Cloud Atlas (2012)

cloudatlasbluWhat a bold, mesmerising, thrilling, frustrating, baffling film this is. Its so odd, so unusual and brave and crazy, smart and foolish, its hard to believe it even got made considering how ‘safe’ and charmless so many films are nowadays. Most likely the most ambitious movie I will see this year- I’m in awe of the sheer audacity of it. As a character says during the movie, …while my extensive experience as an editor has led me to a disdain for flashbacks and flash-forwards and all such tricksy gimmicks, I believe that if you, dear reader, can extend your patience for just a moment… you will find there is a method to this tale of madness.

It is certainly a polarising movie; a friend of mine saw it and absolutely hated it, and continually maintains it being the worst film he has seen at the cinema this year (but then again, he hasn’t seen Star Trek into Darkness).  My friend Andy does seem to be voicing the more popular opinion of film fans though, as Cloud Atlas fared rather badly at the cinema and I doubt it will recoup its budget even after home video releases (and I’ll have to admit I didn’t see the film at the cinema myself- I had to wait for the American Blu-ray release a few months back).

Home video does hold some interesting possibilities though. There are some fans of Cloud Atlas who state that in twenty years time the film will be as highly thought of and  ‘re-discovered’, as Blade Runner eventually was (‘our generation’s Blade Runner‘ as some put it); I’m not so sure about that. I enjoyed Cloud Atlas but its no Blade Runner.  I will agree though that plastering Tom Hanks and Halle Berry on the poster art likely had people expecting the wrong kind of movie in just the same way that Blade Runner‘s poster art had cinemagoers expecting a Harrison Ford action-adventure back in 1982. I can imagine how the punters reacted when Tom Hanks actually turned up in several roles and in the main one spoke a frustrating pigeon-English that left viewers flustered and unable to understand what he was even saying. But that is the main thing both films share- just how do you encapsulate films like these into a poster? How do explain what kind of movies they are when they are so unusual? The Cloud Atlas Blu-ray cover makes it look like some kind of futuristic adventure starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry when infact its actually an ensemble art-house movie with an obtuse plot spanning centuries. Its interesting that while the poster misses the mark the trailer really nailed it, but even then it had to be an extended trailer something like eight minutes long!

Watching at home does have advantages. Several times I would rewind the movie in order to catch exactly was being said in the far-future sequences (its very ‘honest/realistic’ but perhaps a bit too clever); and seeing the film a second time certainly irons out some of the plot and the connections across the centuries. I admit that while I enjoyed it on first viewing, it does become an even better movie a second time. But how many people will even give it that second chance? And that’s why its no Blade Runner and won’t share Blade Runners eventual reappraisal. I’d like to be proven wrong though. Certainly, watching it a second time I found myself becoming more emotionally involved and effected by the events of the last third. The film ‘worked’ better, and I really look forward to a third viewing.

You see, if you ‘get’ the film- if you don’t mind working at the plot and maybe rewinding some of the trickier dialogue (‘heresey!’ I can hear some cry at that) or switching on the subtitles (should you even have to press ‘rewind’ and ‘subtitles’ on your remote to ‘get’ a film though?), then the film is pretty damn good. The cast are marvellous, the direction (mostly) inspired, the music sublime. It is not perfect though- it has its flaws, but I’ll take those flaws if it means getting such a bold film as this. Indeed, when all is said and done, when we finally reach the end-of-year, I do think it will be one of my favourite films of this year.

So anyway, Cloud Atlas is at last released over here in the UK on DVD/Blu-ray next week, and I urge anyone brave enough to please give it a go. At the very least being your own projectionist gives you a better chance than cinemagoers had to unravel the genius from the, er,  madness.

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The Odd Couple (1968)

oddcoupleForget all those $250 million blockbusters, if you want to see one of the finest Blu-ray releases of the year then you need look no further. Just released on the other side of the pond (but thankfully region-free) is this absolute gem of a movie. I fell in love with The Odd Couple many, many years ago (back in the late ‘seventies I think) when the BBC showed a season of Jack Lemmon films over Christmas.

I adore anything with Jack Lemmon in; its a real crime that so few of his films have made it to Blu-ray so far. I have a shelf of DVDs of his films that are desperate for the HD treatment- its shocking that The Fortune Cookie, How to Murder Your Wife, Avanti and The Prisoner of Second Avenue have yet to be released in HD.

Surely everybody has seen The Odd Couple  (and if you haven’t, goodness, you are in for a treat!) so there is little for me to say here really, except that the film is a perfect comedy, endlessly re-watchable, and looks gorgeous on Blu-ray. This is a really fine-looking HD presentation, and I doubt the film has ever looked this good since its original theatrical release. Colours are vibrant and details sharp and defined, you know the drill- its amazing how some of these ‘sixties films look so good in HD. Perhaps its something to do with the film stock and lenses they used?  The original mono soundtrack has been replaced by a 5.1 DTS-HD track, but as you’ll expect there isn’t much of a sound-stage to interfere with here so its not so far removed from the original that fans will be bothered.

Extras-wise there is a nice selection; almost an hour of featurettes, mostly of the  ‘talking-heads’-type but quite informative,  and a commentary track by the sons of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, that I haven’t listened to yet.  I think all these extras date back to a DVD special edition from a few years back.

In short, this is a wonderful movie. Even had it been a bare-bones release this Blu-ray would be one of my favourites of the year, but as it is its a shining example of releasing catalogue titles in HD. Extras are fine, the price is a bargain (Amazon have it at $14.99). What’s not to love?

Listening to…. To the Wonder OST.

2thewondrcdThe film may be perplexing and troublesome, even for Malick fans like myself, but the score for To The Wonder is simply wonderful, particularly so away from the film, which is something I did not expect. Indeed, in its album presentation, it gains a life all its own. It is a haunting, beautiful piece of work, eerily ambient, tender and thoughtful. Delicate, like fragments of dreams. The whole score flows from one track to the other like a series of movements, broken by a few passages of classical music carefully chosen to feel like part of the whole. It’s an hour of contemplative, emotional music that oddly enough also feels like a companion piece to the score for The Thin Red Line (which is no bad thing as that score is one of my very favourites). So how did a film that didn’t work for me suddenly spawn such a beautiful soundtrack album? It appears that where the film failed, the music succeeded, having the soul that the film seemed to lack.  Listening to this music is going to get me returning to that movie earlier than I would have expected, if only to ponder where the music was placed, and why it works on album so well and yet didn’t seem to in the film. Its funny how things turn out sometimes, after seeing the film I had intended to cancel my order of the soundtrack but it came through the mail before I got chance- irritating at the time, but very fortunate as it turns out. Quite surprising really. Anyone who has discounted the score having seen the film should really give it a chance.

Man of Steel (2013)

mos1Spoilers ahoy folks….

They just don’t know when to stop. Good grief, the amount of cgi in this film, all the huge explosions and collapsing buildings and all manner of fireworks and bang-for-your-buck effects. I trust Man of Steel 2 will be set in a desolate post-apocalypse Metropolis, as most of the city and its inhabitants must have perished in all the chaos of the grand finale. It’ll take decades to rebuild that city. The irony of Superman reluctantly killing General Zod, in order to stop Zod killing an innocent family, when we had surely seen thousands die in the wake of the great battle beforehand, almost made me giggle.

But there’s no room for logic or common-sense here. I could see where we were going early in- indeed, ten minutes in with Russell Crowe’s Jor-El riding on a giant flying insect dodging exploding spaceships/buildings/laser blasts etc, I knew the film was in trouble, as it so quickly veered into the insane cgi excess of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. It looked like a cartoon, and all the sincerity of Crowe’s live-action performance on-set couldn’t foster any empathy for the cgi version of him darting through Krypton’s chaotic battle-strewn skies. Will film-makers never learn that beyond the spectacular visuals there is all the emotional power of a car-wash or a kettle boiling in stuff like this? The last 45 minutes of Man of Steel was visually amazing but boring as hell. I’ve never been so bored watching a film prove a man can fly. Matrix Revolutions did all the super-hero fight/flight stuff years ago, and we’ve seen cgi cities fall in Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon and The Avengers. Its been done. We’ve seen it. Film-makers need to find ways of bringing back old-school stuff like drama, emotion and character into these videogame snore-fests.  I’ve honestly never been so bored by a blockbuster movie, and it shocked me, as I thought that title had been confidently snatched by Star Trek into Darkness. Looking at the trailer for The Lone Ranger that ran before Man of Steel, it seems that we are in for another example of mad cgi excess there too. Well count me out.

Personally, I think its evident Warner Bros and the production team simply tried too hard to respond to criticisms of Superman Returns, a film I enjoyed and actually feel is a better film than Man of Steel. I may be in the minority with that but the hell with it. Superman Returns had better acting, better depth, characterisation, an emotional core. It didn’t bore me- indeed it involved me emotionally. I loved its nods to Superman: The Movie and Christopher Reeve, its respect for both that film and the character. Man of Steel? Well, Superman is no Dark Knight, so ‘gifting’ Superman all that Batman angst was the wrong way to go for a start, and with that, and the over-reliance on visual effects, well, it was a recipe for disaster. So, thoroughly disappointed by Man of Steel.  And the less said about Hans Zimmer’s Wall Of Sound/Soundscape Of Noise score the better.

In my opinion, in order of quality, Superman: The Movie is the best Superman film, followed by Superman 2, Superman Returns (those three forming a great trilogy) and then Man of Steel (and even then only because Superman 3 & 4 are truly awful films).

I’ll end this now with one last observation- John Carter was a far, far better movie. Yep, I’ve said it. Its light-years beyond Man of Steel in story, direction, acting, visuals, music- you name it, John Carter did it better.  But as far as box office is concerned, quality is no sure-fire road to success it seems, as John Carter ‘flopped’ and Man of Steel is surely headed towards a billion dollars. Its enough to make me weep…

To the Wonder (2012)

2thewondrWith To the Wonder, Terrence Malick pushes everything to the limit- frankly, he seems hell-bent on testing the faith of his sincerest admirers/fans, threatening to make even the most faithful of us bored to tears. It’s all the best and very worst of him wrapped up into one strange, beautiful, but rather detached, even boring film. Its a further experiment in his cinematic  tone poems, in which he edits several hours of footage into two hours of ambient, fragmentary passages with carefully selected (mostly classical) music.

The plot – well, the marketing people will have you believe there is a plot, and furthermore that it’s a love story: Neil (a horribly wasted Ben Affleck) after a romance in Europe, returns to America with single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko, who is radiant throughout) and her child. Marina has to return to Europe as the relationship fractures, Neil finding a new romance with an old flame of his youth, Jane (Rachel McAdams).  To be honest, there isn’t much of a story at all, and much of what I have just said can hardly be gleaned from just watching the movie. It’s mostly what the marketing people are telling us happens, because, quite frankly, the film itself hardly bothers to tell the viewer even that.  Marin leaves, Jane turns up. Marina returns, Jane disappears. Neil is passive throughout, as if unsure what he or the director wants. None of it is really explained, there is hardly any dialogue or exposition at all. Apparently random, albeit artistic, vignettes pass before us, of characters staring at each other, or away from each other. Walking towards each other, or walking away from each other. Embracing, fighting. Shopping. They hardly speak. Voice-overs and mutterings  litter the sound-scape so quietly I’m not even sure we are meant to hear them, but its mostly not in English anyway, so subtitles often help us out. I guess that’s the point; like in all Malick’s work, everything is subjective, it’s up to the viewer to decide what has happened. The film is almost like a mirror, shouting at us what do you see? What is going on?

Which is all very well and good when there is a story being told at the same time, from which we can glean/decide subjective meaning, however arbitrary,  from the events portrayed. We knew The Thin Red Line was a war movie, even though subjectively we know its really about nature, our place in it, how we bring arbitrary values of  good and evil to it. We knew that Tree of Life was telling the story of a family, of small human transient lives put into perspective against the grandest panorama of Creation, of The Beginning and The End.  So while that film has meanings we ourselves give it, it was still telling a story.  To the Wonder doesn’t really have that, its all rather aimless and irritating, as aimless as Javier Bardem’s pointless Father Quintana sullenly moping around his congregation muttering vaguely about love and Christ. Surely Malick has pushed his beautiful cinematic tone-poems as far as they can go.

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

dh5Twenty-five years. And look where we are. You know, its a telling exercise to compare the original Die Hard from 1988 and this new, fifth entry in the series, and to use that as a demonstration of how bad films are getting. Back in 1988 we had a fairly down-to-earth, tense action film with a charismatic anti-hero in realistic fights and believable action sequences. A film with twists and surprises, a great villain, a steady pace building to a great finale. Here we are in 2013 and what do we get? We get a deranged shaky-cam movie edited down to within an inch of its nonsensical plot, with a detached, uninvolved lead character, in a series of increasingly daft and ever increasingly spectacular cgi-filled action sequences, with a non-entity token villain. Its just what I was saying a few posts ago about Bigger, Louder, Dumber… its all modern film-makers seem to know. Its as if they are a bunch children with a big toy set not knowing which button to press first. Did anyone actually direct this heartless, soul-less monstrosity? Did anybody actually sit down and write this vacuous plot? I’m not actually convinced on either count. There is no soul, no heart. These movies are just huge machines devouring any character arc, any plot… its all very ugly, and few things are uglier than how this once great action franchise has been twisted and chewed up and spat out.

There were many fans who thought that Die Hard 4.0 was a terrible film and the worst possible film of the franchise.  A Good Day to Die Hard seems to have been made with the sole intention of proving those fans wrong. This, the film-makers seem to be saying, is how to make a bad Die Hard movie, this film shows how good Die Hard 4.0 really is, this film shows how bad modern action movies have become. Its like a mad huge twisted cartoon with cgi action-men throwing themselves out of helicopters and off skyscrapers and dodging bullets and smashing vehicles and… well, its a triumph of excess and another nail in the action genre coffin. On the evidence of this film, it’s all a video-game now.

2001: A Space Odyssey Live at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham

2001 SHLast night I was at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham for a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with live music performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra with organ and chorus.  Yep, if you are a fan of the movie I know what you are thinking- this was indeed an absolute thrill and unique opportunity.

To be honest, just the chance to watch 2001 on the big screen was enough to get me buying the tickets, I mean, this is 2001 for goodness sake. I have only ever seen the film on television before now, so have always felt I’ve only really had half the experience that is, well, 2001. One of cinema’s absolute classic milestones for so many reasons, 2001 was unique when it first appeared on screens back in 1968 and there has been nothing else quite like it in all the years since. It’s no ordinary movie, after all. Its detractors typically point incriminating fingers at its slow pace, its minimal dialogue, it’s suspect plot… but all that is quite possibly missing the whole point- 2001 is as much about the medium of cinema itself, as it is regards what actually goes on within the movie. 2001 attempted to change the language of cinema. Traditionally films used language -in dialogue, subtitles, voice-overs etc- to tell the story, to move the narrative, but in 2001 Kubrick tried to do so using just visuals and music, keeping any dialogue to an absolute minimum.  His use of classical compositions, both familiar and obscure, was particularly unique for the science fiction genre, a genre previously considered the domain of cheap b-movie dramatics. This new cinematic method excited and infuriated cinema-goers back then and viewers of the film for decades after, and carved the film a niche in cinematic history forever. The opportunity of hearing the film’s extraordinary soundtrack,  with its mix of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz, and Gyorgy Ligeti’s unnerving Atmospheres amongst other worksbeing performed live during the screening was just pretty mind-blowing.

It is also, strangely, such a natural, perfect ‘fit’-  being one of the most unique cinematic/audiovisual works ever created, 2001 is perfect for an orchestra performing  live alongside a screening of the film. That said, its quite a challenging score of classical works to perform to the visuals live.  Just how in the world would it work? Any reservations beforehand were met by assurances from the venue that the presentation was in association with BFI and Warner Bros,  the screen’s dimensions around 15.4m x 7m or larger and the film shown in Cinemascope widescreen, aspect ratio 2.39:1. It wouldn’t be the complete Cinerama experience of the 1968 flagship performances but it would be a magnificent digital projection (rear projection, I believe, as it turned out) with the sound channels for the dialogue and sound effects complete but the music soundtrack reserved for the live orchestra conducted by  Benjamin Wallfisch.

DSCF5094

The photo above shows how the large screen was positioned above and behind the orchestra. The terraces to the immediate left and right of the main stage was where the large choir was positioned. During the performance it was very impressive -and actually unnervingly effective- how the voices on either side complimented the orchestra, for instance  during Ligetti’s Requiem as the Man-apes encounter the mysterious monolith.  The conductors podium had a digital counter which I would imagine he used as a tracker to keep the music in synch to the film performance.

The performance included the original overture and intermission from the roadshow performance (familiar to everyone with the film on Blu-ray), Ligetti’s Atmospheres setting the mood perfectly and instantly demonstrating how faithful and authentic this performance was going to be.  At the end of the overture the lights dimmed fully and the MGM logo appeared on the screen, the organ rumbled and as the first image of the sun rising above the Earth in alignment with the moon to the powerful and stirring Also Sprach Zarathustra, I began to appreciate what an amazing experience this would be. This wasn’t just a film, it was something else- more than ‘just’ cinema, a piece of art like something Da Vinci created, art for the ages?  I don’t know. Maybe this is what cinema really is, beyond the confines of audience-satisfying popcorn blockbusters, or what cinema could be. Sadly no-one could make a film like 2001 today. Sure the technology is there, and the creativity and ability of our finest directors is there.  The technology we have now, the fx they can throw on a screen, the possibilities are extraordinary, but no-one will ever get the opportunity. Somehow Kubrick did, and somehow, within that positive 1960’s era of actually going to the moon, back when it seemed bases on the moon and huge space stations were not just possible but actually inevitable by the year 2001 (so wildly optimistic!),  that moment in time was captured by this crazy, ambitious, mind-boggling, beautiful, infuriating and dividing movie. It isn’t a movie for everyone. The couple in front of my wife and I did not return following the intermission (which made me curious as to what, after all these years, they were expecting to see/hear).

But certainly the film was impressive as always, and yes, on a large screen the visuals actually all the more spectacular (somehow the front-projection studio sequences during the Dawn of Man section were even more convincing, the models, particularly the Discovery, even more extraordinary) but the music was simply exhilarating performed live by such a large orchestra and chorus in such a fine acoustic arena. My appreciation to all the musicians and technicians who made it possible. I am sure there is a very interesting tale to be told about how such a performance is created, what it was like performing it. Could have been the subject of a documentary in itself. Imagine that as a featurette on a future special edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Blu-ray. Oh well, an opportunity lost on Warner Bros.

I have been to the Symphony Hall to see concerts before – Laurie Anderson, Mary Chapin Carpenter for instance- but I had never seen a full orchestra there before. I had always wanted to, a natural curiosity regards what a full orchestra would sound like, feel like,  live in such a fine arena. The fact that my first such experience was with the film 2001 gave it all a strangest kind of synchronicity. I wonder what Arthur C Clarke or Stanley Kubrick himself might have thought experiencing the film this way (I have no idea if they ever had such an opportunity)? The film was larger somehow, in so many ways. Quite an experience.

I know the film has been performed this way before – the Philharmonic having done so in 2010 and 2011 at London’s Southbank Centre, so hopefully it will be again. If you ever get the chance then go for it. Beats Star Trek Into Darkness at the local multiplex anyway.

DSCF5108After the screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, there followed an amazing post-concert performance by the Ex Cathedra Choir of  Alec Roth’s Earthrise. Inspired by the famous Apollo 8 photo of the Earth rising above the moon’s surface, an image predicted in 2001 of course, this piece of music was written for unaccompanied 40-part choir. The photo here shows that inspirational image projected on the screen while the stage was being cleared of the orchestra and prepared for the Ex Cathedra choir. What audience remained post-movie moved down to the stalls, Claire and I sitting in something like the fourth row lending it all an intimacy belying the large hall surroundings. Again, listening to such a large choir live performing unaccompanied a piece written expressly for the human voice was something all-new to me. Poly-choral, harmonised climaxes, it was a piece lasting something like 25 minutes and quite unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It left me curious to hear more, and I have learned that Ex Cathedra are based in Birmingham and date back to 1969. If anybody from Ex Cathedra ever read this, please tell me more!

It was a perfect coda to the 2001 screening and the end of quite a night. Life is full of surprises, and 2001 performed live, well, thinking back to when I first saw 2001 on the BBC, one Christmas many years ago, well, who would have thought back then that I would have spent a night like this one? Makes you wonder what the future will bring. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey must have made people wonder back in 1968.

Licence To Kill (1989)

bond50Hot on the heels of the generally fine but flawed The Living Daylights, comes Timothy Dalton’s second and sadly last outing as secret agent James Bond (that said, some hardcore Bond fans may have some cause to consider Dalton as never truly being Bond, particularly in this vengeance-themed story- he’s hardly doing his duty for his country here, its all strictly personal and contrary to orders).

Licence To Kill is a film about revenge and its consequences. The film greatly benefits from having the one thing Dalton’s previous entry sorely lacked- a really great villain, and with drug baron Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) the film has one of Bond’s very best. Captured in the film’s first action sequence by Bond’s  CIA buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison), Sanchez breaks out of police custody and gets his bloody revenge on Felix.  Felix’s wife is murdered (and possibly raped/tortured in the process but that’s not really elaborated) and Felix himself nearly tortured to death by being fed to a shark.  Bond goes after Sanchez, seeking revenge of his own and defying MI6 orders. Bond is working outside of British Intelligence, ignoring the fact that he has been stripped of his licence to kill. Its a cold, ruthless Bond here, one far removed from that of Roger Moore’s outings, a Bond that plays to Dalton’s strengths and reduces the weaknesses shown in his previous Bond entry (his awkward romancing for instance- Dalton’s Bond is a colder hero, far from the ‘smooth-operator’ of Moore).

Continuing the films huge improvements over The Living Daylights, we get two great Bond girls- Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), an associate of Felix who assists Bond in his pursuit of Sanchez, and Lupe Lamora (Taliso Soto), Sanchez’s reluctant girlfriend. Both women are excellent, more than just beautiful eye-candy, they both move the plot forward, something that can’t always be said of Bond films before or since. The physicality of the film is something that wouldn’t return until the Daniel Craig editions. Bond is beaten and bleeding as a result of his many fights and stunts here, certainly shaken and stirred if you will forgive the pun. Yes its violent but its a violence with consequences as opposed to the cartoon-like escapades of, say, the Roger Moore films.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and will go so far as to say that its one of my favourite Bond films. It’s just such a shame that outside forces would give the franchise severe problems that resulted in Dalton’s tenure as Bond being over. What might that third Dalton film have been? We’ll sadly never know. In a way its OHMSS all over again. The Bond series breaking bounds only to fall back into the ‘comfort-zone’ of past entries.

The Living Daylights (1987)

bond50Progressing through the Bond 50 set, I’ve finally, at long last, reached the two films that I’ve never seen but have been curious about for many years- the two entries starring Timothy Dalton as James Bond. Curiously, producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had actually considered Dalton for the part years before, back in 1968 for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, after Sean Connery first departed the franchise. Dalton was supposedly even offered the part but he declined it as he felt he was too young at the time. I’m not sure that was a wise move myself, as OHMSS, even with the much-maligned George Lazenby in the role of Bond, is in my eyes the best film in the series- with Dalton in  the part who could say what would have happened? Would the franchise have soared and Connery’s subsequent return proven unnecessary? I guess it is one of those great ‘what-if’s ‘of movie history, and one can only imagine how things may have turned out in that parallel universe. My own suspicion is that had Dalton taken the role, OHMSS may have been even more successful with audiences, he would have stuck with the franchise  and we would have had a great follow-up to OHMSS,as originally intended, with Dalton’s Bond seeking revenge after the murder of his wife, pushing the franchise into a serious direction not taken until decades later.

Alas, it was not to be- Dalton would not get another bite at the cherry until nearly two decades later, when Connery’s eventual long-term replacement Roger Moore finally left the series with the frankly shocking A View to a Kill. After considering Pierce Brosnan and, bizarrely, Sam Neil, eventually Broccoli returned to his earlier candidate and this time Dalton accepted the offer.

It is clear that with a new Bond -one much younger and more physically intimidating than Roger Moore- the film-makers intended to revitalise the franchise with a new direction. By the time A View to a Kill was released Bond had become a victim of its own excess and had descended into self-parody somewhat. In a similar way to how the later Daniel Craig Bond would attempt to differentiate itself from the Brosnan films before, here the creators of The Living Daylights would attempt to make their Bond wholly different to the tongue-in-cheek, fantastical yarns of Moore’s period.  In this it largely succeeded- indeed, perhaps actually going too far. In trying to become edgier and more real-world, it also lost the one thing every good Bond film needs- a really good villain threatening the world. Instead he gets two and neither measures up- a double-crossing KGB agent and his crazy American arms dealer cohort.

Because for all the good Dalton does in presenting a new, darker Bond perhaps truer to the Fleming character of the books (I can’t really say, as I’ve never read any of them), he is undermined by the truly lacklustre and appalling villains of The Living Daylights.  Jeroen Krabbé plays defecting KGB officer Georgi Koskov; from the start  Krabbé is miscast- he looks too soft and comical and when his true intentions are made clear, he fails to turn his earlier appearance around, failing to engender any menace at all. He just seems a bumbling bureaucrat trying to be a military mastermind and is hardly in Bond’s league. Indeed, Koskov’s partner-in-crime, American arms dealer Brad Whitaker is such a deliriously harmless nutter it only further exemplifies Koskov’s misjudgement and amateurish stab at Bond villainy. Koskov and Whitaker are a joke, basically, and its something the film never recovers from.  It’s a shame, as Dalton’s Bond struggles gamely to foster some drama from the proceedings and even attempts many of his own stunts in order to further the realism, but its all for nothing. I was very surprised at his physical presence in the film – indeed in action sequences he reminded often of Harrison Ford, someone I thought was beyond equal as an actor in physical roles and fight sequences.

There is one element of the Bond persona that Dalton does clearly struggle with though- and that’s as the romantic, womanising rogue/cad that Bond is.  Every Bond film has a Bond girl -well, usually more than one, but here its kept to just one perhaps as a sign of the times- and The Living Daylights features the beautiful Maryam d’Abo as Koskov’s cellist girlfriend, Kara Milovy. Unfortunately she is a rather vapid character, hardly anything more than set-dressing, proof perhaps that not all lessons were learned from A View to a Kill, as its Bond girl (played by the vacant-eyed Tanya Roberts) was one of the worst of all-time.  Dalton looks ill at ease whenever Bond gets into romantic moments with d’Abo, an odd awkwardness that is a first for the Bond series. It just feels forced and unconvincing and it derails any romance.

Also, while many of the stunts are impressive- particularly some aerial sequences at the climax- some betray the silliness of the previous Moore outings, such as one stunt where Bond and Milovy ride a cello during a snow pursuit across the border. Indeed, while its no doubt grittier and sincere in its real-world attempts, the whole film feels like it struggles to really shake off the Moore Bond-era persona; its clearly a franchise in transition, and it leaves the film something of a promising failure, a half-way house if you will to what would follow.  All part of the learning curve no doubt. Because to be sure, everything would click (and the ghost of Moore be dispelled at last) with the next entry, the triumphant Licence to Kill