06/15/85 Review in “Magill`s Survey of Cinema” – a view to little irony

One of the least ironic in the James Bond series, A VIEW TO A KILL takes 007 (Roger Moore) from Ascot, Paris, and Chantilly to San Francisco as he pursues Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a villainous international microchip industrialist, and his fierce bodyguard, May Day (Grace Jones). Having survived several near-fatal encounters with Zorin`s henchmen, Bond succeeds in obstructing the industrialist`s plan to dynamite the San Andreas fault and flood Silicon Valley so that he can gain control over the world`s microchip production. In a suspenseful finale which takes place at the Golden Gate Bridge, Bond blasts Zorin in his zeppelin.

Summary: The pleasure which viewers take in familiar forms is the very basis of a genre film`s survival, yet the most interesting among them– Westerns and musicals, for example–are also characterized by their capacity to reflect cultural shifts and social changes. In comparison, the James Bond films are defined by a carefully synthesized and carefully protected formula; nothing about them changes. Deciding who best embodies the mythic essence of Fleming`s hero, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, or Roger Moore, has been only one of two major sources of variation that the Bond films have offered since the series began with DR. NO (1962). The other variation has been a shift in tone: from straight and serious to parodic and absurd. The tone in A VIEW TO A KILL, however, is serious. In keeping with this mode, the prologue finds 007 (Roger Moore), in a display of bravado, skiing on an Alaskan snowfield, a squadron of Soviet soldiers to snatch an innocent-looking locket from the neck of an unknown corpse. Reminiscent of the opening sequence of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), the last-second rescue comes from an ice floe that pops open to reveal a Union Jack flying submarine, navigated by a captain in white mink overalls. No matter how predictable, even this opening sequence rewards the audience immediately with its impeccable editing (the film`s director, John Glen, has edited several earlier Bonds) and with its striking use of color against a white background (a common visual heritage from the pop-graphic style of the 1960`s).

Following the prologue, viewers find themselves in the London headquarters of Secret Service, where M (Robert Brown) and his staff fill one another in on a new superchip that was found in the locket of that corpse, which as it turns out was the body of a Russian. Everything indicates that this new technological miracle comes from the hands of a mysterious industrialist of international origins, one Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Much to the regret of Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), only James Bond can find Zorin`s chips.

The search begins at the Ascot horse races, where the abnormally blond Zorin is sighted along with his right-hand woman, the stunning and ferocious May Day (Grace Jones), a black martial arts and logistics expert who sports leather-hooded outfits and six-inch heels. Then in Paris, while Bond is having dinner with the unpleasant Inspector Aubergine (Jean Rougerie), in an elegant restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, May Day attacks. Dressed in wasp-patterned yellow and black leotards, she uses a fishing rod of sorts, impaling on its fly Bond` s dinner partner, who is lecherously watching a woman perform a butterfly dance onstage. Like a spider, May Day then vanishes down the tower and escapes with the help of a parachute glider, which crashes onto a wedding party aboard a bateau-mouche in the middle of the Seine. It is in sequences such as these that the Bond films are at their most engaging: The insect motif (the fly casting, wasp, butterfly, and so on), insignificant as it may be for the film`s overall structure, tightens up the little episode; the gags are exotic in an inventive way, built more on wit than violence (pace Inspector Aubergine), and the stunts, carried out in the middle of Paris, make one admire not only their performers but also the film`s producer, Albert Broccoli, who managed to arrange all of this. Later on, the San Francisco City Hall and the Golden Gate Bridge, notoriously off-limits for commercial filming, are similarly granted this “location-as-star” treatment, lending almost the old-fashioned authenticity of a travelogue to this high-tech fairy tale.

The search for Zorin`s chips leads from Paris to an exquisite Chantilly chateau, where the villain is auctioning off some of his supernormal race horses. Here, Bond, succeeds in penetrating Zorin`s secret stable- laboratory and discovers that the superchip, with its ability to enhance the performances of living organisms to the capacity of a robot, is part of a worldwide biotechnological conspiracy. In the process of his search, Bond arouses Zorin`s suspicion, and even Bond`s strategically motivated seduction of May Day does not prevent a subsequent manhunt on horseback, at the end of which he is almost killed. As is customary for the Bond megavillain, Zorin`s monstrously perfect features make it clear that he is essentially nonhuman, a creature representing not simply an opposing political system but a threat to mankind. A child produced by Nazi genetic engineering experiments during World War II and bred to perfection in the U.S.S.R., Zorin has broken loose from his ideological commitments to his KGB supervisors and is now preparing to attack and monopolize the world`s microchip industry. Traveling in a zeppelin, Zorin, May Day, and their evil crew move on to San Francisco. Bond catches up with them, first competing with, and later helped by, the beautiful geologist and heiress Stacy Sutton (Tanya Roberts).

Surviving a suction pipe accident under a Zorin oil rig in the San Francisco Bay and then a spectacular city hall fire, Bond and Stacy uncover, just in time, Zorin`s demonic plan to reactivate the San Andreas fault through a series of enormous explosions. This, in turn, would devastate and flood the Silicon Valley industries and guarantee Zorin, Inc., complete control of the world`s microchip output. The mandatory large-scale showdown follows, taking place in a labyrinthine old silver mine located below the San Andreas lake, which is also Stacy`s beloved ancestral home. The sequence carries allusions to Fritz Lang`s subterranean masterpiece METROPOLIS (1927) and to the wild mine rides in Steven Spielberg`s INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984). When May Day finally realizes the magnitude of Zorin`s diabolical plot, as well as his completely cynical attitude toward her, she shifts allegiance and throws her considerable body power behind Bond and Stacy`s efforts to prevent the catastrophe, sacrificing her life in the process. Zorin and his skeleton crew flee again in the blimp, taking Stacy as hostage, but Bond hangs on to one of the mooring ropes (metaphorically keeping taut the suspenseful plot line). The aircraft becomes trapped in the structure of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Bond not only saves Stacy but also rids the world of yet another megalomaniac when, cleverly relying on some basic laws of physics, he brings about the explosion of the high-tech wizard and his zeppelin.

Per the film`s formula, Bond proceeds to shun delightfully his civic responsibilities by hiding out in Stacy`s shower, avoiding not only M`s phone congratulations but also the KGB`s (which is grateful to Bond for having preserved Silicon Valley intact for yet another generation of Soviet industrial espionage). The main attraction of A VIEW TO A KILL is undoubtedly the irresistible Grace Jones. Graceful, fast, resourceful, and a little perverse, May Day finally seems to be the female alter ego Bond has been looking for since the death of his wife in ON HER MAJESTY`S SECRET SERVICE (1969); like her, she, too, must die so as to allow 007 to proceed unhindered to further adventures. It is typical that Bond`s love interest here has a degree in a hard science, but she remains as incompetent and witless as she is cute. A VIEW TO A KILL signals where the next major hurdle for 007 will emerge. The technology in which villains such as Zorin deal to achieve world control is so utterly impersonal that Bond`s old-fashioned craftiness and general education (even when amplified by Q`s special gadgets) may soon become obsolete. As long as he can count on encountering his enemies in falling elevators or burning ships, Bond is all right. In a world of data banks, video screens, and artificial intelligence, Bond will either have to “upgrade” to a full-time science-fiction hero or else withdraw to the sidelines, watching it all, amused, over a dry martini.

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