There`s too much extraneous dialogue in the film`s second half telling us what we don`t need to know, already know, or can see with our own eyes. Does Bond need to tell Pola Ivanova, “Let`s get out of here”? Did Zorin and May Day have to say “out” and “back” to their helpers after stranding Bond and Sutton in the elevator? What would have been lost had it been omitted? The Golden Gate set-piece though brilliant, is probably the worst example, and gets a paragraph to itself later on.
The elevator sequence is hazy and Sutton`s screams are annoying. (I half expected Bond to tell her to shut up.) Yet, Bond climbing down the ladder is a crowd-pleasing moment and possibly the film`s first hint of any real tension precisely because it`s deliberate and drawn-out. John Barry`s music bears just the right mixture of tension and pride. The onlookers clapping are an unusually American touch.
Outside City Hall, the cop asks, “We found this gun. This yours?” “Yes, thanks.” Bond reaches for it, but the Captain pulls it away. Bond is surprised – he looks up – and the Captain says, “Turn around.” Moore is sincere; he doesn`t play it for laughs and actually appears concerned, especially after learning that Chuck Lee is dead. The timing of Bond reaching for the gun and being turned around is perfect, which is why it`s funny; I laughed watching it again to just write this article. The “Wait a minute. This is James Stock of the London Financial Times” “Well actually, Captain, I`m with the British Secret Service. The name is Bond, James Bond.” “Is he?” “Are you?” “Yes,” with just the right pause on Moore`s part is perfect, “And I`m Dick Tracy and you`re still under arrest.” “Is it true what he said back there, about the British Secret Service?” “Yes. I`m afraid it is.” A satirical jab at the British Secret Service. Mocking humour and easy to miss.
The fire truck chase is brilliant, operatic – one of the great Bond set-pieces – all those swirling, intoxicating reds, blues and whites, the light bouncing off everything and that beautiful shot of the smashed Chevron sign and all those loving close-ups. Though I`ve criticized some of John Barry`s cues in the film, the moment the music is introduced at the right moment and it`s exhilarating watching and hearing everything come together – quite literally. The swirling action theme perfectly matches the sequence, which wouldn`t have been as good without it. (The filmmakers were right not to use any at first – it gives the sequence room to develop.)
Like all the great Bond set pieces it keeps developing; the two-cop cars slam into each other, their fenders now locked, and when separated, one of them slams into the fire truck, knocking Bond and the ladder free. Knocking the top off the trailer, revealing the two lovebirds adds to our giddiness, since sex and the action sequences have the same exhilarating, tingling sense of discovery. The sequence gives us the giddy high we expect from Bond films. Bond climbing about on the ladder is fluid, though it`s a world apart from Sean Connery`s Bond, and I can partially see why some have qualms about the sequence without really understanding why they don`t like it. (Bond moaning as the ladder swings around is Bond by way of Woody Allen.)
Comic relief is an important part of any Bond film, and the release of tension as the cars comes skidding down the bridge is clever; notice how the bridge watchman closes his eyes as though the cop car is about to come down on top of him.
The last half-hour of the film is a problem. The film has already gone on too long and feels bloated. The underground mine scenes are haggard, although they play well enough on their own (they`re no worse than the crummy The World Is Not Enough, though that film does have Pierce Brosnan). I`m not sure why, but Moore is especially creaky in the mine scenes – perhaps because it`s a dark, tight enclosure? He doesn`t move particularly well or comfortably – we need a languid Bond, which Moore isn`t. He looks awkward in the mine clothes and Stacey`s footwear is awful (couldn`t she have found sneakers?); so are the designer clothes May Day`s assistants wear DOWN IN THE MINES. Sloppiness of this sort encouraged people to hate the film. Camp has its limits. May Day sees Jenny`s floating dead body and cries out to her; it doesn`t ring true. It`s also sometimes best to trust your actors and not write lines like “Get on, damn it!” It`s over emotive. Simply having her scream “Get on!” is good enough. May Day`s “Booby-trapped” line is badly delivered, and plays like a parody of blacks in old movies.
There are virtues. There`s a beautiful shot of the bomb, like an egg against the sacks, after the clock has ticked down to 1194 (though of course Glen clips it). When May Day lowers Bond into the pit to get the ticking bomb, there`s a beautiful raging, muted fire in the background, like something out of Dante`s Inferno, so enticing. It`s easy to overlook, but positioned just right. When Conley protests, “But May Day and my men!” Zorin replies, “Yeah, a convenient coincidence” – Walken`s line reading and his mannerisms are perfect. Notice also how Scarpine lowers his head as he walks into the shot and hovers around them, ready to knock Conley out, his head down, pretending not to notice. After Zorin turns the bomb switch, his head shakes, anticipating the blast. Zorin machine-guns his own men, impassive at first, then in close-up he`s laughing, and it`s cross-cut with the mine office collapsing, his men being shot in close-up, their jackets bearing red bullet holes, and it`s effective. Scarpine firing the last bullets is like the gag in movies that has the henchman echoing his master`s threats for greater emphasis. In a marvel of timing, Zorin pauses, walks about, looks at his watch, nods his head and says “Good, right on schedule,” and doesn`t give the mass carnage another thought. The way Zorin says “exactly” and embraces Mortner in the dirigible is another small moment that gets lost in the film.
A shot of water rushing through the mines towards the viewer then cut to Bond and May Day, no longer fighting. The shaking tumbles them down into the water. Freeze-frame the shot, if you can, on Bond and May Day`s astonished faces, her mouth open. The shot should have been great but Glen (and his editors) clip it too fast and it`s badly framed. When Bond yells at Stacey in the mines, “Keep going!” May Day`s hateful look would have been better had Glen done a tight close up on her face. Too often Glen`s framing is haggard and imprecise; he primarily used short focal-length lenses and they lack the crispness and immediacy that telephoto lenses offer. (At City Hall, Bond says, “Why don`t you enlighten me… Zorin.” If you look closely Moore`s eye open wide, he`s being sarcastic, but it`s clipped, and it should have been a tight close-up.)
Criticisms that May Day shouldn`t have joined Bond`s side don`t stand up either. Whatever the acting or writing in this scene (“I thought that creep loved me” thuds badly), the decision is logical and inevitable. Oddjob had no reason to switch sides and so therefore didn`t – I`m not even sure he would have even been capable of thinking about it. This is what good writing is about. (Though I`m wary about using that trendy catch phrase.) How would people act under such circumstances? She`s been betrayed, so it`s inevitable that she`d change sides. (I`m not so sure about blowing herself up.) Having gone to bed with Bond lays the groundwork, no pun intended. She`s slept with him – been “intimate” with him, though I`m not sure that`s the right word. These points would register better in a tighter, less overloaded film. Seeing her mourn Jenny explains her motive. Audiences aren`t stupid, well, maybe James Bond audiences are, but for general purposes, most intelligent people will get the point, understand her sudden change without sledge hammering it home. (In a similar vein, compare Bond`s monotonous one-note retaliation in Licence To Kill with Connery`s subdued, matter-of-fact approach in the Diamonds Are Forever pre-credit sequence, which is more believable and artistically superior.) Her final moments are tense, John Barry`s music is appropriate, and her energetic wave, “Get Zorin for is just right.
Her impassive enigmatic expression when she looks up at Zorin in his dirigible just before she blows up is another shot worth freeze-framing. What is her character thinking?
Much has been said against the film and Stacey Sutton that she couldn`t hear or realize that there was a dirigible behind her when she ran across the field to Bond. Apart from how beautifully poetic the scene is – let`s not mince words – fools often use this to prove how bad A View To A Kill is. Given the earth-shattering explosion that just occurred, she`d be hard-pressed to hear her own voice. Any explosion strong enough to knock her off her feet is loud enough to impair her hearing. An ear doctor I spoke to confirmed that under those circumstances her ears would be ringing the Bells of St Mary`s -, which is one up for me. Even if she could hear the dirigible, she`s doing what you`d expect: she`s running away from it. Moreover Stacey DID SEE THE BLIMP. Back your tape up; it occurs in between crosscutting to May Day pulling Bond up from the mineshaft with the ticking bomb.
Play the entire sequence with the volume off and soak in the glorious detail and editing, the horrified facial expressions, the care and sensitivity to detail, which is what cinema should be and what the Bond films are at their best. The entire sequence is great cinema and has the same power and ingenuity as the early 1920`s German expressionist silent films and should be taught in film schools as an example of great mise en scene and editing. Even Walken`s laughs, which are unnecessary and sledgehammer the point home, play well with the volume off (further proving that the sequence was conceived like silent cinema).
The tight shot of her raptured face, cut to her running to Bond, and Barry`s bittersweet music, is a moving human moment. Walken quickly unstrapping himself, staring at Stacey, his mind on one thing only – his eyes don`t blink and notice the hatred in them. Bond`s eyes open wide in panic, he`s running harder, faster, and he`s more tense and life-like than Connery`s Bond. It develops a painful urgency like an unfolding tragedy involving real people. Bond chasing after the blimp, John Barry`s music pushing forward to something momentous, possibly even tragic. It`s intensely operatic, and it`s in these moments that the film develops great weight and power. It`s a treat to watch Moore`s facial expressions in slow motion or even on freeze-frame. In fact, Moore is excellent at showing compassion, fear and anger; Connery would and could look bored, and had little in way of facial expressions.
Part of this sequence`s brilliance is the surfeit of clever directorial touches. Bond grabs onto the mooring rope, but it`s not until the shot of the dirigible coming over the trees like an ominous figure (will it make it over?) that we see Bond hanging on.
The beautiful, establishing shot of Golden Gate bridge is fairly quiet except for background city sounds. It`s a fine example of when not to use music and it`s great preparation for what follows. Zorin laughing, Scarpine concerned, the traffic below, the cap falling off, the cop`s head down, all of this is excellent. The filmmakers are clearly in charge of their material.
The shot of the police officer`s car getting rear-ended, his cap falling off, while Bond flies through the skies is a great human touch. It`s like a symphony in which an earlier, humorous flourish is brought back in support of the finale while contrasting it. It`s the film`s way of saying these are real people: they have lives, they`ll still exist even after the movie has finished, and you never know who you`ll run into – the Bond films should do this more often, though there`s a danger of overdoing unless it`s done subtly.
Much of this sequence should be studied in freeze-frame or slow motion. Study Walken`s excellent facial expressions looking down at Bond dangling onto the mooring rope, as they approach the bridge. “This will hurt him more than me” is great, though his laugh is unnecessary. The lighthearted comment is sufficient. Zorin`s hand flourish just before Bond bangs into the bridge is a great touch; Walken “plays it against the grain”.
The sequence builds inexorably to its powerful climax and has the same intensity that slow motion sequences do in Brian de Palma`s films. The filmmakers are completely in charge of their material, sitting back and toying with us (unlike what`s gone before). They`ve settled down and realize they`re onto something solemn and momentous.
The quiet after the dirigible gets entangled in the bridge is an effective calm before the storm. And like the fight in Stacey`s house, the intro to John Barry`s action theme is exhilarating – the tight close-up on Mortner trying to get out of his seatthen struggling with his seatbelt is excellent – but the main theme is inappropriate and overdone. Imagine how much more powerful the scene would have been without music (it also added a tick-tock regularity to the cargo bay fight, in the next Bond film The Living Daylights, making that sequence tedious). However, the sight of Bond carried through the skies on the mooring rope is one of the moments when John Barry`s score has great feeling and becomes suitably momentous.
There are flaws. Roberts` “James, Jameses” are bad. When she sees Bond across the plain, understandably her character is glad to see him, and it`s realistic enough – but they should have been cut. Zorin doesn`t need to say, “Only seconds away” in the dirigible. WE KNOW! Zorin doesn`t have to say “May Day” when she comes out on the cart with the bomb. We can see it with our own eyes. Bond`s instructions toStacey are also the only real fault in the Golden Gate Bridge set piece: e.g. “Get a foothold”, “Don`t move”, “Are you alright?”. She`s not going anywhere, doesn`t need to be told anything, and her final “James!” with Mortner on the warpath, is dreadful. I assume these lines actually appeared in the script, and were meant to flesh out the scene, but they only mar what could have been perfection. Little things like this do make a difference. Bond`s first line should have been “Stacey! Jump!” and his second, the quip about not finding a cab when you really need one.
However, I sat there on opening night, my back pressed tight in my seat horrified by the height. (Those who talk about the lousy rear-projection conveniently gloss over the even worse rear-projection in the OHMSS ski chase.) There`s much beautiful editing: Stacey leaps, cut to a shot of Bond and Stacey tumbling, cut to her going over the ledge, cut to Bond holding her hand. This resembles editing experiments in early silent and Russian films; it`s what film editing is supposed to be; Eisenstein would have been proud. There are also wonderful human touches. When Walken begins slipping on the pole, trying to get a better grip, barely hanging on, you feel yourself in his position, your own hands slipping against the metal. He smiles, like it`s alright and everything will be okay if he can just get a better grip, but then the sudden realization that it`s not okay and won`t be. Roberts` nervous laughter after Bond`s quip rings true. It`s the surprise people show after something traumatic – they have to laugh because they`re wired.
So why isn`t the film appreciated? (To which I can hear the less bright say, “Because it`s no good?”)
It`s too much of a good thing. The film has enough ideas and action for at least two films. There`s too much ingenuity and it`s exhausting – less can sometimes be more. It`s enthusiastic to a fault. The film has many brilliant sequences – broken up into twenty minute sequences it`s wonderful. It`s more a film to admire than actually enjoy, and it`s easier to take in short twenty-minute segments.
The night I typedthis, TBS ran Octopussy and the differences are instructive. Octopussy is calmer, more relaxed and orderly which explains why it was more popular. AVTAK is strident and overpowering. It has the feel of a film where the people who worked on it enjoyed themselves so much that it communicated itself onto the film.
Time will tell whether AVTAK gets the respect it deserves.
It`s an uphill battle. One obnoxious person said, “It seems to me I have every right to say to whomever, (and I would say it to their face), that if someone prefers “A View to A Kill” as a James Bond movie over “From Russia With Love”, then they know NOTHING of the world of James Bond.” (I`d argue that anybody who thinks Tom Mankiewicz directed Bond films knows nothing about the world of James Bond.)
I remember somebody who smoked ersatz American cigars telling me that when he finally got to smoke the real thing – Cuban cigars – he was disappointed. He had gotten so used to the imitation that the real thing did nothing for him. Something similar is at work here. The brand of seriousness Timothy Dalton`s Bond represents is the ham-fisted variety that the one-dimensional can digest. True seriousness, a Saul Bellow or a Patrick White novel (which in fact are quite light and not at all “serious”) are beyond them. They misguidedly believe that serious means quality, and that lightness or flippancy means a lack thereof. This is a middlebrow conceit. Perhaps because Bond is fluff, they overcompensate in the opposite direction and try to be overly-serious (one pretentious 007 website has cornered the market on people quoting Shakespeare – pretending that we don`t realize that of course they had to look it up – or invoking his name to sound more intelligent.) This must be avoided. Notice the smugness about those who prefer Timothy Dalton as Bond – and yes, they are smug – because he`s serious, which somehow means they`re more serious. Well, no. It doesn`t work that way. Then consider those who pat themselves on the back for preferring Timothy Dalton, would have us believe that Raymond Benson writes well or that Robert Ludlum is a serious writer. Water rises to its own level.
Whether people enjoy a film, or a book, depends on the work being cohesive, on all the pieces fitting together. If the pieces don`t fit together because viewers can`t see or appreciate them, or the pieces are too subtle, or even because the film is flawed or too rich, then it won`t work for them. This isn`t a problem with simple flat films like Dr No, From Russia With Love or The Living Daylights, which admittedly do have the hard edge that AVTAK lacks. I think something similar is a factor with the dreadful TWINE, which is sloppy and crude, and partly explains the acquaintance who turned back to ersatz American cigars.
As for AVTAK, only time will tell.