I could write rant after rant after rant about Donald Trump, but frankly that would be boring, so I want to tackle some other stories here for a little bit.
I am a bit of a sports fan, okay, a lot of a sports fan, and I'm getting ready for the Super Bowl this weekend, and saw with interest on a recent episode of Around The Horn, a story about the NFL playing a game in Mexico City next year.
It does look like that the NFL is showing its hand with regards to adding more international teams to their roster. London has already seen many NFL matches with 4 more coming up next season.
But the NFL's history with the World League Of American Football, later NFL Europe League and NFL Europa; gives some interesting background.
For the 1991 and 1992 seasons, there were more North American teams than European ones. Only one of those teams was outside the US, and it wasn't in Mexico, it was in Canada. The Montreal Machine. The other North American teams by the way were Birmingham Fire (that's Birmingham, Alabama, not the West Midlands), New York/New Jersey Knights, Ohio Glory, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, Sacramento Surge & San Antonio Riders.
Other than New York, who already have the Giants and the Jets, none of the other cities in the North American section of the WLAF, have a current NFL franchise. Interestingly though, Florida already has 3 teams in their state. Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins. The Carolina Panthers are based in the same state as the Skyhawks were but at the other end of the state. The Cincinnati Bengals are in the same state that the Glory were.
The European teams were across a greater number of countries originally. The UK had the London Monarchs, Germany had the Frankfurt Galaxy and Spain had the Barcelona Dragons. When the World League became exclusively European in 1995, they added the Netherlands with the Amsterdam Admirals, and they added teams in the UK and Germany, the Scottish Claymores and the Rhein Fire in Dusseldorf.
When the London Monarchs tried playing home games in different locations in 1998, rebranding themselves as the England Monarchs, the move ultimately failed and the franchise was shutdown and replaced by the Berlin Thunder.
Gradually NFL Europe became more and more NFL Germany, as Barcelona Dragons were shutdown in 2003 and replaced by the Cologne Centurions, and the following year, the Scottish Claymores were closed down and replaced by the Hamburg Sea Devils. Only the Amsterdam Admirals would keep going as the sole non-German NFL Europa team until the league folded in 2007.
So, whilst the NFL's international ambitions have been there for a long time, the lack of international success in terms of building teams, doesn't bode well.
Thursday, February 02, 2017
I could write rant after rant after rant about Donald Trump, but frankly that would be boring, so I want to tackle some other stories here for a little bit.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
So, being reported by The Irish Times, and coming to my attention via the Media Boy Blog, is a report that TV3 has offered to collaborate with RTE on a best of Irish TV channel for the Irish diaspora.
Irish World then reported, and again brought to my attention by the Media Boy blog that RTE rejected the idea calling it speculative and premature.
Premature? Remember, this is the company that part owned Tara TV between 1998 and 2002.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
So, James Cridland, a self-described radio-futurologist (is that even really a word?), recently released an audio column on You Tube. Now I have a lot of time for James as he talk a lot of sense. In particular, his commentary on treating audiences with respect was pretty good.
But this column on whether radio needs to be live, is one where I think he came to the wrong conclusion, for the wrong reason.
Okay, so the motivation here was a response to someone else's blog post about the idea that if radio isn't live, it isn't really radio. Well, I'm sorry but that's patently nonsense, and I agree with James on that. Some of the best radio material ever broadcast was pre-recorded in advance. But equally, some of the best radio material isn't pre-recorded at all, but went out live and untouched by any razor blade or piece of audio editing software.
But when he says that the people who say that live radio is the essence of great radio are wrong, I start to get concerned about this. His first argument is the technical one, the one that says that FM is a slight delay behind the actual broadcast, DAB is a little bit further behind and radio over an Internet Protocol, can be a lot slower. Sometimes the delay is only 10-15 seconds, sometimes it can be as much as a few minutes.
But actually, as I've found with various different listen again services, the delay between the actual broadcast, and the reception of it, isn't actually relevant. Whether something was actually happening as you were listening, or had in fact happened up to 30 days previously, didn't matter. What I was listening to had been transmitted live, and I was experiencing it, as though it was live, even if it had happened 4 weeks earlier.
And that I think is the key to this 'myth' that keeps cropping up, that radio doesn't need to be live or isn't better live. The evidence that keeps coming up for this idea, is that podcasts like Serial are some of the best produced and most talked about and you can listen to it when you want and not on someone else's schedule.
Yet, that is the very reason, and the overriding one at that, that supports the idea that radio stations will stay live or mostly live, if they want to survive.
Live radio has a few benefits that pre-produced radio doesn't. Yes, pre-produced radio does have it's own benefits too, but in my view, these are outweighed by the disadvantages and the advantages of live radio.
Here's what I mean.
Here's what I think are the advantages of live radio.
1. Live radio is raw. What that means is that live radio is not that it's untrained, or cruel or brutal, but that it is a natural state, like unrefined sugar, and like uncooked food like carrots or lettuce. That rawness gives live radio a distinct advantage. Yes, there might be mistakes or problems, but on the other hand, that's part of the fun. We're human beings, we're not perfect, however much we like to think we are.
2. Live radio is responsive. There's a programme on US public radio that I really enjoy listening to. It's called The World, and it's presented by Marco Warman from Boston. They do some wonderful reporting and have some very interesting, but it's not live, and it's marketed as a news programme. The only actual live elements in the programme, are the news bulletins, for 5 minutes at 1 minute past the hour, and 2 minutes at half past the hour. Everything else is pre-recorded, no more than about 90 minutes in advance of first broadcast at 3pm EST, but it's mostly pre-recorded. Which means that major news stories breaking during the programme, often don't get covered until the next day, if then.
With live radio though, you have the ability to cover that major breaking news, even if it's only a quick 10 to 30 second update in a music radio format. That 30 seconds or less will be more appreciated by your listeners, than if you hadn't done it.
3. Live radio is unpredictable. You can format and prepare as much as possible, but just occasionally, something will happen that will be unplanned for. Now, in my view, a true professional is not the person who sounds slick and polished. It's the person who can handle the unplanned as though they'd planned it. If something goes wrong, they have the ability to recover the situation quickly, and with a minimum of disruption.
4. Live radio is a unique art form. This one might seem pretentious but hear me out here. In all forms of media and culture, live radio is a unique form. It can have elements of theatre about it, it can elements within it that are polished and produced beautifully, but it also has an energy to it that cannot be captured in a pre-recorded format, such as cinema or pre-recorded TV and radio. Live broadcasting is a unique art form, and with radio's ability to be heard whilst doing something else, that gives live radio a distinct advantage over pre-produced material.
So what are the disadvantages.
1. Live radio is raw. Yes, I know I said that it was an advantage, but it is also a disadvantage. It's unrefined, not polished, not made the best that it can possibly be. Sometimes that rawness can let people say things that they might not either truly mean or haven't really thought about. Or, it can lead to serious mistakes in judgment, like when Rush Limbaugh called a woman who had testified to the US Congress a "slut". That rawness isn't always a good thing, but more often than not, it is.
2. Live radio can be misinforming. It can happen from time to time, especially during breaking news scenarios. At times information can come in, and be contradicted within hours, sometimes minutes, and it can be very difficult sorting out the actual facts from the well-intentioned and unintentional fiction. Very few broadcasters have that ability to sort out fact from fantasy on the fly, so often they will just avoid breaking news situations entirely.
3. Pre-recorded radio is often better produced. There's no doubt that US public radio is filled with great shows that have a lot of great content on them. However, a lot of these programmes are not heard live by every listener. Because of the way public radio works in the USA, a lot of material is often produced and recorded in advance of actual transmission.
NPR's shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, actually air internally for a lot longer than you hear on public radio stations, but most of those hours are actually repeats of the live broadcast hours. Morning Edition for example is often only live between 5am and 7am EST, with material sometimes being updated through the morning until the show finishes at 12noon EST, that's 9am PST. Similarly. All Things Considered is only actually live between 4pm EST and 6pm EST. Again, material can get updated, but it's mostly each hour individually repeated until 10pm EST, 7pm PST. Most local public radio stations only air a few hours at most of their own live programmes every day. WNYC has live local programmes between 10am and 2pm, as well as adding local content to Morning Edition between 6am and 9am, and adding local content to All Things Considered between 4pm and 6pm. KCRW has local content from 9am to 1pm, plus they have local DJs doing programmes between 8pm and 3am. They too, like WNYC and most other public radio stations add local content to Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
WGBH produces a lot of content for NPR and PRI, their own local content is contained within the programme Boston Public Radio, which airs between 11am and 2pm on weekdays, as well as selected late night slots on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They also air local content during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. KQED's local programming is even more limited, with only the KQED Forum between 9am and 11am. Most local KQED programming like Perspectives and The California Report, air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
So much content in shows like The California Report, and many other public radio shows is produced in advance and it shows in just how well the material is produced. Live radio is rarely as well produced as these pre-recorded items and shows are.
There is a growing delineation between on-demand content, both on radio and TV, and live content. Anything that is produced in advance is going to become primarily on-demand content in the near future. They may get released on a certain day, at a certain time, but they are going to be heard and seen at a time of the listener's choosing. You already see this with podcasts, whether hourly, daily or weekly. Weekly shows like WNYC's On The Media, and KCRW's Left, Right & Center, tend to be produced on a Thursday, released on a Friday as a download, and you'll often hear these shows and others like them air on radio stations over the course of a weekend, at various times dependent on the station. And these shows can be heard on your schedule, after you download it.
But live broadcasting at the weekend is often more about sports or a late breakfast, providing news, weather and travel info. Music radio at the weekend, outside of breakfast, is often voice tracked, usually on the Friday before. But with the likes of Spotify and Pandora, and your own MP3 players and iPods growing in popularity, these are slowly replacing music radio as the preferred means of listening to music. Commercial radio is going to have to adapt to that reality, and it will have to do it at some point, sooner or later. Content is going to become the most important thing and it'll be all the better for commercial radio if they can get used to the idea of having sponsored content, not like teleshopping, but like sponsored sports coverage, and programming like Radio Plymouth's Sunday Supplement, which includes long form news features (for commercial radio, anything over a minute is long form, and some of these news packages are up to 5 minutes in length), interview segments and showbiz packages. Other ideas such as local music hours and even some forms of talk programming, are probably going to be better at attracting listeners to a live radio station, either broadcast or streaming, than more hours of music, interrupted by ads and news.
On balance, here's how I would answer the basic premise of the question. Does radio need to be live? Not always, but being live, doesn't mean you can't benefit from the best of pre-recorded radio, where as being pre-recorded the whole time, does preclude you from utilising the benefits of live radio.
Sunday, May 01, 2016
So, I'm doing my regular skimming around the various forums, looking for interesting posts, and I spot something on Digital Spy that actually got me thinking.
I know, something on Digital Spy actually got me thinking, that's a first!
The poster posed a question about BBC Local Radio as a whole. Has it, as an idea, had its day? Indeed, some of the commenters there raised very valid and accurate points about the state of BBC Local Radio.
BBC Local Radio as a whole has over 8.5 million listeners every week. That's not a shabby performance, especially when you consider the nearest thing to a comparable commercial network, Heart, gets over 9.1 million listeners per week, and other than Heart, the only stations that score higher, are BBC Radios 1, 2 & 4. By those standards of measurement, surely BBC Local Radio's future as a whole is secure.
But start digging just below the surface of those numbers, and the picture looks a lot different.
Just in the last year, BBC Local Radio as a whole, has lost over 400,000 listeners. That's not so good. The overall share of listening is also down slightly.
And when you start looking at individual stations, it doesn't get much better.
Let's start with BBC Guernsey. In a market where you have two main local stations, one BBC and one commercial (Island FM), you'd think that given the way the BBC is always portrayed by commercial radio companies as being dominant that the BBC Local station would be the runaway leader here, and you'd be wrong.
In a market that has only 53,000 available listeners, BBC Guernsey scores 20,000 whilst Island FM scores 32,000. In the last year, BBC Guernsey has lost 4,000 weekly listeners, whilst Island FM has also lost listeners, just 1,000 of them though. Obviously national radio in Guernsey has gained listeners compared to the local stations.
But even with losing 1,000 listeners, Island FM has still seen its share of listening go up from 45.7% to 46.1% in the past year. Not too shabby. By comparison BBC Guernsey's share of listening has dropped, from 20.9% to 20.5%. So how does Island FM do so much better than BBC Guernsey?
Some could put it down to the fact that Island FM is a more music service, but that's too simple an explanation. If that was all it was, commercial radio as a whole would be outperforming the BBC and that simply isn't the case. BBC Radio 4 outperforms every other station and network, except for BBC Radio 2, so the amount of music clearly isn't the deciding factor here.
When you listen to the output of Island FM, one thing stands out immediately. It has a very community-based feel to it. They talk a lot about local events and promote local causes. Live local programming hours are greater than on most mainland local commercial stations, from 6am to 10pm on weekdays, 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, and 8am to Midday on Sundays, their Sunday afternoon show is voice tracked, according to their public file, although when listening in myself, I couldn't tell that it wasn't live. It's also one of the few remaining local commercial stations to feature a sports show on a Saturday afternoon.
If anything, it's a mixture of having a good mix of music, familiar enough, yet with enough variation that allows you to discover tracks you might not have heard before, combined with the community feel, and a professional imaging that doesn't make the station sound small and you have what I consider to be the perfect balance of elements to make great commercial radio.
The news on the hour doesn't feel too long, at 3 minutes, and you feel briefed, rather than feeling like you've not been told enough. Radio news itself is another whole separate issue that I could talk about in another long article, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice to say, Island FM's news feels about right.
Okay, so I can hear the next question forming in your minds. "That's in a one BBC versus one local commercial situation, but in my area, there are 2 or more local commercial stations up against one BBC local radio station. Does BBC Local Radio do any better there?"
Well, let's use BBC Radio Cornwall as an example. BBC Radio Cornwall has traditionally been one of BBC Local Radio's better performers, so if that is leading, then maybe the picture isn't quite so bad.
Well, BBC Radio Cornwall does score a decent 141,000 listeners in a market of 463,000. That's a 30% reach, that's pretty good... but that's down 12,000 listeners in the past year. It's scoring decently on share as well, a none too shabby 16.1% share of listening... down from 18.3% a year ago. Oh dear, this picture ain't looking too great to be fair. But, if it's ahead of its commercial competition, then we can still call it more successful.
Let's start with the biggest national name in local radio, Heart. Heart do report their Cornwall service separately, so we do have a direct comparison. And they score... 117,000. 24,000 less than BBC Radio Cornwall, so BBC Radio Cornwall is still more popular. However, that score is up 20,000 on the same time last year. That doesn't sound so good for BBC Radio Cornwall, who have lost 12,000 listeners in the same time.
How does share of listening compare. Well, Heart are much further back on that count, scoring only 8.5% share, but that is up on the 6.6% of a year ago. However, it's still nowhere near BBC Radio Cornwall's 16.1%.
But although they may be the biggest name in local commercial radio nationally, Heart are comparative newcomers to Cornwall, as Pirate FM were Cornwall's first local commercial radio service, launching in 1992. How do they compare to BBC Radio Cornwall?
Well, on the reach side, Pirate FM scores... 165,000. 24,000 more than BBC Radio Cornwall, and that's up 5,000 in the last year. That's not so good for BBC Local Radio. However, on the share side, Pirate FM comes in at 11.7%, quite a way back from Radio Cornwall's 16.1%, and itself, down from 12.5% a year ago.
And those figures don't show how that compares to recent entrant NJoy Radio, who broadcast on DAB, and are not currently registered with RAJAR for ratings, nor does it show how it compares to the various community stations that broadcast on FM across Cornwall, Penwith Radio, Source FM, CHBN, The Hub and RSAB. And even then, because of broadcast area, we don't know how many listeners in the Cornwall area listen to other stations that are available in the area, but are not predominantly targeted at Cornwall, such as Radio Plymouth, BBC Radio Devon and Smooth Plymouth. Also, we don't have figures for two other DAB stations that Pirate FM produce. Pirate Oldies or Escape To Cornwall.
It's not clear cut by any means, but it is fair to say that BBC Radio Cornwall is amongst the best performers in the BBC Local Radio stable. Their next door neighbour, BBC Radio Devon, has had in recent times one of the worst collapses of audience I've ever seen. In just one year, they've dropped from 212,000 weekly listeners, to just 169,000. That's a massive 43,000 listeners deserting BBC Radio Devon. The figures for share of listening are no better. One year ago, 11.4% share. Today, just 7.6% share. That's a drop of a third overall. A 33.3% fall in share of listening, just let that sink in for a second. There's a third less listening overall to BBC Radio Devon in the past year. That's a big problem. A problem that is somewhat disguised by the fact that there isn't really a direct comparison available with Heart in Devon, or with Radio Plymouth, Radio Exe and The Breeze (formerly Palm FM). Also, there are no figures for any of the community radio stations in Devon, Soundart Radio, Phonic FM, The Voice or Bay FM. So it's difficult to know exactly where the listeners are going, and how BBC Radio Devon should respond.
But even if they did know, they are hamstrung by the dictats from London which limit what BBC local radio can actually do. The BBC Local Radio formula which was devised back in the early 1990s might have seemed like a good idea then, but the audience profile has changed so significantly, that BBC Local Radio these days sounds ridiculously old fashioned and out of date, a museum piece that needs to be brought up to date.
Whilst it's admirable to commit to local journalism, nothing that BBC local radio does in journalism terms even comes close to being worthy local journalism. This is a similar problem that has been facing local NPR stations across America, and they've come up with many different applications but the basic guiding principle has been the same. Don't go for the easy stories, the ones that are important, but basically dull. Also, don't go for the standard commercial fare, high on the interest scale, but lacking any importance at all. Find stories that are both interesting and important, and find new, more interesting, more compelling ways to tell them.
Indeed, I found one such story that I brought onto my own show, which had so many angles that I needed to give the whole story a lot more time. The basic story was the local food bank was having a public fundraising appeal to help pay for the bigger premises that they had to move into, because of increased demand for the food bank's help. But the food bank wasn't the only community service that was in the new location, there were other services that were sharing that building, so it made sense to me to cover the basic story, but also to talk about each of the services that were at that location.
The story also played into the two higher tiers in the Public Radio News Director's Guide. There are four tiers of news, according to the guide.
Tier One: Commercial
Tier Two: Staged
Tier Three: Local Impact/National
Tier Four: Local Meaning.
The story was a local impact of a national trend, the growing use of food banks since 2010, so it fitted in tier three. But it also fitted in tier four. It was about something that was truly making a difference in the local community. It made perfect sense to do that story, and to give it more airtime than BBC or commercial radio would ever give it.
Unfortunately, most BBC local reporting still fits into Tier one or two on the scale. Very little comes under tier three or tier four. Also, a lot of the reporting can be summed up as worthy, but dull, and that does nothing for the appeal of BBC local radio.
Whilst it's understandable that commercial radio would stick pretty close to tier one and tier two, and indeed mostly does, there are occasions when even commercial radio will touch on tier three or tier four, and those are the times commercial radio genuinely surprises. BBC local radio on the other hand, rarely does surprise.
So, what does BBC local radio need to do?
Well, its local journalism needs to be more interesting, better presented and produced, and it needs to be less commercial, and more tier three and tier four, more relevant to the local area, more local impact and local meaning.
The music needs to be generally broader, and at times, there does need to be more music than talk. Not every hour should be more music, or more talk, or even all talk. What it needs to be is right for the time of day. Breakfast should always aim to be more informed, but that doesn't necessarily mean music has to be completely excluded. By enforcing a strict 70:30 ratio of talk to music during daytime and evening, it means that far too often, BBC local radio is just talking about stuff to fill airtime, stuff that really shouldn't be taking up that airtime, and stories that deserve more time, just aren't getting it.
Let the balance of music and talk work itself out for each station. Also, BBC local radio's reliance on phone ins to help fill the airtime doesn't help matters as often, the contributions go on way too long, and leave you begging for a producer to pull the plug on a phone call because somebody's spoken for far too long and said very little if anything of any use to the station or the listener.
What BBC local radio needs is a complete overhaul, but unfortunately, I don't see any such overhaul coming.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
This is perhaps the most baffling, the most unbelievable, the most stupid reason I've ever heard for banning pornography, and the reality is, it won't change a thing.
And yes, this is a pretty thinly veiled attempt to ban porn, under the guise of declaring it a "public health crisis".
But it should come as no surprise. Back in 2009, a study showed that Utah had the highest rate of online adult site subscriptions in the US. And ever since then, the political nuts have been trying to take out the industry, no matter what.
But, no matter what those who favour censorship and restriction may try and do, they can never silence the people.
By trying to ban it, all they do, is make it more attractive. By trying to restrict it, they encourage people to watch it. By claiming it's about 'public health', they are really trying to avoid the reality that this is about the same old "we know what's best for you" attitude that conservatives have tried to force on people for years.
Internet firewalls put up by governments are regularly breached by individuals, the anti-censorship movement is as strong as ever, and the rights of people to watch anything legal in their homes, must be upheld, no matter what the pro-censorship brigade might think.
As Adam Savage used to say on Mythbusters when something easily predictable happened, "What... a... shocker."
This may have been the easiest column to predict. Neil Midgley wrote that the BBC should forget about the internet, and focus on finding the next Archers, or the next Countryfile. Those two programmes have really gotten a lot of attention lately. The Archers garnered the attention recently for a powerful spousal abuse storyline, and rightly so, spousal abuse is an issue that rarely gets talked about in the media in any kind of meaningful way. Countryfile has recently had some its best viewing figures in its 28 year history. Not too shabby by any stretch, but not that important either.
However, in trying to criticise the BBC for closing the linear version of BBC Three, Midgley made one crucial mistake in his attempt at analysis.
"When Lord Hall predicts that everything will one day go on-demand – and when, in fulfilling that credo, he starts to scythe bloodily and irretrievably through the creative flesh of the BBC – he is taking one trend and mistaking it for another. Yes, more people are subscribing to on-demand services such as Netflix. Yes, they are binge-watching shows such as as “box sets”. Yes, teenagers now have iPads and smartphones on which they can watch TV shows. But where Hall makes his mistake is in believing that this new ability to watch on-demand, and on different devices, is a mortal threat to traditional channels."
Sadly, Neil Midgley underestimates the impact of on-demand programming. He's not the first, and he sure won't be the last. Even those in the broadcasting industry, like Ginny Hubbard of iHeartMedia, who only discovered podcasts when Serial launched in 2014 are late to the on-demand party. Podcasts have been around since 2003.
We're already seeing that on-demand watching and listening is having a massive effect in terms of garnering attention from the public. Programmes that have traditionally been watched as part of a linear stream, now no longer need to be. The future of shows like Doctor Who, Eastenders, and The Archers, is on-demand. Because these programmes are produced weeks, even months in advance, watching them at a pre-determined time is no longer a requirement. iPlayer allows people to watch it when they want to, not at a time of somebody else's choosing.
But if Neil Midgley thinks that Lord Hall thinks that on-demand is going to end linear TV, he's wrong. There just won't be as much linear TV to go around.
In the old days, significant chunks of programming, would be aired live, as there was no other way to do it cost-effectively. Nowadays, outside of news and sports, it's only magazine programmes and topical debate shows that are aired live. The likes of This Morning, Loose Women & The Wright Stuff are the kind of shows that go live to air. But as the likes of Doctor Who and Eastenders become more widely watched on demand, and will eventually leave linear TV, maybe in 10 years, maybe in 20 years, maybe in 50 years, other programming will have to replace it, and most of this will be live. Live sports is one of the few things on the air right now that is attracting significant viewership on a regular, consistent basis. Why is this? Because live programming can't be spoiled by over-excitable PR people accidentally giving away key moments and points whilst trying to tempt you in to watch it. How effective would the reveal of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father have been in 1980, if the PR guys had included that moment in any of the trailers? It would have had all the impact of a damp squib.
The future is already starting to happen, and the result of that means that there won't be nearly as many linear channels in the future as there is now. Whether channels like Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic or Sky Arts will still be around 20 years + down the line, is hard to predict, but given the trends we are already seeing, I am guessing that at least two of those brands will not survive into the era when On-Demand will be the primary way to watch television programmes. How many of the myriad of channels out there will survive into the new era? Maybe no more than 60-100, maybe not even that many.
But the ultra-conservative Torygraph, is frankly nuts if it thinks that the BBC should completely forget about the growth market that is On-Demand, in favour of old style linear TV. No business worth it's place in the world would deliberately ignore a growing market, in favour of a market that really peaked back in the early 2000s. Without turning linear channels into channels that favour and produce almost exclusively, live programming, On-Demand would kill of linear TV. Maybe not for a long time, maybe 20 years, maybe 50 years, maybe even more than that, but eventually it would, if it could.
We have lots of history on our side regarding this. People were afraid that motion pictures were going to spell the end of live theatre. It didn't. People were afraid that television was going to spell doom for the motion picture industry. Serials and newsreels disappeared, but over 60 years on, the motion picture industry is as strong and vibrant as it ever was. Why did these things not fall by the wayside? They adapted to the situation and found a way to thrive, and linear TV will do the same, by becoming a predominantly live medium.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Well, this is one of those situations where a story is going to run and run and run, and who knows what the outcome will be at the end of it.
We still have 13 seats unfilled at this point, and no partty has got even 50 seats. Here's the state of play.
Fine Gael - 46 - Still the largest party, but with a lot less seats this time.
Fianna Fail - 42 - Much improved performance.
Sinn Fein - 22 - Best performance ever.
Independents - 15 - The big unknown factor in this equation.
Labour - 6 - They need one more seat to hold onto their speaking privileges.
Anti-Austerity Alliance - 5 - Could be one of the keys to government for FF and FG.
Independent Alliance - 4 - Another unknown here, but definitely not to be ignored.
Social Democrats - 3 - These guys made a good start, but now they have to work as TDs
Green Party - 2 - Back in the Dail, and we'll see how that goes.
Renua Ireland was the higest profile party not to get a seat.
The Labour Party in Ireland, could be going through their own Liberal Democrat moment. Joan Burton could become like Nick Clegg. They've suffered a big loss at the polls, and Joan Burton's future as leader is hanging by the proverbial thread.
But even Fine Gael might not be in the clear yet. Dependent on how things go in coalition negotiations, the future of Enda Kenny's leadership may also be in question.
All in all, this story still has a long way to run, and expect Dublin's ISEQ to be significantly down on Monday, as markets hate uncertainty.
Day 1 was the day the votes were cast. Day 2 was when the counting began. Now we're into Day 3 of this, and we do have the first preference counts from all 40 consituencies, so now we know what the official share of the first preference vote is, and it goes like this...
Fine Gael - 25.5% - 10.6% lower than in 2011
Fianna Fail - 24.3% - 6.9% higher than in 2011
Sinn Fein - 13.8% - 3.9 higher than in 2011
Independents - 13.0% - 0.4% higher than in 2011
Labour - 6.6% - 12.8% lower than in 2011
Independent Alliance - 4.2% - New party in this election.
Anti-Austerity Alliance - 3.9% - Wasn't in this current form in 2011.
Social Democrats - 3.0% - New party in this election.
Green Party - 2.7% - 0.9% higher than in 2011
Renua Ireland - 2.2% - New party in this election.
Others - 0.7% - 2.0% lower than in 2011
So what do these figures tell us? Well, first of all, it tells us the governing parties of Fine Gael and Labour took a spanking at these elections, both losing significant share of the first preference vote. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein do look to be the big winners, both making significant gains on their 2011 position. But ultimately Fianna Fail must be disappointed. They must have felt they had a chance to overtake Fine Gael, as the tide seemed to slowly turn against the governing parties. But they didn't quite capitalise on it.
However it must be said, they did far better than the opinion polls suggested. In fact, in the run up, the opinion polls were way off.
|Date||Source/Link||Polling Agency||FG||Lab||FF||SF||AAA -PBP||RI||SD||GP||Others|
|26 February 2016||General election||N/A||25.5||6.6||24.3||13.8||3.9||2.2||3.0||2.7||17.9|
|26 February 2016||RTÉ[p 1]||Behaviour & Attitudes||24.8||7.1||21.1||16.0||4.7||2.4||3.7||3.6||16.6|
|26 February 2016||The Irish Times[p 2]||Ipsos MRBI||26.1||7.8||22.9||14.9||3.6||2.3||2.8||3.5||16.1|
|25 February 2016||TheJournal[p 3]||DIT||32||8||20||15||2||2||4||2||14|
|23 February 2016||Paddy Power[p 4][p 5]||Red C||30||7||20||15||3||2||4||3||16[nb 2]|
|22 February 2016||The Irish Times[p 6]||Ipsos MRBI||28||6||23||15||3||2||3||2||18[nb 3]|
|21 February 2016||Sunday Independent[p 7][p 8]||Millward Brown||27||6||23||19||5||2||4||2||14[nb 4]|
|21 February 2016||The Sunday Business Post[p 9][p 10]||Red C||30||8||18||16||3||2||4||4||15[nb 5]|
|21 February 2016||The Sunday Times[p 11][p 12]||Behaviour & Attitudes||30||4||22||15||5||3||3||3||15[nb 6]|
This table came from Wikipedia, where I found all the polling data over the last 5 years, but I focused on the last week of the campaign. Fine Gael's support was overestimated, quite significantly. Sinn Fein's support was often over-estimated too. Fianna Fail was underestimated, as were the others in this list, the Independents and the parties not listed in the polling data, including the Independent Alliance.
You can understand how disappointed Fine Gael feel, especially if they trusted this data to be accurate. In some cases, the +/- 3.0% margin of error still left a gross over-estimation of support.
So, what does that mean in terms of seats? Well seats are not filled by first preference votes alone in this election, but a number of Fianna Fail candidates did win on First preference votes alone, getting over the quota line without supplementaries. Right now as I write this, 95 of the 158 have been filled, and the state of play is this.
Fine Gael - 28
Fianna Fail - 28
Sinn Fein - 13
Independents - 10
Labour - 4
Anti-Austerity Alliance - 4
Independent Alliance - 4
Social Democrats - 3
Green Party - 1
Renua Ireland - 0
Others - 0
Doing some quick percentage maths, that means that currently, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are on course to win 47 seats each. Not even 50 seats. I actually expect them to make the 50 seat level but just barely. I think a few more seats could go to the minor parties, Sinn Fein and Labour, and maybe a couple more Independents, but it's difficult to know exactly how many will go to which party.
What we do know is that it's squeaky bum time. Every seat declaration today will be watched with great interest as both Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin will be trying to work out who they can do deals with to secure a majority, and ultimately, whether they could work out a deal with each other to keep Sinn Fein out of power.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
At this point in proceedings we're still missing 2 first counts out of the 40 constituencies, but a clearer picture is starting to emerge. As I write this, these are the numbers of TD's elected per party.
Fianna Fail - 18
Fine Gael - 12
Sinn Fein - 6
Social Democrats - 3
Independents - 3
Anti-Austerity Alliance - 2
Independent Alliance - 2
Labour - 1
Green Party - 1
Renua Ireland - 0
Others - 0
That's with 48 of the 158 seats filled in Dail Eireann.
By contrast, Dublin Central is on its 10th round of counting, in order to try to fill the remaining 2 available seats.
The strange thing is, that at the start of this election, there were a lot of concerns about the new party Renua. How were they going to shake things up? Turns out, they really haven't, with a mere 2.2% of first preference votes.
The big developments came from Sinn Fein, and on a more modest scale, the Social Democrats, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, and the Independent Alliance. All have made significant progress. The Green Party have returned to the Dail, though whether they will pick up any more seats at this election is at this point dubious, but not impossible.
If there is to be a coalition, it's likely to be a grand coalition of at least 3 different parties and maybe more. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have said they won't work with Sinn Fein, so it will depend on just how close Fianna Fail and Fine Gael get to 80 seats, the number required for a majority, but the strongest likelihood seems to be a Fianna Fail/Fine Gael coalition, if neither party is anywhere near close enough to the 80 seat mark.
Once we know the exact shape or close enough to it, to actually have a good sense of the numbers, I'll write more about this.
Meanwhile, one small point on this. The polls closed at 10pm last night. They didn't start counting, until 9am this morning. That's 11 hours that was lost. This whole process could be almost over by this point, if they had started counting last night straight after the polls close, as we do. Instead right now, we're heading into a late night, and the possibility of results not being known until Sunday evening. And even then, when the markets open Monday morning in Dublin, the ISEQ will probably go downwards as there will be little idea what kind of political future will await the Irish Republic. I do think we're in for a few days, maybe weeks of political uncertainty, at a time when Ireland's relationship with both the UK and the EU, will be under a lot of scrutiny on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Okay, as I write this, this is the state of the parties right now.
Fine Gael: 3
Labour : 0
Fianna Fail: 12
Sinn Fein: 2
Social Democrats: 3
Independent Alliance: 2
Turnout for this election was a paltry 65%, which to my view is pathetic. 7 out of every 20 people in Ireland didn't even do their duty by voting in this election.
We've had 28 first ballot counts in out of the 40 constituencies, but only Laois constituency has completed counting and elected all their required representatives, in their case, 3.
Sean Fleming - Fianna Fail
Brian Stanley - Sinn Fein
Charlie Flanagan - Fine Gael
The share of the first preference vote for the various parties at this time looks like this:
Fine Gael: 26.1%
Fianna Fail: 25.1%
Sinn Fein: 12.6%
Anti-Austerity Alliance: 4.5%
Independent Alliance: 4.4%
Social Democrats: 3.9%
Green Party: 2.9%
Renua Ireland: 2.1%
We've still got a long way to go before we get even a clear indication of what is happening here, but so far, it looks like Fine Gael may have held a little more ground than we initially though, but Fianna Fail is definitely gaining ground.
At this point, the former Taniaste Joan Burton of Labour, stands a fair chance of holding her seat, she is currently third after the 3rd count, with only one seat out of the four currently filled. It depends on how the supplementary votes for the winning candidate will be dividied up in the next count.
Another update later.
Well, we've only had one seat filled, which has gone to Fine Gael's Sean Barrett. But all indications from the tallies that we've been getting via twitter and live blogs, seem to suggest that there are some significant changes on the way in Irish Politics.
Most of the first counts are expected between about 4pm and 7pm, with either eliminated candidates, or those who pass the 'quota', that is to say the minimum number of votes required to win a seat in the constituency, which is different depending on constituency size and turnout, their 'supplementary votes', votes of the other preferences below first preference, will then be counted to help determine who else is elected from that constituency.
It is a complex and slightly esoteric system of electing a parliament, but it's that kind of quirkiness that gives it its appeal, in my eyes. The Single Transferable Vote system allows for a less predictable election result, especially in situations like this where you have multiple parties, and multiple candidates sometimes from the same party, battling over a limited number of seats.
The Single Transferable Vote would be quite workable here in the UK too, as it could be made to work in single seat constituencies. The quota just becomes a straight 50% +1 vote of the total number of votes cast, and candidates would be eliminated from the bottom upwards, until we got a candidate over that threshold.
So, the declarations will shortly actually begin, and we'll get official word on who has actually been elected. More on this later.
Well, it's not long now until the counting actually begins in the election. Counts begin at 9am, but at 7am, on a special Saturday edition of Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1 and RTE News Now, RTE released the result of their exit poll.
A small reminder that these are first preference votes that are asked about, as the system of voting is Single Transferable Vote, which ranks candidates by preference.
Fine Gael, who were the largest party in 2011 with 36.1, have lost almost a third of their previous vote, to now be at 24.8%. This still makes them the largest party, but with a much reduced vote. Second place goes to Fianna Fail, which has increased their vote from 17.4% in 2011, to 21.1% in this exit poll.
Sinn Fein have made a huge gain in this election, from 9.9% in 2011, to 16% in this exit poll.
Independents make up the 4th largest group this time around with 11%. Labour, who were coalition partners in 2011 with a huge 19.4% of the vote, have dropped down to 5th place this time with just 7.1% in this exit poll.
This means we could be looking at a Fine Gail/Fianna Fail coalition, which would have been unthinkable in any prior government before, with Sinn Fein being the leaders of the opposition. The equivalent in the UK, would be a Labour/Conservative coalition.
I do think there might be some resistance to the idea of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition, the idea of old enenmies working together might be too much to bear for some, but it does mean that we are in a new era for Irish politics.
And remember this poll was for first preference votes only. How this translates down the line into seats is anyone's guess, due to the fact that the preferences below first preference are what will ultimately decide who gets elected, and who does not.
We'll keep an eye on the counting, which is starting shortly, and will post updates here on the blog during the day, and probably tomorrow as well, as we finally work out just how the Irish public have voted to fill the 157 seats in 40 constituencies that will make up the new Dail Eireann.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
As we continue the countdown of the James Bond films from worst to best, we reach number 19, and the first Pearce Brosnan entry on the list. It was also his last outing as James Bond, at least in films, as he would have one more outing in the computer games world. But his last film, was also his worst. Die Another Day.
That was the teaser trailer, and next, the full theatrical trailer.
Now, it's no secret that most Bond fans don't like this film, and it does contain the worst moment in James Bond history, but why do I rate it above Moonraker, Live & Let Die and A View To A Kill? Well, time to reveal why, as I review what was the 20th official Bond film, Die Another Day.
Before I get to the pre-title sequence, I must mention this film's gun barrel sequence, which infamously features a bullet coming down the barrel towards the audience. Some of called this cheap and tacky, and I can see where they're coming from, but actually, I don't mind it in the slightest, and have never minded it. Okay, I can already hear the boos, pipe down...
THE PRE-TITLE SEQUENCE
The plot of the pre-title sequence can be summed up pretty easily. James Bond infiltrates North Korea, kills a Colonel, Colonel Tan Sun Moon and gets captured. You don't really need to know any more than that.
Some points out of it though. The first is the fact that Bond surfs into North Korea. Surfing? Really??? This is not a criticism of the actual surfing itself, the guys performing the stunt are excellent, but I really don't think surfing into North Korea is either very realistic, or indeed, necessary. I don't think we need to see him actually surf, I think we can cut all that surfing footage out, and just have him arrive on the beach, a scene that was shot around Newquay in Cornwall. In fact, Cornwall features a fair bit in this movie in a couple of different ways. In the early going, it partially substitutes for North Korea, before switching back to Pinewood. However, there is more of Cornwall to come.
Secondly, I love the detail that they go into with the infiltration and how they pull a helicopter carrying a Mr Van Bierk off-course, so that Bond can take his place.
Thirdly, and this will crop up throughout the movie, I love the little references that get thrown in all over the place. When Bond opens the briefcase to reveal the diamonds, we get a very Roger Moore-style raised eyebrow, which I think is great.
There's also a lovely humorous moment, when Colonel Moon is beating up this bag, only for it to be revealed that there's a man inside, and Moon directs his subordinates to find him a new anger therapist. Honestly, if that's the way you treat your therapists, I think you'll have a hard time finding anybody who'll want to treat you.
Having been introduced to Colonel Moon, we are now introduced to Zao, who takes a photograph of Bond as he exits the helicopter that flew him into the compound. They do go into a lot of detail here, which does slow up this part of the sequence, but that's not totally bad thing, it just ends up evening out. The detail is good, but if it could have been done a bit quicker, a bit better, maybe the slowness of the sequence wouldn't feel quite so grating, but it's not bad.
During the Pierce Brosnan era, mostly from Tomorrow Ever Dies onwards, the pre-title sequences would feature a really big action sequence, and this film is no exception. It's a great sequence, and there's an added time pressure in that General Moon, the father of Colonel Moon, is on his way to the compound. It's a fun, exhilarating sequence, and actually gets the film off to a good start. At the end of the sequence, I love the fact that Bond is hanging onto a log that is ringing a bell, and the quip is perfect, but then Bond is captured by General Moon and taken to a facility where he is tortured, and at that point, it transitions into the title sequence, using footage of Bond in captivity, being tortured as the canvas for the titles.
THE TITLE SEQUENCE
I have to be honest her and say this, along with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Quantum Of Solace, is a candidate for the worst title sequence in Bond history. Not everything can be brilliant, and most of the title sequences in themselves I don't have a problem with. But here, the visuals of Bond being tortured actually compromise the quality of the work that Daniel Kleinman does.
The music here is another issue, and Madonna's song, whilst not being a bad song in and of itself, just doesn't feel very suited to a James Bond film.
Bond spends 14 months in captivity, before being traded for Zao. Bond is drugged and taken to a facility where he is in essence a captive again, and is visited by M. It's here we get a lot of exposition about things that have gone on that we haven't been privy to, such as Zao blowing up a summit meeting between South Korea and China. We also get the information that Bond is to be held in an evaluation facility in the Falklands until M decides his fate. This is more like the M we first see in Goldeneye, not like the one we see in Quantum Of Solace. That film really didn't do Judi Dench any justice at all with that character. Here, she's much better and much more like the "Evil Queen Of Numbers" that we came to know.
Bond manages to escape the facility, which is based on a ship, anchored off Hong Kong. Okay, what happened to the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth? Also, this is post 1997, which is referenced later in the film, but really? Just feels strange to be honest.
Bond literally just walks into The Yacht Club in his dishevelled condition, and whilst he is given some suspicious looks by the staff, the person who we think is the hotel's manager, Mr Chang, recognises Bond and orders The Presidential Suite be opened for him. It feels a little weird, but Bond is probably well known at a lot of places, so I can go with that.
Bond cleans himself up and makes himself more presentable, when a masseuse arrives at the door, compliments of the manager. We get a classic "I'm sure you do." line from Bond, which is always good. Bond tries to seduce the masseuse and she shows some resistance. "I'm not that kind of masseuse." but Bond reaches inside the bottom of her dress to where a gun is holstered on her thigh and he takes the gun, and holds it to her head. "I'm not that kind of customer." He then grabs a nearby ashtray and throws it through a mirrored door, revealing Mr Chang and some Chinese agents, and a video camera.
This little sequence is quite good, revealing Mr Chang to be part of Chinese intelligence. Bond negotiating to help them get Zao is also good. I guess he is currently "independent" so he can ply his trade where he wants.
Mr Chang discovers that Zao is currently in Cuba, and provides Bond with some travel documents to get there.
It's a pretty good start to the film, and I don't mind it in the slightest. A slight in-congruency or two aside, I can't overly complain.
Bond in Cuba is interesting. He uses Universal Exports as a cover, but of course, he is not part of the British Secret Service. We are introduced to Raoul, who is a contact in Havana, who provides Bond with some information about a clinic being run by a Dr Alvarez. We also get some interesting references here, such as the book that gave James Bond his name, The Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies, written of course by James Bond. It's good to see this stuff, and don't get me wrong, the series very rarely references itself, despite it having plenty of good reference material, so I am quite happy to see this film reference the past of James Bond.
We see Bond driving a car, I'm not quite sure what the car is, but it's a nice looking car, and fits in with the available cars in Cuba at the time, so I don't mind this.
As Bond arrives at some beach place, we get a little bit of Bond theme played on a spanish Guitar. It's quite good actually, a little less harsh than the usual electric guitar, but just enough edge in it to build some anticipation. It's here that one of the elements that I most dislike crops up again. I mentioned it in Live & Let Die and I have to mention it again here. Bond smokes a cigar. Not a cigarette, a cigar. Yes it's a smaller cigar than the ones Roger Moore smoked in Live & Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, but still, that feels wrong for the character. It's the only time we see it in this film, but still, I'd prefer if it wasn't here at all.
We're also introduced here to Giacinta Johnson, better known as Jinx, played by Halle Berry. The sequence is acknowledged by the film makers to try and channel the moment where Honey Ryder came out of the water, but it's trying to hard, and the slow motion just doesn't help it. I'd actually have preferred it if the filmmakers before hand hadn't said that's what they were trying to do, and had allowed us to make that connection. There's also in this sequence a reference to From Russia With Love, referencing the lines that Daniela Bianchi and Sean Connery spoke when Tatiana Romanova first met James Bond.
Bond and Jinx get talking before we get a scene where we see them getting it on. This scene had to be trimmed in the US to get a PG-13 certificate, but in all honesty, I don't see what the problem is. It looks fine, it's not over the top. Don't be prissy about this.
Bond wakes up alone and discovers that Jinx is getting on a boat to the island where the clinic is. Bond uses a thug who is going there to get to the clinic, then dumps him rather unceremoniously. Bond finds his way into a secret part of the clinic, and whilst this is happening, Jinx is meeting with Dr Alvarez, who is rather stereotypically written. Jinx kills him. Meanwhile Bond finds Zao, and gets his attention. Not sure grabbing a bag of drip-feed is going to hurt him or get his attention, but oh well. Turns out, Jinx is also after Zao as well. There's a fight and some action, but Zao gets away. Jinx also get away from some local soldiers, and Bond managed to pick up some diamonds that were hanging in a capsule around Zao's neck. Upon closer examination they are discovered to be conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone, but they bear a laser signature from Gustav Graves, who has a diamond mine in Iceland.
We get a brief scene of M being given short shrift by her opposite number at the NSA, Damian Falco, played by Michael Madsen. This is some poor casting really here. Michael Madsen is an okay actor, project dependent, but just doesn't fit into the world of James Bond.
Bond arrives in London, drinking his usual vodka martini on route, served to him, in a cameo role, by Deborah Moore, who's father was a previous James Bond. Yes, Roger Moore. The music here is a little out of place. It's London Calling by The Clash. It's a great song, but it just doesn't belong here.
We get introduced to Gustav Graves here by him parachuting out of a plane with a Union Jack parachute. It's obviously meant to be a reference to The Spy Who Loved Me. Gustav Graves is played here by Toby Stephens, who would later go on to play James Bond in some BBC Radio productions of the Ian Fleming books. We are also introduced here to his publicist, Miranda Frost, played by Rosamund Pike. Bond witnessed Graves arrival and impromptu press conference, and we next see him at a local fencing club, where it turns out Miranda Frost is regarded by Verity, played by Madonna, but surprisingly uncredited in the film, as her protege.
Gustav Graves is also at the fencing club, and we get a sword fighting sequence between Bond and Graves. I'm usually a fan of sword fighting sequences, the ones in Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars are excellent, and the sequence is choreographed by the same person, legendary sword master Bob Anderson. Bob also has previous connections to James Bond as he was a stunt performer in From Russia With Love, and in the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale. I don't quite know what it is about this sequence that I don't like, perhaps it's the gratuitous amount of damage that Bond and Graves cause, but I think it's more than just that. I think the length of the fight has something to do with it too, it does feel too long. But even adding that in, that's not entirely the issue either.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you work on something it just doesn't come up to standard. I felt that was the case with the cable car fight in Moonraker, and I think it might be the case here. I am left to wonder though if they weren't deliberately trying to compete with the Star Wars prequel trilogy here, by having a sword fighting sequence.
Graves is impressed with Bond's sword fighting ability and invites him up to Iceland for a party he's giving to announce a science project. Miranda Frost seems somewhat less impressed. Frost by name, frosty by nature...
After Graves and Frost leave, a man comes up to Bond and refers to him as Commander Bond. He gives him an envelope that contains an old key. I like the reference to his rank here. His rank is not mentioned too much in the films, and it's good to remind people of that.
Bond goes to an old door just off Westminster Bridge, and goes down to an old abandoned underground station, where he meets M. M decides that Bond has become useful again, and we then get a scene that really is out of sorts with the rest of the film, where we see Bond, in his office, cleaning his gun, when suddenly he hears gunshots, slightly muffled gunshots. This sequence is shot in a slightly different way to the rest of the film. The camera follows Bond around, always keeping about the same distance from him, just like they do in video games. There's a reason for that, and that's because this is a virtual simulation in Q Branch, and we are introduced here to our Q for this film, played by John Cleese, who was R in the last film. Q demonstrating the gadgets is good, and I love the line when he gives Bond his new watch, "This will be your 20th I believe". Good way of referencing that this is the 20th official Bond film.
We're also introduced here to what remains the most controversial car in all of Bondom. "Aston Martin call it the Vanquish, we call it, the Vanish." Yep, the invisible car. This is something that I know a lot of Bond fans hate, and yet I'm not entirely sure why. A lot of fans that was the point when the Brosnan Bond era jumped the shark, but I have to say I think they're being unkind. The technology they were talking about in the film, definitely existed in 2002, and was used for a promotion unrelated to James Bond in 2012. The execution might not be exactly as was shown in the film, but I don't mind that in the slightest. So, why do most Bond fans hate the invisible car? I really don't know. Now, maybe because I'm a Star Trek fan as well, and used to the idea of a cloaking device from that series, the whole idea of the invisible car doesn't bug me. But I'd be interested to know.
I don't have a problem with the invisible car, and to those who do, I suggest you check out the fact that the technology to do this, in a real world sense, was actually available at the time, although as Q himself would have put it, it wasn't quite perfected yet.
Okay, back to the plot, and we get an interesting scene in M's office where she's briefing an agent. But it's not Bond, it's Miranda Frost. Ah, so Miranda Frost is also an MI6 agent. She's either not very good, or she's a double agent. We'll find out which later.
So Bond arrives in Iceland, and it's here that we get one of my main bugbears with the film rearing its ugly head for the first time. The editing. Up until this point, the editing had been fairly conventional, even in the virtual simulation sequence. But here we get sped up film for no reason, and over extravagant shots that actually add nothing to the storyline. If you're going to use a shot, it has to have a story purpose. We also see Jinx arrive, wearing a tight leather outfit that, even though it doesn't show a lot of skin, somehow seems way too inadequate for the cold conditions.
Bond is shown to his room by Miranda Frost, and she continues to be as cold as ice. I guess she's right at home in an ice palace then. Something tells me I know where this is going...
At the party, Bond meets up with Jinx and they exchange some words on a slightly cold level. "I'm a girl that just doesn't like to get tied down." Something tells me you'll be tied down later...
We then cut to a weird sequence with Zao arriving, and we get a strangely homoerotic moment between Graves and Zao. It turns out that Graves is actually Colonel Moon, not in disguise, but as a completely new person. He had gene therapy to completely change his identity. It's not perfect as he has permanent insomnia. I have odd nights of insomnia and those drive me crazy. I can't imagine what permanent insomnia would do to a person.
We get a catty moment between Jinx and Miranda, right in front of Bond. "I take it Mr Bond has been explaining his big bang theory." "Oh, yeah, I think I got the... thrust of it." Those lines make me laugh, and I notice here that Bond is looking a little uncomfortable. I like that moment, it just adds a little extra punchline to the scene.
Graves demonstrates Icarus, a satellite that can project sunlight anywhere in the world. Yeah, I'm having Batman & Robin flashbacks here, and that's not a good thing. Another thing, how are we seeing the footage from space? That's not quite explained. If the editing hasn't made this film jump the shark, then this moment certainly has. How did we go from a diamond mine to a satellite that can project sunlight?
Bond watches them take the satellite control device back into the compound, and sneaks in using his invisible car. Admittedly, it takes computer technology to make this work, but it does work. Bond is discovered and an alarm sounds. There is an in-congruenty in this sequence. We see Graves at one point with his tech geek, trying on a piece of equipment, yet no more than a minute later, in real time, he's suddenly with Zao? This is a mistake, and quite a blatant one, and I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned it.
Just before Bond is going to be caught, Miranda Frost reels him in, and starts making out with him. The guards are quite confused by this, and leave them to it. The banter between Bond and Miranda in this whole sequence is excellent. Miranda is definitely in the Fiona Volpe mould of women who won't fall for Bond, but will play him at his game.
Meanwhile, Jinx, back in her leather outfit, is investigating the compound too. A compound that looks suspiciously like The Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall. That might be because parts of this film were actually shot at The Eden Project, and they used the biodomes idea for Graves' compound in Iceland. I don't mind that, quite happy for that idea to be used.
Miranda agrees to sleep in Bond's room for the night, and we get a nice reference to Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond actually puts his gun, under his pillow, referencing the question Paris Carver asked Bond at the launch party for Carver's news network.
We cut back and forth a lot between James Bond and Jinx in this sequence, as Jinx is captured, tied down, oh yeah we know you don't like to be tied down, but you're a female in a Bond film, you're going to end up tied down at some point, and is about to be subjected to decapitation by laser, but through Bond's assistance, and some fun timing, Jinx manages to survive, and they manage to escape.
It's here that Bond realises that Zao isn't alone and Colonel Moon must also have survived. Bond confronts Graves/Moon. Uh-oh, here we go with the multiple identities thing again. This can get troublesome in a hurry, because you're not really sure what to call him. When the different identities have different faces, like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, or Bruce Wayne and Batman, it's easy. Here, it's not so easy. Is he Graves? Is he Moon? He is both, so which name do you use? He can't change his face back to the Korean one, so I guess he has to stay being called Graves at this point.
It's also here we get the reveal that Miranda Frost is in fact, a double agent, working for Graves primarily, rather than MI6. It's here we get a chase sequence, which starts off in Moon's compound on foot, as Bond tries to escape "death for breakfast", and continues in Graves' rocket sled, or whatever you want to call it, and ends with Bond in the rocket sled hanging precariously over an ice cliff, with an intense beam of sunlight headed straight towards him. How is he getting out of this situation???
Yep, you guessed it, the infamous para-surfing sequence. The music is about the only good thing here. David Arnold's score here is brilliant and plays the emotion of the scene well, but the scene itself is appalling. It's all done on computers, except for the close-ups of Pierce Brosnan, which were shot on green-screen. It's so bad, that it beats the Bondola from Moonraker, as the worst scene ever in James Bond history.
Meanwhile, Jinx has gotten herself trapped in Miranda Frost's room, and there's a catty little conversation between the two, before we see Bond returning to the Ice Palace, and remote controlling his invisible car. Hmm, I liked the remote control car from Tomorrow Never Dies, as that made sense, but the remote control here doesn't make sense at all. As a Mythbusters fan, I know you need a remote control to handle steering, throttle, brake, and changing gears on a car. There's no way in hell that Bond could do all that from the tiny little keyring style remote that he has.
Bond and his car are accidentally discovered by a snowmobile driver who runs his snowmobile into the back of the car, and flies right over it. He wasn't going fast enough to do that. And so begins the chase sequence between Bond's car and Zao's car.
There's no doubt that the action is great, and the driving here is amazing, it's all done on ice, and is incredibly dangerous, no two ways about it. However, just like for some people, the car flip from The Man With The Golden Gun is ruined by the slide whistle sound effect, so for me, this car chase sequence is ruined by the damn editing. Randomly sped up and slowed down shots do nothing for me. The slow motion shot that was used earlier in the fight at the clinic with Zao was useful in order to highlight Bond grabbing the diamonds that Zao had in that capsule hanging around his neck. But in this sequence the use of sped up and slow motion makes no sense and is horrible, not to mention the snowmobiles getting blown away from each other and Bond's car towards the end. I do like though how the bullets bouncing off the car cause the adaptive camouflage system to fail. The sequence ends Zao trying to ram Bond's car, but by using the adaptive camouflage, and some spikes in the tyres, Bond reverse out of the way, and Zao's car crashes into the water in the melting Ice Palace, with Bond killing him by shooting a chandelier, and having it fall on top of him. Bond then rescues Jinx, and she survives, barely.
We then cut to the US Command Post on the South Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone, where Charles Robinson, M and Falco are. Does anyone else think that having the leaders of MI6 and the NSA at the edge of a potential warzone is a bad idea?
Turns out Graves is in North Korea in the middle of an airbase, and Falco thinks they can't touch him. Bond disagrees, and volunteers to go after Graves. M agrees to send him in. Turns out the idea of the British getting all the credit doesn't sit too well with Falco and he orders Jinx to go with Bond. Typical bloody American...
Bond and Jinx go in on switchblades, which seem to be single person flying machines. They separate from the crafts and parachute in. Meanwhile the missile that was fired to shoot down Icarus gets torched by the satellite.
The final sequence of the film, begins with Bond and Jinx trying to sniper kill Graves and co, but circumstances prevent that, and they have to get on the plane, which they manage to do somehow unseen by anyone.
We get a scene which is totally weird. Graves is wearing some kind of robosuit, and totally not cool, and General Moon is brought to him. They talk in what is supposed to be a tender father son moment, but it ends up flat. I can't put this down to the actors, not entirely, and I can't put it down to the writing, not entirely, there's some other element that just isn't working right, and I'm not too sure what it is. Graves uses Icarus to explode all the mines in the demilitariesd zone. General Moon doesn't like what he sees, or maybe what he fears he will see, and turns on his son/Graves. Graves kills General Moon in a scene that is meant to be poignant, but the intolerable editing again completely undos the actors' work there, the editors and director of this project have a lot to answer for when it comes it to the editing.
We also get a Goldfinger reference in reverse, where it is Bond that fires the gun that pierces a window, that causes explosive decompression, and people are sucked out of the plane. Honestly, this whole sequence is poor here. Too much intercuting between the Bond/Graves fight, and what Jinx is doing, and too many bad edits. Also, the slow motion disintegration of the plane after going through the Icarus beam is stupid. The whole ending sequence, where Jinx stabs Miranda, and Bond electrocutes Graves before he falls into one of the plane's engines, and somehow doesn't cause it to explode, just beggars my belief. After doing so much right in the early going, they screw up the ending so badly that it leaves me cold.
Everything from the Icarus announcement onwards is so bad, that it completely not only undermines all the good work that was done earlier in the film, but also holes it below the waterline. As a movie, it sinks rather quickly. I can't blame it on the actors, I have to put the blame here on the writers and director.
And just to top off the badness, we get Miss Moneypenny having virtual sex with a virtual version of James Bond, whilst Jinx has the real one to herself.
The villains ensemble here is really a mixed bag. Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves is really over the top, and doesn't come off well in this film.
Zao is more understated, but just like Hugo Drax, not in a good way. He comes across as quite boring and not really engaging as a character.
The only one who manages to do well, is Miranda Frost, and she is still quite two dimensional and not as well written as she could be. She does have some depth, but because she doesn't come into the movie early on, we're not really given enough time to see her character play out more. Her coldness is her main characteristic, and that's played brilliantly but other than that, there's not much more depth to play with.
THE BOND GIRL/WOMAN
I like Halle Berry here as Jinx, she is actually probably the best written character here. She has nuances and depths, she has some great lines, and some really good moments, and I think she gets a bit of a raw deal from some fans just because she is part of this movie, which is undeniably a bad movie, mostly though in the final act.
Halle Berry may have done some bad films, but I have to be fair to her and say that I haven't seen her do a bad performance, even in Catwoman, where she did well even with a bad script. Here, she is given more to work with, and does very well with it, but most of the worst things about this film just undermined her work.
When you have ensembles like this, henchmen don't usually add anything to a film, and that's the case here. Mr Kil looks interesting but we don't really get to see enough of him to have him be much more than that, and Vladimir Popov, the geeky guy who is meant to be Graves' personal scientist, really doesn't come across as much more than a geek who's been given lots of money and expensive toys to play with.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
I've already mentioned Michael Madsen earlier on, but to repeat, he just is not right for a James Bond film. His style just clashes so much with the Bond style that it is a total mess.
Kenneth Tsang is a highlight of this film as General Moon. His acting is superb and even though he isn't in much of the film, his whole presence just adds so much to the whole film, that I actually wish he'd been in the film more than he was.
Madonna's quick cameo as Verity is over quickly, but she plays her basic role well and doesn't detract from the film.
I should also mention Mr Chang and Raoul, who make short appearances in the film, but they are pretty memorable and help give the early part of the film some nice colour and texture. Their characters are fairly basic, but they both have a good screen presence that really helps the film.
STUNTS AND ACTION SEQUENCES.
In the first part of the film, the action sequences were quite good, and really helped move the film and the plot along.
The sword fight between Bond and Graves was the moment for me when the action sequences stopped being good in this film.
And it wasn't helped by the editing of some of these sequences which really didn't help the film at all...
I really have to turn on Lee Tamahori here as well as Editors Andrew MacRitchie and Christian Wagner. Whilst Andrew had been an Assistant Editor on Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, Christian had no connection to the Bond films at all. Neither would have any future connection to the Bond films, as this would be their last project for the James Bond filmmakers.
And to be honest, it's easy to see why. Too many sped up or slowed down shots that had nothing to do with emphasising key moments. The editing in places really undermined the work of other people in the film, and if you notice the editing, it's not well edited. A good edit should be pretty much unnoticeable, because you're thinking more about the story, than the editing.
I've already mentioned the Madonna song, but I should mention the score by David Arnold. It's very good and does the job it should do, which is lead the audience through the action on an emotional level. It's just a shame some of it was stuck with some really horrible scenes.
This film starts off as quite enjoyable and then goes south rather quickly. Even the bad bits in the early going don't compare to just how bad the worst of the worst in this film is, which is testament to how bad the last act of the film is.
It's kind of a shame that it falls apart that badly. If it had held it's early form, it could have easily been top 10, but the bad writing at the end let it down.
Next time on the list, number 18, and a film that had so much potential, but in the end didn't deliver well enough on that potential.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
So, we hit the top 20 in our countdown of the best James Bond films ever, and at number 20, we have quite possibly the weirdest film in the official series, although the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale outdoes it in the weirdness stakes overall, and also Roger Moore's final Bond adventure. A View To A Kill.
Okay, at this point, apart from the robot dog and the California Girls music in the pre-title sequence, everything seems pretty normal so far, but it's from this point onwards, that everything starts getting a little weird.
During dinner, they are treated to some 'entertainment', and I use the term loosely, which allows May Day to come into the restaurant in disguise, and kill Aubergine, using a poisoned butterfly prop of some kind. Don't ask me to explain it really, I don't really get it.
This leads into a chase sequence up the Eiffel Tower, which is quite well shot considering all the obstructions and structure. But I have to admit, running up the Eiffel Tower to escape Bond is just about the dumbest move you can make.
Which gives me an excuse to talk about the action sequence direction here. Arthur Wooster was doing his third Bond film as second unit director, so what's happening with the action sequences here isn't being done by someone new, and also the writing team of Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum were also on their third film, so everything should have been coming together. Instead, we seem to have a sequence that seems to have been put together purely for the purpose of having someone parachute off the Eiffel Tower.
In story terms, it makes no sense how we get to that point. If I'm an assassin, who's just killed someone, I am not going to go running up the Eiffel Tower, to get away from a pursuer, you are effectively cornering yourself. You will run wherever you can, to make an effective ground escape.
So that is my first problem with the sequence.
The second is the taxi part of this sequence. The sequence plays far too comedically, especially at the start with the driver that Bond ejected from the car, running after it. His reactions are way over the top, and badly dubbed too, which doesn't help.
At the end of the chase sequence, Bond is arrested, by what looks like a couple of chefs with meat cleavers. Yet, we saw him fall into a wedding cake. You don't need meat cleavers for a wedding cake...
Anyway, there was a sequence cut from the film here, where M arrives to bail out Bond. Having watched the sequence, it is intended to be a light hearted sequence, and we get a guest appearance of Red Grant's garrotte watch from From Russia With Love, which would have been nice to see, nice touch of continuity, but overall, the sequence is probably better out. John Glen says it more resembled something out of a Pink Panther film, than a James Bond film, and whilst the guy playing the French policeman here is no Clouseau, it does feel somewhat wrong in tone. It was just one of many moments in this film that were wrong in tone and this was rightfully cut. To me it felt like a scene out of a Bond parody, rather than an official James Bond film.
So, the next scene we see is Bond being driven away from the police station, and being reminded that this is meant to be a discreet operation, and arranging with Sir Godfrey to attend a sale at Zorin's stables.
Bond and Sir Godfrey go undercover to the event, Bond under the name St John Smith, pronounced Sinjon Smythe, and we are introduced to Scarpine, head of security, played by Patrick Bauchau in his first major Hollywood production. He makes a good henchman here, but nothing special. There isn't really anything about him that makes him stand out.
We're also introduced to Jenny Flex, played by Alison Doody. She really only has this scene where she speaks at all, and a couple of shots elsewhere and that's it. It's almost pointless to introduce her here, other than for a cheap gag, and really that's all she gets. This is her first role in her career, and she would later make a more substantial appearance in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade.
We get a nice little moment where Bond and Tibbett find a bug in their room, and their interaction actually in this film is one of the highlights. Patrick MacNee is a great actor, if you never saw his John Steed in The Avengers, you missed someone who was in many ways, a pre-cursor for the film version of James Bond, especially how he developed from Goldfinger onwards. It makes the Ralph Feinnes version in that disastrous late 90s film, look all the worse. In a way, it's kind of appropriate here to have him as part of the Bond universe, you almost want it to be James Bond and John Steed together, rather than Bond and Tibbett, but the moments with them are good and helps raise the film up a bit. After the farce of the chase in Paris, this feels much more Bondian.
There's also some wonderful solo moments with Tibbett with his investigation of Pegasus' stable. It's nice that we get a little bit, just a flavour, of John Steed in this film, even if he isn't called John Steed.
As a helicopter arrives at the mansion, we are introduced here to Stacey Sutton, played by Tanya Roberts, although we know nothing about her at this point. She could be another wealthy horse owner, or something else entirely, we really don't know. There's a party scene, which I know is meant to help move the plot along, but really, it just feels like an excuse to have Bond in a tuxedo, it really doesn't do much for me. I'd prefer a different way of him finding out who all these people are, than photos taken with a camera the size of a ring, that's just ludicrous, even for today's technology, so back in 1985, it was even more ludicrous. We also get a moment where Bond meets Zorin. Like the rest of the party scene, it's weak and really feels slightly contrived.
Bond also meets Stacey Sutton here, but doesn't get her first name, he only knows her as S. Sutton from a cheque that he managed to obtain via some strange photocopying device. Again, it feels weak and isn't even referenced later on.
That night, Tibbett goes to check out the stable where Pegasus disappeared from earlier, only to encounter Bond in a strangely suspect way. Anyway, they discover an underground lab, where the doctor, who we discovered at the party was called Dr Mortner, has performed surgery on Pegasus to implant a small capsule of natural horse steroid into Pegasus, controlled by a remote device, that could fit into the tip of a jockey's whip, or a cane.
Anyway, a security team discovers the stable has been breached and go down to check it out, but beneath the lab is something even weirder. It looks like a factory/warehouse, where boxes of microchips are being hoarded by Zorin. This is never explained in the film, why he is doing this. We can figure it out based on other things in the plot, but it's a setup without a payoff, and I'm afraid brings the film down a bit.
Anyway, the security team find their way down to this area, and a fight breaks out. It's not as bad as the cable car fight in Moonraker, but it's pretty weak. Neither Roger Moore nor Patrick MacNee were young guys at this point, and the whole fight feels very contrived as though the filmmakers are having to work around this, and it doesn't make for a great fight sequence. Not bad, but not great, just okay really.
We're about 2 reels in and there's been nothing really that was particularly good, and a couple of moments that have been really cringeworthy, and some slightly non-sensical things, but nothing that jumped out at me as particularly awful.
Anyway, we get a sequence here that really feels awful. May Day is training Max Zorin in martial arts. Okay, I guess I can go with this. It kind of presents her as maybe a bodyguard-type, but doesn't really fit in with the outfit she wore at the race. An outfit like that one didn't really say bodyguard. But Zorin ends up on top and looks like he's turned on by this, and he kisses her. It's weirdness without purpose, really. What is this scene in the film for? Is it meant to show that he's not quite right in the head? There's better ways of doing that.
Anyway, Zorin gets notified of a break in at the plant, and they decide to check in on St John Smith. Finding him not there, May Day remembers that he was the man chasing her at the Eiffel Tower. Obviously facial recognition and memory were not things the good Dr Mortner thought were important... you'll understand what I'm saying later...
May Day goes to get properly dressed and discovers St John Smith/Bond in her bed waiting for her. This is perhaps the most cringeworthy part of this film yet. Bond beds May Day, instead of May Day immediately trying to kill Bond? Holy non-sequitur, Batman! Oops, sorry, wrong franchise...
Next morning, Bond meets up with Zorin, with Zorin pretending to be searching for a horse in his database. In fact he's using a KGB computer link to discover St John Smith's real identity. Bond sends Tibbett into town to get a message to London, whilst he goes riding with Zorin. Err, okay...
Tibbett is killed in a car wash. It's a shame really that he dies here, it was good seeing Moore and MacNee together like this. Meanwhile, Zorin tries to eliminate Bond using many elaborate traps on a practice course. Again, this makes little sense. This really is nothing more than an elaborate excuse to have Bond riding a horse. Bond spies the Rolls Royce and thinks he's about to escape, not realising that Tibbett is dead and they plan a similar fate for him. Bond is knocked unconscious. Why they don't kill him there, I don't know, but oh well. They drive the rolls to a lake, and May Day pushes the car into the lake. Okay, so she's super strong, we've seen that before various henchmen, but this just feels tired now.
I gotta give them some credit though for actually hanging around once the car has gone down, to make sure 007 is dead. But Bond survives by some ingenuity, of breathing air from one of the tyres. It's actually a nice touch. In past films, he's used a small rebreather device, but without such a gadget here, Bond is having to use his wits to survive. It's a good touch and goes a little way to helping the film feel better, but there's been too many downright weird and plainly stupid moments for that to make up all the ground. But it does help.
We then get a scene that I'm completely convinced was written just to get Walter Gotell, or if you prefer, General Gogol, into the movie. Apart from two other small moments in the film, this is his only substantial appearance in this film, and to be honest, it feels kinda forced in at this point, because there really isn't any other point in the film it could go.
Apparently, Zorin is still regarded by the KGB as being a member of their organisation, but Zorin is convinced he's left all that behind, despite having used an obvious KGB computer link earlier. Zorin did not request permission before his attempt to eliminate 007, even though they think he did. Zorin doesn't seem to care, and we get a face off between the KGB agents and Zorin's forces. I do love Gogol's last line in this sequence. "You will come back to us, comrade. No-one ever leaves the KGB."
This is kinda the halfway point, alright, it's a little short of halfway, but it feels like a dividing line. The first half has felt kinda 'meh'. Not good, not bad, just indifferent really, apart from some slightly and not so slightly cringeworthy moments. Some things like having Bond rely more on his wits in certain situations actually helps, but it feels like too little really, and can't really save this film from poor scriptwriting and some non-sequiturs. Even the quips that there have been, and there haven't been too many, haven't been bad, or good, but at least, they've been on tone. Also, Bond feels a lot more intense here in certain scenes, something we don't normally see a lot of from Roger Moore's Bond. Heck, in some ways, he comes across as very Dalton-esque, in the film before Dalton is cast as Bond. This is similar in fact to Diamonds Are Forever, where Sean Connery does a very Roger Moore style film, before they'd cast Roger.
Having seen so many Bond films, I notice that there's a fairly consistent structure to the films, no matter who is writing or directing. The first hour will always be fairly quick, getting a lot of exposition out of the way, scenes are shorter, there's often little in the way of excess footage in these films, not much filler or padding but when there is filler, it is particularly noticeable. The second hour will be longer scenes, more action, and less compression, what that means is the scenes are more often following on from each other with less time jumped between scenes, or sometimes no time at all. In the first hour, you could have up to a week of real time, compressed to the hour of film. In the second hour, it's more likely to be a day at most that is compressed down to that second hour, and sometimes a lot less than that.
Anyway, back to the plot, and we cut to a meeting that is taking place in a conference room, in a blimp, a large blimp. Okay, that's a little weird, but not totally unbelievable, as daft as that might sound. I mean, these guys including Zorin are operating a secret cartel, but they are working against the might of the Silicon Valley behemoths, so whilst not being good, it's hardly evil either. I do like this in a way, it helps give us a little bit of depth to Max Zorin. Nice touch.
It's in this scene that Zorin reveals his 'dastardly scheme', to end the dominance of Silicon Valley. Okay, that's not much of a scheme, kinda weak actually.
Anyway, one man decides that $100 million is too much money to be part of Project Main Strike, and wants out. He gets dropped, literally out of the craft, and falls into the sea. Gotta say, the dummy that is used here for this gag, is way too floppy, it looks so fake. They surely never thought they could get away with that?
Anyway, Bond is in San Francisco. Wait, how did he get here? How did he know Zorin was coming here? I know that filmmaking is about deciding what parts of the story to tell, and what parts to move right through, but heck, when I said that the Zorin/Gogol scene felt like a dividing line, I didn't mean it quite so literally. It's almost like they've put two films together in one, and not well. I do feel like we've made a big jump here, and this bit feels disconnected from what we saw before.
We meet up here with Chuck Lee of the CIA, played by David Yip, better known to most of us in the UK back then as Detective Sergeant John Ho, aka The Chinese Detective. He had previously been in Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom.
The scene between Bond and Lee is meant to help tie the first half of the film to the second, but to be honest it could be done better. The photos from Bond's ring camera at the party play a part here, as we are introduced to various characters who we saw at the party and get a little more background on them. It turns out Dr Mortner, is actually Dr Hans Glau, and ties back to the Nazis. We get some background, and a little bit of setup here for the next big sequence. We are introduced to a Mr O'Rourke, a local crab fisherman who has an issue with an oil pumping station nearby. Apparently it ruined one of the best crab fishing areas.
There was a scene, that was cut from the movie, where Bond, Lee and O'Rourke check out the pumping station in the midst of a protest by boat. Quite honestly, the scene did nothing story wise, added nothing to the film at all, and was quite rightly cut. Any scene that does nothing for a movie has to be cut and this was one of those scenes that just added nothing really.
So our next scene is the oil pumping station at sunset apparently, or just after sunset. We see a number of guards, but we know that Bond is very good at penetrating heavily guarded facilities. I mean, look what happened with May Day earlier in this film...
Sure enough, Bond makes his entrance unseen. Although it is also clear from this scene that he's not the only one...
This sequence with Bond and the KGB working separately against Zorin is kinda weird and kinda non-sensical. After all, they worked together against a common foe in The Spy Who Loved Me. Or do the KGB actually see their problem as an internal matter? Actually that kind of makes sense too.
In fact, that seems to have been somewhat of a theme here, in every film since For Your Eyes Only. Bond and the KGB, working separately on objectives, usually the same one, sometimes against each other, sometimes not. This has been a theme as much as the animal jump scares that John Glen has done in these films. This theme would incidentally continue into the next film in the film series, The Living Daylights.
I'm not totally sure what to make of it in this film, but all I know is that something feels kinda weird here and that ain't a good thing in this film. There's been too much weird stuff going on in this film, and we actually need to tone the weirdness down by several degrees.
Zorin and co are doing some testing by pumping sea water through their oil pipeline. This is kind of important point here. This plays in to some other stuff later on in the film, which is actually good. A setup that has payoff later on.
We get a slightly stupid scene where Bond checks out a pipe and goes inside, only for it to start sucking in sea water, and pulling him towards the blades. Honestly, the stupidity of this scene is mind-numbing. Bond escapes by using his air tanks to stop the blades and swimming to safety. But a KGB agent gets captured after planting a bomb, which he is later forced to defuse before he is killed, quite brutally, by throwing him down the pipe into the blades.
Meanwhile Bond has escaped undetected and meets up with Pola Ivanova, played by Fiona Fullerton, a KGB agent who was recording material at the same time that Bond was there. There then follows a really awkward, cringeworthy scene in a japanese style spa, with Bond and Ivanova reminiscing on how they first encountered each other. Okay, I get this scene fulfills two roles. One, to move the plot along by having Bond learn about Project Main Strike from the recording Pola made. I get that. I also get that this also establishes that this Bond is old, and is a slight nod to the fact that this is his last film, so having him reminisce about past adventures is a good way of setting that up. But really, this scene should have not have been in the film. There are better ways to have the plot move along, and Pola Ivanova is a character that really didn't need to be here. I like Fiona Fullerton, I have no problem with her being in a Bond film, and heck, I'd have preferred Pola Ivanova to have worked alongside Bond on a mission, not been a supporting character with no real plot relevance.
And to make matters worse, General Gogol is outside, in a car, waiting for her. The head of the KGB, in San Francisco, waiting for an agent. Too many times in this film, there have been moments that have taken me right out of the film, because of their silliness, non-sensicalness, many factors. I don't normally get taken out of the movie this many times in films, except if I'm being critical of a B movie, but normally with a B movie, I'll be watching it purely for the enjoyment of the ludicrousness, not to be carried along by a plot and story that I hope is going to be keeping my interest up throughout the movie.
And A View To A Kill, does feel like a B movie, the B movie of the James Bond franchise. If you forget about the story, and just go with the action, the quips, the individual moments, without being too focused on the story and the plot, it is enjoyable, just like a good B movie should be. But for me, this should be an A film, where the story, the dialogue, the plot all make sense and you're able to follow the story of the film, without wondering "Why the hell have they just done that?" That's not something I can do here. Even Moonraker wasn't quite this much like a B movie, although it did have certain moments that were very much out of a B movie, but this film does stray way too much into B movie territory. Yes, there are good moments that are way better than any B movie, but there are too few of them to rescue it from the B movie 'quicksand of doom'!
Anyway, we get through the necessary plot points, and we cut to San Francisco where Bond is posing as a journalist from the London Financial Times, called James Stock. Okay, that is just lazy. James Stock, of the Financial Times, a paper that covers the "Stock" market??? The only stocks going up in this film are the laughing stocks...
He is interviewing a guy, who I think at the start of this scene is the Mayor, because he behaves and talks very much like a politician, but he is Stacey's boss at the Division Of Oil & Mines. Really, it's not that important, it plays into stuff later, but I really dislike this whole scene, it feels like a waste of screen time really. It does allow Bond to see Stacey briefly talking to the Mayor character. Bond hangs around at City Hall, and waits for Stacy to leave before following her. We arrive at an old style house in a rural location, and Bond gains entrance. We then get the most ludicrous gadget of the movie so far, a card that is slid in to unlock a window, an old style window. Jeez, I'm taken out of the movie again, by something so small and insignificant really, but so glaring an error that you can just can't not be taken out of the movie by it.
For such a big house, the inside is surprisingly empty with very little actual stuff at all. In fact, the only place this house really seems to have anything is a bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom, and that's it. Stacey ends up pointing a shot gun at Bond, but some Zorin stooges turn up to intimidate Stacey and Bond and Stacey fight them off in a not bad fight sequence, but again, too little too late.
There is one rather glaring error in this sequence though. The shotgun fires 4 times before Bond discovers it's loaded with Rock Salt. It then fires 2 more times right at the end of the sequence. Sorry, but that is just complete bunkum. There is no way you could get it to fire with just rock salt in it. Surprisingly though, this doesn't take me straight out of the movie again, partially because the actual fight sequence is well shot, well edited, has a good pace to it. It's probably one of the best sequences in the movie, but again the scripting here leaves much to be desired.
We then get a really odd sequence where Bond cooks a Quiche for Stacey and himself. It helps to have quieter moments in between the action, and certainly this scene gives us some backstory for Stacey and Zorin, and actually adds a little bit more to the Bond character, he can actually cook for himself and not badly either, but again, it just feels a little too weird here, and the last thing this film needs is more weirdness.
The other noticeably weird thing, is Bond doesn't bed her, not right away, this is a little strange, but also good, and doesn't make me cringe, so I'm kinda happy to go with it. My goodness, he's already bedded 3 women in this film, and he will bed Stacey later, but at this point, I'm good with him not bedding her, it gives us a new angle.
We then get some minor stuff with a small earth tremor, Stacey being fired from her job at City Hall, and meeting up with Chuck Lee of the CIA, most of this is actually pretty irrelevant, except for a small moment, where Chuck is killed in his car. Bond doesn't know about this, as he only see Chuck's car driving away.
Bond and Stacey infiltrate City Hall and discover where Main Strike is, only to be disturbed in their investigations by Zorin and May Day, setting up the whole City Fire on Fire sequence. Howe, the man who fired Stacey, and the same guy Bond interviewed earlier, is killed by Zorin. Why he does this, I don't know. Nothing about this bit makes any sense.
The whole sequence from the moment the fire actually starts is genuinely tense and exciting, it's well shot, well edited, but again, it's trying to rescue this film from the depths of silliness and craziness that we've already been subjected to, and we can't really rescue a film like this, the best we can do is just prevent it from falling further, and maybe make up a little ground.
There is a weird sequence, where some of the local police have managed to get ahold of Bond's gun, that was left behind in Howe's office. How were they allowed to be in the building whilst it was on fire? This makes no sense at all. The scripting here is horrible.
Bond and Stacey have to make an escape and Bond commandeers a fire truck, and the local police give pursuit. The whole sequence feels like it's out of a Keystone Kops movie, or Police Academy. The main police character is vaguely reminiscent of Sherrif J W Pepper. We don't know his name, he's just a Police Captain on the credits, and he makes another short appearance later, but as enjoyable as Sheriff J W Pepper was, this, whilst being funny, just feels weak and lazy and not well written at all.
Anyway, we cut to somewhere out in the wilds of California, at something that looks like a quarry or mine. I guess this is Main Strike, with Bond still driving the fire truck. Bond commandeers another truck, this one carrying explosives. Bond and Stacey manage to secretly get inside the mine, and we get introduced to the setting for our big set piece. It really looks impressive. To think this is not actually an inside of a mine but only a movie set, is a credit to the talents of Peter Lamont and the movie's Art Department. The only thing slightly amiss here is the "table"/display that shows how the plot would work if Zorin achieved his aims. It just feels too sci-fi for this, but it's not the biggest thing wrong with this film, and doesn't take me right out of it, unlike other things in this film, so I give it a pass, but considering how much else I can't give a pass to, it just adds to the whole "out-of-syncness" that this film has.
Bond and Stacey are discovered but manage to escape, with May Day, Jenny Flex and someone else who we were never introduced to, but saw briefly a couple of times, in pursuit. May Day sends her colleagues down an easier route, whilst she follows the same route Bond and Stacey took. Zorin then floods the fault, and then shoots everybody who isn't himself or Scarpine. Meanwhile May Day, who was in pursuit of Bond and Stacey catches up to them and we get a small confrontation, but May Day and Bond end up falling into the water, whilst Stacey makes it out. Zorin then goes to a portakabin which converts into a blimp. At this point, I think I'm going to give up trying to explain the holes in this plot, there's been more holes in this plot than there is in the average block of Swiss Cheese. It seems that Zorin's inner circle is himself, Scarpine and Mortner/Glau.
Bond and May Day somehow manage to survive the flood and manage to take the bombs that was planted earlier by Zorin and company, out of the explosive filled geological lock, Minor point here, the explosives are AMFO, so they always need a blasting agent to set them off.
Bond and May Day place it on a trolley to roll it out of the mine, but the brake slips. May Day sacrifices herself to get the bomb out of the mine. This is quite a moving moment actually, and genuinely does help to raise the film out of the badness it has mired in. Stacey then gets kidnapped by blimp. Seriously? Bond grabs onto a mooring rope, and hangs on for a long time really, much longer than he'd be able to in real life, and Zorin heads for the Golden Gate Bridge. Not really sure what Zorin is trying to do here, but Bond manages to use the mooring rope to tie the blimp to the bridge. Stacey helps by attacking Zorin, and the blimp's cabin crashes into the bridge structure.
Mortner is out, Zorin is in his seat, but Scarpine and Stacey are floored in the crash. Zorin orders Scarpine to go get him, meaning Bond, in a moment that channels the previous film in this series, Octopussy. But Stacey knocks him out with a fire extinguisher. Zorin then decides that if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.
The final fight between Bond and Zorin is kinda weak actually. It's meant to be tense, the music is telling us that, but the actual fight itself is poor, and I can't blame the stunt people either, it's really difficult to have a believable fight on a pipe that is only a few feet wide. I have to put this down to the scripting again.
Anyway, Zorin falls of the bridge. We get a nice character moment where Zorin laughs at the seeming ludicrousness of his own destiny, which probably actually in a way kind of sums up the film.
Mortner comes to, and tries shooting Bond, but unsurprisingly is a poor shot. So he gets some dynamite, as though that's going to help. Bond cuts the rope with the axe that Zorin bought into the fight, and the blimp moves away from the bridge causing Mortner to drop the explosive in the cabin. Scarpine and Mortner fight over getting rid of the dynamite, before they and the blimp is blown up.
Gogol shows to M and the Minister of Defence a medal that is to be awarded to James Bond. The Order of Lenin. A rare thing for a non-Soviet citizen. Bond is revealed at this point to be missing, and we get a last shot of Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, a nice touch, and the movie closes with Q and his robot dog, discovering that Bond is alive and making love to Stacey in a shower. Okay, we're going to end the movie like that?
I really have to describe that Zorin and May Day are the main villains of the piece, even though May Day turns to Bond's side later on. They are memorable villains, very well played by Christopher Wallken and Grace Jones. I remember hearing about her casting when I was younger and I had serious doubts about her acting ability. But she pulls off the role very well, without being too cartoonish, which this film kinda flirts with more than once.
Walken is great as Zorin. He is surprisingly calm and nonchalant at certain points like shooting W G Howe, and shooting all the men, and plays the psychotics of the character well. I just feel sorry for the fact that these characters are hamstrung by a really poor script.
THE BOND GIRL/WOMAN
Stacey Sutton is definitely more in the Solitaire mould than in the Anya Amasova mould of Bond Girl. It is fair to say that Tanya Roberts gets quite a pass as a geologist, mainly because she doesn't really have any really stupid dialogue to say, unlike Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough.
Stacey's screams are annoying and she really doesn't appear that much in the film. Honestly there is more time spent in the film without her than with her. I think she is utilised enough to make her a presence, but not too much that she becomes totally annoying. She's not my favourite Bond girl by a long way, but she's not the worst either.
Whilst I'm pleased with the main villains here, the rest of the crew feels very weak. Scarpine is not much of a henchman. He doesn't have any real character to him. Jenny Flex is okay when we meet her but she really doesn't have anything more to do in the film, other than make silent appearances, she really doesn't do much.
The woman I mentioned earlier who was with Jenny in the mine when the flood happened, is called in the credit Pan Ho, and she's another henchman, but again, she isn't utilised well in the film. She has one line of dialogue, and that's it. She's silent after that. I think it's nice that we have female henchmen in that respect in this film, but they are used appallingly, and not allowed to have any real character to them.
Mortner is kinda weird here and I think is meant to be a mad scientist and father figure for Max Zorin, but again he doesn't have anything really that helps you give real insight into his character. He has one moment when he calls out to Max just before Max falls off the bridge, but again, too little to really make a difference.
The last henchman here is Bob Conley, the geologist who Zorin employs. Zorin kills him in the mine. I really again don't get a hell of a lot of character out of this character, we're given very little for the supporting cast here, nothing to help us understand their motivations, their reasons for being, not even much about their character. Ultimately, these guys are little more than props in the film, Mcguffins really, just designed to move the plot along at certain points, and not much more than that.
STUNT AND ACTION SEQUENCES.
I have to mention this here, because once again, like Moonraker, the action sequences aren't quite up to par, and mostly it's because of the writing. May Day's leap off the Eiffel Tower is a stunning moment, but in one shot, you can see the platform that was used for the stuntman to jump off of, and that moment takes you out of the film.
The fights are generally also weaker, mainly because of Roger Moore's age in this film. It would look ludicrous if Moore was fighting people half his age, so most of the fights are with older guys, but it just looks silly.
The sequence in the pipe that I mentioned earlier was particularly stupid and really bad, and the horse racing sequence where Zorin tries to dispose of Bond was also very lame. I almost wonder if the producers set themselves a challenge to have as many different kinds of action sequences in one film as it was possible to do, and it didn't really work at all.
I have to mention this separately, even though I've mentioned it a lot in the writing up of the plot, but it bears repeating once more. This was an incredibly badly scripted film. There was one huge plot hole, in getting Bond from France, which I believe is where the stables were, to Bond arriving in San Francisco. That hole is practically Grand Canyon sized, and yet most people just seem to not notice it.
There are other points where you can tell the writing between plot points is very weak, badly covering up what could have been plot holes, but the writing is so bad that you almost think that the plot holes might not have been noticed by most people, considering how few people mention the Grand Canyon sized plot hole of Bond arriving in San Francisco and knowing Zorin is there, despite having had nothing in the previous part of the film to tell Bond that San Francisco was where he was going.
And there's the moments like James Stock of the Financial Times, and San Francisco's almost Keystone Kops-like police force. Some of that is just lazy writing and whilst you might get away with one of those moments in a film, any more than that, you are pretty much asking for trouble.
The script is the meant to be the blueprint for the film, or at least, a good starting point, a solid foundation, but here, the script is undermining the whole film and dragging it down.
I know I've been very critical of the film, but it is more enjoyable than any of the ones I've reviewed up to now. It has a sense of being aware that it's not a great film, and has some fun, and you can go along with that and enjoy the film for the ride that it is, but overall, it's not a good film at all. And I think Roger Moore knew that, as he retired from the role. Some good characters, some good moments, but let down by a poor script, and didn't have any major high points to help raise the film out of the mire. What high points there were were still undermined by too many factors to make them really great, but they were good nonetheless.
If I want to watch a Roger Moore Bond film, I have 4 films I will go to before this, and they are higher up the list, and we have some way to go before we hit the first of them.
Before that, we hit number 19 next time, and the first Pierce Brosnan film on the list, and it will probably as no surprise to you, when I reveal which of his films I rank as the worst...