Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- The Living Daylights

Time once again for Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly gaze upon one of the movies I just happen to own.  Today, we return to the world of 007 with The Living Daylights.  This entry is dated in my notes at January 5, 2013.  

Ya know, I think The Living Daylights is the one James Bond movie in my collection that I haven't done for this column yet.  And it seems like as good a night as any to do it, seeing as to how I just bought it on Blu-Ray.  I did have it on DVD, and it was next in line to be upgraded to Blu-Ray.  My DVD is the basic edition...no bonus features.  That would never do.  And when I saw the Blu-Ray the other day for the insanely low price of $6.99, I said, "Dude!  Time to upgrade!"

The Living Daylights was the James Bond debut of Timothy Dalton, and he went on to do just two Bond films.  Dalton had been approached for the role of Bond several times before.  According to legend, he was the first choice to take over for Sean Connery in On Her Majesty's Secret Service way back in 1969.  Being only 25 at the time, Dalton turned it down, thinking he was too young.  And then, the 1980s came along.  Roger Moore was ready to retire, and the producers new the perfect James Bond would be...Pierce Brosnan!  Sadly, Brosnan couldn't get out of the contract for his TV series Remington Steele, so the producers once again approached Dalton.  And now, Dalton figured he was ready. 

The Roger Moore Bonds, as fun as they were, starting growing more and more...campy over time.  Moore has even admitted that his final Bond film, A View to a Kill, was somewhat embarrassing.  So, with a new actor taking on the role of Bond, that only meant one thing...time for a gritty reboot!  The two Dalton Bonds did get some criticism as they felt Dalton's Bond was far more humorless than Moore, but others praised the back-to-basics approach.  Watching these films, I find that Dalton's Bond is very similar to Daniel Craig's Bond, especially Craig's Bond in Skyfall.  The humor is gone because they've been at it for far too long.

In that decade known as the 1980s, Moore made 3 Bond films, and Dalton made 2.  But make no mistake, Dalton's films are the definitive Bonds of the 1980s.  And it all comes down to drugs.  With the War on Drugs gaining prominence in pop culture, and drug runners becoming the villains more and more, it only made sense that Bond would start taking on drug kingpins, rather than the usual glitzy terrorists bent on world domination.  And while a drug lord isn't a villain in The Living Daylights, the villains try to break into the drug lord business. 

While many regard the second Dalton Bond, License to Kill, to be the better of Dalton's two, I've always preferred The Living Daylights.  Why?  Because it's the first James Bond movie I saw.  Well, OK, I know I said earlier in this column that my first Bond film was Never Say Never Again.  Let me clarify.  The Living Daylights was the first James Bond movie I saw...where my attention span had finally matured to a place where I could sit and watch it from beginning to end, rather than getting bored a half-hour in and wandering off to play with my TransFormers. 

On James Bond's latest mission, he's sent to Czechoslovakia to assist in the defection of General Koskov...a high ranking general in the KGB.  Bond and MI6's resident agent in the area, Saunders, take an instant dislike to each other.  Bond is to take up a position as a sniper, as it's expected the KGB has a sniper trained on Koskov should he try to defect.  Bond's objective:  take out the sniper.  When the defection happens, Bond spies the sniper...a rather attractive cellist he saw performing in an orchestra earlier that evening.  Rather than take her down, Bond simply shoots the sniper rifle out of her hands.  With things starting to rapidly go south, Bond takes charge of the defection, pushing Saunders aside.  Bond safely gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia and across the border to Austria, and into a jet to wing him off to the UK.  Saunders begins to berate Bond for not killing the sniper, and Bond says that he only kills professionals, and they way she was fumbling with the rifle, she'd probably never picked up a gun before in her life.  "Besides," says Bond, "I'm certain I scared the living daylights out of her."

To quote Peter Griffin:  "Oh, so that's where they got that." 

Back in England, Koskov is being debriefed by M, and explains the reason for his defection.  Koskov claims that General Pushkin, the new head of the KGB, has gone mad with power, and has declared that all spies are to be shot on sight.  Surely, such an aggressive stance could trigger World War III.  Of course, Bond and M are stunned to hear this.  In all of their dealings with Pushkin -- both professional and personal -- they've never seen any sign that he might go off his rocker like this.  But, Koskov is insistent, and soon the KGB leads a daring raid on the MI6 safehouse to forcibly reclaim Koskov.  With this raid being all the proof that MI6 needs, Bond gets his new orders:  assassinate Pushkin before things get worse.  Bond, however, still has his doubts.  He wants to return to Czechoslovakia and interrogate that sniper.  Something about this all just doesn't add up.  Bond's orders are to take down Pushkin at a conference in Tangiers in 48 hours, so the way Bond sees it, he's got 2 days to pop into Czechoslovakia and check out the symphony. 

Bond arrives, but finds that Pushkin got to the sniper first.  When she returns to her apartment, Bond greets her.  We learn that her name is Kara Milovy, and she is no KGB assassin, but simply, Koskov's girlfriend.  He asked her to fire blanks from a rifle to make his defection more believable.  Koskov told her that a Western agent would be back to get her and bring her to the west...which is news to Bond.  But, Bond goes along with it, hoping she might give some clue as to Koskov is up to.  So, they pack up her things -- including her prized Stradivarius cello, and head for the border. 

We get ourselves a classic James Bond car chase, where a few elements of the ol' Roger Moore camp creeps in...especially in the climax, when the car is destroyed, and Bond and Kara turn her cello case into a toboggan to make it out of the mountains. 

So they make it Vienna, and Bond tracks down his old friend from the start of the film, Saunders, still working in the area.  Kara said that Koskov bought her the cello...and a Stradivarius cello is a little above a KGB general's pay grade.  Saunders investigates while Bond entertains Kara, and Bond and Kara make out on Vienna's famous Ferris wheel.  When Bond meets up with Saunders, Saunders reports that the cello was actually bought by Brad Whitaker, an international arms dealer.  Obviously, Whitaker and Koskov are up to something.  Saunders and Bond have a bit of a reconciliation, but Saunders is promptly killed by Koskov's henchman, masquerading as a KGB agent following Pushkin's "death to all spies" directive.  This harsh reminder puts Bond back on track, and he's off to Tangiers to hunt down Pushkin. 

I remember watching this shortly after my sister returned from backpacking across Europe...with all the scenes in Vienna, and of the Ferris wheel, she started screaming, "I've been there!"  So jealous...next time I go see her, remind me to bring along a lot of movies filmed in Japan, so I can start screaming, "I've been there!"  Hell, don't even have to go that far.  I've been to Vancouver, and I'm starting to realize that a lot of forests in low-budget sci-fi TV shows look a lot like Stanley Park.  But I digress.

In Tangiers, Bond confronts Pushkin and they hash it out.  Pushkin hasn't put any "death to all spies" policy in place...in fact, before Koskov's defection, Pushkin was getting ready to "fire" Koskov for misappropriation of funds.  That's right, he was embezzling from the KGB.  As Bond and Pushkin talk more, they begin to realize that Koskov and Whitaker are going through a lot of trouble to get Bond to assassinate Pushkin.  And to find out what Koskov is up to...Bond had better go through with his orders.  So Bond and Pushkin fake Pushkin's assassination. 

Back at our villain's lair, Koskov and and Whitaker are giddy at the news that Pushkin is dead, as now they can get on with their plan.  But Whitaker receives a mysterious phone call.  It turns out to be Kara.  She grew frustrated with Bond taking her around Europe, and she wants to know if Whitaker knows anything about Koskov's whereabouts.  Koskov quickly fabricates the lie that Bond is a KGB agent, using her to get to him, and she helps Koskov lay a trap for Bond.   But, before he passes out from the drugs in his system, Bond is able to convince Kara that Koskov is lying and just using her. 

Bond awakens on a plane headed for Afghanistan.  Koskov appears and says, now that Pushkin is dead, he can tell everyone that everything he's done so far was on a secret mission for Pushkin, giving him an airtight alibi.  Rather than kill Bond, he plans to turn "Pushkin's assassin" over to the Soviet authorities and let them deal with Bond.  But Koskov won't divulge his whole plan.  They touch down at a Soviet airbase in Afghanistan, and Koskov gives Pushkin's assassin over to the guards.  He also gives them Kara, fabricating the story that she was in on it. 

Don't forget, at this point in history, the Soviets were occupying Afghanistan.  I don't know why, but my high school social studies teacher was fond of saying "Afghanistan is the Soviet's Vietnam," so that's all I have to go on.  And here's where the story's about to get hilariously dated.

Bond and Kara promptly escape from the Soviet jail, and accompanying them is another individual who also was in the jail.  Once they get outside, they're promptly met by some of the rebels fighting against the Soviets.  Turns out the other person Bond and Kara rescued from the jail is the leader of the local chapter of...the heroic Taliban freedom fighters fighting against the Soviet occupation!

See what I mean?  Hilariously dated. 

OK, I just went fact-checking on Wikipedia.  In the film, Kamran (the guy they rescued) is revealed to be the leader of the local mujahideen, who were the rebels fighting the Soviet occupation.  I thought the Mujahideen and the Taliban were the same, but they're not.  The Mujahideen were the rebels, and when they finally ousted the Soviets, the rebel leaders started fighting amongst themselves, and the Taliban took power in the confusion.  According to Wikipedia.

So James Bond did NOT team up with Taliban.  Close one there, James.

Bond enlists Kamrin and the Mujahideen's  help, and they finally figure out Koskov and Whitaker's plan.  They're getting into the drug lord game.  Using that money that Koskov embezzled from the KGB, they're going to buy a shit ton of opium from the Afghan drug lords.  Bond puts the street value at half-a-billion dollars.  Koskov and Whitaker sell the drugs, Whitaker gives Koskov the weapons that Koskov is supposed to be using the money to buy from Whitaker, Koskov gets back in the good graces of the KGB, and Koskov and Whitaker split their half-a-billion. 

But now while James Bond is on the job!  Bond sabotages the plane that's carrying the drugs out of Afghanistan.  Koskov's henchman gets on the plane, and he and Bond have a thrilling fight in the plane's cargo hold.  But the back door to the plane opens up, and Bond and the henchman continue their battle, dangling from the cargo net hanging out the back of the plane!  I remember watching a TV show where they show you how they do the special effects in movies, and this stunt was talked about in depth.  Yes, two stuntmen actually dangled from the cargo net behind a Buffalo aircraft and fought it out.  They both wore parachutes underneath their jackets, so if they lost their grip, they could ditch their jackets and parachute to safety.  During filming, James Bond's stunt double actually did lose his grip and parachute to safety.  So, there does exist a blooper where James Bond loses the fight and the bad guy wins. 

But that's not what happens.  James Bond wins, he and Kara escape from the plane before it runs out of fuel and crashes, and they safely make it to Pakistan.  With the drugs gone, Bond and the KGB team up to raid Whitaker's compound.  Bond takes out Whitaker, Pushkin gets his vengeance and takes out Koskov, and the good guys win once again! 

Ah, but what to do about Kara?  After all, the Soviet government still regards her as a defector, too.  But, for all her help in this case, Pushkin and Bond pull the strings with their respective governments and make her a fully legal immigrant, so she can still come and go as she please to Mother Russia.  She goes on to become a superstar cellist in the classical music world!  And, of course, she shows her appreciation to James Bond by having one last romantic dalliance with him. 

The end of The Living Daylights, but James Bond will return in License to Kill!

I just love this one.  I don't think I gave enough attention to the character of Whitaker, played Joe Don Baker, who would return to the Bond franchise as Bond's CIA friend and ally Jack Wade in the Pearce Brosnan era.  Whitaker is a man obsessed with all things military, and always struts around in a general's uniform.  When he has an encounter with Pushkin early in the film, Pushkin quickly calls him out for being a phony soldier, and that he flunked out of West Point, and his only military career was as a third-rate mercenary.  He's a colourful character to say the least. 

And speaking of hilariously dated....  At the end of the film, when Kara makes her debut in Vienna, Kamrin and the Mujahideen show up for the concert, and they come strutting into the concert hall looking the very stereotype of a middle eastern terrorist.  "Sorry we're late," Kamrin casually says, "But we had a little trouble at the airport."  Such a bad joke, post 9/11.

Back to the positives, though, I do love the music in this James Bond film.  Legendary film composer John Barry is the man who created the musical sound of the James Bond films, and he did the music for the majority of them, starting with the second one, From Russia With Love.  This wound up being Barry's final James Bond film.  Usually, with James Bond movies, they'll take the main theme song and work into the score some how.  Not only is the theme song, The Living Daylights by a-Ha worked into the score, but two other pop songs as well, Where Has Everybody Gone and If There Was a Man by the Pretenders.  The Living Daylights is worked in as a spectacular heroic fanfare played during some of the bigger action sequences, Where Has Everybody Gone becomes a foreboding villain's theme, chiming in whenever the henchman kills somebody, and If There Was a Man is woven in as a wonderful romantic theme.  It makes for a very rich soundtrack.  I should buy it.  iTunes, here I come! 

But that's The Living Daylights.  This is perhaps the one James Bond film I know the most about.  I guess it's true...you never forget your first.

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