, as Zorin places mines along the San Andreas fault to cause the required destruction (by way of resultant flooding).  Alerted to their presence, our villain tries to prevent Bond and Sutton stopping him from triggering a natural disaster, while May Day has to consider which side she is on.

Now, there is one big problem with Max Zorin’s plan: it’s utter nonsense.  Microchips are not manufactured in Silicon Valley: they are purchased by companies based there.  To destroy the area is not to take out the competition; rather, he would simply kill his customers.  It is also notable how similar the plot is to Goldfinger, another factor that adds to the feeling that these mid-80s Bond entries are simply spinning their wheels, and failing even to attempt anything new.  In Goldfinger, the villain attempts to boost the value of his stock by taking out rival sources – in that case irradiation: here the villain is doing the same thing – boosting the value by ensuring the supply on the market is reduced dramatically (if we ignore the problem with that plot just outlined).  In the 1964 film, Auric Goldfinger has a team of investors to whom he explains the full plan, then when one investor demurs, kills him under the pretence of excluding him from the meeting for reasons of confidentiality.  Again, the same thing happens here, simply on an airship rather than at a stud farm.  Finally, in both films it is the conscience of the villain’s consort that tips the balance in favour of Bond.

A View to a Kill features the penultimate score produced by John Barry.  It is one of the better aspects of the production, with a genuinely lush sound, complemented by an instantly recognisable theme in the action sequences.  Duran Duran produced the theme song, which stands out as one of the few artistically courageous decisions in what is a very safe film.  Bond fans had been conditioned, over recent entries, to expect a female vocalist, providing a ballad.  By Octopussy, this had become lazy to the point of torpor.  Where Carly Simon had provided such a memorable classic for The Spy Who Loved Me with ‘Nobody Does it Better’, by 1983, in the hands of Rita Coolidge, we were getting increasingly bland approximations.  As such, something more upbeat was welcome.

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Sadly though, this was undermined by possibly the laziest titles in the series.  A vaguely coherent theme of fire and ice can’t disguise that, by now, Maurice Binder was on autopilot with the visuals he was providing to go with the song.  From his peak – probably 1977 – where, classily, he disguised nudity with a mixture of timing and careful lighting, he had now reached the stage of just throwing a bit of ribbon over the dancers’ breasts.  Though never given the largest budget with which to complete these things, Binder’s efforts here just look tired, and play to the wider feeling that this series desperately requires an input of fresh blood and new ideas.

This extends to the leading man.  Despite personal tastes, Roger Moore had defined James Bond for a generation, and he had proven that there was a different take to be had than the more primal Sean Connery interpretation.  As we’ll see when we get to Pierce Brosnan, Moore and Connery remain the two iconic interpretations the distance between which each subsequent Bond will be measured.  He is simply years too old here though.  Despite looking better than in Octopussy, he now needs stunt-doubling for almost everything.  There are scenes on the Eiffel Tower where it is obvious it is not him – and inexplicable, in many shots, that it isn’t.  Instead of ageing the character, as wisely happened with Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again, Moore’s Bond is still sleeping with women in their twenties.  In fact, they doubled-down by giving him more women to bed in this film than any other in his run: a hideous mis-reading of his appeal and status by this point.

Change could not come soon enough.  John Glen had done a terrific job in his three entries, but was hampered, increasingly, by the age of the leading man, and the tone on which that lead insisted.  Next time out he would finally get a new Bond to work with.  After an early flirtation with Pierce Brosnan (more on which next time), EON would turn to a man upon whom they had been keeping watch since his early-20s, as Timothy Dalton would arrive to breathe fresh life into Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

The Road to Bond 25 will return with The Living Daylights (1987).

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