Friday, November 14, 2008

Intuitive Improvisation

On the off chance that I have any credibility with anyone, this is probably where I lose what little there is. Here’s the thing. I like A VIEW TO A KILL. Yes, really. I genuinely enjoy it. I get pleasure out of the thing, what can I say. I’m not saying I think it’s in the top tier of the series and I’m definitely not saying that I’m blind to some of its faults like how Roger Moore is obviously way too old but if I sit down to watch the thing it puts a smile on my face. I can’t help it. The film has a scene where Bond is snooping around in a tux during a fancy party when he is discovered by an old ex-Nazi doctor who asks him, “Can I help you?” “Yes, I was looking for the bar,” replies Bond. “Come, I will show you,” offers the old ex-Nazi and they walk off to the bar together. I don’t know about you, but this has never happened to me. Isn’t that the sort of reason why we watch these movies over and over again?

The plot: does it matter? Fine, here it is. After retrieving a microchip in Siberia during the pre-credit sequence, Bond arrives at M’s office where the chip has been thoroughly analyzed. Q stuns everyone by describing a scenario where a magnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion could disable every such chip in England, thus rendering their defenses powerless against an attack. Before we have a chance to absorb such news, Q adds that chips are now being made that are impervious to such an attack. Whew, that was a close one. I guess that won’t be the plot of the movie. However, Q then adds that the chip Bond recovered is identical to microchips made by Zorin Industries on their side of the Iron Curtain. As everyone tries to determine how this happened Bond, using his brilliant deductive reasoning, asks, “What about Zorin himself?” Cleary, Bond knows that Max Zorin, referred to as “a leading French industrialist, a staunch anti-communist with influential friends in the government” (surprisingly, there is no sequence where he is being awarded “Man of the Year” by somebody) is being played by Christopher Walken and they wouldn’t have cast him in the movie unless he was the villain. Bond, accompanied by Sir Godfrey Tibbett (a welcome Patrick Macnee) attends a horse auction at Zorin’s estate to investigate the matter. What do horses have to do with anything? Beats me, especially since the thread is essentially abandoned midway through in favor of Zorin’s main goal: a diabolical plan to destroy Silicon Valley so he can corner the world microchip market.

It doesn’t sound like I’m making fun of it, does it? A VIEW TO A KILL is fairly ludicrous from start to finish, with a script that’s feels like it’s assembled by a bunch of ideas for setpieces and locations thrown together at random, not by any desire to create a storyline where one section flows into the other organically. And yet, there’s something about it that I honestly find entertaining. Part of this is certainly nostalgia—most people no doubt have an attachment to the James Bond they first knew and for me it’s not a case of preferring Roger Moore but in enjoying the entries he was appearing in around this time. Unlike the transitional growing pains of LIVE AND LET DIE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN or the epic grandeur of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, Moore’s final three films as the character, all directed by John Glen are pretty much straight-ahead adventures more than anything else. VIEW is certainly the weakest of the three but there are still lots of things about it that I like. I enjoy the pre-credit ski chase (no matter how obvious it is that Roger Moore never went anywhere near the location), the jump off the Eiffel Tower and it’s hard for there not to be a huge grin on my face once we get to the final fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ll watch it again if I feel like it. There’s even a feeling throughout that, as much as the character of Bond relies on lame one-liners he is constantly forced to use his wits with surprisingly few of Q’s gadgets as his disposal this time around. The script might be a little lame but it does present us with a 007 who for the most part is working on his own and has to figure things out on occasion, more than he does in a few entries that are much more popular. There’s also a bright, open feel to the film with enjoyable location work, particularly in France and San Francisco, maybe the one city in the States where it really makes sense to have Bond visit. People really prefer THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, a film which contains Christopher Lee and Kung Fu yet still manages to be dull, to this? Maybe they saw that one when they were a kid like I saw this one.

There’s also an odd attempt to keep the cold war threat alive in the film by spending valuable screen time on the Soviets—part of this is to establish the backstory of the Zorin character but much of it never leads anywhere and as a result the beautiful spy played by Fiona Fullerton serves no real purpose. Walter Gotell once again appears in his recurring role as General Gogol. The producers must have liked him because each of the Bond films from this period seems to make it a point to bring him in for ten minutes or so, whether his character was needed or not. In this case much of his role really isn’t. The film also strangely seems to have more sacrificial lambs than any other film in history, with characters continually getting killed off one their plot function is completed, followed by a shot of Roger Moore looking concerned. It’s not exactly tonally consistent, with grim plot points like Zorin machine-gunning a bunch of people contrasted with the slapstick stupidity of the fire-engine chase in San Francisco, but well-done sequences do creep through, like Bond being attacked by henchmen while on horseback or the elevator shaft escape in a burning San Francisco City Hall. John Barry’s excellent score is well-spotted—some of these sections don’t even have any music while others contain a recurring action motif for the film that I’ve always liked. It’s just about the one saving grace of that fire-engine chase since it staunchly refuses to admit how lame the scene is. Maybe it was an attempt to do something unique with the idea of “San Francisco car chase”, but did it have to be something that would have been considered to lame for a Hal Needham film? I could also mention that A VIEW TO A KILL, a title taken from the short story title “From a View to a Kill”, never even provides any reason for its title. If memory serves, the story contains assassins on motorcycles trying the kill Bond and there are descriptive passages involving them lining up Bond in their sights—they couldn’t work something like that into the movie somehow? I’ll freely admit that the movie contains what might be the single dumbest use of a movie title in the actual movie. If you’ve never experienced it for yourself, then that is sad. At least the title helped to give us the pretty awesome Duran Duran song, which is still pretty damn cool today.

So if there are plenty of things in this movie that I have to act sheepish in my enjoyment, that’s not at all how I feel about Christopher Walken’s performance as Max Zorin. It’s one of the things about the film that plays best now. I’m not sure he has a single line reading that sounds like you’d expect it to be. He provides an unusual, but not at all inappropriate vibe for this sort of film. He’s revealed in interviews that he thought so little of the blonde hair he was given for the role that his own private subtext was to play each scene as if asking the other actor “What do you think of my hair? What do you think of how they made me look?” Now it’s hard for me to watch the film and not think of that while I love every scene he appears in. As for Grace Jones, well, she’s certainly the most unusual woman Roger Moore ever had to play a love scene with. ("I see you're a woman of very few words." "What’s there to say?") At least her casting feels different. Patrick Bauchau, who years later had a terrific role in Michael Tolkin’s THE NEW AGE, a personal favorite, plays Scarpine, one of Zorin’s chief henchmen. Alison Doody, Elsa Schneider in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, plays Jenny Flex (nice name), one of Zorin’s employees who gets a big introduction so we can get a nice look at her then spends the rest of the movie running around with no dialogue.

Roger Moore is, frankly, clearly coasting here, even though as late as OCTOPUSSY he was given some actual meat to his scenes to do something with. The script doesn’t allow him much beyond the wisecracks, making what the character does not even make sense a few times. Why does he jokingly ask Zorin about fly fishing? To deliberately blow his cover? Why does he still tell Tanya Roberts that he’s a reporter when he could flat-out state his identity to gain her trust? I’m at a loss. Patrick Macnee’s role doesn’t add up to much but it is nice to see him playing scenes with Moore. The plot has them meeting at the start but it’s hard to buy that they haven’t known each other for years. David Yip, Wu Han in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, plays CIA contact Chuck Lee, one of the film’s 5,932 sacrificial lambs (no wonder they didn’t use Felix Leiter—in this movie they would’ve had to kill him). As for Tanya Roberts, the one human in the history of the world who doesn’t notice a blimp sneaking up behind her, what can I say? She’s probably the chief example of the sort of screaming Bond girl that they always try to avoid now. I’m sure she’s a nice person. I’m not in the mood to be too harsh here. When Moore and the recurring supporting cast dress up and head off to the races early in the movie it almost seems like they’re getting to play dress up and throw a party during this one final time they’re spending together. Maybe that’s why I feel slightly charitable towards it all. The whole thing is just too breezy for me to get worked up over.

I could list all the things that I’m very well aware are wrong with the movie, but I just don’t feel like it. I know they’re in there. I still like it anyway. For the record, I’ve been a big Bond fan through the years. It’s safe to say that I go for the cool, serious, pulpy aspects of them more than the big, glitzy, campy entries through the years. I think FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE AND OHMSS are as good as it gets. I love the middle section of THUNDERBALL where Bond wanders around the Bahamas as if on vacation. I love the sheer romance to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. I love the dead-on seriousness of much of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. I think that the Dalton and Brosnan entries have a lot of issues many of which aren’t the fault of the two actors. I’m still amazed at how good CASINO ROYALE is. As I write this, I’m going to be seeing QUANTUM OF SOLACE shortly and I know word is mixed but I’m looking forward to it and I hope no one thinks I might be saying, "Gee, I hope it's more like A VIEW TO A KILL". That's not what I'm getting at here. I’m just trying to say that I don’t just go for the camp of the Bond films and yet I still like A VIEW TO A KILL. If anyone throws up their hands at this, that’s just the way it’ll have to be. I’m going to want to see it again at some point and I’ll enjoy it. Sometimes these things need to be allowed.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

You don't lose any points with me because I enjoy this one as well. You pretty much hit on everything that is right and wrong about it but I actually prefer it to Octopussy, which I just rewatched recently.
Honestly the only Bond film that I really, really dislike is Die Another Day.
Just saw Solace...and really admired it. Not as good as Casino, suffers from some poor editing choices but still thrilling and I thought very well done. I just posted some thoughts and look forward to reading yours.

Anonymous said...

Yes, got a very soft spot for this one. Roger Moore the old smoothie secret agent, how ludicrous but the movie never pretends otherwise. Great music, silly plot, and Walken tittering his way through every scene as though punch-drunk.

Wasn't too taken with Quantum, butchered Tosca, action overheated at the expense of everything else. Smooth queasy performance by Amalric as the villian and worth paying to see simply to ogle at Kurylenko. What stunning lips!

Not convinced that DC had a good role, seemed to be something lacking, but I think that Foster has more to answer for this.


Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Glad to hear that there are others who get enjoyment out of this one, as ridiculous as it is. My QUANTUM thoughts are coming...

Anonymous said...

Your take on this silly Bond film is warmly received. Finding a certain delight in these type of comfort-food films is hard to articulate, but as welcome as your favorite ugly striped cozy blanket with the small tear in the lower corner. One Rule I took to heart: whenever confused as to which Moore 007 film you were watching take note of the height of his pants waist. The higher the pants waist, the later in order the Bond film.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

The Futurist!--

Thanks for what you said, glad to hear you liked it. Now I'm going to always be distracted looking at Roger Moore's waist level whenever I watch one of his films. Until Maud Adams or Carole Bouquet or a few others show up, of course.