Thursday, February 26, 2009

FILM REVIEW OF ''A View to a Kill" (1985)

The fourteenth James Bond extravaganza “A View to a Kill” pitted 007 (Roger Moore) against the franchise’s most psychotic villain, ‘staunch, anti-Communist,’ French industrialist Max Zorin (Oscar winner Christopher Walken of “The Deer Hunter”), who schemes to corner the micro-chip market by destroying Silicon Valley. Essentially, this Bond movie recalled “Goldfinger” because Zorin resembled Goldfinger with his immense wealth and his audacious plan to wipe out Silicon Valley the way that Goldfinger sought to take over the gold market by turning America’s supply of gold at Fort Knox in a radioactive rubble.

Indeed, as villains go, Zorin ranks as one of the more memorable with an interesting back story. An ethically challenged Nazi scientist, Dr. Carl Mortner (Willoughby Gray of “Waterloo”), carried out steroid testing on pregnant women and most of the offspring died. One of them, Zorin, survived to become a genius but a psychotic. Zorin and the good doctor who had been captured by the Soviets after World War II later employed his knowledge of steroids to help Soviet athletes. If that isn’t a casual slap in the face of Communists, what is? Mind you, the Bond movies neither demonized the Soviets, nor did they romanticize the Russkies. The Soviets made mistakes, but they always managed to clean up after themselves. In the previous Bond adventure, “Octopussy,” the Soviets caught up with a renegade black market General Orlov (Steven Berkoff of “Beverly Hills Cop”) who tried to ignite a nuclear war and frame the Americans. In “A View to a Kill,” the Soviet catch up with Zorin who had been in cahoots with them in the microchip manufacturer business but the two fell out. Indeed, like all the Roger Moore Bond’s after “Live and Let Die,” “A View to a Kill” takes place with in the context of the Cold War. Furthermore, while tensions exist between East and West, there is also an air of détente that characterize these Bonds.

Although it proved to be Roger Moore’s last mission as James Bond and it didn’t surpass the box office receipt of “Octopussy,” “A View to a Kill” contains more than enough virtues, such as the snow pursuit in Siberia, Bond’s careening car chase through Paris, and Zorin’s sadistic massacre of his own men in a secluded mine in California. Original 007 composer John Barry provides a strong, atmospheric orchestral soundtrack and the Duran Duran title tune is a knock-out! The Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson screenplay contains a some imaginative twists on the Bond formula, especially with regard to the sacrificial girl convention. Essentially, the sacrificial girl in most Bonds is either an agent working with Bond as in “Thunderball” or the villain’s girl as in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Oh, yes, let’s not forget Plenty O’Toole who stumbles into bad girl Tiffany Case’s house and dies because the villains catch her. The difference with “A View to a Kill” is that Mayday (Grace Jones) is not only Zorin’s main squeeze but also a villainess herself. She has to die, but her death is heroic. Alan Hume’s cinematography is good and John Glen never lets the pace flag in his third outing as a Bond helmer.

Director John Glen stages several interesting sequences. The fistfights lack pugnacity, primarily those at Zorin’s laboratories and in Stacy Sutton’s home, but Zorin’s plan for Operation: Mainstrike against Silicon Valley takes place in a zeppelin, but we don’t know that until one of Zorin’s associates literally takes a walk into thin air for refuses to participate in his Silicon Valley scheme. The scene opens in a conference room as Zorin explains how Mainstrike will work and we don’t know until the last second that they are hundreds of feet in the air. The fire truck chase with the SFPD in pursuit is reminiscent of “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Live and Let Die.” There’s a robust disaster sequence when Zorin kills a San Francisco City Hall official and traps Stacy and Bond in an elevator while setting the building ablaze. Stacy Sutton (Tanya Roberts of TV’s “Charlie’s Angels”) qualifies as the most annoyingly hysterical heroine of the franchise. She screams convincingly throughout the blazing city hall predicament. As seemingly lightweight as “A View to a Kill” is you cannot overlook Sir Godfrey Tibbett’s murder by Mayday and Zorin’s decision to plunge a KGB agent into a shaft with a whirling propeller at the other end. Actually, we see him thrown into the shaft by Zorin’s men and he dies in a gush of water. Occasionally, Bonds contain gruesome death scenes that—owing to their PG-ratings—are left to the imagination of the spectator. Of course, it isn’t as grisly as the snow plow scene in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but violence does creep into every Bond.

The scenes are Zorin’s equine stables and the eccentric Frenchman’s chateau is scenic. The idea that Zorin and his doctor pal are tampering with horse racings is no doubt inspired by the characteristically decadent Ian Fleming villain who cannot help but cheat, even when he has more money that most people. Christopher Walken with his blond hair is ideally cast as the devious Zorin. Unfortunately, to be as nefarious as Zorin is, he lets 007 off the hook too easily. Bond’s escape from the sinking car is slick but far from believable and the shift from the lake to San Francisco is the film’s weakest link. Furthermore, Patrick Macnee’s demise is glossed over too much. Patrick Bauchau plays Zorin’s right-hand man and actress Alison Doody is one of his girls. Robert Brown plays M and Lois Maxwell plays Ms. Moneypenny for the last time. Desmond Llewelyn shows up again as Q and gets to lecture 007about the usefulness of the microchip at the outset of the action in M’s office. Geoffrey Keen is on hand as Defense Minister Freddie Gray. Bond regular Walter Gotell reprises his role as the sympathetic KGB chief, while future B-movie action star Dolph Lundgren has a moment as a KGB henchman at a race track when the Soviets upbraid Zorin. This is one of many Bonds with a pre-credit sequence that is actually a part of the remaining plot. “A View to a Kill” isn’t as bad as some might argue. It tops “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun,” but it isn’t as great as “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Naturally, "A View to a Kill" has nothing to do with Ian Fleming's short story.

No comments: