The Living Daylights was the debut of Timothy Dalton as James Bond on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise. It also marked a distinct shift in tone from Roger Moore’s more light-hearted approach, and brought Bond back closer to the core of Ian Fleming’s character. With Dalton came a more dangerous Bond who carried more weight and urgency with him, and it is a portrayal that I very much enjoy. While this first outing was generally well received, I believe Dalton’s two film run with the character was unjustly maligned, and I hope this review and that of the following film will detail why.
After James Bond (Timothy Dalton) helps Russian officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) make a daring defection to the West, the intelligence community is shocked when Koskov is abducted from his remote hiding place. Bond leaps into action, following a trail that leads to the gorgeous Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who plays Bond as easily as she plays her Stradivari cello. As they unravel a complex weapons scheme with global implications, linking up with arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and Russian General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), James and Kara escape first to Vienna, then to Morocco, finally ending up in a prison in Soviet occupied Afghanistan as they track down the elements in this mystery.
The opening action sequence is very smart and exciting. M sends three Agents to test the security of a military installation on Gibraltar, but are ambushed by an assassin. I’ve always liked the touch by the filmmakers to cast two other actors who resemble previous Bond actors George Lazenby and Roger Moore before revealing Dalton himself. Obviously, with marketing of the film and all, the trick loses its intended impact, but it’s a clever idea to keep an uninitiated audience guessing as these other agents fall by the wayside. Regardless, this sequence sets the tone for this more action packed and daring approach of this new Bond. It’s really a perfect start to a very promising film that does deliver in many satisfying ways.
The opening credits sequence for The Living Daylights is nothing special or distinct. Watery images and silhouettes really don’t have much to do with the title song from Norwegian pop group A-ha. It’s not particularly bad, just very uninspired. While this musical track doesn’t have as much punch as Duran Duran’s had for the previous film, the high pitched vocals and melodic quality are still catchy and appropriately Bond-esque. I like it quite a lot.
Timothy Dalton injects a seriousness into the role of Bond that I find very compelling. He carries himself with sophistication and integrity creating a strong screen presence. He firmly grounds Bond while still giving him charisma, wit, and a subtle depth of emotion. He can be humorous and charming while never betraying the dramatic intent of the portrayal. Dalton’s Bond is one that grasps the seriousness of situations, and acts with due intelligence and action. There’s definitely a gritty vigor he brings into Bond that makes the film instantly more energetic and exciting. It’s a dimensional performance that is thoroughly enjoyable, and creates a James Bond that can smartly weave in and out of the world espionage. Beyond everything else, Dalton makes 007 a character that can be taken seriously, and allow for serious stakes to be highlighted in his films. While there is room for fun, it is ultimately a better film when there’s real tension and risk at hand. I think Dalton did an excellent job stepping into this role bringing realism back into the fold. Timothy Dalton likely did many of his own stunts, and it really shows through, benefitting the quality of the action immensely.
The action of the film is excellent. The chase sequence through the snowy landscape with the Aston Martin showing many of its “optional extras” is very thrilling and fun. Plenty of explosive moments and clever twists and turns make it a memorable highlight of the film. The foot chase across the rooftops of Tangier was very well done, also. All of the action sequences are very fun and inventive using the unique locations, from the snow to the desert, to great effect. The climactic action scene where Bond hangs off the back of a cargo plane, set to explode in a matter of minutes, while battling the Russian mercenary Necros is very tense and exhilarating. Yet, it doesn’t end there as we get further explosions and a dangerous mid-air escape. Then, Bond still has to finish off Whitaker in a great firefight. It’s an immensely satisfying conclusion that does not hold back on the thrills.
Maryam d’Abo is probably not as alluring or sexy as most other Bond girls, but she is definitely a good actress that had a lot to bring to Kara Milovy. She’s very likable and relatable as an innocent and talented young woman deceived by her deceitful boyfriend Koskov. Maryam brings a strong will to the role, but also finds the vulnerability in Kara. Kara and James share some moments of strong emotion that d’Abo conveys remarkably well. She was a very good fit for this initial outing for Dalton as she satisfies on stronger levels than mere sex appeal.
I feel the only downside to the film are the villains. Joe Don Baker is decently charismatic, but never really develops into a serious threat. Opposite a more formidable acting talent in John Rhys-Davies, whose character is implicated as the true villain by Whitaker and Koskov, it’s even harder to perceive Whitaker as someone to contend with. He’s portrayed as a man who doesn’t take anything too seriously, but any hint of arrogance or ego that could have been there, simply is traded off for a character that’s lacking in formidable competence. Thankfully, he’s not a forefront villain. Jeroen Krabbé’s General Koskov does definitely go down the path of arrogance, but it takes quite a while before he becomes intimidating at all. He’s certainly the better quality villain of the two, ultimately, and at least has more of a detestable element to him due to how he eventually treats Kara. Yet, he still could’ve used a lot more work. I feel it’s more the near insurmountable odds that Bond faces which make the film tense and exciting than the villains he faces. They are nothing major to contend with. It’s just the forces they command are what create the danger the film needs.
I really like that the plot features a tangled web of deceit for Bond to unravel. He has to tread cautiously amongst those he encounters before he can determine who he can trust, if anyone at all. He works his way through a deceptive abduction, a faked assassination, opium trade, arms deals, and rebel fighters in the Middle Eastern desert to uncover the depth of this plot, and to stop it dead in its tracks. It’s an excellently crafted story that never falls into a lull. There’s a consistent development and progression of plot while never leaving our main characters of James and Kara in the dust. Their motivations remain clear, and their relationship develops very solidly. Despite James having to lie to her while attempting to determine her role in Koskov’s plan, Kara is able to eventually trust him, and they forge a convincing romantic relationship. Everything is smartly wrapped together in a very satisfying package making for an entertaining ride.
I was very pleased by John Barry’s score for this franchise entry. He gave a little more edge to the traditional Bond theme in a few of the action scenes, and nicely incorporated the melody of the opening title track into the score during the third act. It’s a very tight, very good piece of orchestration that complemented the film’s tone and pace strongly. It was a very fine and respectable final bow for Barry as this was the last James Bond film he worked on.
Ultimately, The Living Daylights is a very good film in this franchise. There is more than enough action to spare while still delivering a very smart and well plotted story. It brings espionage more skillfully back into Bond’s world, and the film is better off for it. The real cog of success was Timothy Dalton who made the character honest and real, again. Between his presence and beautifully deeper voice, you get that sense of dramatic tone from him throughout the film. He simply made the film more exciting and interesting. While there is a more gritty, dark style to this film, it still has plenty of fun moments to smile at that do not betray the tone veteran Bond director John Glen was going for. If the film had strong villains, or simply stronger performances from the villains, I could really give this a very strong endorsement. They just lack that edge of intimidating and formidability to push them over as a major threat on their own. The excitement and engaging narrative is due to the twisting and turning mystery Bond has to weave through, and it’s all done with expert quality and precision. The Living Daylights is definitely a big step up from A View To A Kill, and for those desiring a more traditional Bond film from Dalton, this is definitely the one to check out. I do very highly recommend the film despite any shortcomings it has with the villains. It’s a fun, thrilling ride that will entertain you. Next up, James Bond will return in Licence to Kill.
Right behind Michael Mann, John Carpenter is my favorite filmmaker of all time. The diverse range of films he has given the world are entirely unique and wildly entertaining. In 1982, he ventured to pay homage to one of his favorite filmmakers, Howard Hawkes, by helming a re-adaptation of the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story “Who Goes There?” Hawkes had done so previously in 1951 with The Thing From Another World. What Carpenter gave us is what I consider the best film he’s ever made. A grippingly effective science fiction horror film with an amazing atmosphere of slow building paranoia and sickening alien gore. John Carpenter’s The Thing became a classic of the genre due not only to a solid ensemble cast, but an elite crew that make this such a fantastic film that continues to hold up thirty years later.
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic United States research station discover an alien life form that was buried in the snow and ice for over 100,000 years. They soon realize that not only is it still alive after a deep freeze burial and a fiery defeat by a Norwegian camp, but that it has the ability to imitate any living thing to exact detail. Before they know it, the alien organism has infiltrated their camp, posing as any number of these men. Paranoia and distrust runs amuck in this isolated compound as no one knows who is human, and who is The Thing.
Time always seems to be the best judge of quality. Upon its release, The Thing did poorly. This was because 1982 was the summer of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, and many dark science fiction films did badly in the shadow of that wondrous, fantastical film. Blade Runner, which opened the same weekend as The Thing, also suffered at the box office because of this. However, since then, The Thing and Blade Runner have become two of the most revered films of the genre garnering massive praise, and are recognized among the best works from directors John Carpenter and Ridley Scott, respectively. They are both amazing films in different ways, but have both influenced the genre immensely.
Beyond anything, what stands out the most in this film are Rob Bottin’s amazing creature effects. What he achieves puts him on the same level with the absolute best in the business. Effects master Stan Winston also lent a helping hand in a sequence or two, but Bottin is the main man responsible for the richly disgusting slimy alien gore and mind blowing physical creations here. The detail he put into his work to create such twisted and purely alien designs remain as impactful and effective today as they were in 1982. That’s the work of a master, and it lead to him working on blockbusters such as RoboCop, Total Recall, Se7en, Mission: Impossible, and Fight Club. It is a massive loss to the industry that he has been absent from it since 2002. Bottin was a fascinating personality with a wild artistic mind that was ripe with brilliance. This film is eternal testament to his talents.
Speaking of which, John Carpenter’s pure horror talents have never been more taut or focused than in this film. It’s the perfect blending of paranoia, creepiness, gory horror, tension, and suspense. Nobody does it like John Carpenter, and only from his expert direction could this film have become as timeless and consistently effective as it has become. Also from him comes a perfectly selected cast fronted by Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady – the cool and rational mind, the level-headed one of the bunch. Also featured in this ensemble are Keith David, A. Wilford Brimley, Thomas Waites, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, T.K. Carter, and Donald Moffat. They all inhabit their characters so distinctly and vibrantly. Each man has their own look, and aren’t easy to mistake one for another. Their personalities and characteristics set them all apart very nicely, and all of the cast grasped onto the growing paranoia excellently. A beardless Brimley brings forth a fantastic performance as well as Blair flips out partway through the movie tearing apart the communications center. He plays crazy to immensely entertaining effect. Later, he is truly unsettling leading into the film’s climax. Keith David is constantly entertaining as the gung ho, take-no-crap from anyone Childs. However, Russell clearly remains the most central protagonist of the film bringing stability to the chaos, and handling all the various dimensions of MacReady awesomely.
The script written by Bill Lancaster is wonderfully constructed. Sadly, Mr. Lancaster passed away in 1997 due to a cardiac arrest, and was not able to contribute his thoughts to Universal’s amazing Collector’s Edition DVD. The Thing was the last piece of cinema Lancaster was directly involved with, and at least he could say that he bowed out of filmmaking on a seriously high note. This happens to be a pure classic in the genre of science fiction & horror. The dialogue is always great, never ever cheesy or cliché. There are bits of humor, but nothing that works against the tone of the film or the scene. Any director would be privileged to work with a script this well-conceived.
The cinematography is an absolute pleasure here, and that is forever to be expected from Academy Award winning director of photography Dean Cundey. In the opening minutes of the film, we are given stunning shots of the immense arctic landscape that clearly establish how isolated our characters are. The photography can even prove to be terribly creepy at times such as the storage room scene after MacReady breaks into the compound. Kurt Russell looks ghostly with the brilliant blue lighting upon his snow covered self. Cinematography in a Carpenter film has always been a strong point, and you cannot deny its strength here. It helps evoke the proper emotions at the right times by capturing atmosphere in its compositions and lighting. Another such element is Ennio Morricone’s score. Right from the get go, it sets the tone for the entire film. It grips you and never lets go. This score is haunting, relentless, brooding, and terribly chilling. This is such a powerful score, and despite that Carpenter did not compose it, it does have many elements of his own scores in it. Morricone had scored many “spaghetti” westerns including The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, and we would later score The Untouchables. To this day, Morricone continues to score many films, mostly Italian ones.
What makes this film so effective is due to the psychological aspect of the story. The paranoia slowly develops in the company of these men while trust diminishes. These characters are nicely setup from the start establishing their relationships and personalities so vividly that later you see how seamlessly the alien has infiltrated their ranks. No one acts any differently, and it is surprising how complete the disguise is. Under a human guise, the Thing turns down the chance to take over as the leader of the group. The life form is not looking to be obvious. It has no ego, and is possibly doing this out of fear for its own survival. It wants to hide, be subversive so that it can keep doing what it does without suspicion. Using covert methods, it can slowly take over the entire camp until it is in total control. However, when threatened, it is a brilliant idea that each part of it is an individual whole that will fight for its own survival. This makes it just that much harder to definitively defeat as even one molecule’s survival can be disastrous, in time. Mixed in with the diverse and dimensional performances, every aspect of paranoia and fear that this film deserved is greatly fleshed out and realized here.
When taking in all of this excellence, one can’t help but realize they are watching a classic piece of science fiction / horror cinema with John Carpenter’s The Thing. From Carpenter’s expert direction, Bottin’s masterful effects work, the stellar production values, the power of Morricone’s score, the amazing cinematography, and certainly the stellar acting talents of this whole ensemble cast you will get a perfect film. The atmosphere in this motion picture is something that many filmmakers fail to inject into their own films. My interest in horror films has waned in past several years. First, it was the torture porn trend, and now, I just don’t see much of anything out there with this level of atmosphere and craftsmanship. John Carpenter’s masterpiece gets a perfect, solid rating from me – 10 out of 10. I did see the 2011 prequel, and while it excelled in the horror and atmospheric areas, it didn’t have the memorable characters or amazing creature effects that set Carpenter’s film apart from the competition. You surely can’t perfectly imitate a masterpiece.