Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Living Daylights - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project #15)

The Living Daylights (1987)
Dir: John Glen
Time for a New Bond
By Jay Maronde
                Everyone knew it was bound to happen at some point. Roger Moore was super old, and while Moore will forever claim that he “retired,” I’m sure the official story will always be that Cubby Broccoli fired his old dinosaur ass. So while The Living Daylights was still in pre-production, the Broccolis began the search for a new Bond—and the beginning of a new era for the franchise. This Bond search could easily be the most perilous and interesting one yet as many actors were tested, including a man who would eventually become Bond (Pierce Brosnan),  a man who would eventually become a Bond villain (Sean Bean in 1995’s GoldenEye), and even Mel Gibson.
                The drama of this movie began long before filming. As already mentioned numerous actors were screen tested in a very public search for the new Bond. The producers eventually cast Timothy Dalton as Bond.  While Dalton was easily one of their top choices, he was certainly not number one, as Cubby Broccoli originally offered the role to Brosnan after 3 days of screen testing. These screen tests proved interesting and actually very fruitful in several ways.
First, the original actress hired to screen test against the Bonds was Maryam d’Abo. D’abo would eventually also get the lead female role in the film, as she impressed the director and producers so much with her performance that they decided she would be perfect for the role of the Czech cellist Kara Milovy.  Second, the producers were quite sure that they wanted Brosnan as Bond, so they attempted to hire him, but that’s when the real drama started. Pierce Brosnan had been the eponymous star of the 80’s detective television program Remington Steele.  The show had been failing in the ratings for a long time and had been officially canceled when Cubby Broccoli offered Brosnan the role of Bond in this film. Brosnan committed, and then the story leaked to the press. When the world caught word that Remington Steele would be James Bond, a tremendous amount of interest was again sparked in the show, and on the last possible day, NBC utilized a contractual loop hole to un-cancel and re-hire Brosnan as Remington Steele. NBC was super excited about this turn of events and offered to completely rearrange their shooting schedule to accommodate the Bond Production. Unfortunately, Cubby Broccoli was infuriated by this scenario and famously declared that “James Bond will not be Remington Steele and Remington Steele will not be James Bond!”
Brosnan’s Bond contract was canceled, and Timothy Dalton as the #2 was again approached. He initially didn’t want to do the film at all but was eventually enticed and so filming began with a new Bond playing a new type of Bond. And Dalton was, definitely, a new type of Bond. He strayed away from Roger Moore’s “all suave, all the time” approach, and played the role as more of an “angry assassin” type. He smokes cigs like a champ, he’s much younger, and looks great doing a lot of his own stunts. Dalton’s more focused action-packed Bond is shown even in the pre-titles sequence, which happens to be one of my favorites in the series.
As the movie opens, 002, 004 and 007 are all being briefed by M that they will be parachuting out of a plane and trying to infiltrate the British radar station at the rock of Gibraltar (actual British military outposts at Gibraltar were used in the filming, making for some very excellent footage). The other two agents were chosen because they bore slight resemblances to former Bonds Moore and Lazenby. So, the three men jump out of the plane and begin their assault. One of the agents is immediately eliminated by a patrolman, and the other is murdered by a spy enemy. Bond is the last man standing and not only manages to catch up with and explode the henchman (in a fantastic scene where Dalton performed his own highly dangerous stunts on top of a jeep) but also parachute safely into the arms of a beautiful woman. All and all, many people criticized Dalton’s performance as Bond, but personally I think he’s way better than alright. He may not be all suave and goofy as Roger Moore, and he definitely has really bad poofy 1980’s hair, but Dalton is a very believable Bond and his willingness to do his own stunts really make the films that much better than the entire Roger Moore section of the Canon.
                Much like ole Timmy Dalton’s performance, the rest of The Living Daylights is not so bad, and while Timmy suffers from stupid hair the movie features a little bit of a silly plot, I say that the plot is only a little bit silly, and the reason is because the truth is almost always stranger than fiction and The Living Daylights is somewhat based on a true story.
The true story that the film is based on is basically the defection and subsequent “re-defection” of real life Russian General Vitaly Yurcheko. The character in the film is called General Georgi Koskov, and he is played very well, but rather effeminately, by classic actor Jeroen KrabbĂ©. In the movie, Bond helps Koskov to defect, and he is then “kidnapped” from an MI6 safe house. What the viewer doesn’t learn till much later on is that Koskov’s kidnapping was completely staged so that he could run off with his drug dealing ally and co-villain Brad Whitaker. Whitaker is played famously by one Joe Don Baker, who is one of only three people to appear in the James Bond Franchise as both a villain and an ally (he returns in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies as James Bond’s American CIA contact). His performance in this movie almost reminds me of the type of silly southern sheriff character that the franchise had done away with during the Roger Moore era. Shockingly it works well in this film, as he is playing a rogue American West Point dropout now looking for the drug deal of a lifetime, and his reckless cowboy attitude only enhances his performance. These two may not be the most macho, or wealthy, or even most serious Bond Villains of all time—but they are certainly shiesty. Their goal in the film is to take money given to them as a down payment for an arms deal with the Russians and spend it in Afghanistan on Dope (of course), then sell the dope in the western market making a tremendous profit and using said profit to deliver to the Russians their promised guns. The complication comes in that they need to remove the Russian General Pushkin (the new head of the KGB, because in real life the actor who had been playing General Gogol was in fact in poor health, and unable to act in such a substantial role) because Pushkin has realized that they are scam artists and wants Russia’s money back. The whole defection is a scam to get Bond to kill Pushkin (who is played wonderfully by a young John Rhys-Davies*) and therefore free up this goof troop of villains to go on with their dope deal. Bond sees right through all of this and fakes Pushkin’s death before being captured by the villains and taken to Afghanistan (note to super villains: if you are doing crime on the other side of the world, it is best NOT to bring James Bond with you.) Bond escapes the airbase, unites with the Mujahedeen, storms back to the villains, steals their airplane full of dope and eliminates their best henchmen. In what could be some of the best stunt work in the entire franchise, Bond and the henchman fight it out on the back of a cargo net full of dope that is hanging out the cargo door of an airborne AC130.
                This movie also contains two of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise. First, at Q branch headquarters we not only meet the New MoneyPenny (played by a very sexy-librarian-looking Caroline Bliss) but we also see a new device that Q “has been developing for the Americans…we call it a Ghetto Blaster.” The device is really a shoulder mounted rocket launcher disguised as a standard 1980’s boom box. The really interesting trivia about this scene (besides that I think “ghetto blaster” is a super awesome name) is that while filming this scene, Prince Charles happened to be touring EON studios that day, and was actually the person who fired the rocket we see whizzing across the lab.
While on the topic of Q branch, I would be remiss not to mention that James Bond is back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin.  This particular Aston Martin is the V8 Vantage, and it is definitely rapper Rick Ross’s favorite Aston, as it’s the one he features in his music video for his chart-topping hit “Aston Martin Music.” But this particular Aston could easily be one of my favorites too, as Q branch has it souped-up with such a wide and spectacular array of gizmos that the viewer almost wants to cry when Bond totals and then self-destructs the vehicle.
My other favorite scene in this movie actually comes only moments after the Aston explodes, as Bond and Kara Milovy (played, as mentioned above, by the very beautiful Maryam d’Abo) still need to escape from pursuing villains. Bond and Milovy escape from the villains by sledding across the border on the cello’s case, and telling the awestruck border guards that, “We have nothing to declare. Only a cello.” In real life, this scene almost didn’t happen as when director John Glen originally pitched the idea the producers thought it would be unfeasible and possibly stupid-looking. To prove them wrong, Glen himself found an empty cello case and actually showed the producers how feasible/cool-looking this stunt would be. Dalton and d’Abo both look great in this scene which both actors really performed themselves (i.e. without the assistance of stuntpersons). I should also take this moment to note that d’Abo was a fantastic casting in this film, as she and Bond’s escape from the Soviet Block is remarkably reminiscent of From Russia with Love, and d’Abo is a great and even better looking substitute for that film’s lead actress, the eternally lovely Daniella Bianchi.
                With this film the James Bond franchise managed to introduce yet another Bond to the Canon, which I feel is extremely important to the series as a whole, because James Bond is so epic that he is no longer any one actor, he’s a character who almost every living male actor wishes he could be. Further, while many complain of Timmy Dalton’s performance, I think his new “colder” Bond is great. It is interesting to note that this film was written with the silly suave of Roger Moore in mind, and as such does not “comply” with Dalton’s hard-nosed Bond as much as his other appearance as Bond. The film is certainly a quality entry into the series and definitely worth a viewing.
 *Another veteran of the Indiana Jones franchise (playing Sallah in Raiders and Last Crusade), further developing some kind of vague connection between the two. – JK

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