As with George Lazenby, the brevity of Timothy Dalton's tenure as Bond - due to years of legal problems and lawsuits between EON and MGM/UA - has led to history merrily being rewritten by the press that once hailed him. Dalton, not the lawyers, was lined up as the fall guy with Pierce Brosnan the man who saved the series from disaster (even though Dalton's first Bond saw a massive increase in takings over Moore's last film). Those who are quick to dismiss him would do well to check out The Living Daylights.
Much of the scapegoating of Dalton seemed to come from the confusion of actor and role. At the time Dalton's Bond was the closest to Fleming's creation - more so than Connery, even - and given the right script he proved outstanding in the role. After Roger Moore's 12-year, seven-film tenure as Bond finally came to an ignominious end with A View to a Kill, as with OHMSS, Live and Let Die and Casino Royale, the producers broke in their new Bond with a more low-key, low-gadget approach, resulting in the best Bond since the Sixties, with Dalton initially looking the first Bond to seriously rival Connery. Where Connery had the danger and Moore the class, Dalton managed to combine both, with Bond's self-assurance that verges on the arrogant down pat, reclaiming the character from the increasingly comic-strip approach of too many of the later Moore films.
The film isn't without its faults - Caroline Bliss isn't up to much as Moneypenny, Maryam D'Abo's a bit of a wet leading lady while Jeroen Krabbe lacks the menace he brought to No Mercy - but it looks and feels like a classic Bond film, has little truck with gadgets and is less in thrall to silly jokes. Best of all, it's got a plot (involving a dubious defection, Mujahadin opium smuggling in Afghanistan and a re-activated Stalinist spy assassination programme). The political background may have dated - this was filmed when the Communists still held the USSR together and when the Mujahadin were the good guys - but it still comes up remarkably fresh. This is Bond with all the stops pulled out but without the overkill. The production values are superb and visually it's a treat, especially in widescreen, with John Barry making his final Bond score his best in years. The action scenes are often outstandingly good, with a return to the kind of good old vicious punchups that vanished in the latter Moore years and as well as some amazing stunt work involving a Russian troop plane and it has one of the series' best pre-title sequences, with a security exercise in Gibraltar turning into the real thing. The makers even have the confidence to remove Bond from one of the key setpieces - a superbly staged kidnapping from a safehouse, which runs nearly a full reel. John Glen's direction is so spot-on here it's hard to see why it would go so horribly wrong on Licence To Kill.
The extras package is excellent, including audio commentary, an extended scene and the infamous deleted `magic carpet' sequence, a bad idea that feels like a holdover from the Roger Moore era that was thankfully dropped due to the stunt looking distinctly unimpressive. There are enough new features on the two-disc Ultimate edition to make an upgrade worthwhile for the more ardent Bond fans - several promo featurettes from the original release, a press conference held in Vienna and 47-minute TV special `Happy Anniversary 007.' All the features from the original DVD release have also been included.