To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming complete on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
Having created James Bond in 1953, Ian Fleming went on to write a total of 14 books featuring the character before his death in 1964. The EON produced series of films had been using the novels for inspiration since Dr. No in 1962 but as the series approached its fourteenth film, it was running out of original Fleming novels to adapt. Much like previous Bond film Octopussy, the latest film from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, A View To A Kill, took its title from one of Fleming’s short stories however the screenplay written by series regulars Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, was an entirely original work with brand new characters.
Shortly before filming was due to commence at Pinewood studios at the end of June, the 007 stage was destroyed by fire after several canisters of gasoline used during the filming of Ridley Scott’s fantasy epic Legend caught alight. Within a month, Broccoli had organised for the stage to be completely rebuilt and filming commenced on the 1st of August on the newly renamed, Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage.
While age had been something of an issue since For Your Eyes Only four years before, aged 57 when shooting began on A View To A Kill, Roger Moore was definitely becoming too old to convince as an all-action super spy. Just because he was getting on in years does not necessarily mean his performance suffers however, in fact Moore continues in much the same way as he had since his debut in the role some twelve years before, with an assured, wry sense of humour and a serious edge.
James Bond: My department know I’m here. When I don’t report they’ll retaliate.
Max Zorin: If you’re the best they’ve got, they’re more likely to try and cover up your embarrassing incompetence.
Moore announced his retirement from the role shortly after the film was released. His contribution to the series was substantial; he had helped ensure the character’s longevity throughout the past two decades taking the films to the edge of excess and back again. During his time the series had become bigger than ever and despite initially being in the shadows of Sean Connery he had done enough to make the role his own early on paving the way for a successful tenure of seven films, the most of any actor in the role to date.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
A View To A Kill opens in true Bond style with 007 already on a mission to retrieve a microchip from the body of murdered agent 003 in the snow and ice of Siberia. Once the chip has been located Bond is spotted by Soviet agents who relentlessly pursue him as he attempts to flee. During the chase, a snowmobile is destroyed next to Bond and the front ski from the vehicle lands in the snow next to him. Strapping the ski to his feet, Bond uses it to act as a snowboard as he aides his getaway down steeper slopes and across an icy lake leaving the Soviet agents on skis unable to keep up. Bond finally makes his escape in a mini-submarine disguised as an iceberg with a beautiful woman at the helm.
Filmed at the Breidamerkurjoekull glacial field near Hofn in Iceland with the skiing sequences shot in the Swiss Alps, the scene looks fantastic making the most of the unique locations. Filmed by Bond ski legend Willy Bogner Jr, the stunt work is all we have come to expect from a Bond opening sequence with the standout moments being when Bond slides down an almost vertical cliff face before sliding effortlessly across a watery gap in the ice while the pursuing skiers plunge into the icy depths. However the scene is marred by the use of The Beach Boy’s song California Girls on the soundtrack. Beginning the moment he straps on the snowboard, it is a typically misjudged moment of humour that takes away from an otherwise well put together sequence. The version of the song used is not even the original version; instead it is a poor cover version only adding insult to injury.
John Barry returned to provide his penultimate score for the series and co-wrote the film’s theme song performed by British pop group Duran Duran. The song was a standalone success and remains the only Bond theme to have reached number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart. The popularity of the song was also bolstered by its performance during the band’s set at Philadelphia leg of the Live Aid concert in 1985 and after a succession of lacklustre Bond themes for the previous three films the song stands out as one the best and Barry’s score incorporating the key elements of the song remains one of the film’s highlights.
When British secret service agent James Bond retrieves a new kind of microchip from the body of a murdered agent he is assigned to investigate the manufacturer of the chip, Zorin Industries. Initially the investigation leads to France where billionaire Max Zorin has been experimenting with drug-releasing microchips to enhance the performance of his racehorses. After Zorin attempts to kill Bond without success he flees to San Francisco closely followed by Bond who uncovers Zorin’s wider plan, Operation Main Strike, a plot to cause a massive earthquake that will flood Silicon Valley in order to give Zorin Industries the monopoly on microchip production. With the assistance of State Geologist Stacey Sutton, Bond finds himself in a race against time to prevent Zorin’s plan from going ahead and saving the lives of thousands of innocent people in the process.
As with a number of the films in the Bond series, A View To A Kill closely follows the formula set by Goldfinger. Essentially, this is an updated version of that film, replacing gold bullion for silicon chips making the plot more relevant to eighties audiences. The villain’s plan has very similar goals and is carried out in much the same way, using elaborate maps and models and securing the backing of other like-minded businessmen to facilitate the operation.
With Roger Moore’s age becoming a factor, there is noticeably less action in this instalment than in his previous outings; however an early scene set in Paris around the Eiffel Tower raises the bar and sets a standard that the film struggles to top for the remainder of its running time. Beginning with the pursuit of the assassin, May Day, up the steps of the tower, the chase comes to a halt when Mayday parachutes from the top of the tower in one of the film’s most memorable stunts. Performed by B.J. Worth, who had previously been instrumental in providing incredible aerial sequences for Moonraker and Octopussy, he only needed one take to successfully complete the jump much to the disappointment of back-up jumper Don Caldvedt. Unhappy at being unable to perform the jump, Caldvedt returned to the top of the tower the following day and made his own jump without the appropriate permission from the authorities who were understandably furious and almost withdrew the permission for the production to film any more footage in Paris. Caldvedt was promptly fired and after further negotiations the production was finally allowed to continue with the shoot.
The second part of the Paris chase sees Bond take to the streets in a Renault 11 taxi as he pursues May Day’s parachute across the city. Much like the excellent Citroen car sequence in For Your Eyes Only, the chase places Bond in the most unlikely of vehicles as it is put through its paces encountering a number of hazards. Firstly he makes a leap from a boat ramp onto the top deck of a bus before crashing to ground through a barrier which removes the car’s roof. The car is then hit by another car as he drives the wrong way down a one-way street removing the whole back section of the car leaving him driving half a car to a bridge over the River Seine where he leaves the car behind to jump onto a boat below. The sequence was choreographed and performed by Remy Julienne and his French stunt team and is a clear highlight of the film.
Fulfilling the role of Bond’s aide and assistant during the early stages of his mission at Zorin’s chateau is the former star of The Avengers television series, Patrick McNee. Having worked alongside former Bond girls Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley in The Avengers it was inevitable he would eventually take a role in the Bond series. McNee already knew Roger Moore well as The Avengers was filmed on an adjacent set to The Saint and in playing Sir Godfrey Tibbett with the two actors sharing a similar sense of humour they enjoy some great scenes together.
Max Zorin: You lost 007.
James Bond: Killing Tibbett was a mistake.
Max Zorin: Then I’m about to make that same mistake twice.
As well as Moore’s retirement from the series, A View To A Kill also marked the final appearance of Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny. Having appeared in all fourteen films to date she had been an integral part of the series and like Bernard Lee had forged an unmistakable chemistry with the three actors to play Bond and the other recurring characters during her time in the role.
Where Goldfinger had a very America-centric plot and setting, A View To A Kill follows suit with much of the film taking place in locations around California. With the backing of the Mayor of San Francisco the film crew were given the run of the city including being allowed permission to set City Hall on fire. The resulting scenes are more reminiscent of a mid-seventies disaster movie with Bond and Stacey trapped inside the burning building. The San Francisco sequence takes a more Bond-like turn when they steal a fire truck to make their getaway. The following chase through the city streets with the police in hot pursuit is full of typically well choreographed moments including Bond hanging from the ladder as the truck’s trailer swings into the path of oncoming traffic. The scene climaxes with the truck making a jump across a gap in the Lefty O’Doul drawbridge as it slowly opens at the request of the police. While not quite as impressive as Bond’s river leap in The Man With The Golden Gun, it is still the highlight of the chase.
The Silicon Valley mine is yet another great example of the sheer scale and imagination behind the set design for the series. With the exteriors filmed at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum in West Sussex, the Peter Lamont designed interior of the mine was built on the new 007 stage at Pinewood. The set was a huge multi-level space capable of housing the hundreds of extras and handling the massive volume of cascading water required for the scenes where the mine is flooded.
The film’s final scenes provide the film with its signature sequence involving Zorin’s airship and a fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Using a combination of scale models, visual effects and a full scale recreation of large section of the bridge on the studio backlot, the scene is an audacious close to the film. Beginning with Zorin making his escape from the mine in the airship after kidnapping Stacey, Bond grabs hold of one of the aircraft’s cables clinging on as it flies over the city. When the airship approaches the Golden Gate Bridge he is able to wrap the cable around the top of one of the bridge’s towers. Zorin and Bond proceed to fight each other on the precarious girder of the bridge as Bond attempts to prevent Stacey from falling over the edge. The scene ends with Zorin falling to his death and the airship being destroyed by an explosion. As is the case with the earlier Paris sequence, the use of such an iconic landmark only adds to the scene and it provides a fitting location for the final confrontation.
While the previous two Bond film’s had made an attempt to distance themselves from the Bond formula which had become slightly tired by the end of the seventies, A View To A Kill marked a return to the more formulaic approach. By no means Moore’s worst film in the lead role but certainly not one of his better outings, it marks perhaps a film too far for the actor. The overall feeling that the film lacks the originality and freshness of some of the character’s more inspired adventures leaves one feeling slightly underwhelmed by what should have been a worthy swansong for the actor who had brought so much to the role.
The Bond Villain
Initially it was expected that David Bowie would take the role of lead villain Max Zorin, so much so it was publicised in 1984 that he had agreed to appear in the film however when he declined the offer the producers pursued another pop star turned actor, Sting, before eventually settling on Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. Best known for the immense intensity he brings to his characters, Walken was the perfect choice to play the unhinged Max Zorin.
Walken is one of the more noteworthy Bond villains of the series and is a real pleasure to watch. With the reveal part-way through the film that Zorin is the product of medical experimentation performed by a former Nazi, he is afforded a dark back story giving his character an unusual level of depth and motivation behind his actions. He seems to be relishing the chance to play such a larger than life villain and several scenes really stick in the mind; when he shoots his co-workers indiscriminately when he begins Operation Main Strike in the mine and in his final moments when he begins to laugh maniacally as he loses his grip on the Golden Gate Bridge before falling to his death.
The name Zorin proved problematic for the filmmakers when it was discovered that there was a digital technology company based in Silicon Valley called the Zoran Corporation. As a result a disclaimer had to be added to the beginning of the film to emphasise the fact that there was no connection between Zorin and Zoran.
(Hovering over Silicon Valley in their airship)
May Day: Wow! What a view!
Max Zorin: To a kill!
For the role of Zorin’s henchwoman and lover, May Day, the producers once again looked to the music business for a suitable personality to play opposite Walken. Grace Jones, the former model turned pop star was chosen for the part following her recent foray into films in 1984 with her debut acting role in Conan The Destroyer. The controversial singer was dominant throughout most of the pre-publicity for the film giving the impression that she was in fact the lead villain, however in the completed film she very much plays second fiddle to Walken.
Despite her striking appearance and her involvement in the film’s standout Paris sequence Jones’ acting skills are generally below par and while her character is certainly memorable she lacks any real unique qualities to raise her to the iconic level of the most well known henchmen of the series. Her role is also slightly diminished by the fact that she changes allegiance towards the end of the film when she discovers she has been betrayed by Zorin.
At the time of filming, Jones was in a relationship with her bodyguard, Dolph Lundgren. After visiting the film’s set Lundgren was subsequently offered a small role in the film as a member of the KGB alongside Bond regular Walter Gotell as General Gogol.
The Bond Girl
After the usual worldwide search for Bond’s leading lady, the role of Stacey Sutton, an oil-company heiress and geologist, went to former Charlie’s Angels star Tanya Roberts. Offered the part after the producers saw her performance in fantasy b-movie The Beastmaster, Roberts certainly has the requisite good looks expected of a Bond girl. Sadly she is one of the most uninteresting female characters of the series and is largely superfluous to the main plot, she is given very little to do and seems to be merely there to offer up expositional geological information regarding Operation Main Strike and to get into perilous situations requiring Bond to rescue her.
A slightly more interesting female character is provided by Fiona Fullerton as KGB agent Pola Ivanova. Her scenes with Roger Moore are great fun and reminiscent of the interplay between Bond and Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me. Seducing each other while at the same time trying to gather information for their respective countries their certain amount of one-upmanship sees Bond switch her recording of Zorin’s plans with a cassette of Japanese relaxation music. Despite the character never having appeared in a Bond film before there is a real sense of history between the two characters and the film would certainly have benefitted from her having a larger role.
Bond’s gadgets are pretty low-key in A View To A Kill, aside from the iceberg submarine used in the pre-credits sequence they range from a camera ring used to help identify guests at Zorin’s chateau reception, a pair of polarising sunglasses enabling Bond to see through a tinted window and a mini copier used to make a copy of a cheque from Zorin to Stacey Sutton merely from the imprint left on the pad.
James Bond Will Return…..
Following its World premiere, held for the first time outside the UK, in San Francisco, A View To A Kill opened to a decidedly mixed critical reaction focussing on Moore’s age. Moore himself went on record to say that he had regrets about playing the role for the seventh time remarking in a 2007 interview, “I was only about 400 years too old for the part” and he was reportedly mortified after discovering that he was older than his female co-star’s mother. Despite the negative reviews the film still managed to make over $150 million at the box-office and although it was slightly less than the previous few Bond films it was still a decent haul. With Moore hanging up his tuxedo after 12 years and seven films, Broccoli was left looking for a new Bond but could the iconic spy survive yet another reinvention?……
To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here:
Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy