Saturday, August 3, 2013

A View to a Kill [1985]

When last this blog convened, we were assessing 1983's Never Say Never Again, which gets my vote as being THE all-time worst James Bond film.  It takes place outside the main series, however, since it was made by a rival production company, so in some ways it doesn't count.

As for the ones that do count, i.e. the series produced by the Broccoli family, one of the titles that is perpetually seen as being a potential candidate for the dubious title of Worst Bond Ever is our subject for today: 1985's A View to a Kill.

I'll dispel some of the tension right up front, though, and admit that while I don't think it's a particularly good movie, it's nowhere near the bottom of the pile.  No, sir; not as long as Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me are in the world, not to mention a few of the flicks we still have on our to-discuss list.  Admittedly, some of this is personal bias on my part.  (What here isn't?)  But I'm okay with that, and you should be, too.

So, let's dive in and find out what, exactly, my personal biases consist of when it comes to this delightful turkey of a film.

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

When the movie came out on May 24, 1985, I was about two months away from turning eleven years old.  I remember my parents taking me to see the movie when it came out.  School was out for the summer; my cousin and his family went to the movie with us.  We all went back to my house after the movie, and the grownups made homemade ice cream on the patio while us kids ran around in the back yard, pretending we were 007.

It's a nice memory.  I come back to it every so often, and it seems to live in my brain in a way that things I did literally yesterday do not.  Nothing special about that; that's everybody's life to some degree, or so I imagine.  But it does make me wonder if I would, without that memory, be as kind to A View to a Kill as I'm likely to be during this review.

Here's where I come down on the issue: I think that, yes, I would be.  I've got similarly fond memories for certain other Bond movies I don't like very much, so why -- if my opinions are taintable to that degree -- do I not make similar allowances for, say, You Only Live Twice?  It'd probably take a psychologist with the mental equivalent of a hammer and chisel -- if not a sledgehammer -- to answer that question fully, so if one happens to be reading this and feels like making me (and my tolerance/intolerance for the Bond series) a case study, get in touch and we'll hammer out the details.

Otherwise, I'll boil it down simply: I'm still entertained by A View to a Kill, whereas I am not by You Only Live Twice.  The latter has its merits, but is also hampered somewhat by a bored performance from Sean Connery.  Now, he is still '60s Sean Connery, so it's still an interesting screen presence regardless of his seeming indifference toward the role; but that indifference takes me out of the movie at various key moments.

Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, on the other hand, still seems engaged by what he's doing.  He's having fun here, just as he did in Octopussy two years earlier, and while I don't think he's got as much good material to play, I think he does well with what he has.

I've harped on Moore's advancing age for -- what? -- the last three or so reviews of his Bond films, and I imagine that some of you are tired of reading it.  We won't rehash it much here, except to emphasize that Moore himself had been aware for half a decade or more, and had tried to give the role up to a younger man.  But his 007 was extremely popular, and there were just as many people who'd have been happy to see him play Bond for another movie or two as there were people who wished he hung the tux and the Walther up two films previously.  The seriousness -- and the serious success -- of Daniel Craig's take on the character has obscured this fact for most of the people who didn't live through the era, but it's important to remember: lots of people loved Moore in the role.

Lots of people still do, including yours truly.  So, yes, obviously, the age was an issue, and watching A View to a Kill in 2013, during an era of decidedly different James Bond films, brings the fact home.  But so what?  Fuck's sake, it was a different era!  In many, many ways.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Quite the opposite, in fact; one of the ongoing charms the Bond series hold for me is that when you sit down and watch the whole thing front-to-back, you are literally taking an expedited spin through a half a century of history.  It changes, it stays the same, it changes some more, and it points both backward and forward simultaneously.

A big part of that is that in 1985, a ten-year-old boy could go see a movie in which a 57-year-old man dangled from a zeppelin over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then cavort around the backyard in the early summer pretending that he, too, was badass enough to do the things that James Bond did.  I didn't care then that he was old enough to be my grandfather, and if I didn't care then, I don't know why I should care all that much three decades later.

I've said little specifically about Moore's performance here, but there are two elements of it that I do want to point out, the first being the excellent chemistry he has with Patrick Macnee.

The two had worked together before (including 1976's Sherlock Holmes in New York, in which Moore plays Holmes and Macnee Watson), so undoubtedly that familiarity plays into their chemistry here.  I still laugh every time at the moment in which Macnee's Tibbett is laden down with an astonishing number of suitcases, and Moore's Bond offers to help...only to pluck a mere umbrella from the top of the pile.  I watched the movie four times in preparation for this review, and I laughed all four times when that moment came around.  Moore might not be the only person in history who could have played it, but of all the Bonds, he is clearly the best-suited to pull it off that well.

I also like the way Moore plays Bond's relationship with Stacy.  It has, I think, a fairly clear arc that runs throughout the movie.  At their initial meeting -- pictured above -- Bond obviously intends to try to use his dick to get to the bottom of things, the way he always does.  Stacy shoots him down flat.  Later, after he has saved her from some of Zorin's goons at her house, she -- exhausted -- passes out on top of the covers in bed.  After the fracas, he's cooked her dinner and shared two bottles of wine, and he's clearly anticipating a bit of nooky.  He sees that she's opted instead to drift off to slumberland, and pulls the covers up over her.  When he wakes the next morning, it is thus:

From this point on, his attitude toward Stacy is the attitude of a man who knows he ain't gettin' in them drawers; he accepts it, but with the occasional moment of poutiness, such as the one he gives when studiously trying not to look at her ass while it rests on top of a bunch of explosives.  The subtext, for me, is that of a man who is slowly coming to the (forced) realization that he's no longer the cocksman he once was.  He seems a little bummed out, a little disgusted with himself, and a little offended, all at once.

Did Moore layer his performance with all of this purposefully, or am I reading things into the movie that are not there?  It's a good question; neither answer would surprise me.

Either way, the movie drops the ball a bit by having Stacy throw Bond a sympathy fuck at the end of the movie.  Although I suppose if you got saved by a badass grandpa-type who literally swung from a zeppelin to keep you alive, you might be inclined to reward him with coitus, too.

Points awarded: 004/007.  Moore's age is still a major factor, but he's having so much fun here that it compensates somewhat for his seniordom.


Main Villain:  When he landed the role of Max Zorin, Christopher Walken was certainly not a nobody.  He'd won an Oscar for The Deer Hunter a few years previously, and his film role prior to playing a Bond baddie was the lead in The Dead Zone, a well-regarded (though low-grossing) suspense film based on a Stephen King bestseller.  People may not have seen that movie, but they a lot of them would have seen the commercials for it, or at least would have seen the posters.  They might not have known who Christopher Walken was, but they'd at least have had a sense that he was somebody.

Three decades later, he's a fairly iconic screen presence.  Granted, he typically gets lumped into the same category William Shatner shows up in, i.e., walking parody of himself.  But, like Shatner, he does it incredibly well; and, unlike Shatner, he's been able to toss in the occasional genius bit of dramatic acting in classic or near-classic films like Pulp Fiction or Catch Me If You Can to keep people on their toes.

In some ways, that screen image began with Max Zorin in A View to a Kill.  Walken plays the part to near-perfection, and is arguably the single best thing about the movie apart from the theme song.  It is a thoroughly insane performance, full of dead-eyed stares that erupt into Joker-esque grins.  It is easily lampoonable, but let's remember something: by 1985, the Bond films overall had been easily lampoonable for nearly two decades, and were only taking themselves seriously on special occasions.  So to say that Walken turned in a performance that had a knowing wink of self-mockery to it is hardly an insult.  Yeah, of course he did that!  If the option was bland villainy of the sort displayed in, say, For Your Eyes Only, why wouldn't he?

Either way, what's important is not that Walken took his performance over the top, but that he did so in a manner that was simultaneously recognizable within the series of films in which he was appearing AND was completely different from what any of the other actors to play the Bond villains had done up to that point.  Other Bond-villain actors had, for better or for worse, chewed the scenery: Gert Frobe, Charles Gray, Yaphet Kotto, even Klaus Maria Brandauer.  Of all of them, the only one whose approach Walken seemed perhaps to be echoing was Brandauer, who had done a very odd crazy-man-hiding-out-in-a-sane-man's-body schtick in Never Say Never Again.  It worked against the movie.

Knowingly or not, Walken took that approach and ran with it, but in a way that was just serious enough for people to not feel as if he was making fun of the whole enterprise.  Yet it was also loose enough that you could feel -- even if you couldn't see -- the wink being tossed toward the audience.  It is a great performance, and if there had been anything in the screenplay for Max to do that even remotely capitalized on how good Walken was, then he might have been received as rapturously as Javier Bardem's villain in Skyfall (who visually echoes Zorin) was.

That, sadly, was not the case.  The screenplay basically gives Zorin two attributes: he is French; he is a psychopath.  (Walken's approach was to ignore the first -- Zorin sounds approximately as French as Tony Soprano sounds -- and run with the second.)  He has virtually no good dialogue.  The character doesn't get to do anything particularly cool, or intimidating.  He mostly just reacts to things, in a way similar to what Gray does as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever.  But unlike Gray, Walken commands the screen; he may be merely reacting, but his reactions are interesting.

Example: at the end of the big climactic fight, when Bond finally gets the upper hand and Zorin falls off the Golden Gate.  Just before he goes over, as he is trying to somehow hold on to the superstructure, he begins laughing.

I feel certain that I could write an entire post strictly about this scene, but, in a constant effort to undermine myself, I'm going to not do that.  In this instance, I'm going to just let it slip away, much like Max does himself.

All I'll say before the body hits the water is this: how many other of the Bond-villain actors can you imagine playing the scene in this way?  I can think of maybe three, and all but one of them came after 1985.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  005/007.  A poorly-written role played to near-perfection.
Henchmen:  I have rarely in my life been as weirded out by a character in a movie as I was by Grace Jones in A View to a Kill.  I already knew who Grace Jones was, thanks to her appearance the year before in Conan the Destroyer.  I suspect I might have seen her in music videos and whatnot, as well.

But there was something about her as May Day that just . . . boy, I dunno.  I couldn't process May Day.  I believe the closest I could get to it was to just file it under the category of "Awful" and not think about it any further.  And there she stayed for the next twenty-plus years.

Now, I get it.

It was that I thought May Day was hot.  But, she was so far outside the boundaries of what my ten-year-old brain (or my twenty- or thirty-year-old brain) could process as being attractive that it sort of just shorted the fuses out.

Part of it, I must confess, was the racial component.  I was just a sheltered little white boy, and I had legitimate trouble dealing with the idea of kissing a black girl.  You are free to call that racist if you like; hell, it was racist, although little ole me was not malicious about it in any way.  In my review of Live and Let Die, I wrote briefly about how seeing Bond make out with Rosie Carver in that movie was a small, but essential, part of my awakening toward a more enlightened stance on race relations.  Grace Jones was a part of that, too, although whether she helped it or set it back a bit is debatable.  On the one hand, I saw James Bond getting into bed with May Day; on the other hand, May Day was a scary villain.  How was I to reconcile those things?  My solution: not to.

Another part of it -- and this might have been the larger part -- was the androgyny.  Grace Jones is a somewhat mannish woman, and seems to have enjoyed pushing that mannishness to the forefront during her modeling and music careers.  She looks like a shemale.  I didn't get that in 1985; I didn't know the world had such things as shemales in it, and if you had told me I probably wouldn't have believed you.  But in May Day, there one was, at least in terms of iconography.  My mind must have taken some sort of subconscious note of that, and gone to hide in the corner.

A third part of it: the fashion and the makeup.  I've done zero research on the matter, but I assume that Grace Jones must have been a major influence on drag queens the world over.  Because May Day looks like a drag queen, and one whose taste in fashion runs to the bizarre, at that.

So, the verdict: I was freaked out by May Day because I was attracted to her, and the racist/homophobic parts of my brain were hollering out in protest.  I barely knew what racism was, much less homophobia; but the lizard part of my brain knew, and it went to work.  Consequently, May Day was probably my least favorite Bond character of all.

Over time, though, I'd occasionally find my stance toward her softening a bit.  And when I sat down to rewatch all the movies prior to Casino Royale, something finally clicked, and I found myself thinking, "Heyyyyy...wait a second...why was I just leering at May Day's legs?"

The answer, obviously, is that circa 1985, Grace Jones had absolutely smashing legs.  Her skin is also astonishingly lovely, especially with her shirt off:

Facially, she still looks like a man, and that's a problem.  But hey, if it's good enough for James Bond, it's good enough for me, right?

Apart from all that, May Day is a solid henchwomanman character, partially because she is an echo of Zorin's own insanity.  I don't think it makes much sense that she flips that completely at the end, but it works somehow.  In a sense, Moore's Bond films are comic-book movies, and it's always fun in comic books for bad guys to turn out to be good guys who just needed a push toward the side of right.  It worked with Jaws in Moonraker, and it works with May Day here.  The part of me who likes a plot to make sense wrinkles his brow to see May Day turn on Zorin so quickly but the part of me who is still a little boy rejoices at it, and is still a little bummed out that she had to ride that bomb out and get blowed up.

All that said, I can mentally contort the plot so that this development makes sense.  In this mental version of the movie, May Day has been acting insane the entire time, see.  She's not actually insane, like Zorin is; she's just playing along, because she's in love with him and wants to impress him and make him happy.  When Zorin turns on her, though, she immediately sees that she's been on the wrong side, and determines to make up for it any way she can.  Hence, she allows herself to get blowed up.

I dunno; it works for me.

The rest of the movie's henchmen are fairly lame, though.  The creepy old Nazi doctor is good (he and Walken have good chemistry together), but nobody else makes much of an impression.  Because of that, I'm going to deduct a point.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  004/007
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  004.50/007  

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  Tanya Roberts plays Stacy Sutton, who is a geologist or something.  I guess I can live with that.  I don't hate Roberts' performance the way a lot of Bond fans seem to.  I don't think Stacy is a particularly well-written character, and -- like Christopher Walken -- Roberts is more or less left to her own devices to make something interesting of the character.  Tanya Roberts isn't Christopher Walken, so she fails; but she doesn't fail miserably, and I think that saying she gives a bad performance would be overstating things.

She was, apparently, hired on the strength of her "performance" in Beastmaster.  Let's have a look:

Yeah, I can see how that got her a Bond film.  Between Beastmaster and A View to a Kill, she also made Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and I'm going to show you a still from that, too, for reasons that ought to be obvious:

How great is that?

I never saw Sheena, nor Beastmaster, and I never even saw Charlie's Angels.  So I only know Tanya Roberts from A View to a Kill, and what I'll say about her is this: she strikes me as being the type of actress who could only ever have become a star in the 1980s.

The hair and the makeup there screams 1985, but apart from that, there's something about the way Roberts looks -- and the way she walks and talks -- that says "eighties" to me.  Each era has its own peculiarities in terms of what we, as a culture, do and don't find attractive; and I'm not saying that Roberts wasn't a beautiful woman regardless of the decade she arose in (those eyes would be gorgeous in any decade).  All I'm saying is that there is something about Roberts that tells me she could only have become a star in the 1980s.

I'm not even sure why I'm mentioning it, so let's move on.

Roberts give some flat line readings in A View to a Kill, so I see why some people have dismissed her entirely.  However, I think she also has a few moments that work well, such as her various reactions of shocked/horrified dismay during the firetruck chase scene.  I love the way she shouts "James!?!" during that scene.  She's striking a good balance between keeping the scene light and comic but also keeping at least a veneer of realism to it.
Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  003/007.  I think Roberts is better here than her reputation suggests, but the character is barely written at all, so this might actually be a case where I'm being too generous.  If so, I'll probably make up for somewhere else.
Secondary Bond Girls:  Should I count May Day?  I'm pretty sure I should, because I believe that I typically do count villainous ladies Bond beds in both categories.  I don't know that I have much additional light to shed on my feelings about May Day, though, so in lieu of trying to find something to say, I'm going to just post the following one-sheet:

I love that art. One of these days, I need to start a for-real collection of Bond posters.  Not today, though.

Moving on, the most notable of the remaining Bond girls from A View to a Kill is undoubtedly Fiona Fullerton, who plays Soviet agent Pola Ivanova.

She's pretty good, although the resolution to her subplot is pretty damn dumb.  Bond fools her into taking the wrong cassette tape with her, which is a slightly modified redux of one of the worst plot points in Diamonds Are Forever, one of the worst Bond movies.  Therefore, revisiting that ground...?  Not good.

Up until that point, though, Ivanova is kind of a cool character.  The scene was a good (and wasted) opportunity to bring back Barbara Bach's character from The Spy Who Loved Me.  I don't like that movie, or that character, but I do like a little bit of continuity every so often.

Moving on, the only other actual Bond girl is the one whose sole job appears to be to wait onboard the minisub for Bond to finish the mission and give her a good (sorry) rogering.

She's played by former Miss World Mary Stavin, who had also put in a short appearance in Octopussy.

Also appearing: Alison Doody (who later played the female lead in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) as Jenny Flex; the awesomely-named Papillon Soo as the less-awesomely-named Pan Ho; and Carole Ashby as the woman doing the butterfly routine at the Eiffel Tower.

Whether any of them count as Bond girls or not is a matter I leave up to you.

Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  003/007.  May Day has grown on me over the years, and Pola Ivanova has her moments; but the girl on the sub loses points for this subcategory, and so does the inanity of Ivanova's being outwitted with a simple cassettetape switcheroo.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  003/007.  Certainly not one of the series' highpoints, but not as bad as some people might have you believe.
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  The action and stuntwork in this movie is a bit of a mixed bag, but the best of it is, unsurprisingly, quite good.

The standout sequence, I'd argue, is probably the scene in Paris involving Bond driving a stolen car in an attempt to keep up with the skydiver who's just killed the guy in the cafe.  There's some great stunt driving here, including a sequence in which Bond drives the car across the top of a moving bus only to have the top of the car sheared off by a guardrail a moment later.

Mere seconds later, the back end of the car gets clipped off by another driver!

Yeah, yeah, I know; that would never actually work in real life.  If that bothers you, you should stop watching movies.

Another standout sequence is the ski chase in the pre-credits sequence.  There are several terrific falls (a few of which, frankly, look accidental) and some excellent business involving Bond removing a snowmobile driver from the driver's seat.  Later, Bond uses one of the snowmobile's whatever-they're-calleds as a snowboard, and he skis across some water on it.  This is awesome stuff, and director John Glen ruins it by ill-advisedly pausing John Barry's tense, excellent score and inserting a cover version of "California Girls" into the scene.

But that's not the fault of the stunt crew, so let's not hold it against them.

I also quite enjoy the fire-truck chase.  There is more good stuff throughout, including a leap from horseback to a Rolls Royce and the zeppelin stuff at the end.  However, several sequences also fall thoroughly flat, including the fight Bond and Tibbett get into with a couple of guards in the microchip crate-packing line that inexplicably lurks beneath Zorin's stables; that fight is fairly lame stuff.  So is -- to a lesser degree -- the one with the goons at Stacy's house.

Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  005/007.  Some great stuff, balanced out somewhat by some not-so-great stuff.

Editing:  As is frequently the case, I didn't particularly notice the editing, which leads to me thinking it's competent but uninspired.

Points awarded (Editing): 004/007.  I feel like I should at least fake having more to say than that, but I'm not going to.  So there!

Costumes/Makeup:  The costumes here are mostly of a rather bland and unmemorable nature.  The exceptions are that May Day has a few interesting things to wear (some of them interesting in the wrong ways, such as that awful red outfit at the racetrack).

Tanya Roberts also has entirely too much makeup on most of the time.  It was the eighties, but still.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup):  003/007

Locations:  The French chateau that doubles at Zorin's house is quite impressive:

We also pay a visit to two of the world's most iconic structures: the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, both of which I neglected to properly screencap.  There are some nice moments in Iceland at the beginning, too, with all the icebergs and whatnot.

Points awarded (Locations):  005/007.  Not a series benchmark, but solid, beautiful locations.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  004.25/007
(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  The most notable of Bond's allies here, in terms of screentime, is Patrick Macnee as Sir Godfrey Tibbett, who we've already talked about a bit.

Elsewhere, we get the final appearance of Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

David Yip plays Bond's CIA contact, who for some reason works in a fish shop; Robert Brown is back for a second time as M; and there's an annoying Frenchman who gets killed by a faux butterfly.

Not a particularly strong set of allies.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  003/007, and it would have been a lot lower if not for Macnee.

Direction:  Remember earlier, when I mentioned the use of "California Girls" during the ski chase scene?  Well, let's talk about that a bit more.  Obviously, the use of the song is a joke designed to make the audience laugh.  I don't remember whether it worked, but a lot of people are easily amused; for them, the joke doesn't need to actually be funny.  They laugh simply because they recognize that a joke has been made.  It isn't humor itself that makes them laugh, but the idea of humor.  In some ways, I envy that; life must be a big funball-pit if you walk through it laughing at things like "California Girls" popping up in A View to a Kill.  More subtle amusements are probably lost on you, though, so in all, I imagine it's a wash.

Either way, I think we can all agree that this moment in A View to a Kill is one in which all concerned are aiming squarely for the Lowest Common Denominator.  The Bond series has done that sort of thing on relatively few occasions, and it stands out like a sore thumb.  The idea, I think, is to indicate that Bond is so good at what he's doing that he's able to take a physically challenging activity like using a snowmobile whatchamacallit as a snowboard, and then -- at a moment's notice -- turn the snowboard into a surfboard.  For 007, it's all a day at the beach.  So much so that using a Beach Boys song is permissible (although here, it's a lame cover version by Gidea Park, whoever he/they are/were).

I get the joke.  But boy oh boy, it really isn't funny.

Elsewhere, John Glen does relatively capable work.  Some of it is good (the use of a carwash to mask Tibbet's murder), some of it is excellent (the use of the fluctuating pressure gauges to indicate that the Soviet agent is being chewed up by the propeller blades), some of it is flat and uninspired (the dinner scene between Bond and Stacy, which has a small amount of life thanks only to John Barry's lush score).

Points awarded (Direction): 003/007.  I'm probably being too harsh, but that "California Girls" thing really rubs me the wrong way.

Cinematography:  I failed to take much notice of the cinematography this time around, so I'm going to do much the same thing I did in the editing category, and award default points.

Points awarded (Cinematography):  004/007.  I kinda remember thinking that some of the scenes with the City Hall fire looked okay-ish.

Art Direction:  Peter Lamont's production design is perhaps not as impressive here as is typically the case on a Bond movie, but there's certainly nothing wrong with it.  I now include a screencap of the restaurant atop of the Eiffel Tower, which was, I assume, not actually atop the Eiffel Tower:

The mine set, constructed at Pinewood, was also quite effective.

Points awarded (Art Direction): 004/007.  Nothing special here, but solid.

Special Effects:  There are a number of terrific effects moments in the film, some of which might not immediately leap to mind as being effects shots:

  • the helicopter crashes in the pre-credits sequence were achieved with models, which are superb

  • the car that Bond is driving when it suddenly has its back end clipped off was, obviously, achieved practically on location -- but hey, that's still an effect, and it still looks great three decades later
  • the recreation of a section of the Golden Gate Bridge for use in having the actors and stuntpeople film the Bons/Zorin fight is quite good; so are the rear-projection moments of the actors dangling over the "real" bridge
  • Zorin's zeppelin is almost totally convincing, and to be honest, I don't know which scenes are real and which use models
  • the mine flood is solid (although admittedly weak in comparison to a similar scene in the previous year's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
  • and, finally, the scene in which the police cars are hanging from the drawbridge is pretty great (although I'm not sure if this includes any effects work or ought to be considered stuntwork instead)

that still makes me dizzy

Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007

Gadgets:  This Bond film is really quite light on gadgets, which in retrospect is a little surprising, given how comic-book-esque the plot is at times.  Bond himself doesn't use any gadgets of real note (except arguably for the sunglasses and the check-copier he uses at Zorin's estate).  May Day uses poisoned faux-butterflies, though, if you want to count that.

And then, there's Q's dopey-ass robot:

It isn't as dopey as Paulie's in Rocky IV, but it's close.

Maybe the producer's elected to...

Oh, no.

Oh, no.

Oh, God!  Look what I did!  I accidentally typed "producer's" when I meant to type "producers."  Ick!  Agh!  Oh, get it off of me!  Ewwwwwww!  Oh, jeezis, I feel like I stepped in fresh cat puke without socks on!


Okay, I'm back, and I've forgiven myself for accidentally violating one of my pet peeves.  Let's move on.

Maybe the producers elected to forgo the gadgets because they felt the whole microchip plot would satisfy the requisite amount of gadgetiness.  Computers weren't unheard of in 1985, but they were certainly more exotic then than they are now.  So yeah, maybe that's it.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  002/007.  Too harsh?  Probably.

Opening-Title Sequence:  I really like this title sequence, which begins with a chick in a snowsuit unzipping to reveal that she has "007" painted on her boobs.  I probably shouldn't like it (and that tit-reveal should probably be one of my reasons for disliking it), but I just don't have the heart.

It's tacky as hell, with big weird hairstyles and blacklights and neon paint and a chick dressed only in streamers while mock-skiing.  But it's also got a sort of narrative sense to it: it melds ski imagery with fire imagery, which serves to connect the pre-credits sequence to one of the film's big setpieces (the not-entirely-successful City Hall fire sequence, which I failed to mention several times earlier because I couldn't think of much to say about it).  It also reflects some of the lyrics of the Duran Duran song playing underneath it.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 006/007.  Maybe I shouldn't like it, but boy, I really do.

Also, I assume this is where George R.R. Martin -- whose name is suspiciously similar to the name of the man who scored Live and Let Die -- got the idea for A Song of Ice and Fire.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004/007
(6)  Mission Briefing

The screenplay and story here are fairly bad.  Michael G. Wilson, who would go on to make so many good choices as one of the series' main producers, is probably responsible for most of that, although Richard Maibaum's name is on the screenplay, too.

I'm going to resort to bulletpoints again.

  • It is tempting to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and congratulate them on being somewhat forward-thinking in terms of constructing a Bond film around the idea of microchips ruling the world.  However, movies like Wargames and (shudder) Superman III had already been to the well of putting computers onto cinema screens, and those had both come out two years previously.  TRON had come out in 1982!  So really, what happened wasn't so much that the Bond series became forward thinking as it was that the producers and writers saw and responded to a trend that was already in full swing.
  • In the scene where the French contact of Bond's is killed in the Eiffel Tower, I suspect that the only reason the murder happens with a poisoned marrionette butterfly is so that Bond can quip, "There's a fly in his soup."
  • Okay, so...May Day is the Frenchman's assassin, right?  I would think Zorin would have somebody less connectable to him perform that deed, but whatever.  I have a hard time buying that he himself would drive the getaway boat, though.  That strains credulity a bit.  (Although he's clearly learned from General Gogol, who later in the film is reduced to driving Agent Pola Ivanova around San Francisco.)
  • Speaking of Pola Ivanova, it was years and years before I understood what her hot-tub scene with Bond had to do with the rest of the movie.  So much so that I wonder whether television edits of the film might have cut out some of the sequence in which Bond tries to infiltrate the underwater pumping station.  After all, I saw the movie in a theatre, but once, when I was ten; the majority of the times I saw the movie until the advent of DVD would have been on TBS or some other such cable station, or maybe on ABC.  They've been known to cut things out, so if the scene of Ivanova's compatriot getting caught by Zorin had been excised, that would certainly explain my confusion.  My confusion is also explainable by assuming that I'm a moron, though, so take your pick.
  • Even in 1985, wouldn't City Hall in San Francisco have had more security than what it seems to have?
  • "James Stock" -- I love that.  Almost as much as I love "St. John Smythe."
  • In The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond wonders vocally why anyone would pay a million dollars to have him killed.  M quips, "Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors...the list is endless."  Which I could not help but recall when, at the end of the scene in which Bond plummets through the skylight of the boat in Paris (wrecking a newlywed couple's wedding cake in the process), he is seized by a team of cleaver-wielding chefs.  Touche!
  • I like the scene in which Zorin holds a briefing aboard his airship.  It's not as good as a similar one in Goldfinger, but it's acceptable.  In my mind, I suspect that if somebody hadn't objected and needed to "drop out" of the meeting, Zorin would have been bummed out; you just know he'd been sitting on that line for months, just because he figured May Day would get a chuckle out of it.

  • Zorin is allegedly French, but he's even less French than Jean-Luc Picard.  Hell, at least Patrick Stewart was European!
  • Why does Zorin keep a minifridge full of TNT onboard his zeppelin?
  • How do Bond and Stacy get off of the Golden Gate Bridge?  Wouldn't they be taken into custody?  If they were taken into custody, why does everyone at MI6 seem to think Bond is M.I.A.?  This does not make sense!
 Points awarded: 002/007.  Pretty dumb.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  This is one of my favorite Bond theme songs.  I know the eightiesness of it turns some people off, and I can understand why that might be the case.  But personally, I still think it kinda rocks.

I do have one question, though: what, exactly, is a "feeonix"?  Is it anything like a "phoenix"?

Points awarded (Title Song): 007/007

The Score:  I love this score's highlights, but it becomes a bit repetitive at times, which is its only real sin (apart from being the score to a somewhat substandard film).  The melody (I think it's the melody, at least) of the theme song appears in at least two excellent orchestral versions: a lush, romantic version during the scene in which Bond and Stacy and two bottles of wine have dinner; and a heroic fanfare that plays when Bond rescues Stacy from the fire at City Hall.

There's also an exciting, electric-guitar-infused secondary theme (called "He's Dangerous") that gets used at least one time too many in the course of the movie.  It's mildly reminiscent of the main theme music in On Her Majesty's Secret Service; not as good as that, but pretty good, and any time I feel like making a mix of Barry's Bond music to listen to, "He's Dangerous" typically makes the cut.

Personally, I wouldn't say that this is one of Barry's better Bond scores overall.  It brings a lot to the movie, though; watch the movie again and try to imagine how flat some scenes would be without it, and I think you'll agree.

Points awarded (The Score): 005/007, which feels about right, although I considered going a point lower.

Total points awarded (The Music):  006/007

Double-0 Rating for A View to a Kill:  003.96/007

This, then, is another of those results that surprises me a bit.  When we started the project, I'd have probably bet that A View to a Kill would end up near the bottom of the pile.  Instead, with en eye toward picking apart and examining the various elements that I've chosen for the purposes of this blog, I have no choice but to admit that the movie gets fairly close to working.  If I was being less tolerant of Moore's age, the score would have plummeted; if I wasn't as fond of Christopher Walken's performance as I am, it would have plummeted even further.

But I do like those things, and so it is that A View to a Kill ends up in the middle of the pack.  Who knew?

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
003.96 -- A View to a Kill
003.92 -- Octopussy
003.77 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.66 -- The Spy Who Loved Me
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice 
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
You Only Blog Twice will return in ... The Living Daylights.

Until then, I leave you with the by-now-standard collection of unused screencaps.  Enjoy!

That's Dolph Lundgren all out-of-focus in the background

How badass is this?  All the bad asses, that's how much.

real Golden Gate Bridge

fake Golden Gate Bridge


  1. Man, the screencaps you get for these things are so great. I'd love to buy the You Only Blog Twice coffee-table book.

    I once again have to acknowledge how perfect this Double-O rating system is. You really have broken down a perfect way to evaluate the films that preserves all levels of enjoyment while being totally fair.

    Some quick thoughts:

    - the correction Moore gives to Pan Ho (if memory serves, the lady at Zorin's gate at the beginning) re: "St. John Smythe" is eternally cool.

    - I wish they'd gotten Patrick McGoohan to play Zorin. I think you're right that Walken does an over-the-top great performance with a weakly-written role, so nothing against him. But it just would've been cool to have John Steed, Number 6, and The Saint in one film. Swinging London 60s TV overload.

    - Either this or "Live and Let Die" has to be my favorite Bond song. At the time it was a huge embarrassment to me to love a Duran Duran song this much. DD was for girls! Phhhbbbt - if it ain't Iron Maiden, don't bother me! (Oddly enough: I also loved Men at Work. And never felt the need to posture on that score. Weird.) Luckily, such hang-ups fell to one side as the years wore on.

    - Sticking with the theme song: is "feeonix" a reference to the way Simon LeBon sings "fatal kiss" or am I missing the joke altogether?

    - I laughed out loud and tipped my cap several times during the course of reading this, but at "Also, I assume this is where George R.R. Martin got the idea for A Song of Ice and Fire." most of all. Ahh, to quote Woody in Annie Hall, don't you wish life was really like this?

    - The fire truck / Bond carries girl from burning building during fire scene struck me as so egregious last time I watched this. In general, everything in this film is pretty over the top. (Let's blow up California!!)

    - re: Grace Jones. "Get Zoran for meeeeeeeeeee..." The androgyny of the 70s and 80s seems so charming to me now, where everyone has the same exact look and body. It's like Number Twelve Looks Just Like You these days. (in more ways than one, sadly.) All of which is to say, it's kind of cool that A View to a Kill bottled, as it were, a certain essence of the times.

    - Tanya Roberts as the scientist is beat only by Denise Richards as a scientist, in the years to come. But like you say, she's not as bad as one might think. (Tanya, not Denise.) Tanya Roberts seems like she's a pretty cool lady in real life, actually. (And her non-screen-name of Victoria Leigh Blum sounds like a countess or something.)

    - Yeah, that "California Girls" bit is unforgivable.

    See you next time...

  2. * I'd buy that coffee-table book, too! (What sucks is that whenever in the future I get a laptop that can play Blu-rays, I'm going to have to redo them all so that the quality is better. That won't be anytime soon, though; that'll be for You Only Blog Twice 2.0, coming probably around the time Daniel Craig's successor takes over.)

    * McGoohan being in this movie would have been genius.

    * The whole "feeonix" thing is indeed a joke. Listen to the way LeBon pronounces the word "phoenix." He adds a syllable!

    * Good call on the egregiousness of Bond carrying Stacy out of the fire. There's really no reason for her to have passed out. It's just so Bond can have a heroic moment, and John Barry is the only thing that saves it. Although editorially, I also kinda like the random drunk hobo who gets inserted into the scene to add a bit of humorous tension. (Hey, why did I not write about that in the article proper...? I could have sworn I had that in my notes.)

    * Another good call regarding the retrospective refreshing qualities of Grace Jones' androgyny. Can you imagine anything like that happening nowadays in a Bond film?

    * Tanya Jones is bad as a scientist, but as you say, Denise Richards is even worse. She's the pits, boy. Heck, at least Tanya Roberts dresses more or less professionally.

  3. This came out the year I graduated high school so I was very much aware of how hot Tanya Roberts was in this. She was very much an 80s chick and most women/girls tried to achieve that look and failed. She nailed it 100%. I wouldn't put her in the same categoty of hotness as, say, Eva Green or Jane Seymour, but she was undeniably HOT back in the day. She popped up on That 70s Show playing one of the parents next door. She didn't age particularly well. Maybe because she as an actress in the 80s, where you could have cocaine delivered to your trailer onset (I have no idea if she was into drugs, but it's certainly possible), or because she smokes like a chimney or maybe she just hit a wall. Whatever the reason, she lost her looks and it's a shame.

    It's worth noting that Roger Moore was actually a few years older than Tanya Roberts' mother! I'm not gonna get on Moore about being too old to play Bond because I really liked him in the role. But they could have gone with an actress at least a little closer to his age.

    My God, Moneypenny looks ancient in this movie. I'm pretty sure she was the same age as Moore but she looks old enough to be his mother in this. Thank God the producers didn't have any of the romantic/sexual tension between Bond and Moneypenny in this movie.

    The only quibble I have with your review is the pity fuck Stacy throws Bond at the end. Can you imagine the surprise of the fans if Bond never nailed the main Bond girl? That would have been tantamount to blasphemy! Like you said, he had just dangled from a zeppelin to save her. Hell, *I* would have fucked him after that!

    I point to this movie as the first time we see "Christopher Walken." Since then he's played a variation on this character in almost everything he's done. That's not meant as an insult; I really like the guy. His character in Pulp Fiction could have been the Max Zorin of a parallel earth. I kept waiting for him to tell a wildly inappropriate story to young Bruce Wilis about how he and his father had banged a bunch of Vietnamese hookers. All in all, he was a decent/solid Bond villain.

    Looking forward to your take on the Dalton Bonds.

    1. You make a good point about that pity fuck. I guess we did finally get a Bond movie wherein he doesn't nail the supposed main Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace." I've got a lot of fondness for that movie, but a LOT of fans don't, and I wonder if that simple -- but major -- deviation from the norm is a part of the reason why.

      You make another good point about Lois Maxwell's age. I considered bringing that up, but ultimately decided against it. I remember being a young man and being actively weirded out by how old she looked. Which, of course, is totally unfair, because she really doesn't LOOK any older than Moore. It's a complicated issue, and one that's probably worth exploring in its own post one of these days.

      Sorry if I seem a bit off. You said the magical words "Eva" and "Green" and then the other magical words "Jane" and "Seymour," so I'm feeling a bit light-headed all of a sudden...

    2. Something I forgot to mention before. Maud Adams shows up in the background in one scene. When Bond gets to the wharf to meet his CIA contact, she's walking behind them wearing a brown pantsuit and black jacket and sunglasses. Octopussy incognito, perhaps?

    3. I'll have to try to find a screencap of that. Thanks!

  4. Ugh. I hate to say it, but this post actually angers me.

    Bryant, you know I respect you as a writer/blogger/King Aficionado, but – no matter how you slice it, no matter how you break it down, no matter how you defend it – 'A View To a Kill' should NOT be halfway up your list of Bond rankings.

    I love 007 movies – have since I was a kid – and this steaming pile of dog shit belongs at the very rock bottom. The fact that you have it ranked higher than "The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'The Man With the Golden Gun' (one of my all-time favorites) seriously undermines every review you have on this (otherwise) very cool Bond site.

    Hell, I would gladly sit through 'Diamonds are Forever' a dozen times before watching this again. My main problem with the film is that in the 12 years Roger Moore played James Bond, he looks like he aged about twice that. Shoot, even in the eight years between 'Live and Let Die' and 'For Your Eyes Only' he doesn't even look like the same person. His Bond earnings must have enabled him to triple up on the booze and cigarettes because they surely took a toll. By the time he got to 'A View To a Kill' he has obviously had eyelid surgery, which makes him look perpetually surprised. One thing that James Bond would NEVER do is have a facelift. His flirtation with Ms. Roberts (who looks young enough to be his granddaughter) is just creepy.

    Anyway, I'd say we'll just have to agree to disagree, but … dude, this is heresy.

  5. I read "From A View to a Kill" on the train ride in this morning. (I've got the Bond short stories collection "Quantum of Solace" that was reissued a few years back, they of the retro-pop covers) Holy moley - not that I was exactly surprised by this, but there is literally NOTHING in it that resembles any scene from this movie. I have no idea why they even bothered calling it this. Any idea?

    The short story is pretty fun. If you (or anyone reading this) haven't read it: Bond is in Paris, musing to himself about what to drink and when to drink it and how he wants a French-girl fantasy while he's on vacation. A girl approaches, and we eavesdrop on his inner monologue as he proclaims her the perfect girl to fulfil this fantasy. But she's from HQ and he finds himself an adjunct in an investigation into the murder of a Royal Signal Corps dispatch officer. The aforementioned girl, Mary Russell, becomes his liaison.

    Naturally, he picks up on the clues his continental allies do not, busts up a Russian spy ring, and goes off, presumably, to bang Ms. Russell.

    And that's it. Like I said, great fun, but I kept trying to find a scrap of resemblance between it and the film, and nada.

    1. I have indeed read it, though it's been a long time.

      It's got about as much to do with the movie as "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Quantum of Solace," though, so it's at least not alone in that regard. I guess in those cases -- except arguably for "Solace" -- the titles were too cool to not use.

    2. Probably.

      Read "For Your Eyes Only" on the train ride back. At least that one has a lot of stuff about birds, some of which even got recalled in the film.

      Not that I mind (or am surprised) by any of that, of course, it's just funny is all.

  6. What's with the apologist attitude toward the title sequences lately? Bond is not politically correct and you are sadly deluded if you are going to watch it for a serious discourse on social commentary.

    1. Bond is certainly a bit short of being PC, true; and being PC isn't something in which I place a huge amount of value.

      However, if you feel there is nothing to be learned from examining the specifics of how the movies and books (and games, comics, etc.) decide to engage subjects like that, then we are coming at things from a fundamentally different approach.

      I'd add that if this blog is anybody's idea of serious discourse, they've probably never seen serious discourse.