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A View to a Kill Review

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by Casimir Harlow Nov 20, 2012 at 12:13 AM

    A View to a Kill Review

    “But can we dance into the fire?”

    Often regarded as one of the lowest points in the Bond franchise, Roger Moore’s swansong in the role – A View to a Kill – certainly did not win any awards for distinction, with a pushing-sixty Moore trying valiantly to keep up the British end in a franchise that he had actually wanted to leave for almost a decade now.

    Funnily enough, however, in taking a look back over the franchise I found A View to a Kill to be a surprisingly fun watch. Perhaps partly because it’s one of those Bonds you are least likely to pick up and put on out of choice – and so it feels less familiar – or perhaps because, against all odds, it does actually provide quite a refreshingly different chapter in the Bond cycle. Either way, there’s a great deal that often goes overlooked in this 1985 entry.

    After Bond recovers a microchip from the dead body of 003 in Siberia, the signs point towards the fact that the Government-contracted manufacturing company, Zorin Industries, might be selling its top secret technology designs to the Russians. Bond is sent to investigate the owner, Max Zorin, and discovers that he not only enhances his horses with steroids but is actually, himself, a product of steroid experimentation and genetic manipulation. His ‘superior’ intellect is indeed far closer to psychosis, and he plans to flood Silicon Valley in order to make his company one of the sole microchip manufacturers in the world. It’s up to Bond to stop him.

    “For centuries alchemists tried to make gold from base metals. Today we make microchips from silicon, which is common sand, but far better than gold. Now, for several years, we had a profitable partnership – you as manufacturers, while I acquired and passed on to you industrial information that made you competitive, successful. We are now in the unique position to form an international cartel to control not only production, but distribution of these microchips. There is one obstacle – Silicon Valley in San Francisco.”

    Roger Moore had had a good run of Bond movies from Live and Let Die through to Moonraker. He’d taken up the role fairly late in his career – at 45 he’d been considerably older than Connery at the outset but had a much younger look than Connery, ageing far better in his forties and early fifties (conversely, Connery would look far better in his 60s – see The Hunt for Red October and The Rock). When it came to For Your Eyes Only, you have to wonder whether the script and back-to-basics ideas were tailored for a new actor, and whether it would have worked better with a new, younger Bond. It was still a strong Moore outing, however, and would have been a solid film to go out on. Octopussy saw the producers making a concerted effort to replace Moore – oddly looking at a woefully miscast James Brolin for the role – but, due to the competing non-EON Connery production, Never Say Never Again, they thought it better to leave a familiar face in the film.

    Indeed that’s one of the biggest things that put me off Connery in my adult years – he just had no respect for Bond. It was enough that he asked for increasing amounts of money to reprise the role back when he was doing You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever – something forgivable had he not shown such a lack of interest in the character when actually on-screen – but to make such a fuss about being done with Bond and then come back and do the unofficial Never Say Never Again was just adding insult to injury (not the mention his conspicuous absence in the extra features across any of the home format releases of Bond, and his lack of interest in the 50th Anniversary of the role which made him such a star in the first place).

    Connery always felt he was Bond. He never thought about working for it; earning it; he just thought he deserved it and was entitled to it. When you consider how much of a better job Lazenby would have done doing a revenge sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as opposed to Connery’s lazy return in the lacklustre Diamonds Are Forever, then you realise just the lack of respect he has for the iconic character (ironically, being begged to return for Diamonds Are Forever probably only further fuelled his ego).

    “What would you be without the KGB? Nothing but a biological experiment!”

    Contrast this with Moore, who, back in 1972 – on the eve of taking up the role in Live and Let Die – was confronted with his 8 year old son’s vivid imagination, asking his dad whether he could defeat Bond in a fight. When Moore answered “but, son, I’m going to be Bond”, his son replied, in a matter-of-fact way, “no, I mean the real James Bond – Sean Connery”. What would Moore opine about that little moment? With more humility in his little finger than Connery has shown across his eight decades on this planet, Moore would simply say “my son is never wrong”. I think it’s this humility that made Moore always strive to earn his place as Bond, and therefore – in my opinion – be more consistently better in it.

    He may not have wanted to do another movie; he may have been trying to escape the role for three films now, but, when in the role, he always fought to bring his A-game to Bond; to earn his place as the icon. He never took it for granted and, despite his age, this consummate professionalism and dedication to the part was always evident on screen. So, even at 57 – his age when it came to shooting A View to a Kill – Moore was still pure Bond. A little slower, a little less capable of running, jumping, fighting off henchman or performing grand stunts (at least, of performing them himself), but, still, the quintessential dapper English gentleman Bond, plain and simple.

    Indeed the biggest problem was that they missed the opportunity to cater for Moore’s age when it came to depicting the character. Ironically, it was one of the few things they got right in Never Say Never Again, and it’s a shame they didn’t adopt the same stance for Moore in A View to a Kill – either having him pulled out of retirement for one last mission or, at the very least, sending him on ‘one last mission’ here, in the knowledge that he would be retiring afterwards.

    “My department knows I’m here. When I don’t report, they’ll retaliate.”
    “If you’re the best they’ve got, they’re more likely to try and cover up your embarrassing incompetence.”

    Of course the reality was that the producers – namely Cubby Broccoli himself – never really wanted to accept Moore’s departure from the role; they’d have let him run and run until he was in a Zimmer-frame. It was only Moore’s decision to formally announce his retirement – after the release of A View to a Kill – that would put the final nail in the coffin. So the script itself did not really take into account his age, or at least did not do enough to cater for it; there were some nice moments where he did things that were conceivable for a man pushing 60, but there were also some silly stunts (like the snowboarding intro) which, whilst glamorous and pure Bond spectacle, were simply too over-the-top for a man of Moore’s age.

    Moore himself would struggle with many elements of the plot and, in particular, some of the other characters he would encounter. Although he remained utterly professional during filming – you’d never be able to tell from the final cut – off-screen he was less than impressed with a number of aspects of the production, including the upped ante of violence as propagated by Christopher Walken’s psychotic villain Max Zorin (in one scene seen mowing down dozens of unarmed, drowning men with an Uzi), and the distinct lack of chemistry he felt with leading Bond girl Tanya Roberts (further exacerbated by the shocking fact that Moore was older than Roberts’s mother). Between these two factors, Moore felt this was definitely his swansong in the role.

    Of course these two aspects would form the polar opposite extremes of the positive and negative aspects of the film. Despite the arguably excessive violence (even though I was far too young to see it at the cinema, it was one of the few Bond films that I wasn’t even allowed to watch on TV until I was considerably older), Christopher Walken’s characterisation of the lead Bond villain would remain one of the most enduring, captivating and brilliantly fresh elements in the film; Tanya Roberts’s Bond girl, on the other hand, would return the franchise back five movies to the days of The Man with the Golden Gun and utterly ditzy, vapid leading ladies (although at least Britt Ekland was stunning).

    “Intuitive improvisation – it’s the secret of genius.”

    Looking back, it was strange to think of The King of New York himself – Chris Walken – taking a role in a Bond film. The only Oscar winner to have ever taken on a main role in a Bond film, who would have expected the memorable actor from The Deer Hunter to, just a few years later, face off against none other than Roger Moore’s James Bond? The role was written for someone like Sting or David Bowie – both declined it, Bowie chose Labyrinth instead and Sting didn’t want to see his body double fall off a bridge for the next decade – before Walken joined the cast and made it his own, bringing his inimitable intonation and utterly convincing psychosis to a truly memorable Bond villain who had a scary sense of realism about him.

    Rather than just a crazed madman who wanted to obliterate the Earth, Walken’s Zorin was purely psychotic – something which had not really been previously explored in the franchise. He took pleasure in his superior intellect beating everybody else into submissions; revelled in the deaths of others – it was a similar characterisation to that much less effective (i.e. over-the-top) performance by Famke Janssen in GoldenEye; you know, the Bond femme fatale who had an orgasm every time she killed someone?! Walken’s Zorin was utterly convincing, and utterly terrifying. On scene-stealing form, Walken would never act like he was above the material or out of place, and would make for a formidable and memorable final opponent for Moore to face off against. He is certainly one of the absolute best things about this chapter; a strong villain who surpassed the villains that Moore’s Bond had encountered in either of his last two outings.

    Conversely, Tanya Roberts’s whimsical, screaming Bond girl Stacy Sutton was just a horrendous character; painful to watch and utterly damaging to every scene she was – or could be heard in. From her very first appearance, to the absolute pinnacle of her disastrous performance – where Bond is trying to rescue her from a burning building, Roberts was woefully miscast, a glamour model and nothing more, and asked to do little other than scream and act like the world’s most pathetic damsel-in-distress. I disliked what they did with Ekland for The Man with the Golden Gun, but Roberts’s antics are arguably even harder to endure. Just for the bits alone where she was screaming “James, don’t leave me!” to Bond, who was clearly intending to get to the elevator shaft door and then come back and rescue her, I would have seriously advocated Bond re-considering whether or not he should actually save her.

    “Alive and well, I see, and still bungling in the dark!”
    “Well, why don’t you enlighten me?!”
    “You’re out of your depth.”

    Then there’s Grace Jones. This unique animal of a woman – even her hair can’t be tamed – has no real place in any movie of any kind, and yet as Zorin’s henchwoman (and twisted love interest), she oddly seems quite appropriately cast. Having her bed Moore’s Bond was a little odd, to say the least (Moore himself wasn’t particularly enamoured by the prospect, and found it quite hard to work with the notorious diva), but viewers struggled even more with her changing-sides character twist during the explosive final act. I didn’t actually mind this bit so much – after all, Zorin had left her to die – but it was, for many Bond fans, too close to the unwarranted twist they pulled with Richard Kiel’s Jaws during the climax of Moonraker.

    The casting of Patrick Macnee was also a little odd. Close friend to Roger Moore, the original The Avengers TV series stalwart would convince as a chauffeur / butler, but perhaps not when opposite an also-ageing Roger Moore. Still, his character’s denouement would at least allow for a nice moment of anger from Moore’s Bond – a nice face-off with Walken’s psychotic villain – and his involvement does not derail the proceedings in any way, even if it occasionally threatens to!

    All the classic Bond veterans would return – from Robert Brown’s M to Geoffrey Keen’s Ministry of Defence; from Desmond Llewelyn’s Q to Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny, with even Walter Gotell’s General Gogol popping up as Zorin’s former KGB handler – and they all appear to be just swimming along waiting for a proper change in pace to the Bond entries. All of the actors were great friends by now, as well as many of the crew members, and having them all trot down to Ascot for a day at the races must have felt like a family outing more than an arduous film shoot.

    “I would have expected the KGB to celebrate if Silicon Valley had been destroyed.”
    “On the contrary, Admiral. Where would Russian research be without it?!”

    The story itself would take its title (and only the title) from the Ian Fleming short story ‘From a View to a Kill’, which formed a part of his ‘For Your Eyes Only’ short story collection. The title was actually originally supposed to include this ‘From’ – as you can see by the credits to Octopussy – but it was inexplicably dropped at the last minute, probably because nobody knew quite what it meant, and the producers figured that ‘A View to a Kill’ made a tiny bit more sense (it was certainly easier to incorporate into the script). The original title was actually based on a hunting song written in 1820 by John Woodcock Grave, which read: “from the drag to the chase; from the chase to the view; from the view to a death in the morning”, which Fleming used in preference to his original working title of ‘Breakfast before Death’ to formulate ‘From a View to a Kill’. Of course it would only make sense when put in this context, but few people remember it now, and understand that the title is supposed to be “From a View”... “To a Kill” and that, by taking away that one little word, they changed the entire meaning of the sentence.

    The story itself, whilst not based – other than in the tiniest of parts – on any of Fleming’s books, was one of the less outlandish Bond tales. I’m sure many got so hung up on Moore’s age that they forgot just how down-to-earth it was, and forgot just how closely it followed the main plot to one of the franchise’s all-time highs, Goldfinger. For Your Eyes Only is often quoted as Moore’s most serious outing but – apart from the ridiculous pre-credits sequence – A View to a Kill is actually a pretty serious affair, with a strong story that involves a very plausible villain (psychotic rather than caricature) and practical stunts which never really went too far overboard. There were few gadgets; no cat-stroking villains in their insane lairs; no metal-toothed or hat-throwing assassins; no underwater cars; no trips into space; no clown-suits; no portable jet-packs or small but ludicrously-heavily-armed gyrocopters. In fact, Bond might as well have been retired because his character was practically written to fit that older, private-detective-with-a-background-in-military-intelligence persona. Indeed it could have been a crazy, wacked-out villainous plan – the writers tossed around ideas about destroying Silicon Valley by having the villain attempt to deviate the trajectory of Halley’s Comet!!! – but, thankfully, what we ended up with was fairly down-to-earth, straightforward and grounded (for the most part) in reality.

    “You lose, 007.”

    Returning director John Glen – who had helmed the last two (more realistic) Bond outings and had provided the Second Unit Direction for over half a dozen earlier entries – did the best he could with an ageing star; shifting US/Soviet relations; changing audience reactions and expectations and a restrictive budget (the budget was $10 Million less than it had been over half a decade earlier for Moonraker – largely as a result of diminishing Box Office returns ever since the same – and subsequently meant that several key sequences had to be left on the cutting-room floor). He handled what was left expertly, staging an impressive pre-credits sequence which was let down more by its self-mocking use of the Beach Boys’ California Girls during one of the most spectacular stunts – snow-boarding (which, as a result of this movie, became an even bigger hit) across water – than it was by the very preposterousness of even implying that Moore’s Bond was capable of such feats.

    Then there was the Eiffel Tower set-piece, a left-over morsel from the original Moonraker novel, which involved a chase up the steps and then a spectacular leap from the top. I just wish Moore’s stunt double wasn’t so damn obvious (particularly now on the Blu-ray) when they show Bond hitching a ride down on the elevator. Of course there would be some wonderful little moments where the stunts were much more believable for a man of Moore’s age – some that he actually did. The scene where he breathes underwater using air from a tyre was actually Moore (and, on the commentary, he confirms that it is actually practical because that’s what they had him do!), and was a nice little classic Bond-improvisation moment which required no high tech gadgets or stunt doubles.

    The fire truck sequence would have been more effective but for the fact that it never really had any significance – watching Bond escape the cops because of a case of mistaken identity was just too comic-directed for my liking; too Smokey and the Bandit. That said, it was actually Moore driving during some of those sequences (the stunt driver was too short to reach the pedals and Moore had some experience driving trucks during his youth), a fact which was impressive in and of itself, and the preceding blazing inferno set-piece was far more gripping – including one of my favourite moments in the entire movie, as Moore’s Bond has to get the girl down from the rooftop using a fire ladder. It’s a fantastic scene, simple but remarkably effective, and, again, requiring no grand stunt doubles, gadgetry or special effects to have a potent impact.

    “May I remind you that this operation was to be conducted discreetly. All it took was six million francs in damage and in penalties for violating most of the Napoleonic Code.”
    “Under the circumstances, Sir, I thought it more important to identify the assassin.”

    Of course the ultimate set-piece would be the final f(l)ight involving Zorin’s airship and the Golden Gate Bridge. One of those seven wonders of the (engineering) world, although only a limited amount of footage could be filmed actually atop the Bridge, the shots seen there are truly breathtaking. The very idea of Bond battling the psychotic Zorin on the top of this bridge was perfect, pure Bond, and, again, something where age didn’t really come into the picture. Walken vs. Moore above the Golden Gate Bridge? It was a great note for Moore’s Bond to go out on.

    Talking of notes, returning veteran composer John Barry would find himself frustrated by the involvement of hit pop group Duran Duran in the production (much like he would be irritated by A-Ha during the filming of the next, and his last, entry The Living Daylights). Duran Duran’s bass player had lovingly mocked producer Cubby Broccoli for always recruiting older ‘classic’ artists to do the Bond songs, saying “when are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?!” Duran Duran’s title track would, of course, go on to be a huge hit in its own right, and one of the better aspects of the production – but Barry would stand his ground and attempt to send-up the title theme by slowing it down for the love sequences and, in one part, stretching it out for the tense fire-rescue sequence (where the melody can be heard stomping in the background). Funnily enough, despite his best efforts to contort it, Barry’s modification of Duran Duran’s track would actually end up working extremely well in almost every single instance of its variable use during the film, including this terrific scene. Again, a high point.

    Whilst Roger Moore might have felt that it was an all-time low for him – he famously reflected “I was only about 400 years too old for the role” – and many Bond fans feel exactly the same way, I think that A View to a Kill is a strangely enduring little Bond entry, bolstered by some unusual mainstream locations (considering how far Bond travelled, he had never appeared in Paris or San Francisco) and some impressive stunts and set-pieces. It feels fresher than it should; Moore seems fitter than he should; the story is more serious than many give it credit for; and it was arguably a more satisfying climax to his 12-year tenure in the role than the previous entry, Octopussy.

    “You amuse me, Mr. Bond.”
    “Well it’s not mutual.”

    Remember A View to a Kill for the impressive snowboarding pre-credits sequence; for the memorable Eiffel Tower stunt. Remember it for being Roger Moore’s final Bond entry, and for his consummate professionalism in the role all the way through to the end, this time facing off against Christopher Walken’s psychotic villain – one of the best Bond villains of the entire series. Remember it for Bond breathing underwater using the air from a car tyre, and for the tense fire-ladder rescue from a blazing inferno; for Grace Jones’s unique Mayday and for the stunning finale involving an airship and an axe-fight atop the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.