When we last left our intrepid Film and Performing Arts editor (who is currently writing in the third person), he was elbow deep in the Roger Moore years of the Bond franchise as he takes a look at the recently released BOND 50 box set chronicling the famed British MI:6 super spy from 1962 through today in honour of his golden anniversary. For all of the Sean Connery films, the short reign of George Lazenby, and the beginnings of Moore Mania, head over here and check out part one which covers Dr. No through For Your Eyes Only. Today, let’s get into the last remaining Roger Moore films, the short end of the stick that Timothy Dalton got, the all over the place cycle of Pierce Brosnan, and Bond’s rebirth with Daniel Craig in the lead as we cover the series from 1983 to today.
Octopussy (John Glen, 1983) – Sticking around yet again (as he will for quite some time still) John Glen returns for this largely Indian based yarn with the ultimate nonsensical double entendre title and leading femme fatale (nicely played by Maud Adams, who also appeared in The Man With the Golden Gun as the seconds string woman in Bond’s life after Brit Ekland), as Bond has to stop an Afghan prince with a nuke and Steven Berkoff as the crazed Russian General Orlov.
Octopussy isn’t necessarily bad, but following the failed camp of Moonraker (which for better or worse played to Moore’s comedic strengths) and the more classical Bond approach attempted by For Your Eyes Only, the film just can’t settle on what kind of film it wants to be. The title might suggest a romp, but Glen and company stage a lot more action this time out, and while the action scenes continue in raising the bar for set pieces in the series, having people dressed as clowns and gorillas at key moments threatens to undermine the more serious elements in play. That really just seems to be a side effect of the filmmakers simply running out of Ian Fleming’s source material to work with as they cobble bits and pieces of short stories together in hopes that they will stick.
Released the same year as the Warner Brothers distributed, independently produced, Irvin Kirshner directed and Sean Connery starring Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, the making of documentary does talk about the rivalry between the two productions well enough that one wishes EON had included it as a counterpoint. Aside from that the focus on the special features here tends towards the stunts and the technical wizardry about how they crashed a lot of cars and planes over the years.
A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985) – Almost universally panned by critics and the only film Moore flat out regrets doing in the entire franchise, A View to a Kill still holds a lot more entertainment value than it’s reputation suggests. It’s far from being one of the worst films in the franchise, and it strikes the right balance between action and camp that Octopussy couldn’t quite pull off.
Yes, fine. Moore is far too old to be playing Bond at this point and watching his stunt double do every action sequence gets tedious, and the villain’s plot in this film would make Auric Goldfinger take pause with just how stupid it is, but that villain is played here by Academy Award Winner Christopher Walken, who just takes the ball and runs with it as Grace Jones plays the henchwoman at his side. As a billionaire industrialist with his own zeppelin, Walken sells a story that somehow manages to combine elements as different as the rise of Silicon Valley as a technological mecca, horse doping, and illegal mining operations and turns it into something fun. He’s playing a late 60s Bond baddie and relishing every second of it. Also, keep an eye out for Jones’ former boyfriend and bodyguard Dolph Lundgren in his first on screen appearance just before going on to be Ivan Drago later in the year.
A View to a Kill somewhat shockingly and very unnecessarily gets one of the longest making of documentaries, but there’s quite a bit of history to be learned about the film’s difficult production from Moore’s qualms about his own age to the inability to use the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios because it burned down during the making of Ridley Scott’s Legend. It also has a great story about the film’s famed Eiffel Tower jump, where a renegade stuntman almost got them kicked out of Paris before they were done filming. There’s some great archival period featurettes, BBC TV spots and a whole featurette devoted solely to the music of the entire franchise, but the real treat here comes from deleted scenes that give us just a little bit more Walken. Oh, and the ridonculous Duran Duran video for the title song is here, too.
The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987) – Moore exits and in almost steps Sam Neil (who wasn’t very well liked by producer Cubby Broccoli, but was liked by everyone else according to this disc’s making-of documentary which shows rare footage of Neil in the role) and Pierce Brosnan (who couldn’t yet get out of his contract for TV’s Remington Steele). With both of those choices out of the way, audiences were treated to the most underrated and possibly strongest of all the Bond runs with actor Timothy Dalton.
Once thought to be too young for the role when he tried out for it earlier in the 80s when Moore was thinking of leaving, Dalton wanted to give Bond as serious and cerebral an approach as possible. There were still some requisite bon mots to be spouted, but Dalton was the ultimate prototype for what Daniel Craig would become years later. In this tale of Bond trying to track down a KGB assassin – which was the last Bond film to directly use any of Fleming’s source material until Casino Royale – Dalton’s Bond stops and thinks about his actions before going through with them in as brutal of a manner as audiences had seen up until that point. Dalton raised the game of everyone around him, including director Glen who does his career best work here. It’s a bit lengthy even by the already long standards of Bond films, but it goes by pretty quickly.
Also, somewhat shockingly, the disc for The Living Daylights also has the most interesting and comprehensive look at any of the films in the entire set. The making-of documentary here is excellent, and the package includes a wealth of featurettes and clips and two TV specials celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bond (one even hosted by Roger Moore). There’s a deleted action sequence involving Bond trying to literally create a magic carpet on some power lines that’s a great document of how sometimes a crew’s best intentions don’t always work, and not once does Dalton’s impact on the franchise ever get short changed. How comprehensive is the package here? Even the music video for a-ha’s title song (the most underrated track in franchise history) has a making-of documentary. It’s definitely one of the discs that’s most worth spending some time with.
License to Kill (John Glen, 1989) – Alternately interesting and unfortunate in equal parts, the Dalton and Craig parallels really solidify here. License to Kill doesn’t wink or nod at the audience through Bond at all. This film is grittier, more ruthlessly violent, there’s very little gadgetry, and it features almost nothing even remotely sexy at all. If The Living Daylights was Dalton’s Casino Royale, then this was assuredly his Quantum of Solace; a no bullshit revenge thriller that wasn’t so much about Bond being a spy as it was about him killing anyone and everyone that got in his way as he gets revoked of his titular perk to kill the drug lord (Robert Davi) that offed his closest and possibly only real friend.
But here comes the problems: First off, as a villain Davi’s character is still cartoonish and unbelievable like he just stepped out of one of the Moore films. It’s not Davi’s fault, since he’s quite good, but he isn’t properly written to fit into the film around him. The attempt at seriousness in the first Bond after the end of the cold war is admirable, but at times it’s almost too much to take. It looks better now in hindsight following the Brosnan and Craig interpretations of Bond, but at the time audiences just weren’t ready to take this journey with James. Add a script that was largely unfinished due to a writers strike, a suicidal and unmovable Summer of 1989 release date that almost destroyed several other profitable franchises including Ghostbusters, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Karate Kid, and Friday the 13th, and a looming lawsuit over the rights to the franchise, and this would sadly be the last Bond was heard from for quite some time. To date, it’s still the lowest grossing Bond film by quite a large margin and in North America it never rose higher than fourth at the box office.
The extras package here is thankfully unapologetic, with Glen even stating that he thinks it was the best of all his films, and a lot of the production troubles are talked about quite candidly, including the fact that it was the only Bond requiring extensive cuts for violence in both America and the UK to avoid an R-rating. There’s also some deleted scenes that don’t add much, a handful of set interviews, and two music videos. You can see Gladys Knight’s well done title track and the more widely recognizable closing credits song – Patti LaBelle’s “If You Ask Me To” – but a real coup here would have been getting ahold of Eric Clapton’s original title song that was axed by the powers that be for being too dark and brooding. The movie is already too dark and brooding, and had the producers and audiences embraced that, things might even be different today.
Goldeneye (Martin Campbell, 1995) – Even during his stint on the somewhat similarly themed US TV series Remington Steele, audiences had wanted to see Irish born and British raised actor Pierce Brosnan inherit Bond’s PPK, but a lengthy lawsuit between EON productions and European TV distributor Pathe was what delayed another film for years even more than the soul crushing failure of License to Kill did. The delay was ultimately what caused Dalton to drop out of playing Bond again, allowing room for Brosnan to finally step into some finely tailored suits.
I know that there’s a lot of people out there who really love this one, and most of it probably comes from younger generations who remember this movie fondly since its probably the one most people reading this can remember watching in its entirety in a theatre or from the mega-popular video game that wasted the hours of so many misspent childhoods. But if I’m being honest, the movie really isn’t that good and it’s oddly aged the worst out of any of the films in the set.
Bond returns here in the more jokey Roger Moore vein for the most part despite some admittedly stunning action sequences that offset some of the ridiculousness, but watching this one directly after the Dalton Bond’s and with Craig fresh in my memory was a huge mistake and now GoldenEye seems like a huge step down in quality from what I remembered of it as a less discerning teenager. Instead of moving forward and away from the cold war, the series doubles back on itself to make most of the villains (aside from Sean Bean’s double agent, the one touch that still really works) into Russian Nazis, since the former used to be bad and the second always will be. As a stupid action film, it’s fine, but as a good Bond film, not so much. Even more bizarrely, it didn’t even really leave that much of an impact on the series beyond this point. It was clearly just a go for broke effort to really jump start an ailing franchise that just so happened to pay off wonderfully.
This also becomes the point where the box set becomes somewhat problematic since the making-of documentaries that were staples of every other film up to this point simply stop. Aside from a 1995 TV retrospective hosted by Elizabeth Hurley, all that remains for all of the Brosnan discs and not just this film in terms of special features are all ported over from the previous DVD releases that have been available for years now. There’s nothing really new to be said about these films. Even the Craig films at least switch up what’s available to the audience. Also, the picture quality on the disc marks a rare misstep for Lowrey in their restorations, making the film grainier than it should probably look. Brosnan makes a fine 007, but overall this one marks the biggest comedown in quality between its release and now.
Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997) – At the exact opposite of the spectrum from my original opinion on GoldenEye, I really didn’t like Tomorrow Never Dies upon its theatrical release, but watching it again here, I feel kinder towards it since it holds up better than its predecessor. Maybe the message of a media mogul (here somewhat underplayed by Jonathan Pryce) fabricating news to spark another World War means a bit more to me now and I can understand the satire better behind it. Brosnan goes more into Connery territory than the previous film, and while the action moves away from the more brutal feeling of the last three films in the franchise, it’s still not without charms. A lot of the choices here feel a bit more inspired and better thought out than GoldenEye did, especially casting Michelle Yeoh as a sympathetic Chinese ass-kicking spy. The casting of Teri Hatcher as the main Bond temptress was a little less inspired and the Sheryl Crow theme was definitely unfortunate (but Pulp’s unused submission for the film “Tomorrow Never Lies” is worth seeking out), but overall this was a solid film and the only one I changed my mind on for the better.
There’s nothing really new here with regard to extras worth pointing out except for footage from an old sell-through VHS where Desmond Llewelyn’s Q (in his second to last appearance ever as the character he played throughout the series) tells the history of Bond. The next two discs have absolutely nothing new of note aside from cleaned up transfers and sound, so they won’t even really be talked about in that much depth. At this point the set just stops really producing much of anything new for the individual discs.
The World is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999) – Instead of making Bond regress any further into parody or humour, the makers of The World is Not Enough instead revert to giving their film a gimmicky villain that can’t feel pain (a genuinely creepy looking and oddly nuanced Robert Carlyle), but they also created one of the most serviceable and forgettable entries in the process. There isn’t much that can be said against this story of oil price gouging by way of an impending nuclear disaster, but aside from one of the best pre-opening credit sequences, it’s hard to remember almost anything that happens. I forgot most of it after seeing it in theatres and now even after watching it a second time all I can remember is the boat chase at the beginning, Carlyle, the ending, and just how inexcusable it was to cast Denise Richards as the worst Bond girl of all time and to have her play a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones. There’s nothing sexy about the name Christmas. It just makes me think of Brosnan’s already hairy Bond having sex with jolly old St. Nick. Actually, there might be an interesting movie in there somewhere.
Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002) – Next to Live and Let Die (which many seem to inexplicably argue is actually a good movie), this is by far the worst film of the franchise. An incoherent, CGI laden, and incompetently directed, I’ve watched this entry an unconscionable three times already and I still can’t make heads or tails out of what the heck happened, not because it’s densely plotted. Well, it kind of is, but because this mishmash about North Korean terrorists and the British smuggling of conflict diamonds is so all over the place that the story simply becomes white noise that forces the viewer to focus on just how shoddily assembled the whole thing is. Aside from the admittedly great swerve of Bond being captured in the opening sequence, a killer with diamonds in his face, Halle Berry in a bikini, and Madonna deliver what’s unquestionably the absolute worst theme song in the history of the franchise (yes, worse than Tom Jones’s Thunderball warbling), I challenge anyone to explain to me the plot dynamics of this film in a rational manner or to find anything remotely defensible about it. There’s some okay action, but it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing.
I can’t say that it was enough to really write Brosnan off or to make it time for a reboot. (How many really bad movies did Moore have, again?) Still, this was the end of the line for Brosnan, but more power to him for being the only Bond aside from Connery to continue working regularly on interesting projects. It was probably because he was already somewhat established going in, but it’s still an improvement over where Moore and Dalton really ended up.
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) – In another effort to go back to basics, the Bond franchise turned to GoldenEye director Campbell to take the reigns of a prequel that would reboot everything audiences knew about 007 in an effort to give them a new set of expectations. This Bond was raw, edgy, and more animalistic than sexy. He was Fleming’s Bond, and probably the way he was always truly envisioned, but it was still a huge gamble to mess with an established timeline that was set up over 40 years prior. It was a gamble that paid off in spades because the first proper Eon production of Casino Royale (following a pair of independently produced versions that still bore little resemblance to the source) was a massive success on cultural, intellectual, and financial levels.
The role of “the first ever Bond” would fall to actor Daniel Craig, a man with strong features who wasn’t too bad to look at. He gives the new Bond all of the gravitas and acting chops needed to make the more serious material work better. The story of Bond infiltrating a poker game to stop terrorist funding is pretty minimal, but it also does something the other films refused to do, which was to establish a sense of continuity from one film to the next. Seeds are quietly sown throughout the film to lead into the next film. In the only real detraction, the conclusion of Casino Royal runs a bit long, but it’s there for a good reason to lead into another film.
The Blu-ray in this set recycles material from its two previous incarnations on the format, but it marries them together quite nicely with a lot coming from the 2007 initial release and some stuff from the 2008 collector’s edition included. It’s so new that it’s no use really tinkering with it. It is nice to see the package a bit more complete, though.
Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008) – While not as lacklustre as many would suggest, Craig’s second outing as Bond was definitely a bit of a comedown from his first, logging in a film that feels almost too brief. I appreciate how short the film is and how quickly it goes by, but with the action sequences few and far between (probably thanks to Forster who was never known as an action director and as more of a high profile hack for hire) and almost too much focus on story continuity and the revenge plot from the end of Casino Royale, it just fails to leave much of an impression. It’s like a movie filled with nothing but base exposition for another film yet to come. I guess it makes sense to watch it again before Skyfall drops later this year to keep the story fresh in your head, but the actual eco-terrorist plot is dreadfully forgettable. The disc also has nothing new from the previous Blu-ray release so there’s really nothing to really mention here.
The Bond 50 box set also has a bonus disc, but there’s not much to really be said for it. All of the truly great stuff comes with the actual films themselves, and a lot of what’s on here is redundant, except for some Skyfall video blogs that act as a sizzle reel for the next instalment but can also be readily accessed separately online. There’s also a woefully short 3 minute montage of interviews with all the Bonds that’s just cribbed from previous entries and montages of great moments in Bond girls, gadgets, and villains that doesn’t do anything. On here you can also watch all of the opening title sequences strung back to back to watch their evolution. It’s kind of a neat playlist feature, but that’s really the best thing on this superfluous disc that could have just had everything incorporated onto Quantum of Solace instead.
So I guess by now a lot of you would probably like a list from me ranking all the films. Well, here you go:
1. Casino Royale
2. From Russia With Love
3. The Living Daylights
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Dr. No
8. A View to a Kill
9. Tomorrow Never Dies
11. The Man with the Golden Gun
12. License to Kill
13. Diamonds Are Forever
14. Quantum of Solace
15. For Your Eyes Only
16. You Only Live Twice
17. The World is Not Enough
18. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
21. Die Another Day
22. Live and Let Die
But while we are still here, what did YOU, the Dork Shelf readers pick for your own rankings? When we launched our contest to give away a copy of Bond 50 (which you can still enter over here, by the way) we asked you guys to name your favourite films. Here’s how you guys ranked them (in terms of first place votes, not weighted):
1. Casino Royale
2. Dr. No
5. From Russia With Love
6. You Only Live Twice
8. Live and Let Die
9. Quantum of Solace
10. Die Another Day
11. Diamonds Are Forever
12. The Spy Who Loved Me
13. License to Kill
15. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
16. Tomorrow Never Dies
17. A View to a Kill
18. The Man With the Golden Gun
20. For Your Eyes Only
21. The World is Not Enough
22. The Living Daylights
So let’s raise our martinis to the world’s favourite spy and his future endeavours and the set that really honours him in the best possible ways.