Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 2), published April 2nd, 2007, is also available.
Has James Bond finally met his match?
The answer to that question in the charges is yes he has; Roger Moore met his match in the march of time for his role of James Bond. Decidedly long in the tooth, this otherwise decent Bond entry into the series takes on almost an unintentionally comic tone as I am reminded of "Bond: The Geriatric Years." While it's not the worst in the Bond oeuvre, it's not nearly the best, and is only saved by some exciting action set pieces. MGM has released A View to a Kill as part of the third wave of the Bond box sets, and is a very nice disc; which isn't surprising since the Bond discs are almost the only thing MGM cares about.
Facts of the Case
This time around Bond is faced up against Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a ruthless psychopath determined to corner the market in microchips by killing off the main competition: Silicon Valley itself. From Paris to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Bond works first with friend Sir Godfrey Tippett ("The Avengers" Patrick Macnee) to unearth Zorin's horse racing scam then with Bond girl du'jour Stacey Sutton ("Charlie's Angels" Tanya Roberts) to defeat Zorin's ultimate goal to cause the biggest California earthquake of all time.
I suppose the best thing to say about A View to a Kill is "It's better than Octopussy." Although Moore had made known his intention to retire from Bond after that film, he hung around for just one more, and it was a better, more fitting swan song for his reign. The action scenes are particularly good; with the opening ski/snowboarding pre-credits sequence and the fire engine chase among the better ones. Christopher Walken makes a pretty fair villain (he should be pretty comfortable playing quirky sociopaths by now) but if anything doesn't go far enough over the top. Better is Grace Jones, the girl whose picture appears next to the fashion dictionary's entry for "severe." Despite her extreme looks (I was never a fan of that look) she made a quite credible henchwoman for Zorin in her role as May Day. She was the high point on the villain side. Patrick Macnee is likewise very good as Bond's sidekick and makes a good foil for the films best comic lines as Bond treats him like a servant.
The set design, locations chosen, and cinematography are all top-drawer, as you can expect in a big budget Bond flick. Especially terrific is the 17th century French manor with perhaps the most elaborate stables ever built, and the scenes at the Eiffel Tower. Striking scenery was also shot in Iceland, where Bond uses his crutches, walker, wheelchair, and walking stick to run away from Russian soldiers. Oops, sorry, those last methods of transportation were just my imagination of the types of movement this aged Bond was actually capable of; the ones actually shown are skis, snowmobile, and snowboard.
The action pieces and stunts are really the best thing in this movie, and they do come up pretty fast and often. Enough to make the film enjoyable despite some glaring flaws.
MGM has a record of producing great discs for their Bond films, with much less effort into virtually everything else. I suppose I should give them credit for knowing what the crown jewel in their library is, but there are definitely better films that deserved just as good treatment. In this case A View to a Kill is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is good but not great. Colors are a bit washed out, a few film defects made it through an otherwise good cleaning up process, and there is some edge enhancement and shimmer problems. But the colors, though a bit washed out, are still well balanced, and blacks and fleshtones are fine. The look is still pretty good, and very watchable. It isn't the worst of the Bond films in terms of the transfer, but it's near the bottom of what has been pretty good work overall for the series.
The soundtrack fares a bit better than the video, but is not without its own problems. I praise MGM for going to the trouble of doing a 5.1 remix, and it's a very good one for the dated material the engineers had to work with. Bass response and dynamic range are very nice, and the front soundstage is spacious enough, with directionality to the rear working as intended. The only flaws come from obviously looped dialogue and sound effects, and some glaring shifts from front to rear that should have been smoother. Still, it serves the film well.
Of course it is in the extras department that these Bond discs really shine and deserve their titles as special editions. David Naylor hosts a group of cast and crew members with a non-screen specific commentary track, with tons of information about the film. It can be a bit disconcerting when the discussion gets far off the scene showing on the screen, but Naylor does a fair job of keeping it cohesive and moving along. Next is another of the "Making Of " documentaries included on all these discs; the 38 minute "Inside A View to a Kill." Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and Tanya Roberts all provide some interview coverage, but the documentary mainly covers the stunts and production of the action pieces. This is an easier way to get much of the same information on the commentary track, along with a bit of a retrospective on the Moore Bond years and his decision to (finally) retire. Another feature is the 21-minute "The Bond Sound: The Music of 007," hosted by Patrick Macnee. The evolution of the Bond theme songs and scores are covered and include interviews with Shirley Bassey, Carly Simon, John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, among others. The featurette does offer a nice overview of this very important part of the James Bond success. The running time is too short to go into enough depth to adequately cover the topic, but is still very nice. I suppose I should mention that the Duran Duran theme song to A View to a Kill is one of the most popular of the theme songs and made it to the top of the charts at the time, and a music video of that song is included as well. A single deleted scene "The Jailhouse" is included that shows Bond being released from a Paris jail. It would have fit just after the Eiffel Tower sequence and had a gadget or two and a bit of comic relief. It is mildly entertaining but is in very poor quality anamorphic widescreen. A theatrical trailer is included in anamorphic widescreen, as are two poor-looking non-anamorphic UK and US teaser trailers, and four TV spots. A collectible booklet is included inside the case. It's not as many extras as on some of the other discs, but a nice assortment nonetheless.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Opening Scene: Bond escapes from the really bad shooters Russia employs to stop him, then jumps into a ship disguised as an iceberg. A beautiful woman is driving. Bond opens a bottle and asks the woman to get him some glasses. "Get it your own damn self, I'm driving" she replies. Bond comes on to her expecting her to melt into his arms, but she says "Go to bed with you? Ewwwwwww…I'd rather swim home." The biggest problem with this film is that Roger Moore needed to stop playing Bond two films earlier. He (and Lois Maxwell, who played Moneypenny in all 14 Bond films to this point), ended their careers with Bond with this film and looked entirely too old for this. Beyond this, Moore was at his most fatuous self in the role by this time. I have to confess Moore has always been my least favorite Bond, mostly because he was too fatuous and namby-pamby in the role for my taste. He did make a few good films, but by this time it was past. I noticed when in close up the image got much softer, which I did not mention in my critique of the picture quality on the disc because I believe it was intentional, so that his age wouldn't be quite so noticeable. Some shots with stunt doubles were obviously not Moore as well, which made for more unintentional comedy.
Someone who wasn't too old for her part was Tanya Roberts as the Bond ditz Stacy Sutton. Geologist my…well you get the idea. She was too young for the geriatric Moore by far, and couldn't act her way out of a paper sack in this film; mainly relegated to screaming for help. On my list of Bond girls she is toward the bottom (on a par with the "nuclear scientist" Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough).
Moore fans will of course disagree with me, but I was one of those truly happy to see him go and Timothy Dalton take on the role. He made the character the way Ian Fleming intended, tough and less cultured. Bond really should get his suit dirty once in awhile.
While this is far from my favorite Bond film, it still works for the action pieces and the supporting cast. It is a fitting send off for Roger Moore. The disc and, from what I've seen so far the third box set, are worth a purchase.
Roger Moore is convicted of overstaying his welcome as Bond for two films too many, but is released for not making it three. MGM and the makers of James Bond films are acquitted for making fun action films that have kept legions of fans for over three decades. Say what you will about MGM, but they still do a fine job on the Bond discs.
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