A View To A Kill – BlogalongaBond #14
Dance into the fire? Too fucking right. I feel burned.
A View To A Kill
(John Glen, 1985)
The mid 1980s: the age of conspicuous excess… but not everybody is flaunting it. Old-man 007 can barely summon up energy to raise an eyebrow.
It’s taken fourteen months, but finally my wife has agreed to sit and watch a James Bond film for BlogalongaBond. Aha, I think, that’s this month’s review sorted. I can scribble down her comments and effectively get her to review the film (c’mon, I need a break: apart from that month Scaramanga and Nick-Nack guest reviewed I’ve been doing this for over a year).
Unfortunately, there were two problems with this plan. 1) She’d watched half of it on ITV last year and 2) it’s A View To A Kill. See, this is why I should have tried harder to persuade her to watch a Connery. I managed to get one tweet out of her: “I’m watching a bond movie I feel I have seen a hundred times and it’s annoying me #blogalongabond” and she promptly fell asleep. On the plus side, she remembered the hashtag.
So, somewhat grumpily, I suppose I’d better review. But since I don’t want to, I’m going to do it in a random collection of thoughts.
This is the film with the dubious honour of featuring the oldest James Bond. Roger Moore was 57 when he made this. To put things in perspective, even David Niven was younger (56) when he starred as Bond in Casino Royale. One upshot of this is that it’s nigh-on impossible to pretend that the stunt doubles look like the person they’re doubling for; the most unintentionally funny shot in the whole film occurs when Bond’s car gets smashed in half and a bloke who looks nothing like Moore sheepishly lifts his head.
The impressive stuntwork in the opening sequence got me thinking. I’d never heard of snowboarding before A View To A Kill, despite having spent the two years prior to its release on the ski slopes near my home in Seattle. Did James Bond invent snowboarding? Even Wikipedia thinks the opening sequence boosted the sport’s popularity, and Wikipedia is never wrong. No wonder Bond celebrates by clocking his first shag before the titles, which is surely a record.
The new-romance pomp of Duran Duran’s theme song, backed by near-Enter The Void levels of neon in the title sequence, surely marks that band’s artistic high-point. (Let’s gloss over their cover of Public Enemies’ 911 Is A Joke.) And suddenly it hits me: doing the Bond theme is a kiss of death to just about everybody who takes it on: McCartney, Sheena Easton, A-Ha, Garbage, Madonna, all washed-up after they’d done a Bond. Shirley Bassey became so typecast she could only get a comeback by doing another (and another) 007. Honourable exception: Tom Jones, probably because Thunderball is so shit everybody took pity on him.
Horses. Specifically, why? One of the most revealing things about BlogalongaBond is revisiting films I’ve seen dozens of times with a hyper-critical eye and I’ve suddenly realised I cannot explain why MI6 is so bothered about Zorin breeding super-fast horses. It has nothing to do with the microchip Bond finds in Siberia and, as it turns out, bugger all to do with his criminal masterplan. It is an hour of complete padding, doubly frustrating because the French sequence is the film’s most engaging.
Circa 1980, my family took me to visit the famous Cheshire cave of Wookey Hole and I cried my eyes out, apparently upsetting cave-mates Fullerton and her then husband, Simon MacCorkindale. Little did I know then that Fullerton was, in fact, A RUSSIAN SPY. (OK, fair enough, little did I know then who Fullerton even was.)
Tanya Roberts is the single worst actress to play a Bond girl, cast as the single worst character to date. Stacy Sutton is so dim she makes Denise Richards look like a nuclear physicist. What’s really noticeable is that the plot keeps her on the sidelines until the halfway point, and even then Bond can’t bear to get into bed with her. In real-life, this is apparently because Roger Moore was mortified at the age gap, but I like to think it’s simply that he has standards.
Until Tanya’s arrival, Patrick Macnee is the film’s Bond girl, and he does a much better job even if he doesn’t get to wear any kinky boots (Grace Jones had nicked them all). It’s nice to see Bond doffing its cap to the gentleman spy of The Avengers, partly because the 007 films cast his co-stars Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg as Bond girls and partly because, at the time, Moore was playing on ITV as The Saint.
I’ve written at length over the past year on the Bond movies’ ability to tap into cultural or socio-political trends, largely because the producers’ awareness of what was going on in the world allowed them to pretend that Bond continued to be relevant. Nowhere is this obsession more desperate than in A View To A Kill’s plotline revolving around Zorin’s attempts to flood Silicon Valley so he can control the world’s production of microchips. Who cares? Yes, computers were trendy in the 1980s, and are omnipresent today, so well done for capturing the Zeitgeist. But when it comes down to it, it’s just not sexy enough for a Bond movie. When Goldfinger tried to do more or less the same plot, it was about gold. Much more exciting. Hell, even the Minister of Defence doesn’t seem to give a shit about integrated circuits, which sparks one of the great what ifs in Bond. The threat 007 briefs the Minister on is a much better, relevant plot than the reheated Connery leftovers we get here.
It has to be said; this is lacklustre. Never mind the fact that the over-the-hill star is phoning it in, by now it’s obvious that John Glen can’t hack it. An editor promoted above his station, he’s unable to generate any excitement on this third outing as director despite the absolute gift of casting Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as the villains. Walken’s presence alone gives this film its weirdly off-kilter quality; he plays Zorin as a psychopathic child who enjoys rigging booby traps into steeplechase courses and mowing down minions with a machine gun. Better still, apparently Zorin can speak five language without an accent, which is weird because Walken can’t even speak English without one. Add Jones’ scowling diva May Day to the mix and this should be a cast-iron camp classic, but Glen fatally treats the material as high drama. Even the token “clueless American cop” behaves like he’s in a David Mamet play.
Final thought: this is the most honest of Bond titles, because watching this really does lead encourage thoughts of homicide.