Wednesday 19th July 2006
These two films in the phenomenally successful James Bond franchise will always sharply divide opinion, simply because they are radically different in style to the others; with the possible exception of the exciting new “Casino Royale”.
Both films, made in the late 1980s, fall into the genre of action thrillers and the tone is at its most realistic since the early sixties films.
Timothy Dalton, well known before Bond for his serious, brooding portrayals of classical and period heroes, brings a wealth of acting talent to the part and delivers powerful, convincing lead performances. The production team were keen to utilise Dalton’s considerable acting ability, and the darker, more realistic scripts were especially written to give their star some real characterisation to get his acting teeth into. His Bond has an ironic, rather dry sense of humour that is in-keeping with the tone of the films and never threatens to undermine the credibility of the action, unlike the flippant, tongue-in-cheek buffoonery of the earlier portrayals that had worn increasingly thin.
Suddenly the films were credible and more sophisticated than the usual all-out action romps with exotic locations and bikini-clad babes that had represented the ambitions of earlier eras. James Bond was no longer an action hero but a credible and occasionally fallible human being with a strong moral agenda. Gone was the over reliance on gadgets and gags; and with them went the megalomaniac villains intent on world domination. Dalton’s Bond solved his problems with his wits, and faced all too credible bad guys – arms and drugs dealers. This brave new departure for the franchise lends the Dalton era a richness and freshness, and the box-office success of “The Living Daylights”, and contemporary positive critical reaction suggest it was a highly successful move; though lower audience figures after lousy US marketing for “Licence to Kill” favours the doubters. Nevertheless, over the years Dalton’s portrayal has garnered a devoted cult following, and many Bond fans agree that his portrayal of the master spy remains closest to creator Ian Fleming’s original character.
“The Living Daylights” boasts some fine actors such as John Rhys Davies, Joe Don Baker as the main villain Brad Whitaker, the excellent Jeroen Krabbé and a strong supporting role as an Afghan freedom fighter from Art Malik. The leading Bond girl, Maryam d’Abo, turns in a beautiful performance as the sensitive cellist who becomes embroiled in the dangerous world of 007. There is also some fine location filming and excellent action sequences shot in Afghanistan, including the incredible fight between Bond and the assassin Necros as they hang onto a sack of opium bags dangling out of the back of a plane hundreds of feet in the air. If “The Living Daylights” has a weakness, it is that the main villains are almost too sordid in their aims, and that the plot is arguably overly-convoluted. Nevertheless, it is superbly well-directed by John Glen and safeguarded the future of the Bond franchise after the steep decline of quality and popularity since the mid-seventies.
These deluxe new editions feature a whole host of extra features on the second disc. The highlights of “The Living Daylights” release are the Vienna press conference that introduced the fiercely private and uncomfortable-looking new Bond Dalton to the media; and a rather more talkative Dalton discussing his craft of acting; deleted scenes introduced by director John Glen (who is always very engaging and informative) and audio commentaries from members of the cast and crew. The format of the commentaries is quite strange, as pre-existing vignettes from interviews are tacked on to the soundtrack, but they frequently offer insights, and the contributions from Jeroen Krabbé are very funny.
Dalton’s second, and ultimately final outing as James Bond was in 1989’s “Licence to Kill”, notorious for being the most extreme, violent and realistic Bond film that underachieved at the US box office. Some hail it as a story closest to Ian Fleming’s original literary vision; others deride it as so unlike any other Bond film as to be unworthy to be considered part of the real Bond canon. I fall soundly in the former category, and believe it is the classiest Bond film since the halcyon days of the early 1960s. It was the first story not based on a Fleming original, though they had run out of titles by now, but draws heavily on “Live and Let Die” and is a tale of personal revenge. Bond has his licence revoked by M, but still infiltrates Sanchez’s life in order to complete his vengeance. It is the only film in which Bond’s lip bleeds when he’s hit in the mouth; when his suit becomes ripped and dirty; when his hair becomes ruffled after the action. Here, Bond is at his most morally dubious, and it is easy to see Sanchez and Bond as different sides of the same personality. Robert Davi is superb as Sanchez, easily the most menacing and convincing Bond villain, who is given plenty of screen time and really gets his teeth into the role: the scenes between him and Dalton are electrifying. Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are perfect as the two Bond girls, and look out also for a young Benicio Del Toro as Sanchez’s henchman. The plot is refreshingly linear, the dialogue sparkling and the direction slick. It is a Bond film that will stand the test of time much better than some of its more recent counterparts.
The extras include a making of documentary, a commentary; a featurette on the amazing job the stunt drivers performed controlling the massive tankers; and contemporary interviews with cast and crew. Timothy Dalton repeatedly talks of his determination to portray Bond not as the unflappable superman equipped with an array of sci-fi gadgets; but as a real human being who makes mistakes, bleeds when hit and has to accept moral consequences for his actions - and in that he succeeded. Whether, had he been allowed to make his third contracted film, he would have succeeded in revolutionising the franchise forever is now impossible to say; as the rights to the films were endlessly debated in court for the next five years, after which Dalton backed out of his contract to make a further two films. But his all-too brief stint as James Bond, too often overshadowed by the longer-running Bonds, will always stand as a brave attempt to breathe new life into a stale franchise; and for many die-hard fans, this short-lived era remains the truest interpretation of one of Britain’s most iconic heroes, and produced two brilliant films.