Countdown to Spectre: A View to a Kill

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The Bond: Roger Moore, in his final outing. Moore may have played the character with more of an ironic wink, but his version of the character kept the franchise going and returned it to (almost) its former success.

The Release: A View to a Kill had more than its share of bad luck. To start, the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios burned down while Ridley Scott was filming Legend. The production team set the insane goal of rebuilding the stage and the necessary sets in 4 months while rest of the cast and crew filmed overseas. And while new building regulations initially kept them from building on the stage before a roof had been erected (as they had with You Only Live Twice and the first stage), they still managed to finish the project without irreparably delaying production.

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The cast and crew also ran into trouble abroad. While in Paris, they worked closely with the local government to plan the city-spanning action sequence, the most difficult part of which was getting permission to parachute off the Eiffel Tower. The Parisian government briefly got cold feet after a couple unrelated to the production made the jump shortly before the Bond team was scheduled to, but eventually relented. Stuntman B.J. Worth executed the stunt so flawlessly that Cubby Broccoli decided back-up stuntman Don Caldvedt didn’t need do it as well. Unwilling to miss the opportunity, Caldvedt and a fellow stuntman went back another day and did it without permission, putting the rest of the filming in jeopardy. The Parisian government eventually allowed the team to finish filming, but Worth was forced to fire Calvedt and he was barred from ever working on a Bond production again. Filming moved to San Francisco from there, but Mayor Dianne Feinstein was one of the few Bond fans who preferred Moore to Sean Connery and she was happy to let them pretend to set City Hall on fire.

The film premiered on May 24, 1985 in the U.S. and June 13 in the UK. Despite the primarily American setting, AVTAK earned a little under $50 million of its $152 million worldwide gross domestically.

The Girl: After a couple films that played with the usual 3-Girl structure, AVTAK pretty much goes right back to it. There’s Bond’s former flame and Russian agent, Pola Ivanova (Fiona Fullerton), who’s just there to sleep with and get outsmarted by Bond. There’s also former Charlie’s Angels star Tanya Roberts as the main love interest, Stacey Sutton, who is pretty much the worst Bond Girl since the Mary Goodnight. Sutton is supposedly a geologist, but she spends most of her screentime shrieking. It’s a shame she survives to climb into a shower with Bond at the end.

The real draw, however, is Grace Jones as the villain’s girlfriend, May Day. Jones–a model/singer/actress/performance artist–already feels like a perfect Bond character. She said that when she showed up to set in her usually extreme make-up, she expected director John Glen to tell her to tone it down. Instead, he wanted more. In a series which usually has such clearly divided gender roles, May Day (with her big hair, confidence, stark androgyny) is a brand of woman Bond has never faced before and she actually outshines him.

Unfortunately, they keep with tradition and sleep together, but what they should do–and what they likely would have done if the film were made a few years later–is fight. In the same way Fatima Blush did in Never Say Never Again, May Day represents a sexual and physical challenge to Bond, but the film never does anything about it. Instead, she spoiler gets to be a hero and sacrifice herself to save Silicon Valley.

The Villain: Christopher Walken as Max Zorin, maybe the most perfect casting of all time. While his patented stilted diction is somewhat subdued, he still plays the character with his big-eyed, maniacal sense of fun. He, Grace Jones and their characters’ odd (in the best way) romance are the best things about the movie.

The Gadgets: As has been the trend with the last few films, the technology here is restricted to crazy vehicles. The best one Bond uses is the glacier-shaped craft (complete with bed and sexy, blonde spy, of course) at the end of the pre-credits sequence.

The Song: There are a few contenders for worst Bond theme, but Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” is my choice. I realize that’s a controversial pick considering this is the only Bond theme to ever top the Billboard 100, but let me tell you why you’re wrong. It’s everything bad about ’80s music wrapped into an excruciating three and a half minutes. Too much synth, whiny vocals, SO MUCH ECHO, it’s the worst example of how to not update the Bond sound. Longtime Bond composer John Barry cowrote the song and his score is equally bad (I said it).

The Book: After two films that stayed relatively close to the source material, AVTAK just takes the title from a short story—sort of. The actual title is “From a View to a Kill.”It begins with Bond sitting in a Parisian café remembering how he lost his virginity to one of the city’s prostitutes. He’s contemplating spending the night with another professional and calling her Donatienne or Solange regardless of her actual name when a blonde in a fast car and a beret pulls up. Sadly for Bond, she was sent from the Secret Service’s French headquarters to deliver a summons from M to look into the shooting of a NATO messenger. It turns out the killers are a small group of Russian spies who posed as gypsies for a winter and then retreated into a grass-covered subterranean bunker complete with a periscope disguised as a flower. I sear to God I didn’t making any of this up.

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Veteran Bond writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson (who co-produced every Bond movie from Moonraker on) unfortunately create an original storyline—albeit one that greatly resembles Goldfinger. Zorin actually steals a lot of Goldfinger’s best moves. He owns a stag farm. He holds a meeting of thugs to discuss his world domination plot and then kills the one who refuses to get involved. He also plans to destroy America’s stockpile of an important world product so that his own stores will gain value, but here it’s microchips instead of gold.

The Movie: A View to a Kill is superior to Octopussy but inferior to Goldfinger. While Walken and Jones are a large part of what makes the movie enjoyable, the final elements are the stunts and their outlandish locations.

The character wreaks havoc in the streets of Paris, launching his car off buses and driving it even after it’s been sliced in half twice. Then it’s off to San Francisco, where he ties a blimp to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and fights with Christopher Walken while balanced atop the famous red structure. With all that, the flooding mineshaft sequence seems almost lame. But maybe that’s just because the sets look so realistic. Supervised by production designer Peter Lamont, they may be cheaper than Ken Adam’s sets (this film cost a mere $30 million), but they’re not as fun. Realism would become more important for the franchise as time went on, but for all its faults, this film is enjoyable precisely because it doesn’t take itself seriously.

As the end to the Moore era, A View to a Kill isn’t half bad. It’s a little embarrassing and slight, but it’s also a lot of fun. The franchise would become more serious when it was rebooted a few years later with Timothy Dalton and while a little more realism might make a better film, it’s not nearly as fun as having Bond tie a blimp to the Golden Gate Bridge.

By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.