Dalton brought a seriousness back to the films that somehow got lost in a lot of silliness along the way.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I know I'm in a minority here, but I'll say it anyway: Timothy Dalton was the best Bond since Connery. George Lazenby was too wooden, Roger Moore too glib, Pierce Brosnan too slight. Dalton brought a seriousness back to the films that somehow got lost in a lot of silliness along the way. Not that "Licence to Kill" isn't still occasionally tongue-in-cheek. It's just more of a throwback to its roots, truer to author Ian Fleming's more hard-edged intentions. But what do I know: The two Dalton movies were the lowest-grossing pictures in the series' history, and when Brosnan took over they went through the roof.

Discounting the early television version of "Casino Royale" and a later parody with David Niven and Woody Allen, "Licence to Kill" was the seventeenth Bond adventure on film. It was directed by veteran Bond filmmaker John Glenn ("For Your Eyes Only," "Octopussy," "A View to a Kill," and "The Living Daylights"). Interestingly, the original title, "Licence Revoked," was changed because the producers weren't sure if the viewing audience would understand the meaning of "Revoked." Besides, you can't go wrong with "Kill" in a title. Anyway, "Licence to Kill" was the second Dalton effort, less compelling than his first outing, "The Living Daylights," more dour, but filled with even more daredevil stunts.

This time, Bond is chasing a Colombian drug lord named Sanchez, played by Robert Davi, who specializes in slimy, nasty characters, this one the slimiest, nastiest of the lot. When Sanchez maims Bond's friend, CIA/DEA agent Felix Leiter, and murders Leiter's new bride, Bond throws away his spy badge, making it a personal vendetta to go after him alone. Along the way, Bond meets the usual assortment of personnel, including Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier and Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora, the love interests for Bond. (They were once referred to as "Bond Girls" earlier in the series, in what Judi Dench as M in "Tomorrow Never Dies" would have called the "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" world of 007.)

Ms. Lowell is particularly fetching, soft and sweet on the outside but tough as nails within. Q makes his usual appearance, again played by Desmond Llewelyn, the longest-running actor in the films. Leiter is played this time by David Hedison. (Leiter is played by a different actor each time he appears. Like Llewelyn as Q, this seems to be tradition.) Wayne Newton looks his lounge-lizard best playing a slick TV evangelist named Professor Joe Butcher. Frank McRae plays Sharkey, a friend who helps Bond find out where Sanchez is hiding. And Anthony Zerbe plays Milton Krest, one of Sanchez's accomplices.

Skydiving, scuba diving, water skiing, flame throwing, shark attacks, bar fights, and death by maggot suffocation are among only a few of the ingredients in this new adventure. The climax, involving a pair of giant tanker trucks, stinger missiles, and a winding mountain road, ranks among the best, most exciting, and most harrowing action sequences in any of the Bond installments.

The generous 2.30:1 widescreen size almost duplicates the film's Panavision theatrical aspect ratio and is very welcome, indeed. But I wish I could say as much about the image that fills it. The colors are bright and reasonably well defined, but the horizontal line reproduction is not very good. There are numerous instances of jittery lines, jagged edges, and dancing pixels. I realize this is a condition that is highly dependent on one's DVD player, some better able to mitigate such problems than others, but it is an affliction that will be noticeable to some extent no matter how good one's player. By comparison, "Tomorrow Never Dies" exhibits virtually no such symptoms, producing a rock-solid image throughout the film. Out of curiosity I checked to see if both films were authored by the same video facilities, and, no surprise, they were not. "Licence to Kill" was transferred to disc by the Laser Pacific Media Corporation; "Tomorrow Never Dies" was done by The Digital Video Compression Center. You can bet if I were MGM which company I would be using in the future.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, though, is about as good as it can be. The frequency range, dynamics, and stereo spread in the front channels are excellent, and there is good ambient sound from the rear mono signal, though it provides little directionality.

In addition to the movie, MGM have packed this dual-layered special edition chockfull of extras. Chief among them are a thirty-two minute documentary, "Inside Licence to Kill," narrated by Patrick MacNee; and two, separate, full-feature commentaries, the first by director John Glen and several of the actors in the film and a second by producer Michael G. Wilson and several of his fellow filmmakers. Into the bargain, there are two music videos: The theme song, "Licence to Kill," sung by Gladys Knight and "If You Asked Me To" sung by Patti LaBelle. Also, there is a short featurette on the final truck stunt; a five-minute production featurette; some publicity footage; an extensive gallery of stills; a booklet insert on the making of the film; English and French spoken language and subtitle options; theatrical trailers; an impressive fifty-six chapter stops; and an elaborate animated menu system.

Parting Thoughts:
To accommodate the added material, MGM have had to abandon the pan-and-scan versions of the films found on some earlier editions and go with widescreen only. The final two Bond films, with Pierce Brosnan, have the best sound and appearance; the first three Bond films, with Sean Connery, remain the best stories overall. That puts Timothy Dalton, the most feral-looking of all the Bonds, about in the middle of things. It's still a good entry in the series.

"Licence to Kill" may be purchased separately or in a box set with "Dr. No," "Goldfinger," "The Man With the Golden Gun," "The Spy Who Loved Me," "GoldenEye," and "Tomorrow Never Dies."


Film Value