18 years of sleeping on it...
Not many people know me enough to know that 1988 was perhaps the best year of my childhood. I turned 8 that year, and enjoyed two wonderful family holidays, firstly at Center Parcs in Nottingham and then in Ibiza just before it became a party island. It was a time of garden football, taking John Barnes free-kicks and pretending to be Marco van Basten or Ruud Guillit. It was a time of Friday night Cub Scout games, with a floppy football from the days of Keegan and Toshack. It was the time of the Olympic Games in Seoul, and the old armchair that my Great Grandma once sat in, and from which I hung upside down and saw the British hockey players take gold, and Ben Johnson run his way to infamy. It was a golden time.
1988 was also in the middle of Timothy Dalton's tenure as Bond, and though I had been watching Connery and predominantly Moore films since I could open my eyes, by default the Bond of my youth was the Welshman. The year before, my parents had taken me and my younger brother to see The Living Daylights at the cinema. It was to be the first of three Bond films that I saw in the cinema (The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day were the others). I was only 7, so I didn't really understand what was going on beneath the surface. In the 18 years since the film came out, I have watched it again perhaps once, and have always considered it a poor film, with its saving grace being that it was infinitely superior to the dire License to Kill two years later.
But then last week I happened upon a James Bond website, and saw that in the annual mock oscar awards, The Living Daylights came out shining. Had I been wrong all these years? Was it, in fact, a decent film? Had enough time passed to be able to stand back and appreciate it from a safe distance?
This evening I watched it, and I have to say that the answer is yes. The Living Daylights is decent. The story is interesting and well thought out, and Dalton, at the time and for a long time after chastised for being too serious and theatrical, puts in a very good performance. Following is a potted list of the reasons I found it appealing:
- the opening pre title sequence teaser has an interesting premise (the 00 agents against the SAS in a training mission which is infiltrated by an Russian assassin, and culminates in a well executed jeep stunt).
- the staged KGB defection.
- the very effective and professional assassin Necros, who kills with simplistic, unassuming objects (headphone lead, exploding crockery).
- Q's practical skeleton key for Bond, which he claims will open 90% of the world's locks.
- the well choreographed chase scene in the cello case, using the antique cello as a rudder.
- the ingenious sliding door trap that befalls Bond's contact at the fair.
- the staged assassination of Pushkin, helping to bring the real enemies out into the open.
- the fact that Art Malik is in the film.
- the duel between Bond and Necros on the cargo plane.
- Whittaker's 3rd generation weapons, such as the ultra deadly charged uzi.
It's not a perfect film, though. If truth be told, it does drag on a little, and seems far longer than most of the other Bond films. Then there are a few other niggles, such as when Bond is fighting Whittaker, and he keeps shooting at his bulletproof glass instead of the rest of his body which is exposed, and the fact that he claims that there's nowhere to land the stalled plane, yet they somehow drop the jeep onto a road. Felix Leiter is also miscast, as is Miss Moneypenny (who as every Bond afficionado knows should be older than Bond).
But these aside, it's still a decent film, and if I were pushed I would have to say that it is the last of the great Bond films (Goldeneye was good, but the fact that the nintendo game was so hugely successful contributes much to the film's success). Against early Connery, The Living Daylights seems a little bloated and out of shape. On paper it is excellent, but it lost something in the transition to screen. Against a lot of mid to late Roger Moore, it shines.
I really think that if License to Kill had been stronger, Dalton could have gone on to do another two films, in '91 and '93. Unfortunately, Dalton, or at least the public's perceptions of Dalton as Bond, went down with the ship. George Lazenby couldn't blame his film, - On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the very best written - only the fact that he was stepping into the shoes of Connery, who despite his barely concealed ennui with the role had made it his own and was idolised.
The world was ready for Timothy Dalton, but it didn't know it...