“Sir Godfrey, on a mission, I am expected to sacrifice myself!” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. We close out the Roger Moore era with his 1985 outing, A View to a Kill.
There are three things people remember about A View to a Kill: 1) The Duran Duran theme song (come back next week for more on that), 2) Christopher Walken is the bad guy, and 3) it is the farewell for Roger Moore. And that’s kind of the problem. There are only three things that people remember. To watch the film again, you realize why that is.
It really is kind of sad because Roger Moore was the Bond of my generation. All the Bond films shown on the ABC Sunday Night Movie were Moore’s. His were also the ones that garnered the most attention because they were huge box office draws. However, as each film in the 80s released, the more it was obvious that Bond was struggling to remain hip for the present decade. I’ve been saying it now for three consecutive movies, but a lot of that was due to Moore’s age.
A View to a Kill opens with a neat little pre-title sequence in which Bond is recovering a stolen microchip from the body of 003 in Siberia. He is attacked by Soviets, and has to escape. Everything seems pretty James Bond-like to me so far until something very bizarre happens. Bond uses the ski of a snowmobile to do something that may never have been seen before, or at least something far from popular in 1985 – snowboard. Now, that’s all fine and dandy. It’s a neat scene. However, a version of the Beach Boys’ song “California Girls” plays while he’s making a fool of these Russian guys. We’re barely five minutes into this movie and I’m kind of taken out of this by a bizarre choice and a very silly moment.
You know what? The song doesn’t even fit. The song is about hot girls all over the United States and how the California girls are the best – probably due to beachwear. How does that track with snowboarding? Okay, maybe the part that he skims over the water on the ski makes it look like he is surfing, but… It doesn’t fit. Also, it is awkwardly edited from the score to the song and back to the score. It never felt right to me.
We then get into the story proper that deals with the idea that microchips used in computers are incredibly susceptible to the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of a nuclear weapon. The British had a chip that was immune to an EMP, but 003 stole a Russian chip with the same capability. The company who makes the chips, Zorin, must have a leak or double dealing. Bond gets in contact with Max Zorin (Walken) and Zorin’s bodyguard, May Day (Grace Jones). Bond learns that Zorin has a personal doctor around him that was a former Nazi scientist. Zorin is the product of Nazi eugenics as are his prized horses that he owns and races.
Zorin’s real plan is to corner the market in microchips. How does he plan to do this? He plans to do this by flooding Silicon Valley, thus making him super rich and the only person who will make microchips. How he would flood that area of California would be by simulating an earthquake with bombs in a mine shaft. Now, I owe this critique to Roger Ebert who pointed out how silly this plot is. Microchips aren’t totally made only in Silicon Valley. Pieces of chips are made by ceramic which can be made anywhere, elements are made in China, which means that is not in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is just where the computer companies are that use the microchips made elsewhere. Obviously, Zorin has his own chips because he is hording them during the mid-80s microchip shortage that was a real world problem at the time. So that should make it clear that Zorin’s own plan to flood Silicon Valley is already flawed.
Okay, so maybe you can let that slide. Not everyone is an expert in every kind of chip. I’m an expert in potato chips, but not computer chips. That said, I am also an expert in knowing when a movie just is kind of flat. I hate to keep harping on this, but at the time this film was filmed, Moore was 57 years old. His co-star, Tanya Roberts, was in her early 30s. It’s often said that Moore was mortified when he heard that Roberts’ mother was younger than he was. It’s often stated that this was Moore’s least favorite Bond film he did. He was unhappy with some of the violence done by Walken’s character later in the film. He didn’t feel right anymore in the part.
And it showed. He struggles in action sequences at this point. What action scenes he is part of are slower. Much slower. The love scenes don’t feel attractive or sexy anymore. When he beds Grace Jones, she manhandles him – which is partly a joke, but also clearly would be true if a 57 year old tried to dominate Grace Jones in her prime. At one point, Zorin gets the upper hand on Bond and Sir Godfrey Tibbett (played by Patrick Macnee who was John Steed on TV’s The Avengers), and is going to kill 007. Bond threatens that if MI6 doesn’t get a check in from him, they will retaliate. Zorin laughs it off and says they will only probably try to cover up his incompetence.
When, ever, in any Bond film, would have heard a villain actually say that to Bond and for you, as an audience member, to agree with the bad guy?
The other issue comes in the form of Bond’s relationship with Stacy Sutton (Roberts). Sutton is a sympathetic character whose grandfather’s oil company was bought out by Zorin’s company. Now, here you have a very pretty blonde who was once one of the stars of Charlie’s Angels, and… There’s practically no chemistry between her and Moore. Remember, I said he found out he was older than her mother. That comes through between them. He almost comes across as a father figure to her, but then they have romantic moments too. It just doesn’t fit. After coming to San Francisco, he runs into a Soviet spy and has sex with her in a hot tub. He has more chemistry in the ten or so minutes of screen time she has than he does with Roberts. Their first scene together at Zorin’s horse farm is all you need to know about their chemistry. He hits on her, poorly, and she barely gives him any attention. It’s kind of painful because it’s not like she’s another spy, or a villain, or anyone who would basically stand up to Bond or be immune to his charms.
Roberts also doesn’t seem very invested in this movie either. She was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for worst actress, and I feel like that was probably as a joke thinking her a blonde haired, blue eyed Bond girl bimbo. I think it is more that chemistry issue with Moore.
There is a particularly unfortunate scene in the movie where Zorin has trapped Bond and Stacy in City Hall in San Francisco and set the building on fire. People, as they do, gather around to gawk at the fire. Bond has to figure out a way to escape a trapped elevator that is on fire and also get Stacy out. They work their way to the top of the building and the music swells and everyone cheers when Bond emerges from the roof with Stacy on his shoulders and they get onto the fire truck’s ladder. The music tells me this is something of a supremely heroic moment, but… It’s more of a wonder with a 57 year old man carrying a 30-something woman and able to safely climb down a ladder.
So you have Roger Moore running on fumes in the lead. Tanya Roberts is supposed to be romantically involved with someone her dad’s age. A poorly conceived plot that has lots of holes. It even manages to have an embarrassingly bad title drop in dialog that makes no sense. Anything good in this film?
Well, actually yes. Christopher Walken is a complete lunatic in this movie. This is about seven years after he won an Oscar for The Deer Hunter. Here, it just seems like he’s having as much fun as he could possibly have on a film. There are few villains in this earlier era of Bond that are as famous as Walken has been throughout his career. He is chewing scenery and almost seems like he is doing everything he can to make Roger Moore look inadequate. It’s sad that he is succeeding in every scene they shared.
There is also one really good stunt in the movie. Bond meets with a man in a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower. May Day is sent to kill the man meeting with Bond and when she’s chased by 007, she parachutes off the tower and floats through Paris until she lands on a boat where Zorin is waiting for her. It’s a neat thing because you should not be able to parachute off something in a city that close to the ground and be able to do something interesting with the stunt. Additionally, Bond is pursuing May Day in a car that gets sheared in half. It’s a fun scene.
I also generally like the setting of San Francisco in the back half of the film. There is a really pretty shot of a sunset over the bay when that Russian spy is coming out of the water after recording some secrets from Zorin at a meeting. The finale on the Golden Gate Bridge is cool as well. The scenes with Zorin at his ranch and stables were shot at Château de Chantilly in France. I like that it is a place that was owned by a guy who loved horses and was convinced be’d reincarnated as one. So he built a place that has nicer stables than servants’ quarters and is thought of as a paradise for horses.
Sadly, when it is all said and done, this is an unfortunate conclusion to a great career as James Bond for Moore. I don’t know if this movie would have been better if Moore had opted to not return after Octopussy or if this is just a grand convergence of everything that could go wrong all at once. With the help of foresight, one thing is for certain though – better times are ahead.
Join me next week for a look at the music of A View to a Kill which is one of the few positives in the film. In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the first of the Timothy Dalton Bond films, The Living Daylights.