The following are my contributions to a 30th anniversary retrospective on A View to a Kill. My thanks to The Digital Bit’s Michael Coate for the invitation to participate.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is A View to a Kill worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?
McNess: In celebrating the 30th anniversary of A View to a Kill we are acknowledging the success and the legitimacy of the Roger Moore era. More specifically, we are celebrating a film that showcases a very interesting take on the super-villain template and features some of the series’ strongest stylistic debts to Alfred Hitchcock, particularly through the creative use of famous landmarks. Within its escapist canvas, the film has a genuine dramatic heft, and it features some of the most intriguingly subtle plays with the Bondian formula. The film travelled a rocky road both critically and financially—the zeitgeist, as such, was not particularly tolerant of James Bond during the Eighties, particular with the ascension of the blue-collar hero and the tendency of commentators to negatively correlate Moore’s aged visage with the series’ vitality—and yet it offers so many details and moments of interest. We are also celebrating a film that, in its darker passages, ushered in the tone of the Timothy Dalton years—although we didn’t know that one at the time.
Coate: What was your reaction to the first time you saw A View to a Kill?
McNess: I first saw A View to a Kill at the local cinema of the Australian town I grew up in (Portland, Victoria). Not in 1985, mind you, but 1986—it took new releases an inordinately long time to reach us! I liked the film in spite of myself—Indiana Jones was the bee’s knees for me back then. But I also found A View to a Kill intriguing: it wasn’t as action-focused as many other Bonds, instead drawing its energy as much from a quiet sense of foreboding. I also felt that Christopher Walken and Grace Jones gave the film a distinct flavor. I remember the odd beauty of the airship floating over San Francisco Bay, with Zorin anticipating Bond’s demise. And I remember people muttering outside the theater afterward about how “horrible a man” Zorin was.
Coate: Where do you think A View to a Kill ranks among the James Bond movie series?
McNess: It is often ranked as one of the lesser Bond films, a position I simply cannot support. While I recognize the details that a number of critics and fans typically take issue with—Bond too far past the late thirties prime, Zorin too odd, a reduced action quota, henchwoman turns good, horse racing episode not sufficiently related to central conspiracy, and so on—I believe the film plays superbly. The inclination to break a genre film down to its constituent parts in order to grade it is understandable, but shouldn’t the grading relate more to how those elements interact? I rank A View to a Kill as one of the best.
Coate: Did Roger Moore deliver a good performance in this, his final outing as Agent 007?
McNess: It’s not the performance that typifies his reign, but it’s a good one. One of earlier quips in the film—”There’s a fly in his soup”—is delivered by Moore at a lower pitch than we’re generally accustomed to, and it sets up the tone of his performance beautifully. The characteristic lightness of touch is, at times, discernibly strained; there are moments of grimness and fatalism threaded through his cool, collected seventh essay of the 007 character. And a quality I find especially engaging in Moore’s performances, particularly in the John Glen films, is how genuinely Moore communicates worry and concern. His Bond also seems quite repelled and unsettled by Zorin, which is an unexpected but welcome detail.
Coate: In what way was Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin a memorable villain?
McNess: Walken’s Zorin provides a memorable spin on the patented Bond super-villain. There’s the off-hand joviality; the world’s an amusing playground for Zorin. But he’s also dead-eyed—there’s a disconnect that is actually genuinely sinister. His plans don’t even seem informed by a set of ethics, however debased. It’s monopoly for the sheer hell of it. In terms of Bondian villains we have seen over the decades, he epitomizes the scarily entitled individualist—a prevalent beast in 1980s culture, with no signs of abating in intervening years.
Coate: In what way was Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) a memorable Bond Girl?
McNess: With Zorin and Grace Jones’ May Day presenting such a vivid and offbeat portrayal of amorality, Stacey—in her genuineness and principled behavior—almost operates as a tonal balance. She’s obviously too timid and straightforwardly virtuous a character for some, but there is a strong element of decency and warmth in Tanya Robert’s performance that is welcome and memorable in the wider context of the film. The same goes for Patrick Macnee’s Tibbett in the film’s first half…. Stacey has often been admonished for failing to notice an airship sneaking up behind her, but this wasn’t an issue for me: deafened, dazed and confused from the previous blast, not to mention delighted and overcome by the sight of a man she thought surely dead, Stacey’s lapse certainly struck me as very reasonable! The action actually has a terrifically fun operatic quality: the lovers running towards each other while the airship steadily descends, with John Barry underscoring it all beautifully with a dramatic rendition of the romantic theme…. Interestingly, what also makes Stacey a memorable character is how Moore’s Bond responds to her. Moore is excellent; he brings a gently paternal quality to the fore (not an unwise decision given Moore’s advancing years) without ever slipping into the realm of patronizing. It’s a very fine line that Moore traverses with the greatest of ease. For instance, there’s a line where he’s lifting Stacey to safety—”Good girl, you’re nearly there”—a line that’s almost impossible to deliver without an air of condescension. But Moore never slips towards it.
Coate: Andrew, what was the objective with your book, A Close Look at ‘A View to a Kill’?
McNess: The principal objective was to focus on how the film plays with the series’ formulaic elements in a range of understated yet absorbing ways. Usually the variations on the formula in any given Bond film are clear-cut and apparent; A View to a Kill, by contrast, often achieves its effects in more elusive ways. Straight up, the film is blatantly formulaic—another madman intent on controlling a market—but in its finer details, it’s something else. I couldn’t always put my finger on the various appeals of A View to a Kill. This book constitutes the subsequent investigation! Implicitly, of course, the book also celebrates the cinematic James Bond formula—and implicit with that, its literary foundations.
Coate: What is the legacy of A View to a Kill?
McNess: It’s the ultimate Eighties rendering of the James Bond universe, what with its corporate super-villain, insanely strong henchwoman, Duran Duran song, tougher edge to the action, Cold War complexity, and so on. And yet its qualities are not trapped within the decade. Furthermore, A View to a Kill demonstrated that a foreboding, nihilistic edge could be threaded through a Bondian romp. It reinforced, also, how some especially creative casting of the villainy could supply a formula flick with an unexpectedly distinct flavor. Last but not least, the film reminds us—I think better than any other Bond film to date—that rewarding variations on the formula need not always be especially obvious.
The entire retrospective can be found at: http://thedigitalbits.com/columns/history-legacy--showmanship/remembering-view-to-a-kill-30th