James Bond must stop a villain who plots to destroy a strategic area of the globe, which will then allow said villain to control the supply of a needed commodity. Also involved is a lovely lady with oil in the family’s veins.
Sound familiar? These are plot points from the 1999 James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough a blockbuster heralded by fans and the general public. These plot points are also present in the 1985 James Bond film A View To A Kill, widely considered among the Bond cognoscenti as a tired and lackluster 007 flick.
Apropos of the 15th anniversary of the release of A View To A Kill, 007 Forever reevaluates Roger Moore’s last Bond film with the goal of rehabilitating its standing in the James Bond film series. Particularly interesting is to compare A View To A Kill and The World Is Not Enough. Now that the hype and excitement has leveled off, we can take a cold-eyed view of the 19th 007 film and in comparison to A View To A Kill, see if it comes up short.
The similarities of the villain’s caper in The World Is Not Enough and A View To A Kill serves as a jumping off point for our comparison. In A View To A Kill, computer industrialist Max Zorin plots to destroy California’s Silicon Valley to corner the world microchip market. In The World Is Not Enough, oil industrialist Elektra King plots to destroy Istanbul in order to control the flow of oil out of the Caspian Sea.
Neither one of these plots is particularly original, In fact, the plot of A View To A Kill has been criticized as an update of Goldfinger which also involved a villain out to make an economic killing as a result of a disaster. Also present in the A View To A Kill plot is a healthy dose of the plot of Superman which involved Lex Luthor’s destruction of California via an earthquake.
The sub-plot of oil is what draws The World Is Not Enough closer to A View To A Kill than it does to Goldfinger or even Superman. Both A View To A Kill and The World Is Not Enough involve a leading lady whose family has been cheated out of their oil legacy. Stacey Sutton has to work as a state geologist to earn money to fight Max Zorin in the courts. Zorin had cheated Stacey out of her oil in a rigged proxy fight.
Elektra King also believes that her family has been cheated out of its oil. Elektra states that her father stole her mother’s rightful claim to the oil in the Caspian Sea. Fair enough, but it seems odd that this subplot should be used again in a Bond film.
The World Is Not Enough also adds the wrinkle of a female villain and the world’s greatest terrorist falling in love. All sorts of Freudian motivation of a father-daughter conflict are present (Elektra from Greek mythology – get it?) But the basic plot strands are the same.
For my money though, then execution of the villain’s caper is handled much better in A View To A Kill. The World Is Not Enough follows the recent tradition of murky Bond villain exposition. Elektra’s plot is explained in a few lines of dialogue when Bond realizes what the nuclear submarine is going to be used for. Then again, both plots from both films are explained as James Bond and the leading lady study a map. The “double earthquake” that will sink Silicon Valley seems more palpable than the whole business of irradiating the Bosphorous. Aren’t there any other ports in Turkey where the oil can be loaded onto the tankers? It seems a stretch that they are all located in Istanbul.
The comparison of the leading ladies in both A View To A Kill and The World Is Not Enough is also illuminating. I am not going to compare Tanya Roberts with Sophie Marceau because a blind person can see that Marceau is clearly the better actress. Then again, Sophie Marceau is really the villain in The World Is Not Enough.
This argument though is not so easily decided when you compare Tanya Roberts to Denise Richards. Both these American women are lovely to behold yet they both come up short in the acting world. Tanya Roberts is rightly knocked for her ditzy line readings of “James!” and for failing to see that blimp behind her.
Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones is no improvement though. The nadir of Denise’s performance comes when she’s sopping wet in the submarine and says that “we could write off the whole city”, a cringe-inducing moment if there ever was one.
The biggest mistake with Richards’ casting is her age. Its just not believable that someone in her mid-20s has a PhD in nuclear physics. Period. Stacey Sutton on the other hand, is a State of California employee, a vocation that many Californians feel does not require a lot of brains. Therefore Tanya Roberts is more believable in her role and less of a distraction to her film.
When it comes to villains, A View To A Kill trumps The World Is Not Enough any day of the week. Why? Two words – Christopher Walken. Oscar-winner Christopher Walken has made a career out of playing psychopathic villains and anti-heroes. It’s a great thing to have an actor of Walken’s stature hamming it up as a Bond villain. Walken may not be the greatest Bond villain but dammit, its fantastic to have an actor this prolific associated with the Bond series.
Christopher Walken is as active now as he was in 1985, if not more so. Gert Frobe may be the greatest Bond villain of all time, but you could count all of Frobe’s other memorable roles on one hand. Not so with Christopher Walken. This man has added edge and darkness to scores of films from Annie Hall to The Deer Hunter to True Romance to Sleepy Hollow.
The double villains of The World Is Not Enough cannot touch the wattage of Christopher Walken. Sophie Marceau is not revealed as the true villain until well into the film. Robert Carlyle as Renard is woefully underused in the film. When he is present, Renard is saddled with “drama” scenes that are passable but really have no place in a James Bond film. Point to A View To A Kill.
What can be said of the locations in A View To A Kill as opposed to The World Is Not Enough? First and foremost is the fact that most of the locations in A View To A Kill are real. Many of the locations in The World Is Not Enough are faked. Following the trend of Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough resorts to non-descript locations that double for Baku, the Caspian Sea and Istanbul. The viewer never feels that Bond is truly in these far-flung locations as they did with Japan in You Only Live Twice or Egypt in The Spy Who Loved Me to name some examples.
In A View To A Kill, Paris, Chantilly and San Francisco are all marvelously put to good use. Taking a bead from Alfred Hitchcock, famous landmarks are used in action setpieces. The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco feature prominently in memorable action sequences. The World Is Not Enough’s boring climax in a submarine under the Bosphorous seems waterlogged in comparison.
Secondary characters are also more interesting in A View To A Kill. Goldie’s Bull is an interesting sub-villain but is nowhere near as memorable as Grace Jones’ May Day. Gabor does not even rate. Robbie Coltrane’s Valentin Zukovsky is a fantastic foil for Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond. Coltrane is no Patrick Macnee though.
Patrick Macnee brings more of The Avengers cache to the James Bond series, following in the footsteps of Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. How cool is that? The Roger Moore-Patrick Macnee scenes have a warm familiarity to them which serves A View To A Kill well. The accumulated James Bond-Simon Templar-John Steed charm of these two actors is wonderful. How wonderful that these two real-life friends were allowed to share some of their personal charisma with us in a James Bond film.
One element that puts A View To A Kill in a class above The World Is Not Enough is music. John Barry provides his penultimate score to the Bond series with A View To A Kill. The results are electric. Eschewing the murky atmospherics of Octopussy, Barry provides action music in A View To A Kill that is among his best. Barry’s electric guitar influenced ski-chase music is awesome. The music from the last third of A View To A Kill covering the execution of Zorin’s plot is also excellent. This music echoes Barry’s excellent music from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
David Arnold’s music for The World Is Not Enough is functional but cannot touch John Barry. Compare the ski-chase music John Barry composed for A View To A Kill to the ski-chase music in The World Is Not Enough. Convinced yet? Arnold’s finest moment in The World Is Not Enough is the dance oriented boat chase music, an inheritor of the rock motifs Barry used in A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights.
The theme song of The World Is Not Enough has a superior pedigree to the song from A View To A Kill. David Arnold and Don Black created a fantastic song for The World Is Not Enough which was excellently brought to life by Garbage. The problem with this song though was that it died an ignominous death. I never heard it on the radio once, and I live in that small community with a shortage of radio stations called Los Angeles.
Say what you will about Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill, but that song rocked its way to the top of the charts in America. This was the last time that that has happened for a James Bond song. That’s no mean feat. I still hear A View To A Kill on the radio today. How cool is it to have a 007 song be a part of the retro-trendy 1980`s music revival?
Another element that sets A View To A Kill apart is the adrenaline of its action scenes. Need I remind you dear reader that action is what we go to a Bond movie for? You can stuff all the “dramatic” material. The World Is Not Enough had one too many scenes of Renard and Elektra emoting. Max Zorin and May Day did not sit around contemplating the vagaries of the heart. They just got on with the business of megalomania thank you very much.
Back to the action though. You have a ski-chase both in A View To A Kill and The World Is Not Enough. Which one is more memorable? The snowboarding chase in Siberia from A View To A Kill still gets the juices flowing. You need to light a match under my foot to get any response to the ski chase in The World Is Not Enough. The boat chase is the only thing that rocks in The World Is Not Enough. All of the other action sequences have a bloated, self-reverential air that ultimately undoes them.
The choreographed goofiness of the Seine car chase in A View To A Kill has more panache and style than the caviar factory sequence in The World Is Not Enough. These are the kind of things that makes us love Bond movies, not bad CGI effects of helicopter blades. We can forgive all the tacked on drama in the new Bond films but don’t mess with the action.
Let’s face it, A View To A Kill is a superior James Bond film to The World Is Not Enough. Sure it has its faults; an aging Roger Moore, some dubious acting, a slow moving second act, but the film is more than the sum of its parts. On the debit side though, A View To A Kill sets out to be an old fashioned James Bond caper involving a supervillain out to cause havoc for gain. The film makes no pretensions to being “dramatic”, we can watch American Beauty for those kind of thrills, give us a Bond movie please.
I am glad that the Bond series is still around and can be a box-office world beater. On the other hand though, I am saddened that a new Bond film cannot deliver the same type of thrills that films of the past could. Maybe I am growing up, but I know that the next time that A View To A Kill is fired up on video, a frisson of anticipation will shoot down my spine when the John Barry music kicks in on the frozen wasteland of Siberia.
Here’s to you, A View To A Kill. Happy 15th Anniversary!
–Greg Bechtloff is the American representative of The James Bond International Fan Club and Archive.