Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Definitive Bond Marathon: A View to a Kill (1985)

(directed by John Glen)
The ever growing popularity and importance of computers and electronics in people’s daily lives, whether at home or at work, meant the lucrative potential for such an industry had increased exponentially in a very short period of time. Some entrepreneurs had ‘made it big’ as the saying goes, while others were desperate to reach similar status. Enter Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) of Zorin Industries, whose company ensign was printed on a perfect replicate of a British made microchip found by 007 (Roger Moore) while on a mission in Siberia. Evidently troubled by news of the Soviets meddling in British technology and convinced that Max Zorin was not as clean a business man as previously thought, 007 is sent to Chantilly France where Zorin is auctioning off some of his finest horses.

It was at the stunningly beautiful estate that Bond made the acquaintance of Stacy Sutton (Tanya Roberts) who at the time appeared to be a business partner of Zorin’s. 007 also got up close and personal with Zorin’s right hand woman, May Day (Grace Jones) a woman as exotic as she was powerful. The clues finally led Bond to San Francisco, California, where Zorin has concocted a plan to destroy the famous Silicon Valley, source of most of the world’s microchips. He was supremely intent on being the sole supplier of microchip for the entire world, and at any necessary costs.

Oh dear, where does one begin when writing about A View to a Kill? How does one broach the subject of the franchises’ most miscalculated, ill-planned, devastating entry? That is correct, two lines into the review and we’re already bringing some uppercuts to the fight. Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, Golden Gun, Die Another Day...they all have significant, borderline embarrassing weaknesses which put them behind the pack, but A View to a Kill takes the cake and eats it too. Consider the following:
Pre-credit sequence. Snowy Siberia. Bond, played mostly by a stunt double for reasons that become obvious only minutes later, finds the body of a deceased 003, retrieves a much-coveted microchip and flees from Soviet soldiers on skis in a chase which is fine I guess, although nothing spectacular. All of a sudden, 007 crashes and his skis shatter. Left lying next to pieces of a skidoo truck, Bond opts to use a flat piece to now snowboard down the hill. Again, nothing major to complain about. Snowboarding was gaining popularity in the mid 80s even though it hadn’t become really mainstream at that point, so why not give it a bit of a lift. It’s a bit surprising that 007 would know how to snowboard, but whatever. For the filmmakers, that is not enough. It has to be more zany, more tongue in cheek, so they decide to have the Beach Boys’ California Girls play on the soundtrack. What!?! The scene instantly morphs into a bad comedy. Why that song anyway? What the heck does snowboarding in Siberia have to do with girls in California? It makes no sense and quite simply, destroys the tone of the sequence. Bond eventually escapes his pursuers and finds refuge in a mini British submarine disguised as an iceberg. It comes off as pretty cheesy and yet its cheesiness pales in comparison to what we just witnessed so we almost accept it. And then the grand finale of this joke of a pre-credit sequence. Bond removes his ski goggles and mask, thus revealing a very, very aged Roger Moore. A View to a Kill is not of the films I return to often, but on the rare occasions that I do, I am always taken surprise by how Moore looks. Heading into the film I know perfectly well that he was too old, I tell myself that because I have seen the movie before. I know it as a fact. And yet I go ‘whoa!’ every single time as if I needed reminding that he was that old. This is a 1985 film, meaning only two years removed from 1983’s Octopussy, yet judging solely from Moore’s look, one could be forgiven for thinking A View to a Kill was filmed in 1993.

Discussing A View to a Kill is like trying to analyse a soccer game, as an Arsenal fan, when we go to Manchester United and lose 8-2. Where are the foundations of anything in this movie? Why must the plot take us to a racehorse event and then to Zorin’s stable in France for 20 minutes? What in heaven’s name does any of that have to do with Max Zorin’s plan to annihilate Sillicon Valley? Just so 007 and learn one of the many ways in which Zorin and his crew make use of the microchip (for the record, it has to do with feeding his horses steroids, only to activate them via microchip technology in the final leg of a race)? Why?!? The only two positive aspects of that entire sequence are some of the lines Roger Moore gets to lay onto former Avenger Patrick Macnee who pretends to be Bond’s valet, and Alison Doody’s sexy legs. The little joke about Moneypenny betting on the wrong horse and Bond betting on the right horse? Pathetic. Oh, and what about that stupid interlude sequence in Paris when May Day murders a French officer of the Deuxième Bureau by launching a fake, poison-induced butterfly into his face while he and Bond enjoy a live show with a woman singing around butterflies? The acting is so atrocious in that scene it is incredible and that death terribly uninventive. So much of the script is useless. There is literally no point in having a Soviet connection for Max Zorin other than to insert a little General Gogol (Walter Gotoll), even less of a purpose in revealing that Zorin is in fact a genetically engineered experiment gone awry. Seriously, other than to have that pointless cameo, why is there a connection between Zorin and the KGB? He cuts his ties in the first half hour! What was the point?!? Goodness gracious, Bond spending the night in Stacy Sutton’s San Francisco home and cooking for her, putting her to bed, sleeping on the chair in her room with the rock salt gun like a protective father figure...this is a terrible joke. 

Speaking of bad acting, let us not forget to mention Grace Jones and Tanya Roberts. What are they doing in this movie? Not only are there performances terrible but their respective characters are not even used in interesting ways. By having May Day experience a change of heart late in the picture, are the filmmakers hoping to bring up some Goldfinger nostalgia (Pussy Galore changes colours in that film)? Well, they succeed in producing that because I wanted to watch Goldfinger again since it’s clearly a better movie. And Stacy Sutton giving hints that she is in cahoots in some way with Zorin. Give me a break. I apologize in advance for using stereotypes to support my argument, but does anyone think for a second that the blond, blue eyes, beautiful American women is going to be the villain? I hardly think so. The film is just buying time is has no business purchasing in the first place.  But let us return to the topic of the acting. Grace Jones, my goodness, what have you gotten yourself into now? Physicality alone does not make a compelling Bond villain or villainess. Even Richard Kiel had to play on his size and reveal an evil grin at the right moment to make his character of Jaws somewhat entertaining and engaging. Part of the problem is that the script has May Day talk a lot, in other words, deliver lines, which is not something Jones is very adept at. She is remarkably stiff and unconvincing. Christopher Walken, one of my all time favourite actors, ironically enough, gives one of his few terrible performances in my all time favourite franchise. I have read some praise about his performance and how he is one of the lone bright spots in the movie, but I don’t see it. He comes across in the same way Tanya Roberts does in her own role in that Walken is trying to play at something, in this case the lead villain. He is little bit all over the map, with his maniacal laugh proving to be just as fake as his hair colour, and it violent outbursts utterly gratuitous, as if the filmmakers had run out of ideas to prove that he is a terrible bloke and decided to essentially go for the lowest common denominator. He doesn’t even seem that interested in the role, giving a rather aloof performance in certain moments. If that was by design by the nature of his character, then the character is boring. If was Walken because he was genuinely bored, they should have hired someone else. Interestingly enough, the role could have gone to either David Bowie or Sting.

Which brings us to the man who is, unfortunately, at the center of it all: Roger Moore. At this point, the age factor has gone well past the point of believability. How the filmmakers could not come to this conclusion if anyone’s guess. They could not have been that stupid and I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably did feel that this would look silly, but recognized that he was still a sure bet at the box office due to recognisability, and therefore went ahead with this foolish plan anyhow. It’s a Bond film, so obviously it made money, but few felt that Roger Moore was convincing in the role. He seems to be playing the part especially light in this picture, which is arguably quite logical and simultaneously part of the problem. He’s a 56 year old super spy who is not in very good shape (Moore, not Bond), of course that will never be taken seriously, so play it for laughs for the most part. It just doesn’t feel right even if it is the best move they could have made. With a tiny bit of effort, anyone can seek out the interviews and snippets of interviews in which Roger Moore himself admits that when he saw the finished product, it was a bit embarrassing. Just for kicks I listened to a few minutes of the Moore commentary track on the DVD and he even says that at that point he didn’t go to the dailies, something he had always done in the past, because he was too tired. Jesus. How much more obvious can it get?

I guess some of the action set pieces can be given some praise. The fire truck chase in the streets of San Francisco at night is decent and rather well captured on camera (another bit of kudos to John Glen and his second unit people, they are really good at this stuff) and I do enjoy that final fight atop of the Golden Gate bridge despite how ridiculous it is. Suspenseful, well edited and packed with intensity, it makes a genuinely solid scene, but by then it is evidently too little too late. A View to a Kill really is a case where the action is the only good thing about a Bond movie.

Goodbye Roger Moore.



Dan said...

You're definitely right about this one. It might be the worst Bond film, though others like Diamonds are Forever are right with it. Moore is too old, Roberts is awful, and Walken is wasted. What a mess! Nice job with the review.

thevoid99 said...

There's some moments in the film that were decent but it wasn't a great film.

What I heard about why David Bowie turned down the film was because he didn't want to spend all of his time on set watching someone do all the stunts for him.

I love the theme song by Duran Duran but that's about it.

edgarchaput said...

@Dan: It's immediately apparent that Moore was suddenly in one Bond film too many. While he doesn't look especially young in Octopussy, he doesn't look nearly as aged as he does this time, which what I always find so shocking whenever I watch the movie.

As for Christopher Walken, I mean, what a great idea to have that actor play a Bond villain...and what terrible results.

@thevoid: I agree that the song is catchy, although I think the title sequence that goes along with is pretty boring. I read up on the David Bowie involvement. It's not a bad reason to turn down the role, but you figure that nobody, least of all his agent, would want Bowie to get seriously injured while performing a stunt. Of course, this movie is so poor one wonders if Bowie's involvement could have possibly lifted it. Walken's didn't and I love that guy.