Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Art. Termite Art: The Living Daylights (1987)

I would suggest warming up for this weekend's excursion to Casino Royale by taking the time to scare The Living Daylights out of yourself.

Up until last week, Timothy Dalton's first (of only two) James Bond adventures, The Living Daylights was one of the last couple Bond films I had never seen. I'd avoided it mostly because I've always hated Dalton's final Bond appearance, Licence to Kill, so I assumed it was more of the same. Quite the contrary; after Goldfinger it may be the very best movie in the entire 42 year series.

It comes after the single most pathetic Bond, 1985's A View to a Kill by which point Roger Moore's Bond looked more like a kindly grandfather than a gentleman spy (not Moore's fault — age 58 at the time, Moore probably was a kindly grandfather). By the end of Moore's run, Bond had become a joke, intentionally and unintentionally. Since, by his own admission, Moore wasn't a fan of (or couldn't convincingly pull off) the character's darker elements, the series became the ultimate male pop fantasy: guns, gadgets, and girls, plus plenty of terribly cheesy one-liners. The problem is light comedy and adventure didn't mesh well with many of the Bonds Moore made: massive beasts of movies like Moonraker are too clumsy and too concerned with punctuality (pre-credits ski chase here, title song here, M scene here, Moneypenny flirts here, car chase here, etc.) to be fun and funny.

Timothy Dalton's Bond was a different animal. Instead of shagging anything in a bikini (ignore the picture above for a moment, please), Dalton's Bond pines and obsesses over a woman he can't have. Instead of using women to serve his purposes (sexual or otherwise), Dalton's Bond is used by women, or his preoccupation with the fairer sex is exploited by enemies who know 007 could never use that licence to kill of his on someone if the face was pretty enough.

As a result, The Living Daylights is a less a male power fantasy than a genuinely romantic adventure. Dalton's Bond travels to Russia to work as a sniper during the defection of a Russian general. When Bond finds his target he's shocked to discover she's a beautiful woman (actress Maryam D'Abo) and instead of killing her, he simply disarms her. Eventually, Bond discovers he and the British government have been double-crossed, and the girl is the key to catching the general and his arms dealer buddy.

I write a bit more at length about The Living Daylights over on this week's IFC News. I don't often pimp my work over there (new stuff weekly, by the way), but I will in this case because it's relevant, I'm really proud with the end result, and it took me forever to research and write it. In a very long feature, I examine at length the debut films by each actor to play James Bond (officially, so far): Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan. I discovered plenty more about The Living Daylights and all the others (ever wanted to know the words to the James Bond theme?!? You know you do! Click over!) — though there might have been nothing more insane than discovering who Dalton's Bond helps, how he helps them, and what they say as a big joke to end the movie.



Blogger James Crawford said...

A View to a Kill as worst Bond ever? I dunno, I always thought the chase scene up the Eiffel tower was pretty sweet. That scene near the end, with Walken massacring those miners as the pit starts to flood, just destroyed me, and I considered Grace Jones to be hot, in a steely, scary I'll-kill-you-soon-as-sleep-with-you kind of way. Then again, I was ten at the time.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

Watch it again.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Zanzibar19 said...

A VIEW TO A KILL can't be the worst as long as MOONRAKER hasn't been thrown on Filmspotting's pyre of destruction forever. But there's no doubt it's in the bottom ranks.

11:52 PM  

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