In the days leading up to the American premiere of Skyfall, the Shattered Lens has been revisiting the previous films in the James Bond franchise. Today we take a look at 1985’s A View To A Kill.
Along with bring the 14th “official” Bond film, it was also the last to star Roger Moore in the role of 007. On a personal note, it was also released the same year that I was born. I have to say that I hope I’ve aged better than this film has.
Much like The Spy Who Loved Me, A View To A Kill opens with a ski chase between Bond and a bunch of Russians. And while the chase itself isn’t all that exciting, it does lead to one of the better opening credits sequences of the Bond franchise.
Say what you will about A View To A Kill, it features the perfect theme song. I first heard Duran Duran’s title song long before I saw the actual film. After I graduated high school, I spent the summer in Italy and I can still remember hearing this song blaring from a loud speaker in Venice. With it combination of exuberant music and incoherent lyrics, the song is the perfect soundtrack for both an American girl abroad and a mid-80s spy flick.
A View To A Kill finds James Bond investigating the mysterious industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Though Zorin is one of the world’s richest men, MI6 is suspicious of him. Microchips manufactured by Zorin Industries are turning up in Russian submarines. Perhaps even worse, it’s become apparent that, much like Auric Goldfinger, Zorin is a cheater. He owns a champion racehorse but it’s rumored that the horse is somehow being given steroids. MI6 sends Bond and racehorse trainer Sir Godfrey Tibbets (played, quite wonderfully, by Patrick Macnee) to investigate.
These scenes, in which an undercover Bond sneaks around Zorin’s estate in France, are my favorites of the film. Moore and Macnee make for a likable team and it’s fun to watch the two veteran actors play off each other. As well, since these scenes are more about detection than action, it’s easier to ignore the fact that Moore was 58 years old when he made A View To A Kill.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t work as well and that’s unfortunate because A View To A Kill starts to get seriously weird as things progress. It turns out that Zorin isn’t just a shady businessman. No, he’s actually the product of Nazi genetic experimentation and, as a result, he’s both a genius and a complete sociopath. What this means is that, opposed to previous Bond antagonists, Zorin spends a lot more time giggling and smiling as if even he can’t believe how evil he is.
Bond ends up following Zorin and his aide, May Day (Grace Jones), to San Francisco. It’s there that Bond discovers that Zorin is planning on setting off a massive underground explosion, in hopes of causing an Earthquake that will totally destroy California. This will allow Zorin to corner the world microchip market and make a lot of money but, for the most part, Zorin just seems to want to do it so that he’ll have something to talk about the next time he gets together with his fellow megalomaniacs.
Once everyone arrives in San Francisco, James Bond ends up teaming up with geologist Stacy Sutton (played by Tanya Roberts, better known as Donna’s mother on That 70s Show). As for Zorin, he divides his time between holding business meetings on his blimp and laughing like a maniac while gunning down random people.
Seriously, it’s an odd film.
Whenever film critics are looking over the Bond films, A View to A Kill seems to be the Bond film that’s destined to get the least amount of respect and admittedly, this is an uneven entry in the Bond franchise. In Sinclair McKay’s excellent look at the oo7 films, The Man With The Golden Touch, Roger Moore is quoted as having been uncomfortable with just how violent A View To A Kill eventually turned out to be and, watching the film, he definitely had a point. It’s odd to see Moore’s light-hearted approach coupled with scenes in which Zorin gleefully kills a thousand people in a thousand seconds. It also didn’t help that, in this film, Roger Moore looked every bit of his 58 years. Never have I been as aware of stuntmen then when I watched A View To A Kill. Finally, Moore and Tanya Roberts have next to no chemistry together.
With all that in mind, A View To A Kill is something of a guilty pleasure and that’s largely because of the bad guys.
If anyone was born to play a Bond villain, it’s Christopher Walken and Max Zorin is an enjoyably over-the-top villain. Whereas previous Bond villains were motivated primarily by greed, Zorin is the first Bond sociopath and Walken seems to be having a blast playing bad. As opposed to the grim bad guys of the past, Zorin laughs and grins through the whole movie and Walken is a lot of fun to watch. Regardless of whatever other flaws that the film may have, Max Zorin is rightly regarded as one of the best of the cinematic Bond villains.
As played by Grace Jones, May Day is one of the franchise’s most memorable and flamboyant villainous lackeys. Much like Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jones is such a physical presence that she dominates every scene that she’s in. In their scenes together, Walken and Jones have the type of chemistry that’s so noticeably lacking between Moore and Roberts.
As I previously stated, A View To A Kill was Roger Moore’s final appearance as James Bond. Before we started our look at the Bond films, I spent some time researching the history of both the franchise and the men who have played 007. One thing that quickly became apparent was that nearly everyone agreed that Roger Moore is a nice, likable guy but that he didn’t bring much more than likability to the role of James Bond. Having now rewatched the Bond films, I can say that Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond was and is seriously underrated. Yes, Moore may have brought a light touch to the role but his interpretation of Bond was perfect for the films that he was starring in. Much as it’s difficult to imagine Roger Moore in From Russia With Love, it’s just as difficult to visualize Sean Connery in The Spy Who Loved Me. Moore’s greatest talent may have been likability but that likability kept the Bond franchise alive and Moore’s interpretation of the role deserves better than to be continually dismissed.
With Roger Moore leaving the franchise, the role of James Bond would next be played by an actor named Timothy Dalton. If Moore was the likable, fun Bond, Dalton was, in many ways, the complete opposite. We’ll be taking a look at The Living Daylights tomorrow.
As much as this film definitely hasn’t aged gracefully I’m always up for watching it to see the local sights that showed up when they filmed in San Francisco.
I do have Zorin in my top 3 best Bond villains. It’s just a shame that the character ended up in a story that never fully made use of such a fun character.
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Much to be said about what I feel is an underrated film.
Firstly, that theme song by Duran Duran: incoherent lyrics? Hardly. In fact, pay close attention–this is one of the few Bond theme songs that references a specific plot element of its film: “Still oversea, could it be the whole world opening wide?” is an allusion to Max Zorin’s plot to cause an earthquake in California (I’m certain that with a little more thought, you could make sense of much else in this song). Lyrically, and of course musically, this is one of the better Bond themes songs.
I don’t think there has ever been a Bond woman better than Grace Jones–maybe a few in her class, but definitely none better. She’s the most instantly recognisable (even moreso than Ursula Andress), exudes an extraordinary amount of presence, and she looks like she’d have great deal of fun tossing you around. It also goes without saying that she’s strikingly beautiful.
One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the above review was that “A View to a Kill” marked the film debut of Dolph Lundgren (at the time involved with Ms. Jones) in a bit role so small, it’s literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type stuff.
Anyone who best remembers Tanya Roberts from “That ’70s Show” is definitely a child of the 1990s. Slightly older folks shall know her as Tanya Roberts, “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle”, and before that, one of the cast members from “Charlie’s Angels”!
🙂 Yeah, the original Charlie’s Angels was a bit before my time. When I hear Charlie’s Angels, I tend to assume that people are talking about Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu. They did try to do a new Charlie’s Angels television series last year but I think it only lasted for like a handful of episodes. 🙂
As for the film’s theme song, I love it and I still have good memories of doing an impromptu little dance to it when I heard it in Venice. 🙂
That’s why they have reruns! Hey, I wasn’t around in 1976, either.
Perhaps because the original “Charlie’s Angels” TV serial shuffled its line-up, fans of the show don’t react so badly to the idea of remakes, spin-offs, etc. But I believe that for most people, the line-up will always be Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. Anyway, I was more interested in “The Six Million Dollar Man”, running around in a two-piece tracksuit and pretending that I was Steve Austin. Your kids might get injured playing James Bond, but they’ll never be hurt playing Steve Austin. You can’t really hurt yourself running in slow motion.
I once saw an orchestra play almost every James Bond theme in chronological order, but inexplicably, they omitted “A View to a Kill”. That’s okay, though, because I saw Duran Duran play it live a few years later. This and “The Living Daylights” (a-ha) are possibly the two greatest Bond theme songs. They maintain that Bond theme song sound, whereas a lot of the other Bond anthems…well, as great as they are, some of them could be from anywhere. Few title songs scream “Bond” quite like “A View to a Kill” and “The Living Daylights”.
Much as I despise macartney (as he relates to Lennon), his theme was better than either of those. Duran Duran is far better suited to shaking your booty (a la lmb) than as purveyors of cinematic art. One hit wonder a ha had one of my favorite “one hit”s of all time, but again – I would place these two near the bottom when ranking bond songs as they fit and/or accentuate the actual films they are meant to support.
Songs I’d like to hear outside the context of the films – way up there , yes – possibly top two. But as important contributors to the impact or feel of the underlying films, there are other (admittedly worse) songs that I feel are more effective.
“Duran Duran is far better suited to shaking your booty… than as purveyors of cinematic art.”
Spoken like somebody who has never seen them perform live.
Their concert was a tremendous delight to me, not only as a music fan, but also as a film buff. The stage was decked out with several large video screens. They opened with “Before the Rain” and were accompanied by ancient monochrome footage that appeared to have been extracted from an Eisenstein film (most probably was, but I couldn’t tell you off hand which one). The song itself has this real Russian feel to it–to me it was absolute bliss, I was totally amazed. Later, they played “Blame the Machines” and the video screens brought to life various clips from “Metropolis” with the android Maria coming to life. Words can’t do it justice, it’s just something that you have to see and hear for yourself. It was done so well, it made me wonder if Duran Duran had ever been approached to do an entire film soundtrack. To me, it was like going to the cinema as much as it was a rock concert.
As for a-ha…”One hit wonder”? Are you kidding?
I’ve always loathed the mentality that just because it wasn’t a hit in the US, it wasn’t a hit. To me, that just says that the US got left behind the rest of the world.
a-ha racked up 19 (count them, 19) Top 20 singles in their native Norway, as well as 14 Top 20 singles in the United Kingdom (hardly a small market) and 13 Top 20 singles in Germany (again, not exactly a small market). The only reason that they are considered to be “one hit wonders” is because radio stations play “Take on Me” incessantly, ignoring the raft of other singles in their catalogue.
The song in question, “The Living Daylights”, was No.1 in Norway, No.2 in Ireland, No.3 in Sweden, Poland and Italy, No.5 in the UK and South Africa, No.8 in Germany and Switzerland, No.9 in the Nederlands, Top 30 in Australia, Spain, France and Austria and sold more than two million copies worldwide. Several other a-ha single releases enjoyed similar global acclaim. There are many groups who never even had one hit in Australia, but I wouldn’t brand them “no hit wonders” for that reason.
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I like “Live and Let Die” too. 🙂 Though my favorite Bond theme song remains the “All Time High” one. 🙂
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You make a good point about Roger Moore’s likability adding to the James Bond character. As I said earlier, Roger Moore may not have been my favorite Bond but he kept the franchise going for what? 12 years? 15? And on the whole he did a terrific job. Two out-and-out stinkers out of seven movies isn’t bad at all.
Know what irks me about this movie? That the screenwriters had no imagination when it came to Patrick Macnee. They could have had a lot of fun dropping hints that maybe this was a semi-retired John Steed. Nope. Instead they used him as the butt of some not very funny gags.
And it never fails to baffle me that everybody complains about Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist but have no problem buying Tanya Roberts (who is for my money the worst actress to have ever lived) as a geologist.
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