After the lackluster critical reception, but smashing box office results of Octopussy, the producers immediately wanted to push on with another Bond movie, despite clear indications that Moore was thinking about retiring, and letting someone else take up the mantle of 007. As he put it; ” When you run out of villains that Bond can plausibly beat, it’s time to quit”, or something along those lines. Anyhow, the powers that be at United Artist, and the charm of ”Cubby” Broccoli convinced Moore to stay on for one last hurrah.
Going through the motions
At this point, from a purely technical standpoint, the James Bond series was a well-oiled machine. All the cogs were in perfect shape and working in unison to turn out the best possible final product. From a financial standpoint, they were also steaming ahead, with each movie increasingly more expensive, and difficult to make than the one before. So, what could they possibly change to spice things up? To breathe new life into the series, and stopping it from becoming stagnant? Without wanting to sound too pessimistic, nothing really changed that much. Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, as they had done before, took the title from an Ian Fleming short story; From a View to a Kill was slightly changed to A View to a Kill. They didn’t use any of the plot points of the story, instead coming up with a completely original story, just like they had done on Octopussy. They decided to centre the story around Max Zorin, a Computer microchip Industrialist who wants to corner the market by provoking an earthquake on the world centre for the fabrication of computer chips on Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Califirnia; by detonating a bomb under the San Andreas fault that will flood the entire state. Reminds you of Lex Luthor’s scheme on Superman: The Movie (1978), Richard Donner, doesn’t it?. Granted, they do try to give the villain an interesting backstory; making him the product of genetic experimentation during Worl War II.
As for the rest, Glen got his old technical crew back. Production Designer Peter Lamont, Cinematographer Alan Hume, Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson, and the best group of stuntmen in the business. With a script, and a team in place, the filmmakers set about casting.
An interesting cast
There is one thing where the filmmakers went outside the norm. They had always been good at coming up with interesting casting choices. For the main villain they settled on New York born, and Academy Award winning actor Christopher Walken. His portrayal of the psychotic and sadistic Max Zorin still remains to this day one of the highlights of the movie. Even more daring was the casting of the actress who was to play her main henchwoman; Mayday. Model and Pop singer Grace Jones was making a name for herself in the Industry by landing roles on such movies as Conan the Destroyer (1984), Richard Fleischer; alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jones had a reputation of being extremely difficult to work with, always showing late on set, and having a very prickly personality. That being said, once on the role, she threw herself into it; insisting on performing most of her stunts herself, and collaborating with a clothes designer and the film’s Costume Designer, Emma Porteous, to come up with her own look. Her charisma on-screen rivaled that of Richard Kiel as Jaws for The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker. French actor Patrick Bauchau played the part of Scarpine, Zorin’s second henchman. Even Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, who was dating Grace Jones at the time, landed a small part on the movie. Other interesting casting choices were those of Fiona Fullerton as KGB agent Pola Ivanova, Walter Gotell reprising his role as General Gogol, and British actor David Yip, who plays the role of CIA agent Chuck Lee. Yip was somewhat hesitant to take on the role as he had limited big screen experience, and would have to put on an American accent for the role. For the role of the main Bond girl, the producers turned to American actress Tanya Roberts, who’d risen to fame on both TV and the big screen, landing roles on Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981), and films like The Beastmaster (1982), Don Coscarelli, to play the part of geologist Stacey Sutton. As for the rest of the players, they all came back, but sadly this would be the last time that Lois Maxwell played the role of Miss Moneypenny. Just like in the case of Roger Moore, it was felt that she was too old to play the role, and her part would be re-cast in the next movie. One nice addition was that of Patrick McNee, who plays Bond’s assistant Sir Godfrey Tibbet. McNee had known Moore for many years, as they’d come up in the business together, and would end up working side by side on different lots in Elstree Studios on The Avengers (1961-69), and The Saint (1962-69). He’d end up getting top billing, even though he only appears for a very short period of the movie.
Doing the impossible
It was a well known fact in the Industry the penchant that the Bond crew had to dream up and execute the most daring stunts. This time it was no different, starting with the opening pre-credits sequence. The sequence in which Bond recovers a microchip from a fallen 00 agent in Siberia, only to be discovered by Russian Army soldiers, and having to ski and snowboard his way to safety, was one that required the talents of numerous stuntmen and Special Effects people. German Olympic Champion Skiier, Cameraman and Stunt Coordinator Wily Bogner, came back to the fold. He was in charge of planning, coordinating, and shooting the sequence, which was originally gonna be shot in Scotland. Due to changing weather conditions, the sequence was moved to the Austrian Alps for most of the skiing scenes, and Glacier Lake, in Iceland, for the remainder of the sequence in which Bond is chased down by a helicopter. The skiing sequence culminates with Bond using one of the front paddles of a blown-up snowmobile to snowboard his way to a mini submarine disguised as a moving glacier. It was actually Bogner who came up with the idea, with John Glen, ill-advisedly, adding the Beach Boys song on top of it for comic effect, thus ruining the effectiveness of such a well executed stunt. The explosion of the Russian Army helicopter against a glacier was achieved using a model, of which the filmmakers ended up using three, as the previous two had crashed in the water, and blown up on take off, respectively. The exterior of the glacier/submarine was an actual moving vehicle with the exterior being made of polysterene to make it look like ice. It was a one-man vehicle, with very little space, no radio communication inside due to the extremely noisy engine and no ventilation , which forced the driver to open up the top hatch from time to time to take a break from the noise, and the engine fumes. All the close ups of Moore on the snowy landscape were shot back in Pinewood, as were the comfy interior of the mini-submarine. It’s one of those sequences that seemlessly comes together thanks to the magic of editing.
Another standout sequence that would give both the stuntmen and Production people their fair share of headaches was that of Mayday’s escape jumping from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and landing on a boat, while Bond pursues her on land driving a taxi through the crowded streets of Paris against oncoming traffic. The stunt was a combination of the talents of professional skydiver B.J Worth, who did the jump from the Eiffel Tower and the landing on the boat, and Rémy Julienne who performed the stunt driving scenes, with the top half of the car being smashed to pieces at one point, and being slashed in two at another, after an oncoming car smashes into the rear half of the taxi. Both stuntmen had worked on previous Bond movies, with Worth being responsible for the skydiving pre-credits sequence on Moonraker, and the pulse-pounding aerial stunt at the end of Octopussy, with Bond fighting off Gobinda on top a plane in mid air; and Julienne having being responsible for the stunt driving sequences in both For Your Eyes Only, and Octopussy. Securing the permits to both jump from the Eiffel Tower, and drive around the streets of Paris would prove to be the more challenging aspect of it all. And it almost all went terribly wrong when an over-entuthiastic stuntman did the jump after B.J Worth himself had done the stunt himself the previous day. Worth performed the stunt in two parts; first jumping off a helicopter to shoot the scene in which Mayday lands on top of a boat navigating down the Seine, and then jumping off the Tower. As the base of the tower goes outwards, he had to jump off the tower far enough from it, and opening the parachute at the right moment, as to not get entangled at the base of it. The crew built a short ramp from which Worth could jump to give him enough distance from the tower. The jump was successful, but the stuntman who was supposed to be Worth’s backup man was disappointed that he wouldn’t get to do the jump. The next morning, without anyone knowing about it, he got to the top of the tower and jumped, just as the crew were making their way up the tower to film for the day. The French authorities were fuming over the incident, and almost revoked the crew’s permission to shoot more scenes in Paris, especially considering they’d been reluctant to do it in the first place, as a couple of tourists had done the same thing a few days before the stunt team had done the jump themselves. Fortunately, the crew managed to come to an agreement with the Parisian authorities, and promised no further disruptions. The chase sequence required a series of stunts like driving down some stairs and jumping over a ramp, over a bus, and landing safely on the road on the other side. The stunt was carefully rehearsed by Julienne and his team on an airfield, before they could do it for real.
Another important action sequence was the one in which Bond has to overcome a rigged horse riding obstacle course while being pursued by a group of riders who are trying to knock him off his horse. The stunt was performed on the grounds of Chateau de Chantilly, which doubled as Zorin’s estate. The 16th Century palace was the perfect place to stage the Thoroughbred auction scenes, as it had a magnificent building with horse stables, dedicated entirely to horse breeding. Apparently, the Duke who had it built wanted to be reincarnated into a donkey. For this action set piece, the crew drew from the local talent to find stuntmen who had horse riding skills.
On a side note, the Rolls Royce in which Bond arrives at Zorin’s estate belonged to “Cubby” Broccoli himself. Not so the one that ends up sleeping at the bottom of a lake, after Mayday renders Bond unconscious, puts him inside the car, and pushes it inside the lake.
For the movie’s finale on top of the Golden Gate Bridge the crew was given permission by the Bridge authorities, which was outside City Hall’s legislation, to go to the top, and spend a short period of time shooting some scenes with the stunt doubles, and background plates to be used later on the Studio. The Mayor of San Francisco at the time was very keen on the crew shooting a Bond movie in the Bay area, and granted all kinds of permissions and facilities to the crew, even going as far as allowing John Richardson and his team to set up a system of pipes and propane tanks on top of City Hall to simulate a fire for the scene in which Bond and Stacey go down the fire escape ladder while the roof of the building is on flames. Which sadly is related to something that happened in real life.
Before the crew started working on the movie, the 007 stage in Pinewood burned to the ground. At the time it was being used to shoot Ridley Scott’s latest movie, Legend. This presented Production Designer Peter Lamont with a conundrum, as they had to use that set to build the mine set where most of the action takes place in the third act. Lamont had been told by the original sound stage builder, that after the rubble had been cleared, the stage could be rebuilt in three months. Lamont went to “Cubby” with this proposal, and surprisingly enough, he accepted. This also meant that the shooting schedule would have to be reshuffled to allow time for the sound stage and the set to be rebuilt. Construction on the mine set started before the roof was up on the new sound stage. Lamont accommodated as many of the sets as he could in the remainder, smaller sound stages like the interior of the City Hall (with the hall, the Mayor’s office, the Records room, and the elevator shaft), some of the interiors of Zorin’s estate, and Zorin’s oil pumping station which was built on a tank to recreate the scene in which Bond almost gets sliced to pieces by a propeller. The scene in which the propeller appears to be sucking Bond into the pipe was achieved by having the propeller rotate slowly, adding air bubbles and light bulbs to make it look like it was going at great speed. The City Hall set with its complete Hall and elevator shaft were set on fire by John Richardson and his team in one of the most hair-raising sequences in the movie. There were a series of flame bursts that could be controlled at any time, but still gave some cause for concern to some of the crew members; especially Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts, who had to work closer to the flames. The chase sequence in which Bond and Stacy steal a fire engine truck to escape the police was shot over a period of four weeks, having to close down several road sections in San Francisco for short periods of time as to disrupt traffic as less as possible. The sequence finishes with the fire engine truck jumping over an elevating bridge to the other side, which was done by real, as always by Rémy Julienne and his stunt driving team. The outside of the mine and the entrance was shot on location at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum in West Sussex, England.
Construction on the new 007 Sound stage was finally finished, and in the inauguration celebration was re-named the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage, in honour of Albert Broccoli’s long standing relationship with Pinewood over the years. With that out of the way, and the last sets built, it was time to shoot the last sequences in the movie. The set was immense with built-in railway tracks for the mine carts, and a series of wooden huts, stairs, and corridors. A series of tipped water tanks were situated all around the set for the sequence in which the mine is flooded, which was actually achieved with a mixture of live footage and miniatures. For the sequence in which a series of underground explosive charges drain a lake, the crew travelled to the West Country; filmed a boat standing on a lake at high tide, and did the same thing with the lake at low tide; giving the illusion that the lake was completely dried up. What was left to shoot was the all important action set piece on top of the Golden Gate. The sequence in which Zorin’s airship gets tangled on the top of the bridge was a fairly laborious process. Almost every technique in the book was used, with the crew travelling to San Francisco before Pre-production started, to film footage of a publicity Fuji blimp flying over the Golden Gate bridge. That, added to the scenes that had been shot on the actual top of the bridge using stunt doubles, the background plates that had been shot there too, using Vistavision cameras, the use of miniatures of both the bridge and the blimp for establishing shots, and a section of the top of the bridge, and the underside of the blimp that had been built life size on the back lot at Pinewood for the close ups of Moore and Walken fighting, allowed the filmmakers through the magic of editing to achieve what still holds up today as one of the most amazing action set pieces seen on a Bond movie.
Financial and critical reception
The movie, once again, did excellent numbers at the box office but, just like in the case of Octopussy, received mixed reviews at best. So, how does, in my opinion, Roger Moore’s last outing as 007 fare compared to the previous one?
As a matter of fact, it fares much better than Octopussy, but still rather disappointing when compared with everything that had come before. Moore is clearly out of his depth, and out of the appropriate age range, to play the part convincingly anymore. As you can clearly see by my babbling on about the craftmanship behind the movie, it’s the one element that saves the movie from falling into the pits of mediocrity. It’s a very well done movie, with amazing stunts and action set pieces, which came as no surprise at this point in the series. Christopher Walken provides an interesting villain, but not enough is made of his background story, being stuck with very generic dialogue. Moore’s age and his sexual encounters with his much younger leading ladies, make these scenes cringeworthy. He does the best he can with the action scenes, but you can clearly see that it’s a stuntman doing the brunt of the work, with Moore only being used for close-ups and some of the less hazardous action scenes. Tanya Roberts, a stunning-looking lady, it must be said, isn’t given the best of dialogue to work with, but her performance is rather underwhelming, especially when compared to Grace Jones’s performance, who oozes character and charisma. The best scenes are probably those between Moore and McNee. There’s a natural banter between them in those scenes usually difficult to replicate on-screen. As with all the Bond movies, the locations are stunning; be it Paris, Iceland, the Austrian Alps, England, and especially San Francisco. Alan Hume’s beautiful Cinematography makes the most of all of these; I’m especially partial to his soft lighting for the more intimate love scenes. John Barry provides yet another amazing score, with a main theme by Duran Duran which had the distinction at the time of being the only Bond song to reach the number one spot in the charts. My favourite Bond song, by the way. Not much else to say about it, really, except that given how old Moore was at the time, the crew did their best to make him look good. If you can live with the goofy humour, which pops up now and then, and have a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief; it’s definitely an enjoyable movie. Moore wasn’t clearly satisfied with the end result, and may have resented the fact that the producers weren’t willing to let him go easily, but he does his best with it, and is his usual charming self. As Swan songs go, this one isn’t half bad, but it could’ve been better. Fortunately, on the next Bond movie the character would be given a much needed revamp.
Thanks for reading.