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MGM Studios DVD presents
"You've had your eight! Now have my eighty!"
DVD ReviewGrowing up essentially in the 80's, to me James Bond WAS Roger Moore. The discovery that there were previous Bond films with actors Sean Connery and George Lazenby initially blew me away, and at first I found it hard to appreciate the older films. When A View to a Kill was released in 1985, Moore announced his retirement from the series, thus leaving a gaping hole to be filled in the world of cinema icons. When eventually the role went to actor Timothy Dalton, I was very happy since I had appreciated much of his previous work. I also sensed that since times were changing, so too would James Bond have to change. Thankfully, this change turned out to be for the better and the end result is, in my opinion, one of the better Bond films in the character's history.
In The Living Daylights, agent James Bond aids in the defection of KGB General Gyorgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). Once successfully in the custody of the British government, Koskov reveals that one of his KGB superiors has resurrected a 50's era plot to wipe out all foreign counter intelligence agents. Unfortunately, almost as soon as he's defected, Koskov is recaptured by the KGB and James Bond is assigned to investigate this "death to all spies" plot. Bond, however, isn't convinced that the situation is as clear as it seems, so his investigation leads him to, instead, Koskov's girlfriend, Kara Milovy (Maryam D'Abo). He soon discovers that Koskov was, in actuality, involved in an arms deal and is working for an insane gun-runner named Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). Bond finds himself forced to destroy the plot that Koskov and Whitaker have cooked up from the inside out, using Kara as a tool for gathering information.
The plot here is loosely inspired by Ian Fleming's 1962 short story The Living Daylights, and is arguably one of the more detailed plots in the Bond series. This is the central strength to the film. Although The Living Daylights delivers plenty of action and great stunts, it is far more story driven than usual. That works fine, since Timothy Dalton is perhaps the best actor out of the Bonds, bringing a more "literarally" literal interpretation of the character to the screen. Rather than the suave, ladies' man typically associated with James Bond, Dalton fiercely relies on the Ian Fleming books where Bond is less of a lighthearted, world-saving hero and more of a down-to-Earth, secretly haunted man who almost seems to despise his own profession. Maryam D'Abo makes a good leading female character, more intelligent and resourceful than the typical "Bond girl."
Casting has always been a crucial feature in Bond films, and The Living Daylights is certainly up to the challenge. Jeroen Krabbé is perfect as the likable, but cunning and vicious Koskov. Joe Don Baker adds a creepy touch to the film, as the arms dealer Brad Whitaker who, despite not seeing any military service, thinks he's some sort of revolutionary general. Of course, Baker later returned to the Bond films as CIA agent Jack Wade. Ballet dancer Andreas Wisniewski is perfect as the mysterious assassin Necros, and though not as megalomaniacal as past Bond villains, he fits the espionage theme of the film well.
The Living Daylights also features the final Bond musical score of composer John Barry, who has scored 11 Bond films in his career as well as writing the famous Bond theme itself, though mistakenly never getting any credit for it. Going into a semi-retired state in the late 80's, Barry decided to significantly lessened his workload, leaving the Bond series. His Living Daylights score is definitely among his best work, however, as is punctuated by a rare event in Barry's scoring career: the use of drum machines and synthesizers to enhance the orchestral music. (On that subject, Rykodisc has created an excellent new, remastered and uncut CD of this score.)
Though Living Daylights leaves behind a lot of the outlandish extravagance we expect from Bond films, it replaces it with a refined, if not old fashioned, espionage story. Considering the rough times actors George Lazenby and Roger Moore had breaking into the part, this film is certainly a stellar debut for Timothy Dalton as Bond. Though financial troubles at United Artists only gave him a shot at two films, he did his job admirably and marked a high point for the series.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer here is extremely impressive. Though some film grain causes compressions artifacts and some unwanted movement now and then, the overall effect is stunning, especially the desert scenes. Black level is accurately balanced and colors are nicely balanced into the image, being vivid but not jumping off the screen in annoying ways. The source print is amazingly pristine—the majority of the movie looks brand new. Viewers can now finally appreciate The Living Daylights in 2:35:1 widescreen, adding far more composition and quality to the image than the endlessly repeated full-screen versions seen on TV. Apparently the remaster of this film resulted in the omission of the in-film subtitles, so one minor scene in the film (which was originally a joke) now doesn't have the subtitles anymore.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The English Dolby 5.1 mix is good, but not really as expansive as one might expect. It's mainly front-loaded, with the surrounds being used in only very few instances for sound effects or ambient sound. The fronts are used heavily, though, with lots of directional effects being featured. While dialogue is firmly rooted in the center, the stereo effects from just about everything in the movie add a certain, broad scope to the sound mix. The LFE channel delivers a few good punches, but is sparingly used for the most part. Benefitting most from the 5.1 mix is John Barry's great score, which really comes into its own, using all channels for an immersive experience. The Spanish 2.0 Surround track sounds pretty much the same. Of course, the Spanish dub is a little louder than normal dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Glen and various members of cast and crew.
The latest Bond DVDs always come with a second documentary, and on this disc it's a 44-minute biography of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Well produced, it covers the scope of Fleming's life rather well, mostly focusing on his years as a writer. Interview footage with him from the 60's is included within.
Another Bond disc standard is the expansive commentary track, often featuring dozens of people. In this case, director John Glen adds some of his own thoughts while comments and interview snips from cast members and crew members are included into the mix. This is all fielded and moderated by the current head of the James Bond fan club. In reality, I honestly would have preferred JUST John Glen, mainly for the reason that he's really the only person on the commentary who's doing it live (actually watching the film as he talks).
One deleted action sequence is included, apparently removed because of time considerations. The quality is fairly rough, but it's still a nice extra feature.
The original 'a-ha' music video for the Living Daylights theme song is here, and it's painfully obvious this is an 80's video. In addition, a short featurette about the making of the video is also included. It's an interesting piece, but will be even better if you're really into 'a-ha.'
Everything is topped off with 3 trailers and their usual, excellent presentation. The animated menus are a nice touch, and the keepcase insert nicely sums up some production information in a few pages.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsChalk another great James Bond adventure up to MGM in perhaps the only film series to come to DVD that's gotten it right the first time around. The film itself is an excellent film, nicely adding depth to the Bond character without sacrificing any of the trademark action and excitement. Highly recommended.
(Editor's Note: Unlike with Spinal Tap, we have not yet received official word from MGM about a recall due to the subtitle problems, but rumor has it this will occur.)
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