Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0022 A View To A Kill (1985)

A View To A Kill is like three movies rammed together, and none of them are good. The first is a silly excuse to base-jump the Eiffel Tower. The second is a pointless game of cat and mouse between Bond and a crooked horse breeder. The third is a pedantic police chase. Add in an effete Bond, a litigant for a Bond girl, and a weak villain, and this movie just fails all around. That’s why this is Number 0022 of 0023 on our countdown.

Plot Quality: A View To A Kill comes in three parts. The first involves Bond witnessing the assassination of a French private detective. Unfortunately, silliness knows no bounds here. For example, rather than meeting Bond somewhere secure, the detective meets Bond at a restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because it will look cool when his assassin dives off the Tower and parachutes to the ground. Naturally, Bond gives chase and the scene further embarrasses the film as Bond ends up splitting the crappy car he car-jacks in half and somehow manages to drive around Paris in only the front half of a car as people do desperately unfunny double-takes.
With this silliness out of the way, Bond travels to France to observe Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a wealthy horse breeder and owner of Zorin Industries. Bond’s purpose is to learn how a microchip made by Zorin Industries could end up in the Soviet Union, but the film kind of forgets this. Instead, Bond investigates how Zorin can breed horses no one is supposed to be able to breed. To help him with this, he adopts the see-through alias of St. John (pronounced "Sin-Jin") Smythe, a wealthy fool, and brings along Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), a horse expert, as his chauffeur.

This part of the film comes closest to being a Bond film, so long as you don’t think about it. For one thing, while Bond sneaks around in traditional Bond style, he’s actually skipped his assignment to investigate the horses – Zorin uses drugs to cheat. That makes this entire part of the film irrelevant to the plot. He also decides that a woman must be a plot point for no apparent reason. Her name is Sutton and Zorin is trying to buy her business and there is literally no way Bond should see her as relevant to his mission. Bond seduces Zorin’s henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones) to avoid detection, and Zorin goes along with it even though he knows Bond’s true identity. May Day then kills Sir Godfrey in one of those “how did he not look in the backseat” kind of murders when they could have just shot him, and Zorin tries to kill Bond when he could just ship him home in disgrace. Finally, this part of the film end without a transition.
The final part of the film is utter nonsense. First you meet Bond’s irrelevant CIA contact. He’s a Chinese nerd who sells fish at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf as a cover. But there’s no reason whatsoever for him to need a cover. And he ultimately does nothing before he gets killed. Bond meets Sutton too and the sparks do not fly. They decide to break into San Francisco City Hall at night, even though Sutton apparently can get what they want during the day. Incredibly, Zorin shows up just then and frames them for murder and arson, which forces Bond and Sutton to flee the cops on an old fire engine. A painful, generic, incompetent chase scene ensues with lots of zany crashy cop car fun. Bond and Sutton then go to Zorin’s mine, where Bond cracks wise about “women” blech and their high heels, before Zorin shoots his employees to prove he’s insane. We now know Zorin’s diabolical plan. He intends to cause an earthquake by flooding the mine with seawater. This will flood Silicon Valley, which will allow a group of foreigners to take over the microchip market. Soon, everything in the world will be made in China!! Mwoo ha ha! Oh, wait. Anyway, after they escape the mine, Bond chases Zorin, who is on a blimp floating over San Francisco, and kills him in a fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bond Quality: Where to begin? This was Roger Moore’s final Bond film and, to put it bluntly, he was too old. His age was already becoming a problem in For Your Eyes Only and here it was just too much. Ironically, age itself wasn’t even the problem – Liam Neeson (60) is older than Moore (57) was and yet he plays kick-ass heroes. The problem was that Moore seemed old because he comes across like a British pensioner. He walks, he doesn’t run, and he walks gingerly. He waits his turn to speak, he doesn’t dominate the conversation. He avoids physical fights, choosing instead to let the women and children around him fight instead. And his snarky one-liners come across as pissy rather than tough because he never earns them. Essentially, he walks through the film like a snotty British tourist.

The Bond Girl(s): The Bond girls are kind of hard to like in this one. On the one hand, you have Grace Jones as May Day. She’s butch. She’s unattractive. Her acting is horrible. In fact, she’s basically reprising her role as Zula from Conan the Destroyer. And while she does have some chemistry with Christopher Walken, she has no chemistry with Bond even when he’s trying to seduce her.

The main Bond girl is Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton. Roberts is a never-was and the character she plays suffers from some serious flaws. For one thing, it’s hard to care about her “plight.” She’s the granddaughter of an oil tycoon whose company is being taken over by Zorin, and when we first meet her, Zorin is offering her a huge check worth more money that any of us will see in our lifetimes. That is problematic because it makes it hard to see her as a victim, especially when she claims to be poor. There is no chemistry whatsoever between her and Bond either. Again, he is too old for her and acts more like a father tagging along on his daughter’s adventure.
Her manner doesn’t fit a Bond girl either. Most Bond girls are fiery with a strong independent streak, which then gives way to Bond’s charm. They typically want revenge for something and the only thing holding them back is Bond’s need to solve his case. Sutton isn’t like that. She acts like someone trying to build a legal case, someone who sees James Bond as the lawyer who agreed to help her. That makes her a client more than an object of desire.

Villain Quality: A View To A Kill goes really wrong here too. Christopher Walken wasn’t the first choice (David Bowie was), but he does a decent job given what he’s been handed. The problem is he’s been handed garbage. First, unlike every other Bond villain, he’s not evil because he chooses to be, he’s evil because he’s the product of a genetic experiment which makes him psychotic. Further, we are told the KGB gave Zorin his money and his power, which means he never earned his own villainy and we have no reason to see him as a worthy challenger for Bond. He’s basically a crazy monkey on a string who just cut the string.

Further, his scheme is horrible. For one thing, even though he’s psychotic, the scheme itself isn’t psychotic. . . he just wants to get rich. So his scheme doesn’t tie in with the reason he’s a villain. That would be like Goldfinger’s plan being to steal cars. Also, Zorin is already filthy rich, so why do this? The writers then muddy this further by suggesting that his scheme to destroy Silicon Valley was somehow a KGB operation which the KGB no longer wants him to do. But this information doesn’t connect to the film. It’s basically the writers hoping that the audience will latch onto this bit of information and infer a backstory where there is none. Also, if the KGB really wanted to stop him, as claimed at one point in the film, why not just kill him? There is no way a couple henchmen could stop the KGB from killing Zorin or dragging him back to Moscow if they wanted. Drowning Silicon Valley is a great idea, but failing to give Zorin a reason to do it and tossing in a contradictory KGB angle ruins it.
Zorin is also one of those villains with too much access to knowledge, like how his computer spots Bond as 007 or how he knows to go to San Francisco City Hall at the right time to catch Bond breaking in. Yet, at the same time, he keeps getting a case of the stupids, like when he needlessly shoots his henchmen to prove he’s psychotic. And if Sutton is such a problem for him, which is never clear, why doesn’t he just kill her? All in all, his behavior seems too random on the one hand, but too much exactly-what-the-plot-needs on the other.

Conclusion

This was a poor finish for Roger Moore, who really should have retired four years earlier. I suspect many of the problems of this film, like the lackluster stunts and the lack of chemistry with the Bond girls, is related to Moore seeming rather frail at this point. But even beyond that, this film keeps undercutting itself by never thinking through why any of the characters would actually do the things they are doing. Combine that with a villain who is little more than a petulant puppet, and you end up with one of the worst Bond films. That’s why this film is No. 0022 of 0023.

42 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

I have only seen this one on Bond marathon, and then, I'm not sure I watched all of it. It is one of the Bond films that really only ripped off the title of the Fleming title of the same name. It marked the low ebb of my interest in the Bond films, and your review underscores why

Tennessee Jed said...

oh, and your comments on Grace Jones and Tanya Roberts are spot on. I mean really ... what were they thinking. This almost doesn't deserve to be considered a Bond film except it is.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This was probably the low point for the series. The films around this time were not good, they switched to Dalton's films weren't any better.

Yeah, Jones and Roberts were totally worthless in this. Jones couldn't act and Roberts was handed a horrible role that stripped Bond of everything that makes him appealing. Blech.

Backthrow said...

As bad as DIE ANOTHER DAY is, I still personally put A VIEW TO A KILL at the very bottom of the Bond film list. It's the pits. I saw this new in the theater in '85, just after my junior year in high school, and I actually fell asleep during that fire engine chase! All of Andrew's criticisms in this review are well-founded.

The only redeeming qualities I can think of are John Barry's score (his last for the series), and maybe some of the top-of-the-bridge stuff in the action climax... more the setting/location/effects work than the actual fighting, and even that is far from top-flight Bond. I like the idea of a not-too-decrepit Patrick Macnee as a friend/contact in a Bond film, but it's all wasted here.

Now, while reading the description of the convoluted plot background of Zorin and the KGB, it made me think that a more interesting plot at that time might've been one where the KGB sets up some brilliant mastermind to do a dirty on the West... but then, for whatever (logical) reason, pulls him back, only to have him decide to do something even *worse* on his own initiative --something that would logically benefit *him*, rather than his masters-- that could catastrophically affect both the West and the Soviets... and he has some kind of leverage that would prevent the KGB from just liquidating him. Sort of a combination of Zorin, Robert Shaw's 'Red Grant' in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and Steven Berkoff's 'General Orlov' in OCTOPUSSY, who decides he'd rather be another Blofeld or Auric Goldfinger, rather than a cog in the Soviet machine. Bond has to deal with stopping him, with little or no help from the Soviets, who are trying to cover this mess up.

Backthrow said...

Whoops, my bad... John Barry's last score for the series was, in fact, for the next film, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

Commander Max said...

I wasn't to impressed with this one.
Moore really did look a little to old for the roll, Not unlike Connery in the last Bond film he did.
This Film was pretty much the end of Bond for me. The older stuff was more fun(even the bad ones), there does come a point where things should be given a rest.

I would say that for every franchise. When things have been around your whole life(I'm 45) they get boring.

tryanmax said...

I take it that the only thing keeping this film from last place is the Walken Effect. That is, the effect wherein any type of cinema, no matter how bad it is, is made better by the mere presence of Christopher Walken.

On the other hand, Grace Jones...eek!




Eek!

rlaWTX said...

I am not remotely sad that I have not seen this movie.

djskit said...

This was on cable not long ago and I stumbled into the scene at the horse track wher is was Moore, Macnee and some other old dude standing there with Tanya Roberts.

My immediate impression was a bunch of old guys drooling over this young babe. My vision then flased to the too old producers of the movie looking for a continued excuse to hire their old freinds and drool over hot young babes.

The creep factor of that one scene is very high and just about sumarizes everything wrong with this movie: old, tired, running on auto-pilot, serving the desires of the producers. Making a movie people would want to see? Low on the list.

One thing you should mention in these reviews is the theme song. I always liked the trend of hiring the latest hit maker for the theme song. Adele for Skyfall is a perfect example.

This one has the 80's band of Duran Duran (named after the planet in Barbarella)! which I didn't like in the 80's but do now.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, That would have made for a much more interesting plot. I suspect the KGB angle was added late in the process as a way to explain why Zorin does what he does. It doesn't fit with the story and it end up causing nothing more than a single throw-away scene that never means anything to the film. But I think they decided they needed a Soviet connection because the rest of the film just wasn't "Bond" enough for some reason.

The fire engine chase was horrible. It was obviously a blue screen and it was so filled with stupid antics that it wasn't clear if it was a joke or a serious chase. And in the end, it just felt out of place and stupid. By the time the cop starts talking about taking the damage out of another cop's salary, I was shaking my head at the whole idea that anyone would have thought this was a good thing to include in this film.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I think that's the reason for reboots. And in theory, each Bond operated as a reboot. Unfortunately, Moore stayed on WAAAAAAY too long and then Dalton's films were so timid that they never acted like a real reboot. This film felt "worn out" to me in every way. The action was tired, Bond was lazy, the villain didn't even care about his plot.

Think about the difference between Goldfinger chuckling to himself at the brilliance of his plan and Zorin acting like a generic super villain running around waving his arms and screaming.

Nothing in this film worked.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, The only thing keeping this film from last place is that this film didn't insult you, it just bored you. This film was horrid in every way (with a few enjoyable moments in the middle section), but Die Another Day was actively offensive over and over.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, They're all worth seeing at least once, but this one is a turd... watch it on fast forward.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, I'm thinking of doing the theme songs in a separate article. I did like the theme here. I wouldn't put it in the top 10, but it's not bottom 5 either.

I think your instincts are right about a bunch of tired old guys making this film. Not only does everything feel tired, but there is a sense of old/new in this film, with an "uncomfortable" line between them. Moore is very old and no one seems to like him except the other old men (MacNee, M). The young people (Roberts, the CIA, Zorin, Jones) treat him like a grandfather they need to tolerate. Basically, Moore is out of place. The plot is most comfortable in the old world of horse breeding and gets really uncomfortable in the worlds of microchips and action sequences -- and even there they try to pull in a routine with the fire engine that felt like something you'd seen in a dozen 1960s comedies. The KBG chief looks tired. Bond looks tired. Zorin keeps saying how much Bond bores him. Bond has a hard time adjusting to modern "women"... blech. It feels like a bunch of out-of-touch old guys made a film by trying to give young people what they want, but didn't know how to do that, and they couldn't stop themselves from taking shots at those people in the process.

tryanmax said...

RE: split car - there is simply no good reason why the same gag that appears in Disney's The Love Bug should appear more than a decade later in a Bond film.

I still like to think that the Walken Effect plays some part in the matter.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's true. But that's the problem with this "crew." Not only did they rip off entire plots, but they even stole gags. Look at how they repeated the idea of the car coming out of the water in Spy Who Loved Me and then the gondola coming out of the water in Moonraker right down to the drunk looking at his drink and the animal (pigeon/dog) doing a doubletake... identical moments. I don't remember off the top of my head if they did any doubletakes here, but I think they may have.

The fire engine chase absolutely feels like it's been stolen from a half dozen other films as well. The mine scene has a real "Temple of Doom" feel to it (which was a year earlier). The Timothy Dalton films (as you'll see soon) were ripoffs as well. This period was pretty shameless.


I'm not saying the Walken Effect isn't at play -- he definitely adds a few points even to the worst films. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

Re: "The Walken Effect" - This film also brought out the worst in Walken .... unless perhaps, this was actually a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing 007. Interestingly, while I first took notice of Walken in Deer Hunter, I do remember he broke in with none other than (wait for It) Sean Connery in the Anderson Tapes, a fairly mundane effort that was one of Connery's first "non-Bond" efforts. It was an interesting cast, but came across as a bit boring on the screen.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree with that. Walken generally lifts a film, even when he's playing really nutso, but here he felt more like a parody of something rather than Walken as the villain. If he'd played this character more like he did the character in Last Man Standing that would have helped. That character was menacing. His character here is clownish. Still, he's a much better choice for a villain than Robert Davi or Joe Don Baker... both of whom are coming up.

Tennessee Jed said...

BTW, Andrew, I don't know how many readers are familiar with the actual story by Ian Fleming. He had decided to deviate from his normal full novel format and published 5 short stories together under the title "For Your Eyes Only" which was also the title of one of the stories. The first, titled "From A View To Kill" takes place entirely in France, and since Bond happens to be in Paris, "M" gets Bond to assist the French station. Motorcycle dispatch carriers are being murdered, and of Course 007 gets involved by posing as a rider himself. The Bond girl, Mary Ann Russell is everything the film girls are not. She saves Bond's life. I would have loved to see these stories done as episodes of a mini-series, or fleshed out a little more. Anyway, for those who haven't read "From A View To Kill" treat yourself. It's Bond as Bond should be.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I haven't read those, so thanks for the information! It sounds like this film really just took the title and dumped the rest of it. But that's not really uncommon with these films. It's too bad too because that at least sounds like an interesting story.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I've only seen this one straight through once or twice and it's just... boring. The horse racing scenes aren't exciting, Walken is fun but doesn't make much of an impression (not as much as he should), and it's all old hat.

In the plus column, at least Tanya Roberts is pleasant to look at, though this might be her only movie where she keeps her clothes on! :-)

There's also John Barry's penultimate Bond score and the Duran Duran song, which we used in a student film (first as a joke but it was kept in because people liked it).

You mentioned bluescreen above and, if anything, they would've been using rear projection. But even then, it doesn't look great and it's one of the things that dates the 80s Bond flicks, including the Dalton films. Like bluescreen, it's just a tool but some filmmakers (like James Cameron) can make it look great and while the Bond team circa the 80s did the best they could, it still looks fake.

And Grace Jones... I hate to join the chorus here, but yikes!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's force of habit. If I was 20 years older, I'd probably have talked about the claymation chase. :P Seriously though, yes it was rear projection and it was HORRIBLE! Look at the image in the article and you get a sense of what the whole thing looked like. It was clearly Moore on a mockup as images of whatever happened behind him. Very poorly done.

I don't actually have anything against Grace Jones except that she was just wrong here. She was fine in Conan II, but she played the same character here and that doesn't work.

Agreed on Walken, he seems to enjoy himself, but in the end he comes across as "Generic Supervillain." In fact, he plays the kind of character who is so close to parody that you kind of wonder at times if he understood his role.

Yep... boring. A lot of times, you get films that have potential and misfire, or you get films that are full of sound and fury but end up saying diddly. This one is really neither. I don't even see the potential and there isn't enough action to cover up the lack of potential. This feels like a film where someone picked the three locations and then they just kind of made up plot as they went to fill in the film. A very poor effort.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

No worries - I'm a stickler when it comes to FX terminology, at least when I know what I'm talking about! :-)

You may have read this before but apparently, Roger Moore realized he was too old for the role when he found out he was older than Tanya Roberts' mother.

Now that I think of it, Walken's genetic backstory was more interesting than the actual plot, and it's not even relevant!

djskit said...

Andrew - There are 2 ways to look at Bond songs - 1) are they any good/have they aged well? 2) how well to they present a snap-shot pop culture at the time?

But I'll say no more until your feature..."rank the bond songs!"

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I have read that before, but let me point out as I do in the article, his age alone isn't the problem. Neeson is older now than Moore was at the time and yet he would make an excellent James Bond. The problem was that Moore was always rather prissy and it really comes across here. He's not at all physical or intimidating, he's verbally snippy, and he seems like a rather effete old guy out with his daughter.

Walken's backstory would have been interesting if they had somehow made use of it. As it is, he could just as easily be a KGB agent gone quasi-rogue or a mafia guy or whatever.

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, I think that's right. And on the second point, there's another aspect -- do they symbolize the role of James Bond in the culture at the time.

ScottDS said...

I wasn't disagreeing with what you said - just pointing out something. :-)

P.S. Why didn't you use this poster instead?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I know you aren't disagreeing... or I would have killed you. :D (Just kidding)

I decided to use the British release posters for the whole series because they're more interesting.

ScottDS said...

Fair enough, though we should probably avoid Polish posters - they look too weird! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, those are horrible. They're like nightmare versions of movie posters.

Alex said...

Never seen this one...in fact, I think I've only seen Dr. No, GoldenEye, that crappy one with Denise Richards, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but this...this one sounds even worse than that crappy one with Denise Richards!

Re: Grace Jones: Yikes!

shawn said...

This was my bottom choice of Bond films . I'll have to watch it again just to be reminded of how horrible it was, but I remember it being terribly silly and Moore appearing way, way too old. Not much to like here. Oh well, on to better Bond movies!

AndrewPrice said...

Alex, This one was bad. I do recommend seeing them all at least once, but this one was bad.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, We are slowly getting to better and better films. :)

Yeah, those one offers almost nothing to like. I want to like it, but there's just nothing here.

Dwizzum said...

Andrew, you are spot on with all your points. The only elements I liked about this dud were Patrick MacNee, and the theme song.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Your "three locations and then invent a plot" comment is straight on is one of my big problems with the big budget movies of today.

They aren't scripts, they are "flowcharts." Get from A to this Battle B to chase scene C to love scene D to bigger battle E, then introduce secondary character F to bigger battle G etc......

I first noticed it when I was forced to sit through the second Pirates of the Carribbean movie. It was just one overblown CGI set piece after another with the barest of scripts to set them up. Can anyone really remember any of the motivations or the transitions in that film and many others of its ilk?

I sure as hell can't.

AndrewPrice said...

Dwizzum, That's about all that's good in this film.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That's the problem today. Hollywood uses a corporate model of film making which doesn't view films as art, it views them as product. And product gets assembled by flowcharts and tested by focus groups. So you end up with a series of necessary events to satisfy the audience and then a lot of CGI to distract people from noticing the lack of coherence in the "plot."

Anonymous said...

I remember this one being on a lot in the 90's when I was a kid, for some reason. The casting of Christopher Walken and Grace Jones is probably the most memorable aspect of this film. I'm not sure it made sense, but those are two faces that are hard to forget in a film. That and the car chase in Paris are probably the only two things I distinctly remember from this film.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: But dude that 45 minute lightsaber duel was sooooooo cooooooool, so totally worth it!"

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Horrible, isn't it?

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Yeah, casting Grace Jones and Christopher Walken definitely gave the film a buzz, but the problem is they did nothing with it really.

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