Horse Racing and the Weaponized Landscape of Silicon Valley

Netflix added seven James Bond movies to its streaming library this week. With today's Kentucky Derby in the books, one of those newly-added Bond titles seems particularly ripe for revisiting: 1985's A View to a Kill, starring Roger Moore. It's kitschy enough to make you cringe, but with a story line that weaves together horse racing, Silicon Valley greed, and the weaponization of tectonic plates, it's a fascinatingly futuristic time capsule.

I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum here, because if you haven't already seen this movie four dozen times during any of the Bondamania 007-a-thons that second-tier TV networks roll out three times a year, you really should. Here, I'll even link you to Netflix again. Have you watched it now? Good.

The plot hinges around bad guy Max Zorin's plan to destroy Silicon Valley, by detonating explosives under the Hayward and San Andreas faults to trigger both a devastating flood and an unlikely-sounding "double earthquake." Wiping out Silicon Valley's microchip producers, Zorin would thus guarantee that his microchip company, Zorin Industries, would suddenly have a stranglehold on the market.

Don't worry, Bond prevents all of that from happening—by posing as a wealthy racehorse owner to gain entry into a horse sale at Zorin's estate. There's a delightfully cheesy subplot here, involving Zorin's horse doping techniques, that you really must see for yourself, as well as the Bond franchise's best horse chase scene.

A lot has changed since Zorin attempted to wipe out the Silicon Valley of 1985. The notion that a seismic disaster in California would hobble the world's electronics producers is laughably quaint in our era of industrial outsourcing. Today's well-heeled corporate villain would probably be better served by a team of hackers, whose digital destruction would be much more far-reaching than any California flood. And coming off a particularly earthquake-y April, it doesn't seem like earth's tectonic plates need any encouragement from a fanatically unhinged supervillain.

But there's something charming about Zorin's unconventional approach. Rather than building (or stealing) a mega-weapon, some kind of nuclear-powered laser bomb that will blow up the moon or a rocket that would lasso Australia and drag it into the wrong hemisphere, Zorin turns the landscape around him into the world's greatest weapon. Despite the insanity of its scale, there's something strangely subtle about it. Mother Nature would do the dirty work; Zorin would just do the nudging. There's a notable subtext of "playing god" here, too. It's very effective.

And how could we forget perhaps the greatest Bond song ever recorded?

Yes, Roger Moore was nearly sixty years old in this, his last Bond movie. And yes, at times the plot gets strangely bloated and convoluted (wait, are the Soviets supposed to be our friends now?). That trend of over-complication hit its unfortunate nadir in the Brosnan-as-Bond era, but here we see the downward spiral starting already.

Despite all of that, it's still a fantastic movie. Bond flicks naturally require a touch extra suspension of disbelief, and this one's no different. It's a little bit campy, but I think it's done with just the right amount of self-awareness. Roger Moore always comes across as being in on the joke.

A View to a Kill seems to be semi-forgotten among Bond movies. It's not quite old enough to be counted as a classic the way the Sean Connery films are, but hailing from 1985 it comes across as undoubtedly dated. No matter. It's a great flick, and unexpectedly enjoyable to revisit. As Bond movies go, you might say it's a dark horse. [Netflix]