Bond Legacy: The Living Daylights
When BlogalongaBond first started, there were two certainties as far as Bond was concerned; that Sean Connery would be held up as the gold standard to which all others would be compared, and that pretty much everyone would have a different favourite Bond. My mother won’t actually watch Bond films any more, so convinced is she that Connery is unimpeachable in the Bond stakes and that anyone else would pale so much by comparison that they wouldn’t even be worth her time. For pretty much everyone else, the grimness of the later Moore years is over, and we come into the modern Bonds. For me and for many others of my generation, Timothy Dalton was the first new Bond in my lifetime. He was also the first new Bond in the sense that my house got its first VCR in 1985, so the Dalton Bonds were the first that I was able to watch in the comfort of my own home about the time that they were released. Thus Timothy will always be the tiniest Bond in my overly literal mind.
But it takes a big man to impose himself in a series that was becoming so stale you could practically see the fetid bacterial cultures forming up there on screen. That man, a long time candidate who now seemed in prime position, was Pierce Brosnan. Sadly for Pierce, some scheduling shenanigans at NBC kept him tied to his Remington Steele role for six more episodes, just long enough to rule him out of the Bond timeframe and instead to let someone who’d been thought of even longer as a possible Bond sneak in. Step forward one Timothy Dalton.
Both Dalton and The Living Daylights get a lot of things right that the series had been getting badly wrong. Dalton is belivably stern and occasionally patronising, but in a very satisfying manner, where Moore had lost that sense of quiet authority as age overtook him, and where Dalton’s quips are frothy and entertaining, Moore had become dangerously lecherous and positively leering. The action scenes are also ratcheted up by several levels of intensity, and the set pieces are some of the best in the series since the Seventies. The overall tone is more even and some of the wilder excesses are reined in, making The Living Daylights the most satisfying Bond film since The Spy Who Loved Me.
But enough of that, what we’re concerned with in Bond Legacy is the lasting impact that these films have had on each other and the world at large, and there’s still mean on them bones even fifteen films in.
1. Putting the (re-)boot in
With a new Bond came a change in tone and a leading man as different to his predecessor as Lazenby was to Connery. But this time that change drove a shift in the tone, and it wouldn’t be the first time in the next couple of decades that a change in personnel would drive a change in ethos in the Bond films. The Living Daylights was almost conceived as a prequel, intented as a full reboot of the franchise, but that fresh slate was another twenty years away, and even then it still had Dame Judi Dench sprawled all over it.
But the coming of Dalton, Brosnan and Craig has seen a rethink in style and tone each time, and The Living Daylights was the first to really show that the mould really can be broken, or even thrown away and started with afresh, as long as you keep enough of these legacy elements to ground the audience.
2. Double trouble
There was one change afoot on the musical front as well, as while John Barry was still providing excellent music (and even gets an onscreen cameo this time around), the main public focus as far as music in Bond is concerned has always been the title track. Duran Duran had hit number 1 in the US with A View To A Kill, a first for the series, and that in trun reinforced the need in the producer’s minds to have a big name act to write the theme tune, and indeed sing the theme tune.
So Chrissie Hynde got shuffled to the end credits, and A-ha burbled out The Living Daylights once John Barry had sufficiently Bonded up the backing track. (Hynde can also be heard on the evil milkman’s Walkman, so she didn’t do badly.) But this started a trend of different tracks on the opening and closing credits, with often the composer’s first choice – and consequently the better tune – getting shunted to the end credits, rather than being an accompaniment to the usual parade of scantily clad ladies in fantasy settings that kicks off proceedings.
3. The name’s Aston. Martin Aston. No, wait…
The other notable feature about The Living Daylights is the return of the Aston Martin. James Bond’s vehicle of choice had been a prominent feature in the Sixties, but apart from a blink and you’ll miss it showing in Diamonds Are Forever had been largely absent. Dalton’s debut might have seen a V8 Vantage Volante rather than the earlier DB5 or DBS, but The Living Daylights sees the return of the classic car maker with some tooling about on the ice that was
ripped off homaged in Die Another Day. Only two of the Bond films made since this one haven’t featured an Aston of some variety, and for many men, myself included, an Aston Martin would be near the top of the shopping list if our numbers ever came up on the lottery. Ideally one with giant rockets and an ejector seat. (Well, if money’s no object…)
Next time: Somehow I have to break the news gently, that I’m not a huge fan of License To Kill. Gulp.
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The Pitch: If there’s something strange, in your neighbourhood memories, who ya gonna call…? (The ginger one off Extras and some bloke with a thin moustache, apparently.)
The Review: There feels something particular about being British. If you’ve ever seen the British episodes of shows like Friends or The Simpsons, you’ll have a pretty good idea what other people think we’re all about; all Union Jacks and stiff upper lips. But to me, there’s always felt something more of the Monty Python about being British; there’s an eccentricity that bubbles under in our culture, and sometimes that strangeness gets let off the leash and allowed to explore, which is what Nick Whitfield has done in this expansion of an earlier short film.
There’s always a risk in taking a short film idea and stretching it up to an hour and half, but thankfully there’s enough here to give a solid three act narrative so that the plot can flow and breathe. Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley are the unconventional memory trippers, going about their business with a complete and total investment in what they’re doing. Keeping them on track is the only big name in the cast – Jason Isaacs gets his moustache on again for The Colonel, and although on the surface he is most like the British archetype I alluded to earlier, all stiff-lipped reserve and gruffness, he isn’t afraid to take the character to the same strange places as the rest of the cast.
The process which Bennett and Davis (Buckley and Gaughan) go through to undertake their investigations is constructed of fine details, so that you never really see the whole; that’s probably for the best, as what they’re doing only makes sense within the confines of its own, equally bizarre, rules. There’s a whole vocabulary to the film in terms of style, action and language which only really makes sense as the movie progresses. But it’s the fine details that are the most enjoyable and that really resonate. Using this attention to detail, Skeletons starts as an out and out comedy, but then works in more elements of drama along the way – it’s a fine balance, but one that Whitfield manages very well both as writer and director. He’s helped by a cast that has some real standouts – as well as the investigators, Tuppence Middleton does wonders with a silent role as the daughter of the family at the plot’s core.
Overall, this resolutely odd, deliberately unconventional movie manages to have a heart in among its strangeness. The only slight reservation is that, while the plot comes to a conclusion which is both narratively and emotionally satisfying, the last few scenes linger slightly longer than they could have done, so maybe if Whitfield gets the bigger budget that his talent deserves, it will allow for a little more time in the editing room, although this is proof positive of what you can achieve with limited resources. The score is also slightly overstated in places, but these are small quibbles and shouldn’t detract from the whole experience. For a true British original, look no further.
Why see it at the cinema: Partly to reassure yourself that you’re not completely mad and other people are finding this funny too, but mainly because without your support, movies like this will stop getting released, then they’ll stop getting made. That day will be a bad one if and when it comes – so don’t let it happen.
The Score: 8/10