Bond Legacy: The Living Daylights

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They nearly brought back Roger Moore again? Wow, did I dodge a bullet there or what!

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

The dinner dress round had gone well, but they were dreading the swimwear parade.

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 Grease remake needed a bit of work, but Dalton’s Zuko had a definite edge.

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.

For more Bond related japes and in-depth analysis, visit BlogalongaBond.

Bond Legacy: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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It could have been worse - I could have been Adam West.

Finally, a true turning point in our series of reflections on the James Bond films, and my sixth attempt to prove the influence of Bond on not only his other subsequent films but also the larger world of film. For this month, such a shift in the world and such a unique entry in the series it feels that I need a similarly unique entry to outline the legacy of this month’s Bondage. So I’ve written a poem, which is completely unique and in no way almost exactly like something I did just last month for the general blog.

Sean Connery’s Bonds had reached number five,
But felt his career was taking a dive,
So he left the series, and here in his place,
A man with the same name – but what of that face?
He’d been in commercials, he hailed from Australia,
He told Cubby Broccoli, “I’ll never fail ya,”
He wore a Rolex and knocked out a wrestler,
They hoped he’d bring energy worthy of Tesla.
Many more changes were also impending
But not from the book; especially the ending.
To set our Bond series on such a new course,
They actually stayed quite close to the source.
However the casting saw more than one swap out
And maybe the makers were guilty of cop out;
Some of their casting was frankly quite callous,
Replacing that Pleasance with Telly Savalas?
But our premier legacy for this fifth of sequels
Shows that the movies can all remain equals
Or even be better, their impact is lasting –
And not much, it seems, is down to the casting.
For this film has shown that the reboot’s a winner,
And while some would claim it to be a dog’s dinner,
The strength of the concept is clearly the key here,
And viewers still wanted to regularly be here.
Legacy two is in some way related,
For even as earlier Bonds become dated,
They all link together, as one single story,
Although some connections are just a tad hoary,
But clearly we must take this as all one account,
Even as fresh inconsistencies mount,
This new Bond has trappings of that other fellow,
But when he meets Blofeld they’re surely too mellow?
Sworn enemies surely would not be forgotten?
Some of this plotting’s a little bit rotten.
It all makes uneven this odd Blofeld triple,
But thankfully these changes couldn’t quite cripple
The series. Now sadly ol’ Lazenby wouldn’t
Be back for another, or he just couldn’t
Deal with the stresses of filling those shoes.
(It’s also a problem for some Doctor Whos.)
As well as reboots and Bond continuity,
Other small legacies come as gratuity.
Legacy three’s a peculiar notion
For this is the first Bond to feature slow motion
And also the flashback, enabling the story
For much grander notions and narrative glory.
(And contrary to those who’re appalled by the fact,
The fourth wall’s not broken, it remains quite intact
Through pre-credits dealings, so please do not judge
Based on misconceptions; but yes, it’s a fudge
And you could be forgiven for misunderstanding
This film from the year of Apollo’s moon landing.)
Legacy four’s also small and bizarre
For John Barry used an electric guitar
To enliven the soundtrack, and some synthesiser,
So the music was great; like a blue pill from Pfizer
Had been handed out to all soundtrack players
And the music throughout had so many layers
Thanks to Barry, Hal David, and old Louis Armstrong
Which links to the legacy that’s taken so long
To come to fruition. Yes, it’s love feelings
That only the Craig Bonds have had such deep dealings
With, and of course they are both so true
To this film’s first legacy – and actually, the first two!
The fact that Bond’s love life can be so forlorn
Has clear implications for Bauer and Bourne –
The life of a spy must be totally selfish
And dealings with women all casual and elfish.
One more Bond legacy this month I offer
To add to the bulging heredit’ry coffer
That Bond has bequeathed us from six films of great means,
This one inspired the Inception snow scenes.
So film number six, and six legacies here
But question why this film is not held as dear
As some of the other Bonds already produced.
I think that you’ve by now most likely deduced
That it had nothing to do with Diana Rigg
Replacing the girl with the face like a pig;
Yes, Bond’s shoddy casting made this film lack
So next time we’re getting Sean Connery back.

Next month: Bonds come and go, but Diamonds Are Forever. (See what I did there?)


Review: Scre4m (Scream 4)

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The Pitch:  The real life events in Woodsboro that inspired Stab 8, as seen in 5cream. Probably.

The Review: Two years ago… oh wait, that was a different meta review. Fifteen years ago, believe it or not, the ironic, post-modern, nudge-nudge-wink-wink movie franchise was launched on an unsuspecting world. The three Scream movies, stretched over four years, brought two things to the world of horror that made them stand out; their killer, the Ghostface killer, is actually a different person each time, and is normally just one (or two) bitter mortals with a mask and a supernaturally efficient voice changer. It also established that there are rules to horror movies, maybe more so than any other genre of film, and if you know those rules and understand them, then your chances of surviving to the final reel or beyond are that much higher. There’s an unwritten rule about horror movies, that they never die; they just get rebooted if all the actors get too old or the series runs out of creative juices.

So in an attempt to milk as much money as possible out of a fifteen year old franchise seem fresh and inventive, Scream has rebooted its franchise with the same actors. Eleven years of constant pestering and faltering careers have finally convinced Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette that doing another one of these is a good idea. There were two other key players in the franchise as well: director Wes Craven, who’s been pulling these metaphysical, self-referential tricks since the seventh instalment of his other Nightmarish franchise, and writer Kevin Williamson, who gave us the movie-obsessed Dawson’s Creek as well as the horror movie-obsessed Scream films. It felt as if both had lost interest in Scream 3 a little, resulting in a noticeable drop in quality compared to the first two (Williamson didn’t even write the screenplay for the third entry), so their investment, maybe even more than the actors themselves, was key to getting anything substantial from the reanimated corpse of this franchise.

Oddly, though, what they brought to the original Scream films was that sense of knowing, and framed them into character-based whodunnits. Whisper it quietly, use a voice changer if you will, but the Scream films have never been that scary. There was certainly a death in each of the first two films, that of Drew Barrymore’s Casey and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy respectively, which shocked and traumatised, but Scream films have never been that terrifying – there’s plenty of attempts to make you jump, but that’s the cinematic equivalent of someone repeatedly leaping out from behind your seat and shouting “Boo!” So it’s the knowing and the whodunnit that actually make the Scream films most enjoyable, and there’s plenty of knowing here, almost too much in fact. It works best in the opening sequence, which has fun with audience expectations and is so self referential the only thing that the characters don’t do is turn and wink at the audience, instead allowing the script to do that for them.

There are rules of writing reviews as well, and one of those is to talk about the film in question, which actually I’ve done very little of. (Is that the phone ringing? Never mind, it can go to voicemail.) But there’s also a rule about the Scream films, which is that much of the fun comes from discovering what happens for yourself – the fun is pretty much all in the surprises, and I don’t mean the sudden jolts of people in a black cape and a Munch mask leaping into frame. So all I can say is that you’ll see the likes of Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and Anthony Anderson, and many more, because both horror franchises and self-referential whodunnit franchises need fresh meat, and Scream 4 ploughs through that meat like Freddy and Jason let loose at a horror convention. While it comments on horror trends, the main focus is the reboot, but actually Scream 4 feels most like the original; so much so that it’s almost like a cinematic comfort blanket, providing the same old thrills and pleasures in equal measure. It’s not up to the standard of the first two but is a stretch better than the rather dull third, and if you’re a fan of the series then there’s plenty to enjoy in the company of a similarly minded crowd. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must get that phone…

Why see it at the cinema: Scream movies are at their absolute best in a packed cinema, where you can guarantee being entertained by the one-third or so of the audience who do still jump every time Ghostface appears. Or, like me, you can use the cinema toilets afterwards and have the crap scared out of you when someone bursts in very suddenly.

The Score: 7/10