Review for The Living Daylights
It’s been so long since I reviewed The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill on DVD, that we’ve had a change in Bond, and five new Bond movies have come out. Back then, I had stated that I’d fallen out of love with the Bond franchise, and that only the two Timothy Dalton movies appealed to me, with his grittier, darker portrayal of the character, that some described as more authentic to the Ian Fleming creation. You might have thought that I’d be brought back into the fold by Daniel Craig’s portrayal, which actually goes further than Dalton did in giving the character an emotional realism, aided no doubt by the films becoming just as gritty as well. And while I must say that Skyfall is the one Bond movie that I’m compelled to re-watch with each TV broadcast, I’ve yet to commit to buying it, or any of the other Daniel Craig movies on home video. There’s something of an identikit style to action thrillers these days, where everything boils down to someone clicking away at a computer screen, satellite imagery, mobile phone apps, a whole lot of high tech wizardry that seems to drain away the individuality and personality of these films. The Timothy Dalton Bonds were made before the invention of the Internet. I still loved them back in 2002. Let’s see how they hold up on Blu-ray today.
There’s been a Soviet move against British agents in the field. The truth behind the assassinations might be revealed by defecting Soviet General Koskov. And sure enough he’s able to implicate his direct superior Pushkin, before being snatched away in a daring kidnap. But Bond is suspicious about the details of Koskov’s defection, particularly a failed attempt to kill him by a female KGB sniper. Those suspicions are confirmed when the sniper turns out to be Koskov’s girlfriend, Kara, whose rifle was loaded with blanks. The defection was a set-up! If Bond is to uncover the truth of the conspiracy, he’ll have to pose as Koskov’s friend, and use Kara to find out where Koskov is. It’s a trail that will lead the agent to Soviet occupied Afghanistan, and a sinister arms deal.
The Living Daylights gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray. Apparently the vintage Bond movies have had 4k restorations by Lowry Digital, although what that means in practice will no doubt be up for debate. Certainly the transfer here is consistent, clear and sharp throughout, with strong and rich colours. Detail levels are excellent, and there are no issues here with crushed blacks or blown whites. While the film is stable during playback, free of print damage and dirt, and with a nice unobtrusive level of grain, the image does appear a smidge soft to me, lacking the absolute crystal clarity of modern HD presentations, and even a few restored catalogue titles, although how much of that is down to the source material is anyone’s guess. This being a Bond movie, you can certainly revel in the globetrotting visuals, the production and costume designs, and I have to say that the deserts of Morocco standing in for Afghanistan look absolutely epic in this film.
The Living Daylights gets a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track, along with DD 2.0 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround Portuguese and Spanish, and DTS 5.1 Surround French and German. There are subtitles in these languages and Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish and Dutch. The film gets a nice, robust soundtrack which is pretty front-focused for the most part, but where the surrounds do come to life for the action sequences, and the music. While A-ha’s theme song has certainly grown into the film over the years, I do feel that John Barry’s score really does feel tired at this point.
You get one disc in an Amaray case, which boots to an animated menu.
The cast and crew commentary is the same as that on the DVD.
In Declassified: MI6 Vault, you’ll find featurettes, some from the DVD and some I hadn’t seen before.
The 2 Deleted Scenes run to 2:41, and include that embarrassing Magic Carpet sequence. There’s an intro from director John Glen.
Happy Anniversary 007 was a special celebration programme on the series 25th Anniversary, presented by Roger Moore. This lasts 48:31. There are four further Silver Anniversary featurettes running to 6:22 in total
You’ll also find a few more EPK featurettes here, Timothy Dalton: The New James Bond/Vienna Press Conference (4:35), Timothy Dalton on Acting (7:13), Dalton and D’Abo Interviews (5:46), and Ice Chase Outtakes – Deleted Footage (8:03).
There are more featurettes in Mission Dossier, these familiar from the DVD release. Inside the Living Daylights lasts 33:40, while Ian Fleming 007’s Creator lasts 43:06. The A-Ha music video and the Making Of the music video are here as well, While Exotic Locations lasts 4:02.
The three trailers in Ministry of Propaganda are the only HD material in the extras, although there are plenty of photos in the Image Database.
There’s a point, early on in the audio commentary, that director John Glen states that the script was written to accommodate Timothy Dalton’s darker, more realistic take on the Bond character. It’s at that point I have to laugh, as nothing is patently further from the truth. What you have with The Living Daylights is a Roger Moore Bond script, tweaked to take out most of the one-liners and raised eyebrows, but filled with enough petty foolishness to detract from the debut performance of my favourite Bond. It could have been worse. They could have left that Magic Carpet scene in.
This time around, the dichotomy between the left-over tongue-in-cheek humour and Dalton’s more nuanced portrayal is more obvious to me, and it makes The Living Daylights slip a little in my estimation. Just a little though, as I still enjoy this film, and the Blu-ray presentation, the HD resolution really does deliver the film looking at its best. The thing about the Bond movies was the globe-trotting. It allows for fantastic location work, and stupendous production design; you could really see every penny on the screen. In high definition, the look of the film really impresses in a way that poor little DVD never could.
I still think that the villains of the piece, Whitaker and Koskov are somewhat thin, lacking in threat, especially the comical arms dealer Whitaker. But the Living Daylights makes up for this in really being about the relationship between Bond and Kara. It’s not too often that the Bond Girl has a serious presence in a Bond movie, central to the plot, but here it’s Bond initially duping Kara into thinking that he’s friends with Koskov to help track him down. It’s how the relationship grows from there that holds the story together.
Maybe the realism of the Daniel Craig movies has rubbed off on me, but silly gadgets like the wolf-whistle, detonating key-ring, and daft moments like the Aston Martin wrapped in a boat-house detract from what should be a great movie. Still, the story works for me, and so do the central characters, while the action is still thrilling, edge of the seat stuff, except for those few moments that it does go over the top. And this Blu-ray is definitely a step up over the old DVD.