Saturday, August 08, 2015

Licence to Kill (1989) | Music

John Barry wasn't available to score Licence to Kill due to some surgery he was recovering from, so Michael Kamen was hired to replace him. Because of the unexpectedly long break after Licence, Barry's last Bond score would be The Living Daylights. Kamen was an interesting substitute because Licence is already so reminiscent of other '80s action movie and Kamen's resumé included films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. He must have seemed like a natural choice.

Kamen didn't have anything to do with the theme song though. In keeping with the darker tone of the movie, Broccoli and Wilson first tried to get a song that hearkened all the way back to Dr. No. They approached Vic Flick, who'd played guitar in John Barry's band and is the one who recorded the classic Bond Theme riff for Dr. No. They were going to get him and Eric Clapton to write and perform the song, but didn't like what the duo came up with. Instead, they commissioned a song by a different group of songwriters; based on the horn line from Goldfinger. That's the one that Gladys Knight recorded.

Knowing the thought behind the song - that it was intentionally trying to emulate the older movies - helps me with it a little, but I still don't like it. Coming off of Duran Duran and a-ha, and hoping for a similarly contemporary sound for the Licence song, I was hugely disappointed with the throwback. Knight has a great voice, of course, but it's not a good song. The lyrics are so easy and on-the-nose and don't get me started on the cheesy, whispered "to kill" that repeats all through it. Just ugh.

Continuing the new tradition started in The Living Daylights, the movie also has a different end credits song. It's not a Bond-sounding song, but I do like "If You Asked Me To" by Patti LaBelle on its own merits.

The opening credits are designed by Maurice Binder one last time. I feel like his heart's in it more than it was in the last couple of movies, though I don't understand all of his choices. The teaser ends with everyone going into the church for Felix and Della's wedding, so Binder pulls back to show that shot in a camera lens, maybe like it's a photographer at the ceremony. There's other camera imagery in the credits too though: a stylized shutter and some contact sheets. He even finishes the credits as he began, with a camera lens that shows the first shot of the movie. Cameras aren't a big thing in Licence though, so I don't know why they're so prominent here.

He's also into roulette apparently, because there are two different shots relating to that: one of a table and the other of a spinning wheel (at least, I think that's what it is; it's going pretty fast). Bond does do some gambling in Licence, but he doesn't play roulette, so again, I'm not sure what Binder's up to.

He also uses crosshairs as a motif, which makes tons more sense considering the title of the movie. And there's a cool bit where a gun shoots and Bond's image is projected onto the smoke. Could've used more of that.

Kamen doesn't use the Bond Theme a lot, but he deploys it well. It first shows up in the teaser when Bond's dangling from the helicopter and tying up Sanchez's plane. There's a little bit of it when he's searching Krest's warehouse, but then it comes in big again during the waterskiing stunt and when Bond's popping wheelies in a semi truck.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. The Living Daylights
3. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
8. Live and Let Die
9. Dr No
10. Thunderball

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia with Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
9. Moonraker
10. Octopussy


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I noticed they used part of the music from On Her Majesty's Secret Service in the latest trailer for Spectre. I doubt I'd have noticed if not for your posts about the Bond music this summer.

Michael May said...

Cool! I didn't pick up on that. I'll have to give it another listen.


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