Reappraisals aren`t unheard of inthe Bond series. On Her Majesty`s Secret Service is probably the most famous instance, and it`s now regarded as one of the best Bond films. So why not A View To A Kill?
I admit it`s flawed. It`s overloaded and at times careless. The filmmakers seem to have been in a rush to pack as much into the film as possible, and then some. It`s an incredibly busy film, which is both a virtue and a flaw. It`s ambitious and unusually complicated in more ways than just the story. The filmmakers were trying something new so anything less than a sequence-by-sequence analysis does the film less than full justice.
The film opens on the Russian helicopter zig-zagging like a bumblebee. A great human touch follows – probably overlooked – backed up by John Barry`s sensitive, pain-ridden flute music: Bond opens a heart-shaped pendant and sees a photo of the dead man`s wife – girlfriend? – and baby. A throwaway moment, but crucial in Bond films. Bond flips the picture over and you can still see the woman and child`s image from behind, a subtle reminder that though 003 is dead, they live on, their grief is real. (Such touches prove that the Bond filmmakers are incredibly intelligent.) The microchip holds them down, a clever reminder of what took 003 from them. (It`s nice that the filmmakers had Bond bring the pendant back on board the submersible, but its dramatic weight is lost on Bond.) This is what people should look for in Bond films. Not whether he has his back to a window in Tomorrow Never Dies, an asinine, pointless observation.
The opening ski chase is great – perhaps the best in the series? New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael complained that the stunts were too crowded and didn`t give us the time to get that giddy tingle Bond stunts normally give us, and I felt that way about the ski-chase, but perhaps this is a clue to its superiority. Being so compressed, it stands the test of time like any great, complex work. It throws so much up at us that repeat viewings are required.
The great action theme by John Barry is very reminiscent of his OHMSS title song. If not as innovative, this version is more stylish, as befitting an older composer. The beautiful photography, those enticing colours, the intoxicating reds, blues, and whites are gorgeous and special. The Beach Boys music is just right – Bond is meant to be humorous; I`ve never understood why the 60`s Bond cultists get so uptight about broad humour in the series. There are other great touches: Bond`s unintentional somersault after he skis down a steep cliff; he hops on the skidoo, kicking off his one remaining ski; he steps off the makeshift surfboard and has to keep running; and after the fun and games, there`s that beautiful, menacing shot of the helicopter, this time gliding steadily through the air after Bond, with its single-minded purpose – cat and mouse – supported by John Barry`s driving music. The helicopter swirls through the air, spewing pinkish smoke, and, after it`s crashed, the shot of the raging black-tinged fire against the seemingly dirty snow and alps is intoxicating.
Maurice Binder`s credits feature wonderful neon images, and it`s one of his best. Alan Hume and Binder get beautiful accompanying images during their credits: that beautiful shot of people skiing down the mountain, the man flipping head over heals, the woman turning delicately, and the couple doing a slow motion synchronized twirl (unfortunately the return to regular motion is jerky). It`s beautiful, especially since it occurs during a heartfelt part of the song. I`m surprised that at least two books (Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang and The Bond Files) hated it. They`re wrong, of course. 🙂
Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson`s script is both deft and annoying. Parts don`t connect. Bond is supposed to find out how Zorin`s anti-pulse computer chip wound up in Siberia, yet he investigates Zorin`s horses. (A link suggesting the two were somehow related would have helped. “003 had been investigating Zorin`s horses and the trail took him to Siberia.”) The plot twist – a double catalyst, quite common in the Maibaum/Wilson collaborations – is shoe-horned and doesn`t flow. The horse sub-plot doesn`t add up, but it`s an appropriate homage to Fleming`s novels (by way of John Gardner`s Licence Renewed). Like Fleming`s villains, Zorin cheats without any real motive, except his love of winning (how much money could a multi-millionaire make winning races?). When Zorin races Bond, there`s no real advantage; he intends to capture and kill Bond anyway. He cheats just for the sake of cheating.
The Ascot horse scene is visually delightful and the timing is razor-sharp, though perhaps it`s too precise and wears the audience down (Pauline Kael said something similar about the single-shot opening in Brian de Palma`s film The Bonfire Of The Vanities – another underrated film). The film is visually inventive: Moneypenny shouts at the horses: “Move your a–” then turning, asking about one of the horses, the camera pans to Bond and M who are faced the wrong way. Fast on the heels is another ingenious detail that most people probably overlook. Look behind M when he tells Bond that Zorin “speaks at least five languages”. The woman behind them looks around, wondering what they`re going on about, concerned she`s missing something, then deciding it`s nothing, turns back – the timing is perfect, the placement delicate, as though the director John Glen is saying, “Look, if you catch this, good for you, but if you don`t, no big loss.” The dialogue here, and in the following chateau scene, is perfect and casual enough to have an air of being improvised: “Who`s there with him under the hat, in the red dress?”
Elsewhere I discuss the insect motif tying the various strands together in the visually inventive Eiffel Tower sequence, but there are other gems. Aubergine: “I`m pleased you approve since you`re paying the bill.” He looks up and around as the waiter walks around him. Flighty as ever, Aubergine nods his head at the dancing butterflies, his head back, emphasizing his double-chin, struggling to focus on anything that close. “Perhaps we should add this butterfly to our collection, non?” Bond`s reaction, his polite smile, is skilled acting. Bond and Moore`s intelligence shine. May Day knocks the other black-sheathed person out. The butterfly girl, in the middle of her routine, looks over – her posture the epitome of professional confusion – half her mind is still on her routine (you`ll have to freeze-frame on her to fully appreciate this) – while Aubergine blathers on oblivious to his impending doom. (I can`t imagine anything that complicated or busy in The Living Daylights.) The photography inside the restaurant, and the chateau scenes are sumptuous and the last touch of real Bondian elegance until Pierce Brosnan and Tomorrow Never Dies. Peter Lamont isn`t my favourite Bond production designer – what is it with all those sculpted heads? – but his work here is perfect and it`s one of the best designed Bond films. (Trivia note: the music heard during the Eiffel Tower establishing shot comes from John Barry`s score for his 1984 film Until September.)
Pauline Kael complained that the stunts were too crowded, but that`s partially why the brilliant car chase works so well. Each shot has a new piece of information; compare it to the slightly limp pre-credit chase in The Living Daylights, which consists of the same shot over and over, back and forth. The gliding, graceful, practically slow-motion shot of the car driving onto the ramp, flying onto the bus, then off onto the ground, contrasts perfectly with that brutal smash cut as the pole shears the car`s top off. Though easily overlooked, that shot of Moore, grimacing and ducking in his seat tops it off. It`s obvious when the stuntman doubles for Moore – it verges on parody – especially immediately before and after the car is shorn in half (Moore`s eyes open in shock anticipating it, then he closes them and braces himself – this is excellent and without which, the stunt would have been impersonal) but the film is photographed in sharp clear colours. After Octopussy, shot in oily, washed-out colours, AVTAK is one of the best looking in the series. The gorgeous ski-chase, the Paris cafe and estate scenes, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge fight are especially appealing; the film has some of the best location sense of the entire series. Only towards the end, down in the mine, does the film look hazy. I criticize John Barry`s action cues elsewhere, but here the Bond theme and the dixieland version of the theme song have just the right playful touch.