The Living Daylights
Numbers don’t lie. And following the dismally low critical and fan reception of A View to a Kill—Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% and audience score of 40%, both franchise lows—along with lackluster box-office receipts, the decision was made to move on from the aging Roger Moore as MI6 agent Bond, James Bond.
At the start of filming of the next Bond film, Moore would have been 59—far too old to portray the hard-living Bond that creator Ian Fleming imagined to be in his mid-30s. Casting for Moore’s replacement had the Broccoli production team interviewing a
variety of actors, including Sam Neill (best known for the Jurassic Park films) as well as Pierce Brosnan.
The role was offered to Brosnan, who accepted. However, interest skyrocketed in Remington Steele, the NBC TV series Brosnan was contractually obligated to, once word got out he would be the next Bond, and at the last moment—three days before its option expired—NBC decided to renew Steele for another season, causing Broccoli to withdraw the offer. (As we know, Brosnan ended up getting his turn to wear the tux and double-O license a few years later . . .)
Instead, the role of Bond in The Living Daylights, the 15th film in the franchise, went to Timothy Dalton.
According to an interview, Dalton said he wanted to bring a decidedly different take to the super-spy compared with the Moore-era Bond. “I definitely wanted to recapture the essence and flavor of the books, and play it less flippantly. After all, Bond’s essential quality is that he’s a man who
DAYLIGHTS AT A GLANCE
Timothy Dalton helped pave the way for Daniel Craig by taking Bond back to his Ian Fleming roots in this tepidly received post-Moore effort to reset the franchise.
The 4K transfer is sharp, featuring exceptionally deep blacks, but the original film elements haven’t fared as well as the ones for the much older Goldfinger.
The 5.1 mix, derived from the original stereo, keeps almost all of the sonic action in the front channels and doesn’t show the dynamic range or solid bass we’ve become accustomed to in an action film.
lives on the edge. He could get killed at any moment, and that stress and danger factor is reflected in the way he lives, chain-smoking, drinking, fast cars and fast women.”
After years of having a Bond who was better with a joke than a gun, Dalton brought a definite edge and physicality to the role. You can tell from the opening minutes that this is a Bond ready to get down to work—maybe not always loving the job, but taking it deadly serious. Dalton’s Bond is cold—quick to point a gun at an unarmed woman and rip her clothes off to serve as a distraction—but also bringing a bit of wry humor when appropriate. And—true to Bond’s literary incarnation—taking no joy in killing, and disobeying an order rather than kill a non-professional.
Daylights is also the last of the pre-Daniel Craig-era Bond films to use a title and material directly from Fleming’s work, again connecting it back to the original feel. (The entire opening act with Bond facing off against the female cellist/assassin is pulled straight from Fleming’s story of the same name.)
Reception of Dalton as Bond is . . . mixed. Some lists rank him as the worst, while others rank him in the middle. Without a question, he had the difficult task of creating a darker, harder-edged interpretation of the character while simultaneously not alienating the legions of fans that had grown up watching Moore’s lighter take for seven films over 12 years.
It’s also difficult to divorce the actor from the films, and with only two movies to establish his Bond bona fides—one of which was the uneven License to Kill—it was tough for Dalton to create a solid legacy.
After recently re-watching Casino Royale (2006), it is a bit difficult to view the older Bond films without seeing them
through the lens of both Royale’s modern style and Craig’s portrayal. While I really enjoyed The Living Daylights, being a fan of Dalton’s Bond and of the opinion that Maryam d’Abo (as Kara Milovy) is one of the most attractive Bond girls, some of the shortcomings of the earlier films are more apparent—particularly the over-the-top silliness of arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), John Rhys-Davies—who doesn’t seem Russian in any way—as new head of KGB, General Pushkin, and terrible portrayal/casting of Felix Leiter by John Terry, who more comes off like some kind of California surfer dude than a CIA field agent.
We’re not given any indication of the source material for the 4K Ultra HD presentation here, but it was likely taken from the file created for the 2012 Blu-ray Disc release. Originally filmed in 35 mm with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, if nothing else, the picture quality of Daylights makes you truly appreciate the amazing work done by Lowery Digital in restoring Goldfinger. Even though Goldfinger is 23 years older, in some ways it looks sharper and cleaner.
Daylights begins with a mock raid by 00-agents on a British compound at Gibraltar being defended by the SAS, and the greyish-blue skies reveal tons of noise and grain. Edges are generally nice and sharp, especially of the black-clad 00-commandoes against the white rock wall, and closeups often reveal lots of detail, such as the rich plaid patterns and wool textures of suits worn by Bond and others, particularly Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) Glen Plaid pattern.
Interestingly, I felt like the film started looking better after its first third. Whether it was different lenses used, brighter exterior scenes that filmed better, or just me getting used to the look I can’t say, but images were noticeably cleaner and less grainy. For example, the exteriors in Czechoslovakia with bright outdoor lighting and vibrant red buses all look quite good, as does the snow chase in the Aston Martin, with the sharp contrast between the white snow and the dark grey Aston Martin Vantage and the dark Russian military uniforms.
But I never really felt like I was getting that nth degree of resolution and detail visible from 4K transfers. There is also a bit of inconsistency with some of the longer shots looking a bit softer and not as in focus, and this was more noticeable on my 115-inch projection screen opposed to my 65-inch direct-view.
Blacks are deep and black, and with your theater lights off, Daylights definitely delivers a cinematic black. There is a scene where Bond is driving an Audi and we see the black of Dalton’s hair against the differing blacks of his tux and bowtie and the
car’s dark interior. Sometimes, however, the blacks are so dark that some details in the lowest end can be lost, such as in some of the night scenes where characters are almost lost in their black clothing.
The movie was originally mixed in Dolby Stereo, and the DTS-HD Master 5.1-channel mix here doesn’t really deliver much in the way of surround sound. I’d say about 80% of the audio is presented across the front three channels, with the surrounds occasionally getting bits of the musical score, or some reverb of explosions, engine noises, PA announcements, or other effects to provide a bit of expansion. If my processor’s Neural:X upmixer placed any sounds up in the height speakers, it wasn’t noticeable. Even still, the presentation had a nice width to it, delivering a soundstage that stretched across my front wall, with dialogue that was always clear and intelligible.
Sound mixers took a much more delicate hand to mixing bass frequencies back in the ‘80s—remember this was before the dedicated low-frequency effects (LFE) channel Dolby Digital and DTS designed to give mixers more headroom for deep bass—and things like explosions, vehicle crashes, a Harrier jet lifting off, and gun shots definitely don’t have the same dynamic impact they do today. The big desert finale is definitely the film’s sonic highlight, with explosions, gun fire, horses riding
all around, the plane’s loud propeller engines, and ricochets sparking off in all directions, but even still, it is pretty light on sonics by modern film standards.
Sometimes it takes a bit of time away from something in order to appreciate it, and I think that is the case for many with Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond. And it is surprising how well this holds up after 33 years, especially when compared to the schlocky final films in the Moore canon. If for no other reason, we need to thank Dalton for paving the road that led us to the Daniel Craig Bond we have today. The Living Daylights might not be the favorite in your Bond film collection, but I challenge you to not put it in the Top 10.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.