Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 1), published May 14th, 2007, is also available.
The new James Bond…living on the edge.
The Living Daylights was the first appearance of Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon, The Beautician and the Beast, The Rocketeer) as Agent 007. After Roger Moore's (A View to a Kill, Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only) increasingly campy take on the role, Dalton very intentionally tried to steer Bond closer to Ian Fleming's original intent, giving us a darker, more serious Bond. The Living Daylights is also notable as the last true Cold War adventure for James Bond. MGM has released The Living Daylights in the third box set of their recent 007 Special Edition Collection.
Facts of the Case
The movie opens to an MI6 training exercise. Three double-O agents, including Bond, must infiltrate the British radar facility on Gibraltar. The exercise goes badly wrong. An unknown enemy agent kills two of the MI6 men before Bond discovers him. Bond chases him down, and they fight while careening down narrow mountain roads in a burning jeep full of explosives. Bond dispatches the villain and winds up on a yacht with a beautiful young woman who thinks he is just what she has been looking for.
From there Bond heads to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where he is to assist in the defection of KGB General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé—Scandal, Dangerous Beauty, CBS's "Jesus" miniseries). Koskov is set to defect during intermission at a concert at the Bratislava Conservatory. While at the concert, Bond's unerring eye for the ladies picks out Kara Milovy (Maryam D'Abo—The Sea Change, So This is Romance, An American Affair), a beautiful blond cellist who may also double as a KGB assassin.
Koskov makes it to England where he informs MI6 about "Death to Spies," a covert operation being planned by KGB General Pushkin (John Ryhs-Davies—Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Solomon's Mines, Firewalker). The consequences of such an operation would be decimation of the intelligence community on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Koskov is defecting to stop this, because he understands the necessary role the intelligence community plays; without information on what the other side is doing, the chance of being drawn into an actual war, up to and including a nuclear war, are much greater.
The plot thickens when Koskov is captured from an MI6 safe house, ostensibly by the KGB. MI6 sees this as confirmation of Koskov's reports, and Bond sets out to thwart General Pushkin's plans. He returns to Bratislava where he finds Kara Milovy. Milovy, as it turns out, is Koskov's girlfriend. The two of them are drawn into a plot involving Koskov, an American arms dealer with delusions of grandeur, and a drug smuggling operation to finance the Afghani Mujahadeen.
There is one moment in The Living Daylights, fairly early in the movie, when I knew I was indeed watching a James Bond picture. It is the first scene at the Bratislava Conservatory, with Bond and a fellow MI6 operative preparing to assist Koskov's defection. Classical music plays as the camera moves around the room, providing an elegant introduction to the main characters. The scene shows Bond in his element, a cultured man of the world but with underlying currents of deadly intrigue. In my opinion it just felt right, and captured a real sense of class and style.
The Living Daylights presents an complex story of intrigue that was missing from many of the prior installments in the Bond franchise. It draws heavily from the current events of the day to create a story that is almost believable, yet fantastic enough to be a suitable adventure for 007. The only drawbacks are that the story is so intricate and convoluted that it will leave some viewers' heads spinning, and that the movie seems a bit long as a result.
Timothy Dalton's tenure as James Bond often seems to be overlooked. I may be in the minority, but I have a great appreciation for Dalton's take on the role. Dalton's Bond is toned down and more businesslike, but hints at darker emotions just below the surface. He is still the supremely confident super spy, but without the showboating of Moore's Bond. He still makes wisecracks and has a sense of humor, but it is drier, more subtle, perhaps more British. Dalton, a Shakespearean actor of some distinction, is quietly in command of every situation. He gives a performance that is part Patrick Stewart and part Harrison Ford.
It was a sign of the times when this movie came out that it featured only one "Bond girl." With the growing awareness of AIDS, it suddenly became unfashionable for Bond to bed his normal succession of beautiful women. Additionally, Dalton wanted to focus on the serious aspects of the Bond character. Instead of a vapid poster girl, we are given the Maryam D'Abo as Kara Milovy. Milovy is an intelligent character, dedicated to her musical career and not terribly interested in the world of espionage until her involvement with Koskov draws her in. She is not merely a conquest for Bond, but an actual love interest. D'Abo brings intelligence and poise to the character.
MGM has provided us with a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer on this disc, as well as Dolby 5.1 sound. The sound mix is excellent, with extensive use of the rear channels for the musical score and for directional effects in action scenes. Of particular note are the many scenes which involve orchestral performances. The sound in these scenes is of the quality one would expect from a concert DVD, not just a James Bond film.
This disc contains a collection of extra material that truly deserves the title "Special Edition." Three trailers are provided. The North American teaser trailer is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The UK teaser trailer makes for an interesting comparison, and is presented in the European standard 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The release trailer is also included, and is presented in 2.35:1. All three trailers are definitely showing their age, but their inclusion on this disc is certainly welcome. Also welcome is the original music video for A-Ha's title song, "The Living Daylights." There is also a four minute documentary featurette on the making of the music video. This looks to me like something that might have originally aired on MTV back in 1987. Surprisingly enough it does contain a few interesting nuggets of information. There is also an interesting deleted scene entitled "Magic Carpet Ride," which shows an action sequence which didn't work out very well.
There are two documentaries included. The first is entitled "Inside The Living Daylights" and runs for 36 minutes. Narrated by Patrick Macnee, it is a very thorough look at the making of the movie. It includes a lot of interviews with those involved, as well as a lot of behind the scenes footage. It appears that Timothy Dalton was either unavailable or unwilling to cooperate in the making of this documentary; all of his scenes look old and faded, as though they come from an interview shot at the time the movie came out. The piece overall is very well edited, and Dalton's scenes blend in smoothly, but they are very noticeably recycled. Of particular interest is footage showing Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and Pierce Brosnan (The World is not Enough) testing for the part of Bond in scenes with Maryam D'Abo.
The second documentary is called "Ian Fleming—007's Creator" and is 44 minutes long. It covers Fleming's life in great detail, and includes comments from many of his relatives. While there is a lot of interesting information here it did get to be a bit long and dry.
The audio commentary on this disc features Director John Glen with comments from several others involved in the movie edited in along the way. Glen's comments make up the bulk of the track, and follow the action as it happens. For specific scenes pre-taped comments from various actors or crewmembers are edited in. The track gives a lot of information, both regarding specific scenes and the overall making of the movie. It is well done but does tend to be a little dry.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In order for a Bond picture to be truly great, a memorable villain is essential. Blofeld and Goldfinger were real Bond villains, ruthless and evil to be sure but with wit and personality to match 007 himself. It is the lack of a strong antagonist that keeps The Living Daylights from taking a place among the best of the series. Joe Don Baker (Mars Attacks!, Tomorrow Never Dies, Cape Fear) gives a good performance as the arms merchant Whitaker. However, this character, with his comic eccentricities and delusions of grandeur, feels like he really belongs in one of the Roger Moore installments. The same applies to General Koskov, Jeroen Krabbé's glad-handing KGB defector. He is played mostly for laughs, and can't be taken seriously as an adversary for Bond. Andreas Wisniewski (Die Hard, Mission: Impossible) makes a better impression as Necros, the walkman-wearing hitman, but he lacks the flair of Jaws or Oddjob.
I have a few complaints with the disc itself. The transfer looks good overall, with mostly good color saturation and natural-looking flesh tones. However, much of the movie appears soft and just slightly out of focus. Colors look slightly washed out or faded in several places, generally in daytime exterior scenes. These are probably not major problems and probably won't be off-putting to the casual viewer. I also detected some pretty noticeable shimmering in the opening pre-credits action sequence and again later on in Whitaker's mansion in some decorative tile patterns and General Putin's necktie. It is a good transfer overall, but it could have been just a bit better.
The extra content, as noted above, is extensive and well done. If I have one complaint, it is the lack of dossiers on the cast and crewmembers. I think most DVD aficionados have come to expect these, and they are a nice way to spotlight the actors and other individuals involved in the production. However, in light of the volume of material provided, this is not a major complaint.
The Living Daylights is a fine Bond adventure, although perhaps just a bit confusing and overlong. Bond fans and casual viewers alike will enjoy the fast-paced action and intriguing story. It suffers from the lack of a solid villain, but is entertaining throughout nevertheless. MGM has put together a very good disc that truly merits the title "Special Edition."
Movie and disc are acquitted on all counts.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Special Edition Booklet
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