James Bond
The Living Daylights
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Timothy Dalton
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £16.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 July 2006

Agent 007 is assigned to protect a Russian defector, who claims that the KGB's new chief has reinstated the hostile policy of Smiert Spionem (Death to Spies). When the defection proves to be an elaborate ploy, Bond is embroiled in a web of murder and deceit involving a crooked American arms dealer supplying weapons to Afghanistan...

After the lighter approach taken by Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton's Bond couldn't have been more different. Dalton sought to give the character a harder edge, basing his interpretation more closely on the writings of Ian Fleming. This attitude happened to coincide with an approach that director John Glen had been edging towards ever since For Your Eyes Only. Together, Dalton and Glen give us a Bond who, while indisputably still the good guy, looks as though he is capable of killing when necessary (witness Bond's murderous expression after his fellow agent is killed at the fun fair). Bond's return to cigarettes (Moore had favoured cigars) and references to Smiert Spionem (i.e. SMERSH) also echo Fleming's books.

But heroes need to change with the times, so the production team stop short of resurrecting Fleming's 1950s creation wholesale. Bond's notorious bed-hopping and misogyny are played down: following the pre-credits sequence, he is intimate with only one woman, Kara (Maryam d'Abo). Critics have poured scorn on the notion of a "politically correct" Bond but, to be frank, a woman-hating "hero" was simply not palatable in 1987, any more than it is now. In fact, 007's monogamy helps to strengthen the plot by creating a real sense of emotional attachment between hero and heroine. And it's not as though Bond has suddenly gone all soft on us, is it? He remains an extremely rough diamond, whose friendly patting of Moneypenny's (Caroline Bliss) backside would be grounds for a case of sexual harassment in any real-life workplace!

Unfortunately, d'Abo is not given a particularly strong role as Kara, who comes across as rather feeble and helpless. However, she remains one of the loveliest actresses ever to have played a Bond girl. She and Dalton ooze sexuality during their love scenes, even though Dalton is briefly let down by scriptwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson, and has to deliver the horrendous line, "Are you calling me a horse's arse?"

The movie has also been criticised for its lack of a powerful central villain. I prefer to regard the use of a villainous duo as a strength, since it is more original than the standard Bond movie template. Jeroen Krabbé is delightfully eccentric as the defector Koskov, who is not immediately revealed to be a bad guy, while Joe Don Baker (who would go on to play Jack Wade in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies) is suitably unbalanced as the war-obsessed arms dealer Brad Whitaker.

The Living Daylights was the final Bond film until 2006's Casino Royale to take its title from a Fleming story. For the next fifteen years, the production team would devise new titles as well as new stories, and subsequent movies would be novelised as part of the Bond literary canon. Maibaum and Wilson take the plot of Fleming's short story as their starting point and use it as the springboard for a complex and entertaining action thriller. Despite its relatively faithful adaptation of the short story, the screenplay could still be novelised, so long as some explanation is offered for the repeated plot elements. It could be that Koskov is inspired by accounts of the assassin known as Trigger (the female sniper in the short story) when he concocts his phoney defection, though he might not realise it was Bond who let her live, otherwise he wouldn't have requested the agent as a marksman.

Ultimately, two principal ingredients make this movie. One of these is Dalton. The other is the music. Not the insipid title song by a-ha, but John Barry's final Bond score to date. His action themes, which - like subsequent David Arnold scores - incorporate a pulse-pounding, dance-style beat, accentuate the numerous stunt sequences and visceral fight scenes to perfection.

One thing I noticed for the first time, though, is that Maurice Binder's title sequence has nothing at all to do with the plot of the movie. All the other Bond title sequences have used ideas and motifs from the screen story. A few cellos, cello cases or sniper rifles would have been useful.

The special features include both the music video and the making of the music video to a-ha's title song (should you ever wish to hear it again). Curiously, the pop video that accompanied the chart release of The Pretenders' end title track, "If There Was a Man", remains absent. Nor do we get to see Sam Neill's full screen test for the role of Bond, though we do get most of it in the documentary Inside The Living Daylights, which also reveals just how close Pierce Brosnan came to playing 007 back in 1986. In addition to the previously seen deleted scene in which Bond escapes from pursuers on a "magic carpet", we see further trims from the Q's lab sequence and footage from the filming of the ice chase. Also new to DVD are the 50-minute silver anniversary television programme, Happy Anniversary 007, introduced by Roger Moore, and contemporary interviews with Dalton and d'Abo.

You'd be a horse's arse to miss this!

Richard McGinlay

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