Friday, January 16, 2015

A View To A Kill - 1985

Background: there was very much a steady as she goes feel about this. They did have to cast a new villain of course, but everything else seemed to indicate that Eon were content to preserve the status quo for A View To A Kill, and retained their regular cast and crew. 

Keen watchers of the credits would have noticed that James Bond was promised to return in From A View To A Kill at the end of Octopussy, yet the next film was very definitely called A View To A Kill, without the From at the front of it. The title From A View To A Kill was an Ian Fleming Bond short story, and it was felt it was a little unwieldy as a film title, so they dropped the From. Although it's a Fleming work that they named it after the screen play is entirely original. It was again written by Michael G. Wilson (who also gets equal credit with his stepfather Cubby Broccoli as a producer) and Richard Maibaum.

Pre publicity stills and trailers showed the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, indicating that both the cities of Paris and San Francisco would be featured in the film. The theme song was performed and written by Duran Duran and they shot their own film clip for it, which whetted audience appetites and kept it in the forefront of their minds. The celebrity casting of model/actress/singer and professional celebrity Grace Jones didn't hurt, either.

Story: A View To A Kill brings Bond into the computer age with it's plot chiefly concerning silicon chips. 

Most of it is about Bond's battle with industrialist Max Zorin, who wants to control the worldwide microchip industry and plans to flood silicon valley, making him the source of most the items. It's very Goldfinger, although Zorin has very little else in common with the overweight modern day Midas.

Zorin himself is a genetic freak, who seems to have been largely created as the subject of genetic experimentation by a former Nazi scientist, who has been bankrolled by the Russians for years and now continues his research with the backing of his creation. To a certain extent Zorin is also a rather Frankensteinish creature, and subject to bouts of psychosis. His psychotic nature comes to the fore when he's happily gunning down mine employees and double crossing his bodyguard and lover May Day, because she had the bad fortune to be trapped in his mine when he decided to blow it up. He also had a novel way of handling those who dissented with him, Largo and Stromberg used sharks, Blofeld favoured electrocution or flesh eating piranhas, Goldfinger had people crushed into cars, Zorin likes to drop them out of his dirigible.

As a spy story the first part of it when Bond is investigating Zorin's extraordinarily successful racehorse business in conjunction with Sir Godfrey Tibbett another colourful racing identity is quite absorbing and only seems loosely connected with the second part of the story in that it involves microchips, is quite absorbing as is when Bond is chasing May Day down the Seine. This may be because they don't involve the heroin Stacey Sutton, it's not that she's badly acted, but poorly written. To be honest she's not even necessary as a character. The movie wouldn't suffer if she weren't in it, in fact it may even be improved.

The second part of the story takes place mostly in San Francisco, where Bond tries to bring Zorin to justice with the help of local CIA contact, the Chinese American agent Chuck Lee and Stacey herself, a geologist, although her study of seismic activity indicates that she really should be a categorised as a seismologist. Chuck's presence was interesting. Generally when Bond investigates anything on or near the USA, Felix Leiter is his go to guy. Having Chuck, a Chinese American, do the job in San Francisco does make sense, it just seemed odd that they didn't take the opportunity to use Felix. Felix only appears in one Roger Moore Bond film: Live and Let Die.

The final confrontation on The Golden Gate Bridge is quite well done, although the use of some dodgy green screen effects indicate that as they often do the films had over reached what could be successfully done on screen. I found it interesting that Bond takes on Zorin on top of the bridge, and then Zorin's dirigible blows up, yet he and Stacey get away unseen and are presumed dead, until Q uses his remote control surveillance unit to track them down in Stacey's shower.


Director: I don't think anyone else was even considered, it just seemed a given that John Glen would direct, and given how out of control Octopussy was that's an odd choice. There's some excellent action scenes in this and some lovely locations, Zorin's estate in France springs to mind. They had all sorts of issues trying to film the base jump off the Eiffel Tower, largely caused by the Paris authorities not wanting to start a trend and some of the guys in B.J Worth's aerial crew being a little too keen on filming the stunt, and getting permission to film in San Francisco, which Moore claims was helped by the person granting the permission being one of those rare people who preferred him to Sean Connery in the role of Bond.

James Bond: despite the reservations about his age, no one other than Roger Moore seems to have ever been considered this time around. Oddly enough I thought he looked a little younger for most of the time than he had in Octopussy, so he either had some work done or they had better make up artists, however he is still pretty wrinkly. He found out that co-star Tanya Roberts' mother was actually younger than him and suitably horrified. He announced his retirement from the role at the end of the year the film was released.

Max Zorin: David Bowie was approached to play Zorin, and he would have been an interesting choice, the differently coloured eyes were certainly a good oddity and could have been explained by his origins. Bowie turned it down, saying he didn't fancy spending time watching his stunt double do things. Another musician with acting aspirations; Sting, was also considered. While I can see the value of celebrity casting I think the right decision was made when they cast Christopher Walken. Walken was a genuine actor and with an Academy Award under his belt for The Deer Hunter, the most highly decorated actor in a Bond film. Walken has made a career of playing scary psychopaths and that's what Zorin is. Probably the most compelling Bond villain since Christopher Lee's Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun more than a decade earlier.

May Day: Grace Jones had quite a profile when she was cast and was well known as a model and singer, as well as a professional celebrity for her striking appearance and experimentation. The role was one of her early forays into acting and she makes a great double with Zorin. May is Zorin's lover, she shares a night of passion with Bond, and there are indications that she's also bisexual. I'm convinced she was having a romantic affair with another of Zorin's minions Jenny Flex. The name is vintage Fleming, and the character is probably one of the best written, multi layered henchperson they've ever had. Her sacrifice at the end was really how they should have ended Jaws' storyline in Moonraker.

Peripheral roles: the regulars in Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Geoffrey Keen and Walter Gotell all came back in their roles as Moneypenny, Q, M, Frederick Gray and General Gogol. They'd dispensed with the services of Penelope Smallbone as Moneypenny no longer had an assistant and I think Lois Maxwell may have been told it was her last appearance in the role. In the races scene the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' springs to mind. Q's role was also downgraded a little, he only appears briefly at the start and the end. They seem to always feature M with Gray. I wonder if the Minister has an office anywhere other than MI6. Gogol is Zorin's former handler and actually presents an award from the Soviet Union to Bond before Q tracks him down in Stacey's ensuite bathroom. Apparently Maud Adams is also in a crowd scene as she was in San Francisco when they filmed, technically this gives her a record 3rd appearance.

Sir Godfrey Tibbett: another odd bit of casting, but a welcome one. Generally this sort of role is played by a character actor without much profile. This time former Avenger (bringing the total of Avengers in the films to 4 if you include Joanna Lumley) Patrick Macnee adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Chuck Lee: David Yip was this on the ball CIA agent, although I did find myself wondering where Felix was.

Jenny Flex: I wouldn't ordinarily include a role this small, but Jenny was played by Alison Doody who would later go on to play the female lead in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A View To A Kill was her film debut.

Pola Ivanova: a beautiful Russian agent who Gogol sends to spy on Bond in San Francisco, she was played by British actress/singer/celebrity Fiona Fullerton, and really seems to exist so that Bond can sleep with more women than just Stacey.

Stacey Sutton: unlike many Bond girls, actress Tanya Roberts already had a profile. She had played Julie Rogers in the final season of Charlie's Angels, and she had been in Beastmaster, Hearts and Armour and played the title role in Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, admittedly the last one of those was a critical and commercial disaster. However given that background you'd think the character of Stacey Sutton could at least handle herself physically. She unfortunately is written as a very silly, fluffy, helpless character, who hinders James more than she helps him and spends a lot of her time on screen screaming 'Save me, James!' If they'd done away with the character no one would have noticed. By making her a geologist they seemed to think this made her a strong female character, it doesn't.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: Tanya Roberts is the typical cursed Bond girl. She had a relatively high profile, if generally unsuccessful career, prior to being cast as Stacey. She dropped off the radar for a long time afterwards, popping up again as trophy wife Midge Pinciotti in the sitcom That 70's Show. She dropped out of the show to look after her terminally ill husband and he passed away in 2006, so for Tanya Roberts the role of Bond girl may have really been cursed.

Pre credit sequence: as they go it was relatively forgettable. I had to work hard to recall it clearly. It ties into the film's plot with Bond in the frozen wastes of Siberia retrieving a microchip from the body of 003. There's another ski chase, prompting my wife to make the observation that the franchise seems to love their snow scenes. Bond uses the ski of a snowmobile as a snowboard and it's one of the first instances of a snowboard being filmed in this way. The stunt is spoiled by the decision to play California Girls over it for laughs. From memory it did get a half laugh, half groan at the cinema, but it ruins the tension. Bond then jumps into an iceberg which is really a disguised British submarine and gives the impression that the mission was as much to get some beluga caviar and chilled vodka as it was to get the microchip, puts the sub on auto pilot and snuggles down with his very attractive pilot.

Gadgets: given that this was about computers they play a large part in the gadgetry. Zorin has developed a revolutionary microchip and that's what starts the whole thing off. The iceberg sub, probably developed by Q, is another one and given how luxurious it was inside I think Bond had something to do with it's decoration. I really didn't like the microdog that Q uses as a surveillance tool. I found it rather creepy, it was also far too like K-9 from Doctor Who, and he's always been one of my least favourite parts of the show. The big finder hidden in an electric razor was rather nifty and showed how far they'd come from Dr. No when Bond was forced to use rather less sophisticated methods. The anti glare sunglasses were horrible and I don't know Bond thought even he could carry them off, such a shame that polarised lenses were not available. I did like the ring camera and it could have come in handy during Moonraker when he had to use a mini camera to film some documents. Even though Q doesn't appear a lot his tech is certainly prominent.

Music: had either David Bowie or Sting accepted the role of Zorin it's a fair bet to say that either of these artists probably would have performed the title song. Apparently Duran Duran doing it came about by bassist John Taylor approaching Cubby Broccoli at a party and both cheekily and drunkenly asking when they were going to get someone 'decent' to do one of their theme songs. With the exception of Paul McCartney and Wings, Duran Duran were probably one of the highest profile acts to do a song. Like the former Beatle, they also wrote the lyrics, although John Barry supplied the music. They also filmed a film clip for it. They couldn't get film footage, so did their own mini film at the Eiffel Tower. At the end the band's lead singer introduces himself as: 'Le Bon, Simon Le Bon.'
The song was a commercial success, becoming the only Bond theme to reach No 1 in the US and also attained No 2 on the UK charts. I think it also helped with the film's box office. I still rate For Your Eyes Only above it, but it is top 5.

James Bond will return in ? For the first time since Dr. No Eon don't seem to know what Bond adventure they're going to film next. A View To A Kill was the end of an era.

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