In order to live up to our educational mandate and to keep our readers intellectually in top condition CBn decided to include various (read: 2) slight-to-mid-serious hurdles in this episode of the 007th Minute. Should you experience difficulties in deciphering this text and connecting it to a popular work of entertainment of 1987 you ought to spend more time at CommanderBond.net.
As always: Jacques Stewart’s opinion, wording, turn-of-phrase, summary.
I come no more to make you laugh: things now,
That bear a weighty and a serious brow,
Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe,
Such noble scenes as draw the eye to flow,
We now present.
A worthy aim, even if it won’t quite come off. [If you don’t want to read on, assume that comment encapsulates this 007th minute’s “plot”. It does lose itself in cellos and diamonds and tips for Mujahidining out; I know an appalling restaurant in Karachi, gave me a right case of the d’Abos and no mistake].
It’s product placement time, gang (don’t run, it’s not “watches”). Not subtle; I’m busy and am not shaped for sportive tricks and have emergency sitting down to do, contrived flippancy to mash out and humpbalm to apply. So, here it comes; see if you can spot it. Buy Charles Helfenstein’s book The Making of The Living Daylights. Do that. Do it NOW. If you’re more of a “visual learner” (i.e. you can’t read), imagine me holding it up and pointing at it as if t’were shiny coin – try not to be distracted by my “face” although you’re only human (or vaguely so). If you truly cannot read, your gawping at this nonsense is odd but, even more so, the book’s jawtofloor stupendousness will be lost on you; still, there are nice pictures. You could colour them in; I’m assuming your keeper allows you felt-tip pens, if only to sniff. If you can, though, read it. You have nothing better to do. You can’t have; you’re reading this. You were taught to read for stuff like Mr Helfenstein’s work, not to waste it on shallow guffbombs. Value your teachers, value your dignity, give yerself a treat and buy it and read it and learn and become a better person. It’ll improve you and make your willy ginormous. That’s (probably) untrue but it holds with the mendacious subtext of James Bond product placement, be it grotty watches or naff mobile telephones or nasty lager or delicious Huw Edwards.
So, that’s The Making of The Living Daylights.
This is not its unmaking.
It’s oh-so-boring here, Margot (Fonteyn? Asquith? Kidder? de Valois? Leadbetter? Tell me). There’s nothing but twerps arguing about gunbarrels. And tennis pros. If only I could find a real man. Family-shattering early-middle-age revelations of latent sexuality mischief aside, my plumbing demands a good seeing to (this, I hasten to add, is not a euphemism). Oh look, here’s one. Parachuting into the film, flung from on high in even higher dudgeon, comes the Literary James Bond, enraged and thunderous looks spreading across his lupine brows, dropping in to save the planet, or at least correct the desecrations recently performed in his name by a well-meaning but clapped-out fogey.
It almost works.
So very almost.
“Bravery” being the compliment paid to failure, The Living Daylights is a brave stab at “new” but it jabs away with a blunt blade, blunted by its own compromises. An irritating film to watch – and, if Bond’s consistently miffed expression is guidance, to be in – as chasms of fecund opportunity to provide meaningful changes to the recipe are ignored in favour of mildly spiced-up but ultimately reheated leftovers. On its own merits – the only ones upon which it is fair to judge it, but this isn’t an exercise in fair, “soz” – it’s technically very sound; theme choon aside, the music is splendid and the locations are interesting and very nicely photographed and there appears to be an attempt to develop, in both the writing and Act-Ting, a proper relationship (or at least a credible human emotion) between Bond and his leading lady, which works. Churlish also to decry the achievement in bunging this one out only a couple of years after the moribund A View to a Kill, a film so weary it cannot even muster the “Did the Earth move for you too?” joke amongst all its earthquakiness, albeit in the context of the age chasm it coulda been creepy and such trembles as it achieves were only the onset of something debilitating. It remains amazing that the same persons what done spewed out that arthritic dismalness produced this. The specifications have definitely had a polish and at first fumble it does feel distinctive and different.
On reflection, what it does is willingly deny its own potential, uncertain whether it should push things despite all the groundwork being in place that it could. Seemingly incapable of appreciating that its audience may deserve some novelty, I want to encourage it on, for it to realise its capacity for brilliance, to plump its self-esteem and reassure it that it’s not as lowly as it seems to think and feeling itself obliged to follow the crowd and yet here comes another scene where it self-deprecates itself into tiptoeing around interesting choices, to the point where my patience runs out and any sympathy I may have had is lost. That’s the problem with moping about and thinking oneself unworthy: do it too much, to the point of annoying folk, and those same folk will stop their flattery and agree with you. Humility is indeed the worst form of conceit. I tried to help it, but it’s now tedious and it might as well show us explosions and the usual guff if that’s what it feels it wants to do. Such a shame.
Strange: too many Bond films blare arrogantly and noisily despite being all dentures and no dinner-jacket – hello GoldenEye, you vapid wretch – and yet The Living Daylights mumbles along as a consumptive wallflowered maiden at the dinner dance, chewing its hair nervously, adjusting its spectacles and shyly resisting any advances, despite many appealing qualities. Spinsterhood, cats, lace-making and the ability make a smashing sponge cake – or quiche – beckon, all of which are laudable in their own little, little way but this could have belted its way through the world had it had the courage of its own convictions. Instead, its epitaph shall be that of so much waste, so much promise and yet so little delivery.
The desire not to offend, to apologise for itself and its attempts at trying, comes through in yet another pre-credits disclaimer (I’ll ignore the fact that this was a legal requirement, just as “they” ignored the need to put one before Die Another Day, along the lines of “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”). A habit developing amongst the 1980s Bonds, this incidental insulting of random organisations. Along with the audience. On the previous blimpride, an attempt to limit liability should anyone believe they were being depicted as a genetically fiddled-with psychopath. This time, the Red Cross, Eon presumably apologising in advance for the implication that their food parcels contain opium. It’s not the drug smuggling so much as suggesting that the Red Cross is so unenlightened that it thinks there’s still a market for antiquated soporifics. That said, the RSPCA are rumoured (by no-one) to cram crippled mules with laudanum, and what UNESCO does with Quaaludes you’d have to read on someone else’s computer, were it true.
Still absent though, the apology truly required: to us, for emitting more A. James. Bond. Film and expecting us to swallow it as truly fresh. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The bitch. But some truth in what he said, that whacked-out hairy old blister. One could define laziness much the same way. One could then define the run of Bond films just prior to this one as very, very, very, very… um, very lazy. This one, well it stirs itself slightly, but then seems terribly ashamed of so doing. So, the same. But different. A bit. Not too much. Mustn’t draw attention to itself. That would be so crippling, wouldn’t it? Oh, it’d just die inside if anyone noticed, if anyone cared. The desire is there; a lack of nerve to carry it out, though.
Whilst this isn’t going the same way as the last review to a kill, and The Living Daylights is so evidently the pinnacle of 1980s Bonds it’s embarrassing – any more explicitly so and it would just die of shame – looking back it’s not that radical a shift of gears. However, it would be foolish to deny that the gears did shift, cruise control disengaged, for a little while anyway, although the wheels were due to come off fairly spectacularly a couple of years later with an unsafe Mexican knock-off copy.
Has time been kind to The Living Daylights? Its more overtly political edge now dates it, along with the mystifying mention of Barry Manilow, but I recall it being quite popular (at least in the UK) when released, perceived as a breath of fresh compared to the Steradently becobwebbed whiff of the previous two flatulent gusts, but as the years have passed, it seems slightly shunned. On the shelf. Eating fistfuls of cereal from the box and drinking too much, lacrimose. It probably has soft toys; ones with names. Perhaps it’s the advent of the Craig films, demonstrating that one doesn’t just tinker with the gearbox to engineer “change”, but actually have to scrap the car thing and design it from the wheels up as some sort of unstoppable nuclear tank, that makes The Living Daylights’ milky revolution look terribly half-baked. It could be seen as a cynical move, to lure the dwindling boredience in with promise of a novel approach and yet they find it’s the same old corrupted nonsense with an eggshell-thick sheen of “new”. Spot who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010. It’s like one’s sweetly becardiganed grandmother suddenly sporting ta moko. Put aside the facial fissures, the tongue waggling and the bearing of her posterior for Royal display and she’s still yer gran and her hips are still shot to buggery.
It’s not his fault, though.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of … erm… Colwyn Bay;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
(He said bosom. Fnarr.)
Let’s lay this on the slab and treat ill-thought through knee-jerk opinion as fact (it’s the internet; it’s the rules). Timothy Dalton is a brilliant James Bond. No, perhaps that does need qualification. Timothy Dalton is a brilliant James Bond if that’s the sort of James Bond you crave. Which I do. I accept that there are a selection of convenient orthodoxies (can one have more than one orthodoxy in the same thing? Sorry – asking the wrong place – get back to your snivelling about gunbarrels) that would propose that the most brilliant of the Bonds is a tax exile betartaned misanthrope or an American with a speech defect or a bemuscled blond blubbing brutal baby or a venerable well-spoken octogenarian cove who should have appeared in this one, rendering unto us not The Living Daylights but The Living Dead. The persons holding such views would claim, unwisely, that they are “entitled” to them, alongside other dubious entitlements such as “being oneself” and “not being whacked around the head with a plank because that oneself is, without question, an intellectually emaciated cretin” and a final entitlement to “a proper burial”. Point, they do, these partially-sentient cackling hominids, to such interferences in my tyranny as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its bothersome “right” to the freedom of expression. Relying upon – but in such reliance, not evidently reading (visual learners, I s’pose) – that inconvenient drivel, they claim that they have a right to express their opinion.
They’re wrong. Not only in body shape and what one suspects it is that they do to dogs. What it bestows is a right to hold an opinion. Hold it. In the sense of “don’t let it go”. Keep it safe, keep it secure. Keep it quiet. Lock it in a box where no-one else can see it. Sssh. Don’t tell anyone. Make it your special little secret. I acknowledge that I could be accused of ignoring this wholesale given that this is my fifteenth emission of “opinion” but that’s part of the “joke”; do come on. Keep up. Acknowledged also some sweeping over the bit about freedom to receive and impart information and ideas. Au contraire my lovelies: firm, indeed tumescent, supporter of that sort of jazz. It’s just that the opinions of others contain sparse information and as for “ideas”… don’t make me laugh.
Which brings me back to Timothy Dalton.
Drafted in to cope with a dire predicament – that the Bonds were on a slippery slope, dripping downwards like diarrhoea off a doorknob – he’s not here to muck about and tell jokes. Au contraire. I mean, Red Adair, in he flies, stops the rig blowing everyone into toasty crumbs but he’s not celebrated for his banter, is he? Doesn’t stand around braying “It’s been a blast”, or “Hot today, innit?” or “Time for a station break” and then wait for applause, or to be licked. No time to indulge in such rot, T-Dalt is a man on a mission. A mission that’s a bugger to actually understand, admittedly (something about cellos and/or diamonds and/or toy soldiers?) but a noble and just cause given the patent need for an emergency intervention. Not for him the saving of the series through disarming humour, nor for that matter antipodeanismness nor extreme physicality and tight suits nor packing on the fat and wearing a pink tie nor Being Pursse Brosnodge; no, Timothy Dalton shall perform his humanitarian crusade of ensuring we have Yet Another Bond Film to gawp at via the medium of serious Act-Ting. You should see his Mark Ant-Thony. This is not a euphemism.
If you’ve been brought up on the previous three James Bonds, you may not know much about Act-Tors. They tend to hide away. Antisocial herbivores, Act-Tors feed upon foliage, fruits and rough grasses. Shy animals with a number of predators, they prefer water holes (pubs) rather than open spaces. They do not show signs of territoriality. They are very cautious creatures. Old males live alone, but single sex or mixed family groups of up to ten individuals can be found. These inhabit thickets within dense and dry savannah woodlands. When roused, however, their braying does tend to draw attention to themselves, totally accidentally, and their “art” is vital and important and solves the Energy Crisis, brings peace to the Middle East and saves the whales, or something, and isn’t just “showing off by shouting stuff written down for them”, honest.
Quite what celebrated stage Act-Tor Timothy Dalton is doing throwing himself into this rot about rocket powered cars, “bit simple” secretaries, “bit simple” musicians, “bit simple” CIA persons, “bit simple” Q, “bit simple” villains, “bit complex” plots and exploding milk bottles is a headscratcher. It’s like finding Ian McDiarmid, a stunning King Lear more than making up for having had to go to Sheffield to see him, turning up and spouting awfulnesses about “The Sitttthhh”. The potential for a brave new world, but one wonders whether he misheard Taliban for Caliban. Dalt-Ton is a solid, but pleasant, surprise for the Bond films, given the state they’re in by 1987. True, we’d been Berkoffed and had administration of Walken, but they were brief spasms of villainy, overwhelming tastes served in sparse measures. Casting Pierce Brosnan to follow Roger Moore as the lead was much more coherent and “in character” for the series – pretty knitting-pattern model with personal charisma excusing much, drafted in from a lukewarm television series on its last legs – and the easy option. Given that 1980s Bond was all about taking the path of complacent least resistance, Brosnan was an obvious choice. It’s not surprising that they did it.
Transplanting Pierce Brosnan directly into The Living Daylights as it currently stands and, its patent production enhancements aside, it would have been a lot cackier (this is a technical term). The core strength of the film is Dalt-Ton and his Act-Ting, particularly in the first, tears-of-joy marvellous hour when he exudes menace and anger and charm and wrath and ennui and tenderness and weariness and accordingly BookBond oozes from him like ripe Brie, or a really, really positive pus. Brosnan would have been cheesy too, but not in a good way; a whiffy variety with bitter mould running through it. His angry face looks like he’s having a debilitating stroke and one suspects he would have given Saunders’ bisected torso a quick nibble, ‘cos that’s his “thing”. Bolt onto The Living Daylights a weaker Bond and the central performance doesn’t distract one as successfully from the unfortunate realisation that not much else has changed. Some of it’s got worse. Q’s as redundant a character as ever – every time I see it, every single sodding time, I want Bond to finish that wolf-whistle and blow the rancid old bastard’s head clean off – Sir Frederick Gray is still kicking about albeit seemingly fearful of the sack (God, finally) and Moneypenny is trying out the lifestyle choice of culturally undernourished Village Idiot (was there any real need to turn her into a simpleton?). There are explosions, there’s a climactic action sequence that goes on way too long, there’s Binder, there’s gunbarrel, there’s a crapulous final “comedy” scene involving the Taliban getting weapons through a European airport, and there’s most if not all of the usual old clichéd lines. They didn’t change any of those beats for the next one either, fatally undermining it.
It’s not the casting of Timothy Dalton at the heart of the perception/reality that the films he was in failed or underperformed. It’s that they came still loaded up as/weighed down with “James Bond film”. It’s not that they were bad James Bond films – it’s that they were James Bond films in the idiom of the time and his efforts deserved so much better. It wasn’t enough to draft in a much-more-than-capable leading man and hope he would solve everything; you had to bother making other changes as well otherwise we would see through it, see that this was just number umpteen of the same old thing. Casino Royale, they did bother. The Living Daylights, they didn’t. One of these films starring an ostensibly “unknown” Bond made over half a billion dollars. The other…well, it didn’t, did it? We’d had enough. It’s a great shame, because – I may have mentioned this – Timothy Dalton is exceptional in this, a definitive BookBond portrayal. He carries the thing and it’s the carried thing that lets him down.
Yes, OK, he’s Act-Ting James Bond rather than evidently “being” James Bond – which would require adopting and indulging an amalgam of perceived poopular (not a typo) tropes about the character and hurtle us Broswards – and arguably there’s not enough in the character of the BookBond to sustain two hours without falling back on the film series’ character gap-filling “quips” – but this Bond does appear in his time to have known a ham sandwich. BookBond has an underlying substratum of the proletarian, a tendency towards the ordinary and a baser nature that pretension towards fine living tries to fight and suppress, and DaltBond does come across as one who buys off-the-peg and may have eaten a bag of crisps, or picked his nose and then hated himself for it and asked himself some really searching questions and not known the answers. CraigBond is nearly there, particularly plebian in his decision to sport turn-ups on his trizers – good grief – and doubtless he necks creatine and protein shakes. Brosnan and Moore give off the impression that they were born with a caviar spoon in their gobs – Mr Brosnan’s sounds as if it’s still there – and it’s all been terribly, terribly easy. The Lazenby Bond is more-or-less on song as one suspects that he believes that Royal Beluga goes best with some tinnies and Connery’s Dr No Bond is there or thereabouts, but a subsequent tendency to feast on rich food bloated his sorry hide. Whereas the Brosnan and Moore versions one suspects would cut out the middlewoman and make love to their respective selves if they could, one feels that the Dalt-Ton specie of Bond isn’t that keen on himself. Look at the tangible doubt going on in the confrontation with Pushkin; feel the Act-Ting, it’s porkrind-chewy. Probably harbours questionable views about the way Koreans smell, too. Slightly edgy, slightly nervy, not totally in control of what’s going on, this isn’t yer Octopussy Bond, tolerating the villains for two hours but safe in the very boring knowledge that he’s going to win and they are mere gnats sent to amuse until he swats them and then does knobbage.
One can see why this might not appeal or chime with the “character” of James Bond we’ve had for the past few films. Is this Bond a slick aspirational figure conceived to sell some grotty watches? No, and all the more admirable for that. I averred in an earlier “piece” that the problem with the 1980s James Bonds was James Bond and I stick by that. Not Roger Moore. Roger Moore did the job they intended for him – a still deep voice of calm whilst they flung hirsute girls, ranting Berkoffs and Grace Jones at him – but the part he was playing was drifting through three films and now… this. The whackbrained craziness surrounding the stolid (i.e. fatuous and dull) character of early 80s James Bond gets toned down (well, slightly), but injected into the lead himself. It is a bit of a culture shock from a nice old grandppapy feeding slabs of warm quiche to underbrained dolly bird geologists, but The Living Daylights hit just at the summer when I was the target age for BookBond (14 – it really goes no higher; they are essentially adolescent) and I recall sitting there, stunned that the chappy in the books had leapt from the page and was now hanging onto the back of a Land Rover.
Perhaps on reflection he’s not the letter of BookBond, but there’s such an abundance of spirit about him that suggests he was at least bothering to try. It’s a close interpretation. An odd, insecure mix of a film as a result; BookBond wandering about, furrowed of brow – probably trying to work out what the plot is (he’s not alone) – whilst some usual old FilmBond checklist rubbish happens around him because it apparently has to. Yes, they “went back to Fleming” (as if such a move could be considered backward) but they only went so far. Most of it’s business as usual. Yeah, great. Still, it’s considerably better than Licence to Kill which may claim close connections to Fleming but, by exhibiting the properties and intelligence of something nasty and virulent grown in a petri dish, that Fleming would be Alexander.
I’d say it’s here rather than in the whining melodramatics of the next film that Dalt-Ton comes across better as the BookBond. His instant, simmering reaction to Saunders’ death – given that he has developed a proper relationship with the man – but subsequent suppression of it in quiet rage and getting on with the job is much nearer the stuff what I done readed abite than huffily spinning off at a wild vengeful overemotional tangent about some old chap he’s only just met (and with whom he has zero chemistry worth caring about) getting himself gnawed in an extreme version of that fishy nibblefoot therapy that suddenly seems perversely popular amongst scutters and the flabtattooed.
Anyway, he’s great, the film’s… sorta great, ish, and it’s all a bit of a shame that it didn’t quite work. Like the jokes.
So, up to our 007th minute, this strange little episode of so much opportunity yet so much punch-pulling gives plenty over which to mull. The United Artists logo – yet another new one – has been and gone with a “whoosh”; probably the sound the money makes as it disappears to the liquidators yet again. Bit of brassiness to the Bond theme and for the Silver Anniversary we have an unusual, tinkered-with gunbarrel insofar as Bond appears to fire twice. Better make that two, indeed. Amusing little skit with M aboard the same model Hercules that they use later (unless the subtext is that all corrupt arms dealers have access to them and, oh look, the British government uncannily has one, hmm, I wonder what it is they are telling us…). What, though, are all those trophies on his filing cabinet (and, really, why have these lying around at all?). One seems to be shaped like a cannon. At least I hope that’s what it is and the young man with the big helmet strapping him to the wall is a safety feature, not some perverse lower middle-class ritual involving M’s extraordinary eyebrows, his phallic bric-a-brac and the framed photo of HM the QEII in her riding gear. Minxy stirrups. Fnarr.
Some lovely images of the freefalling agents – that one where they drop past the camera, the Rock of Gibraltar hundreds of feet below them, is gloriously special – although one wonders how stealthy an incursion that would be. Seems to be a bit of a comedown (Pun! Yay!) all round that the 00-Section is being used as playfodder for someone else’s exercise although it’s probably penance for blowing its budget on mechanised pervehounds last time out. Blond 00 is hopeless – subtext being that blond 00s are crap; how times change – although it’s cruel of M to have a useless blond 00 accompany Bond given what happened to Alec Trevelyan the previous year (I think this is how it works). So, dark-haired 00, who might be Timothy Dalton if you didn’t know what he looked like, throws a rope absolutely miles – quite a talent – and gets killed to death for showing off (it’s all in the wrist) and this brings on the turn, the glare, the most special and dramatic of entrances for a Bond, about which I can say nothing, other than that I could watch that all day, for even in seriousness I would only trivialise its utter superness. Cottaging in a Russian loo it is not. Now and again, Mr Glen comes up with the goods. And then, his “sense of humour” intact, he throws a monkey at Timothy Dalt-Ton and you know it’s all downhill from there. Or downrock, anyway. Still, wish someone would throw £500 my way now and again. I need Petrus.
The man with the world’s loudest silencer carves his way violently through British soldiers and reminds one that it’s not only in the now very dodgy depiction of Kamran Shah – a Western educated billionaire hiding on the Afghan/Pakistan frontier – that The Living Daylights causes one a brainfrown. Death on the Rock, indeed. Hindsight wisdom is best left aside though, along with the terribly ageing realisation that this film is now the midpoint of the series and at the point of writing is now closer to Dr No than to Bond 24 – arrgggh. Better to concentrate on the glorious sight of a really-quite-furious-by-now-grr Bond barging folk out of the way as he barrels along in his black combat gear and hurls himself onto a Land Rover. Just as well they changed actors; Roger Moore in that get up would have looked like a cod’s head peeking from the top of a seeping binbag full of old chicken and would have rolled off, into the sea, then washed up on a beach somewhere, which seems to be the plot of 1991’s gently dire Bed and Breakfast, one of those films you feel you’ve watched even when you know you haven’t. Its sole review on IMDb – from 1999, which now just seems so last century – proclaims “This movie is a dramatic one and it`s one of those you remember afterwards and enjoy watching, it`s filled with great landscapes, fine music and a great dialougue which couldn`t have been portrayed better then it has been done here.” So much for Skyfall being original, then.
‘Ere, ‘old on, you’re dead. Ignoring the deft critical perception of the Bond Series – he’s here to rescue it, get out of the way you cockerney oaf – and also ignoring how the third bullet patently emasculates him, on Bond clings and some of the time it’s yer actual Timothy Dalt-Ton up there and for the rest of the time at least they found a stuntman with the same colour hair. James Bond rides down the Rock of Gibraltar atop a barely controlled Land Rover crammed with ignited explosives. Just reading that back makes one gape at how good this Bond stuff can sometimes be. The scruffy back projection and fire effects – seems to be the top of a Belisha Beacon – reminds one how naff the execution of its ideas more frequently is, though. Neatly avoiding the family saloon driven by a man last seen trying to ram Melina’s 2CV off the road – even stooges have a private life and are entitled to a bit of time away from stooging – in order to destroy some placed product, bit of a choice headbutt (it’s how one introduces oneself in Colwyn Bay, apparently) whilst someone whacks the Land Rover several times with a loose branch (hilarious) and oops, over we go, nice little touch with Bond putting his foot through the windscreen to give the ‘chute some purchase, out he ‘chutes, neat escape, and on we plummet headlong into…
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 The Living Daylights
I’d say that chap at the steering wheel looks fraught. Sort of face I pull when Mrs Jim reinvents the roundabout or the speed limit or reverse (which is backwards, sometimes). Still, as she regularly and rather heartlessly reminds me, she’s not the one who drove into a tree and lost a foot. I suspect that’ll be held against me for ever, bit like my rather natty new cane I received for Christmas “from the dog”. I’ve come to like it – its silver top has a pleasing maimheft – even though I did ask for a swordstick; useful for picking up leaves and fighting off pirates (we get a lot of this sort of thing in Wallingford – I think it’s something to do with restrictions on housing benefit, and autumn). Apparently they’re not readily available, and I might as well have asked for a tricorn hat and a sedan chair. So next year, I will. I’ll probably get a baseball cap and a zimmer frame. This happens when you send a Labrador shopping. Stupid bitch.
Meanwhile, back at exploding Land Rovers, a Land Rover explodes. Someone on the soundstage floor now starts throwing hot metal debris at Dalt-Ton (it’s probably John Glen – he’s already hurled an ape, why stop there?) who looks perversely amused about it. You don’t get this sort of thing at The Old Vic, even with the roughest crowd and the worstest play (for the record, Cymbeline. It’s shite). Steaming in, here comes James Bond (and the past few minutes, from turney-starey to runny-shovey to jumpy-clingy to fighty-killy, have totally nailed it) and he’s about to land in choppy waters (spot the accidental metaphor for the Dalton tenure, everyone).
It is looking a bit rough there, for our lovely in the almost-bikini who appears to go by the name of Linda (is that really a Bond girl name? What next – Gwen? Edith? Dame Judi Dench? Still, he did marry a woman called Tracy, if it’s the same bloke). Perhaps it’s the size of her telephone causing the boat to pitch and yaw and do unappealing boaty moves like that. Definitely looks a bit breezy out there and she’s barely got a scrap on. Pleasingly. Nothing but playboys and tennis pros, apparently. Dressed like that, what do you really expect you daft moo? Still, no acting coaches, then. Oh, my mistake, here comes one, The Flying Act-Tor Service, dropping out of the sky to give your thespianism a good seeing to and he looks pissed off because the first person he speaks to is a dreadful actress.
Hang on a mo-mo; the boat is now patently stationary. That red liquid in the jug (it might be blood – she could be a vampire, she’s wearing black (very nearly) and has certainly sucked the life right out of this scene) isn’t sloshing about at all. Hmm. Most, most odd.
Continuing the dynamic intro let’s have Bond leap down, snatch her ‘phone, almost snap her wrist in so doing and bark something highly comic into it. Quite a hard manoeuvre to pull off if the boat’s bucking (that’s bucking) about like Halle Berry on an elderly Irishman. Yes, that’s definitely a real man. Not, say, a mugger. She looks momentarily outraged (actually, she looks like Cristiano Ronaldo in a skimpy bikini) as well she might be as, basically, she’s just been the victim of a crime. Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever woman in this humour won? Yep. He’s quite tasty, their clothing doesn’t clash so bring on the Stockholm Syndrome and ask his name.
Oh, that’s right Timothy, just throw it away, it’s just a line, played not for applause in each wheezing pause but just a man telling a woman his name. One wonders about the Act-Ting journey, from acorn to tree, that brought him to such a delivery choice. Interesting motivation for the character, a man what just parachuted twice and killed another bloke and had hot shrapnel thrown at his head and then performed a petty theft (it’s a complex role: Mr Rochester has nothing on this. Where are the headbutts in Jane Eyre, then? Reader, I chinned him? Nah). Alternatively the rich subtext is “I am Act-Tor; you are not. I am Act-Ting. Lick my Act-Ting. Do not bother me, woman. Give the Art-Tist room”.
At least he doesn’t seem to be there waiting for the sort of intelligence-deficient idiots who clap and cheer at films (they can’t hear you, it’s so pointless and so tragic) to clap and cheer it. Slight flaw in The Method in telling Cristiano your name if you’re going to continue the career in phone-jacking but she’s pretty and thick and pretty thick so it may turn out OK. Not totally convinced that not actually telling Exercise Control about what’s just happened (a massive security breach, a dead 00, several murdered servicemen, an exploding 4×4 and a really screechy monkey) in favour of cocktails is what I, as a British taxpayer, expect of a servant of the crown and it all seems terribly irresponsible but I suppose the budget deficit is helped by fencing all the mobiles he pinches so I’ll overlook it just this once. “Interestingly” he never actually introduces himself to Kara Milovy – presumably this is because the energy invested in doing so here was so emotionally draining, he was just spent, and the motivation for the scene was unclear. Additionally, too much repetition of it will only encourage mention of The Scottish Bond, which would be terribly unlucky.
“Won’t you join me?” To what? Something equally wooden, perhaps. I’d nail her.
The next line troubles me. Enunciating his Ts rather marvellously, it’s the Act-tor Ttimotthy Dalt-Tton. It’s beautifully projected, if you wanted the back row of the Cottesloe to hear it. You’re not at a RADA workshop now, T-Timmy love; you’re chat-Ting up a frolicksome dimbobimbo. I hope he is never called upon to narrate The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler or say the phrase (a common household one) Tittilate Tetrahedrons Twenty-Two Times. Just imagine the spittle. It does prove that he has his own teeth and he does at least look as if he was born in the same general geological age as her. Bett-Ter make that-tt Two. Sums up his Bond career, I suppose. How ironic.
Ah, bring on the synthesisers, for these were the 1980s my lovelies, and such traumatic things were done unto us. Thank God they brought The Berlin Wall down on every single one of them. So, here comes Hoxton Market with a ditty (it rhymes with me view of it) that’s more brung than sung. Still, entirely magically, we have, right on the ticky-turny of the 007th minute, Albert R. Broccoli presenting Timothy Dalton as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. And didn’t he just?
It set my hopes up way too high. What follows has moments of sheer and utter lovely – most of the first hour is magnificent and satisfying, albeit there’s a moment where Bond manhandles a weapon in a public convenience – and nothing much to do with the plot which is a relief as when it does eventually turn up it appears to run thus:
K was given $ by P to buy guns from W to use on KS. K gives the $ to W but (at some point) hatches a scheme to make $$$ by W not spending P’s $ on guns but buying diamonds to then buy opium (what is this? 1890s Limehouse?) from mates of KS instead. P finds out W has not spent the money and becomes Pd off. Meanwhile, K is getting a bit bored with his rather wet girlfriend, also called K (he is shockingly narcissistic) who, for ease of “understanding” we’ll refer to as K2. Smashing peaks. For reasons no-one ever bothers to explain, instead of having N just kill P on the quiet and thereby not draw themselves to the attention of B and M, K & W devise a more bothersome and resource-intensive “slightly relying on the gullibility of the British” phoney defection scheme that everyone but B falls for and B stages an assassination of P which after five minutes everyone ignores, quite surprising as killing the head of the KGB is a big thing for a British spy to do. When is it revealed to everyone that Bond shooting P was false? This never seems to get itself cleared up. Fake defection. Fake passports. Fake hearts. Fake milkmen. Fake assassinations. At least Q is genuinely annoying. Stop this film at each 20 minute interval and ask yourself this: what the bloody hell is actually meant to be going on? Seems to work out as (K + W (+N)) – P ((B x K2) + KS) = explosions.
Nnnn. Head hurts. Show us some Aston Martin. Perhaps that’s where some of the “reputation” this one has comes from, though; it’s not that easy to follow. Should they be criticised for trying something espionage-y, though? Unusual to have a Bond with too much plot, really. It does seem to need a mini-series to breathe its way out, rather than a couple of hours.
Bond seems to work it out but instead of telling us properly, he waits until he has wrapped his skull in a towel (this is to prevent it bursting) and this distracts us from taking in the full complexity of whatever it all means. Still, there’s a big fight on a big bag to distract us and Felix Leiter shows up and is more inconsequential than usual which is a perverse achievement and there’s more life in one of Whitaker’s waxworks. The second hour, well, it loses its momentum and seems to give up on the good work of the belting-around-Europe bit and, shuffling its feet, awkwardly apologies for itself. Sorry chaps, only joking, here’s some Bond film. It’s time for ruddy great explosions and questionable special effects. The less said about the final sequence in the Vienna Opera House, the better; pass the chloral hydrate and let me forget about it.
Shame. Perhaps I should be more positive – that it at least tries to flirt with new things, an approach that the preceding three films didn’t bother with, should be applauded. Applaud it I shall, but the longer it goes on it’s the sound of one hand clapping. Is it worse to have avoided opportunities completely or to set them up and then walk away? I do like it – I like it a lot – but I could like it more if it came true on its promise of living on the edge rather than a quick, refreshing weekend away at the edge and then retreating back into the daily routine. Underappreciated in its attempt to demonstrate that the Fleming Bond could exist in a filmy world, but overappreciated in any proposition that it was particularly radical. Maybe it is the hindsight brought on by the shifts in approach since 2005, but I can’t help feeling that its light has dimmed somewhat when up against the Craig films. Why, this it is, when men are ruled by women. Good thing, too. Was it before its time? Not really; it’s still too dependent on the old rules. Something had to be done in the mid-1980s; just more than this film proved itself capable of. The seeds of what we now have are there but too many of the old roots were proving too knotty and strong to cut through. For this film, such a shame.
That it continued into the next one, a disaster.
James Bond will return in the 007th minute of Licence to Kill. Jacques Stewart is an atmospheric anomaly. Especially after sprouts.