Before I get into Timothy Dalton and his first appearance as James Bond in The Living Daylights, I want to talk a little about how he was the FOURTH choice to play our favourite employee of MI6. It is a far more interesting subject than the movie itself. (Heh, oh!)
At the time, Eon Productions was ready to sign Pierce Brosnan to replace Roger Moore who retired from the role after A View To A Kill. Although Brosnan was under contract by NBC to co-star in the weekly action series, Remington Steele, the show was regularly on the cancellation bubble and it looked like the network was ready to pull the plug.
Once the rumors started buzzing around Hollywood that Brosnan was going to be the next James Bond, Remington Steele saw a bump in the ratings as people tuned in to see the hype. Within three days prior to Bronson’s contract expiring, NBC decided to cash in and opted to renew him for another 60 days to film another season. This pulled the rug out from under Brosnan’s dream to play Bond (for now) and NBC eventually canceled Remington Steele after filming just 5 more episodes. When were those Peacocks not up to shenanigans?
Part of Eon Productions was not disappointed by losing out on Brosnan. There was a feeling by some that his style would have been too similar to Moore’s and wished for the next Bond to have a serious demeanor. Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was considered next. He passed all of hurdles except the head of Eon Productions, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli didn’t feel he was right. Next, MGM pushed hard to have Mel Gibson (The Road Warrior, Lethal Weapon) in the role. Broccoli (wisely) passed on him as well.
So… that is how we ended up with Timothy Dalton.
For his first stab at Bond, Dalton was far from a disaster but he was bland. No wit, no presence, and he is more stiff than suave. The tonal problems range from the subtle, like how Bond spends most of his time in casual attire than suits and tuxes, to Dalton looking uncomfortable delivering any of the one liners. One of the film’s more memorable scenes is when Bond improvises an escape by using a cello case for a sled. It is a bit that borders on a Clark Griswold gag and it had me wondering what Moore or Connery would have brought to it since Dalton added nothing.
Thankfully, The Living Daylights still has director John Glen behind the camera who brings along his flair for creating engaging action sequences. The one this film has that has been aped many times over is the “cargo net fight”. Bond has to duke it out with the heavy henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) while hanging onto a cargo net flapping out the back of a plane in flight. I’ve seen this kind of scene repeated in media many times over, but the original here is remains thrilling.
It was also a treat to see the “Bond Car” make a comeback. Something we haven’t seen since Bond drove a Lotus E-Spirit S1 under water in The Spy Who Loved Me. This time Bond brings back the Austin Martin with a V8 Vantage Series III. It has rockets, an afterburner, and can run on skis for travelling over deep snow. Unfortunely, it is ditched quickly for the cello sled.
Another disappointing part of The Living Daylights is the villain, Brad Whitaker. Roger Ebert’s edict that a Bond film is only as good as its villain remains true. For the record, I root for Joe Don Baker anytime I see him. Check him out in better roles like he had in Charley Varrick and Fletch. I’m glad he comes back in latter Bond films to play CIA agent Jake Wade because they gave nothing to work with in this one.
As a main villain, Brad Whitaker feels “Made for TV”. The best they could come up with for his military obsession is to have him play wargames with miniatures. How menacing. There was a murder on an episode of Columbo that did the same. He is completely forgettable. Actually, I forgot about him during the film. I noticed there was still 15 minutes of run time after Bond saved the day in Afghanistan and thought “What’s left?” The next shot was of Whitaker playing with his miniatures. Oh, he still needs to kill this guy… I guess….
Now for the continuing competition with my wife, Sarah, to guess how long it would take Bond to first get laid during each of these films. It was Sarah’s turn to roll the dice and she got a 5 and 3, so she had to decide if he gets laid “over” or “under” 53 minutes. She choose under and luckily for the Mars Man, Timmy took his sweet time at getting a lady between the sheets. Bond did not score until 1hr and 27 minutes into the film.
Mars’ hot streak continues!
Sarah – 8
Mars – 3
Timothy Dalton is like a budget Bond. He dresses like your dad, his villain is ripped off from a TV movie of the week, and his plot is a convoluted stew of clichés ripped from current headlines. Go into The Living Daylights with your expectations set low and you can have some fun with the action scenes, but not much outside of them.