A VIEW TO A KILL – John Barry
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
A View to a Kill is the fourteenth official film in the James Bond canon, and the seventh and last to star Roger Moore as the fictional British secret agent. In this wide ranging story which spans the globe from Siberia to Paris to San Francisco, Bond locks horns with the psychopathic industrialist Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, who hatches a plan to destroy Silicon Valley in order to gain a monopoly in the worldwide microchip market. Bond is assisted in his assignment by wealthy geologist Stacey Sutton, played by Tanya Roberts, who helps uncover Zorin’s dastardly plan after he tries to strong-arm her into selling her family’s oil company, and there is the usual cast of supporting characters, evil henchmen, beautiful women, and ingenious gadgets. The film was directed by John Glen, co-stars Patrick Macnee and singer Grace Jones, and has an original score by John Barry, the tenth of his eleven works in the series.
With so much Bond history behind him, John Barry was very much in “auto-pilot” mode for A View to a Kill. Having established the sound of the franchise via scores like From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service years previously, there was a solid template to work from, and A View to a Kill follows that template almost to a tee. However, it’s worth pointing out that a John Barry James Bond score on auto-pilot is still better than a large number of other action/thriller scores of the period, and this proves to be the case here: with its fully orchestral sound, deliciously romantic love theme, deliberately-paced action music, and use of the series’s iconic musical calling cards, A View to a Kill is a thoroughly enjoyable score which will appeal to fans of the genre.
The centerpiece of any James Bond soundtrack – the classic ones, at least – is the song, which on this occasion was written and performed by the massively popular and successful English rock/pop band Duran Duran, with Barry providing the orchestral arrangements. “A View to a Kill” has always been one of my all-time favorite Bond songs; I was a big fan of Duran Duran’s mainstream chart music at the time, and the combination of their infectious guitar/synth rhythms and poetic lyrics with Barry’s purposeful orchestral backing makes it a winner all the way. The song reached #1 in the charts in 11 countries, including the United States, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, but lost to Lionel Richie’s “Say You Say Me” from the movie White Nights.
Barry turns the main melody of the song into the love theme for James and Stacy, and gives it several gorgeous variations in the score proper. “Bond Meets Stacey” introduces the theme on warm horns accentuated by lilting flutes, before transferring to a piccolo, while “Wine With Stacey” is a delicate, enchanting duet for flute and harp, with a soft string wash to further illustrate the romance in their relationship. The other main theme in the score is the one for Max Zorin and his companies, Zorin Industries and Pegasus Stables. A sinister-sounding three-note motif, it insidiously inserts itself into several cues during the album’s middle section, cleverly illustrating how Zorin is pulling all the strings of the plot, even when he’s not present in the proceedings.
In “Pegasus’ Stable” it is arranged for bass flute and, eventually, the familiar ticking woodblock that Barry often utilized to convey tension and stealth. Later, it appears on more stately, but still ominous, brasses in the heraldic “Airship to Silicon Valley”, before conveying a sense of chilly disconnect in the menacing “Bond Underwater”. The timpani accents in “Destroy Silicon Valley” give the motif a sense of dark purpose, while its appearance in the slow-burning, but ultimately explosive “May Day Bombs Out” is testament to Barry’s skill at taking his themes into new and interesting settings.
A strong, purposeful action theme runs through much of the score. Those familiar with Bond music history will hear clear similarities between it and the main theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in terms of rhythmic structure and basic tempo, but of course the orchestration is different, and the thematic line heads off in a different direction. Cues like “Snow Job,” the exciting “He’s Dangerous,” and the climactic “Golden Gate Fight” feature the action march strongly, showcasing the familiar staccato muted trumpet calls, militaristic snare drum licks, and bass flute lines, but in this score they are given an additional contemporary kick via the inclusion of a wailing electric guitar.
There is also a brief motif for May Day, Grace Jones’s Amazonian warrior assassin character, featuring an echoing muted trumpet idea accentuated by an ascending string motif. It can be heard in “May Day Jumps,” is cleverly combined with the Zorin motif in the deadly “Tibbett Gets Washed Out,” and features strongly in “May Day Bombs Out,” highlighting her eventual importance to the movie as a whole, especially during the finale. And, of course, Monty Norman’s famous James Bond theme makes a guest appearance in the second half of “May Day Jumps,” although it is much more prominent in the film itself than it is on the CD.
For years, the soundtrack CD for A View to a Kill was one of the rarest of all the Bond scores. I was lucky enough to be able to acquire one of the super-rare Japanese EMI import CDs during the 1990s for a comparatively reasonable amount of money, but for too many people the score was out of reach for many years, commanding ludicrous prices on the secondary market. This was all resolved when the score was finally released worldwide in 2003 as part of the Capitol/EMI Records digital re-mastering and re-release of all their Bond products. As such, there are now no impediments when it comes to adding this excellent score to your collection. Although younger listeners may consider Barry’s restrained, almost introverted take on Bond to be like musical valium in comparison to David Arnold’s more kinetic works, I have always been a fan of the original classic measured approach, and on that basis I give A View to a Kill a hearty recommendation.
Buy the View to a Kill soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title Song – A View to a Kill (written by Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and John Barry, performed by Duran Duran) (3:35)
- Snow Job (2:38)
- May Day Jumps (2:51)
- Bond Meets Stacey – A View to a Kill (2:30)
- Pegasus’ Stable (3:23)
- Tibbett Gets Washed Out (1:43)
- Airship to Silicon Valley (2:32)
- He’s Dangerous (2:16)
- Bond Underwater (2:35)
- Wine With Stacey – A View to a Kill (1:55)
- Bond Escapes Roller (1:24)
- Destroy Silicon Valley (2:24)
- May Day Bombs Out (3:02)
- Golden Gate Fight (3:31)
- End Title Song – A View to a Kill (written by Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and John Barry, performed by Duran Duran) (2:04)
Running Time: 38 minutes 11 seconds
Capitol/EMI Records 72435-41448-2 (1985/2003)
Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Orchestrations by Nic Raine. “The James Bond Theme” written by Monty Norman. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey. Edited by Alan Killic. Album produced by John Barry.