Friday, January 3, 2014

Double Oh...15: The Living Daylights

d. John Glen

Double Oh Preamble: IT'S BEEN 8 months since I last wrote one of these, when the last Moore seemed like a perfect break point.  But I took a break and never got back to it, and now IT'S BEEN a little over a year since I started this Bond project and the Chrismas holidays is the perfect time to get back on the horse.

Since last I wrote, a podcast on the Nerdist Network called James Bonding has been engaging my Bond brain with in-depth analysis of each Bond film, starting at either end (so Dr. No, then Skyfall, then From Russian With Love, then Quantum of Solace and so forth) and as they enter the Christmas break they too have only done 14 episodes, with all of the Moore and Dalton's untouched, and with Goldeneye next on tap.  Beyond James Bonding, I've also taken to reading the Titan Books collection of the James Bond newspaper strips (Casino Royale and The Man With The Golden Gun as well as part of Goldfinger), so even though I haven't been watching the films, I've still been heavily Bond-engaged.

The Living Daylights Preamble: Timothy Dalton should be my Bond.  The Living Daylights hit theatres when I was 11 and I recall all the Entertainment Tonight hype (I was an avid ET viewer as a child) surrounding Dalton's taking over the role.  I was exposed to a lot of Bond propaganda and promo materials at the time, including comic book ads and TV trailers, but what I recall most about it was how uninteresting it seemed.  I was a sci-fi and superhero kid and straight action to me, at the time, seemed rather mundane.  As we've covered in previous Double Oh's, I really only saw bits and pieces of Bond in my childhood, and it wouldn't be until Brosnan came in that I would garner any real excitement or interest in the franchise.  I recall that Dalton was received as a disappointing consolation Bond since Remington Steele would not let Brosnan out of his contract to take the role, and also that critical reception of The Living Daylights and License To Kill were less than amorous.  Even when I started being a little more interested in Bond in the Brosnan years, I still had little interest in the Dalton era.  Even more than Lazenby, who has the fortune of being in one of the best Bond films, Dalton's two-film run (which collapsed the series for 6 years) has been highly maligned.  Now, I'm keen to dive in.

Villains: Necros (Adreas Wisniewski) enters the film first as the Milkman Assassin, taking out a milkman and using the disguise to enter a heavily guarded estate where the British secret service is holding a Russian defector.  Necros isn't a totally murder-happy assassin, though, he kills when needed, and uses explosive milk to make his getaway.  At first he appears to be a Russian agent, but it turns out he just a very highly skilled mercenary.  He's not the most intimidating of Bond adversaries, but he's obviously dangerous, perhaps an equal to Bond in combat, though decidedly not as erudite.  In the end, he begs Bond for his life, pleads with him, and screams in abject terror when Bond cuts him loose from the back of the Hercules aircraft.  It's actually a very harsh sequence, and not something we're at all used to in a Bond movie.

Pushkin (John Rhys Davies) is the New Head of the KGB, and an enemy only in that he is Russian.  The defector, Georgi Koskov tells MI-6 that Pushkin is looking to start a special agent war by assassinating American and British special agents, but this is a lie.  Bond is given the task of assassinating Puskin, but, on his instincts he investigates further and ends up colluding with Pushkin to fake his death and draw the real enemies out.  Pushkin is almost like a General Gogol figure here, though Gogol does put in a cameo in the epilogue (his sixth and final Bond appearance)

Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) is an apparent friend of Bond (Georgi gives Bond a big hug when he sees him, and Bond goes to extra expense to ensure he's fed well), a Russian defector who initiates the plot of the film.  Bond saves him from assassination upon exiting a Czeck symphony performance, exfiltrates him through the transsiberian pipeline into Austria (where he's flown to Britain in a VTOL jet, which I guess were quite new and exciting at the time).  He tells his British hosts that Pushkin is starting a war (though his words bring doubt) and shortly thereafter he's retrieved but not taken back to Russia... turns out Pushkin actually was to have him arrested for embezzling state funds.  Pushkin is actually working with an arms dealer, fanning the Cold War into all-out war for profit.  He's a bit of a putz, and not in any way intimidating, sort of a grand schemer who thinks himself smarter than he is.

Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) is the arms dealer, an affluent man-child who thinks of weapons as toys and thinks all men should have them.  His home is a curated museum featuring a hall of dictators, shrines to weapons of war, and elaborate dioramas of famous battles.  He's only in two scenes in the film so he's not a prevalent villain, and in the final confrontation, though armed to the teeth, he's hardly a match for Bond.

Bond Girls:
Linda (Bell Avery aka Kell Tyler), seen at the end of the opening sequence, in which Bond takes out the assassin killing 00-agents during a training exercise, Bond lands on her yacht, with precision timing, just after she tells a friend on the phone "If only I could meet a real man".  Bond borrows the phone and tells home office he'll be back in an hour, she looks at him lustfully and offers him a dring, and he restates "Better make that two".  She's inconsequential, but it's a classic Bond moment, perfectly played.  It's really the only quip Dalton handles well.

Kara Milovy (Maryam D'Abo) is Georgi's girlfriend and a professional cellist.  Georgi enlists her to pretend to assassinate him to aid in his defection to Britain, in the hopes that she will be killed in the process, but Bond, on instinct, recognizes she's not a professional assassin and pulls his shot.  After Georgi is recovered from the Brits, Bond seeks her out, helping her elude the KGB (at one point sledding down the mountain in her cello case, using her Stradivarius as a directional rudder), and then proceeds to wine and dine her, having figured out Georgi's deception.  She spends the bulk of the movie as Bond's attache and general plot point, but in the final act she actually takes action and instigates the big battle in the final sequence.  She punches some dudes, drives a jeep chasing after Bond on a plane, and then winds up flying the plane.  D'Abo plays Kara as a bit naive and clingy, with the trauma of almost getting killed numerous time having created an with Bond.  Not the worst Bond girl, but generally just not much of a character.

With a new Bond, we also get a new Moneypenny, played by Caroline Bliss.  She's decked out in total 80's style... the hair, the glasses, the make-up, the blouse...still quite fetching, and way more sultry than Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny.  She's not a behind-the-desk Moneypenny and seems a bit more engaged in the operations, doing research and providing intel to Bond.

Rosika (Julie T. Wallace) works at the transsiberian pipeline, and is Bond's ally in exfiltrating Georgi through the tunnel.  I thought Rosika was awesome.  She's of the sterotypical burly Russian woman build, sporting a dower hairstyle and frumpy coveralls, we're initially not supposed to see her as anything but that... but as Bond engages the unit that will allow Georgi to traverse the pipeline, she goes off to take care of the guy monitoring the pipeline (she holds a heavy socket wrench in her hand when she says this).  She enters the control room and partially unzips her coveralls, revealing her cleavage and totally seduces the controller by mashing his face into her chest.  Alarms go off but he doesn't even hear them.  I totally believe that, in Rosika's backstory, she became an ally of Bond after they had a tryst where she rocked his world like it'd never been rocked before.  Rosika, definitely one of the most unexpected, and one of my favourite Bond girls.

Theme/Credits:  The Living Daylights title song performed by one-hit wonders A-Ha hints of Duran Duran's A View To A Kill theme, heavy synth rhythm, but it's thoroughly uninspiring and unmemorable.  Even more though, it sounds like they're pulling from Simple Mind's Don't You Forget About Me.

The credits are equally dull.  Instead of the usual nude silhouettes, we're provided with fully-lit shots of women in various swimwear and body paint in clunky poses, such as relaxing on the lip of a champagne glass (while obviously taking direction from off screen... this, people, is the reason why they silhouette the models... they can rarely act).  Mourice Binder, who had been doing the credits since Dr No, had seemingly given up with this one.  I guess he got tired of topless women on trampolines (though there's still a bit of that here too).  There's nothing interesting or remotely alluring about these title sequences and they convey little about the film (I'm confused why there's so much water imagery).

Movie: It was interesting to see that the film took place, in part, in Afghanistan, particularly since at the time it was the Russians the Afghanis were retaliating against.  It's after Georgi and Necros capture Bond that they take him to a Russian base there. It's probably the best reasoned keeping-Bond-alive moment as Georgi uses turning Bond in as Pushkin's murderer (and also turning Kara in as a defector) as leverage to return to Russia and perhaps be pardoned for his embezzling scandal.  With Q-gadgets Bond and Kara make their escape from prison with an Afghani rebel leader, Kamran Shah, who brings them along on an opium deal the Snow Leopards are making with Georgi.  It was a little shocking to me how blatantly the film aligned these people who wanted to liberate Afghanistan from Russian with the opium trade, but also did so with a sense of honesty that didn't marginalize their fight or why they were doing it.  Georgi's rationale for the drug deal is a little thinner, but it seemed he needed it to pay Whitaker back.

Overall, though, the Living Daylights is quite linear for a Bond film, and all the plot threads tie together with some Bondisms (time out to romance, the woman, some over-the-top action bits) tossed in to Bondify the works.  I was actually impressed with how the film unfolded, as so often Bond plots seem ancillary to the set pieces or are overly convoluted to the point of obfuscation. Here is a very plot driven film that feels akin to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, where that film sat in the shadow of Connery, this one sits in the shadow of Moore. There may be a few minor plotholes or gaps in logic (and some terrible Russian accents) but overall it's a solid story.

The characters are less exciting though and it's what drags the film down from being one of the more memorable Bond.  Dalton seems more keen on action and drama than romance and comedy, so some great one liners only elicit a chuckle where the big laughs should be.  I think Dalton wanted his Bond to be like Craig's Bond is today, very serious and heavy, to steer away from the camp of Moore, but the screenwriters still wrote this like a Moore script and it's at odds with the performance.  The bad guys are farcical, and the Bond girls are largely forgettable.  Credit to the film to making them less objectified, but at the same time they forgot to give them any real personalities (beyond Rosika of course, she's amazing).

Q Gadgets:
A "Ghetto blaster" rocket launcher
Rake-dar (rake as radar)
Key ring stun gas/plastic explosive, plus keys that open 90% of the world's locks (comes in very handy)
Binocular glasses
Laser hubcaps, missiles, retractible spiked tires, ski outriggers, rocket boost on the Aston Martin.  A nice car that Bond self-destructs

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.6, though one of the better told stories, it's just not that exciting.