Friday, September 13, 2013

Thunderball/Never Say Never Again

The fourth James Bond film is probably my favorite of the entire series, it is easily my favorite Connery outing and while Goldfinger set up the template, Thunderball is more along the lines of how the series would go for the most part.  Never Say Never Again is one of the few times it can truly be said a movie was confined by the very letter of the law...Or a court ruling at any rate.The legal stuff and backstory elements can be found elsewhere on the web (and handled considerably better than I could ever manage) so we'll keep the intro brief.  In 1965, Thunderball was adapted for the screen after some legal issues which came up again a few decades later, leading to our second feature for this article.

Now then, let's examine two movies that are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.

Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball is, to me at least, the ultimate over the top Bond film as it pits Bond against SPECTRE as he races to stop them from setting off a couple of atomic bombs they've hijacked. Sean Connery is as cool as ever, the action is spectacular, the villains are nasty as hell and the women are beautiful.  It's everything you could want from a Bond film, let's take a closer look.
  • First off, I love the pre-credits scene which manages to not only give us a nicely brutal fight between Bond and a SPECTRE agent, but it also gives us the awesome sight of Bond strapping on a frigging jet pack to escape!
  • Tom Jones' main title song is a nice one, though like the pre-title scene and everything else in the film, it's clearly trying to top Goldfinger in every way possible.  Happily, it succeeds for the most part.
  • Adolfo Celi is great as the main bad guy, Emilio Largo.  He's tough, ruthless and quite nasty at times while also being quite suave and debonair.  In  a way, he is a darker version of Bond.
  • I get a chuckle out of SPECTRE using a charity organization as a front for their base of operations.
  • The Shrublands sequence is nice blend of plot developments (a SPECTRE agent is putting together the bomb hijack plans) and Bond seducing a nurse before investigating the plot after he discovers a dead man who the bad guys are using to get to the bombs.
  • John Barry's score is fantastic as usual.
  • The traction table scene is a nice bit of tension that is well shot and edited quite nicely.
  • Another great villain is Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe.  She's one of the better femme fatales I've ever seen: sexy, dangerous and ruthless as all hell.  I also get a kick out of the way they get onto the base, going to the trouble of having a mercenary get plastic surgery to impersonate the VIP on the plane they're taking down.  It's nice plot.
  • The great thing about this film is how it handles the exposition.  For the first forty minutes or so, Bond is actually doing some real spying, finding out little bits of info here and there until the actual hijacking sequence occurs.
  • Really, the only issue I have with the film is the actual hijack scene.  It's fine until the plane crashes into the sea, then it sort of drags as the bad guys make off with the bombs.  It was done better in a later film in the series, but that's a story for another day.  Here, it's really a minor flaw in an awesome movie.  The common knock on this film is that the underwater scenes bog it down, but really it's just this bit that slows the pace.
  • Funny bit I only noticed now: on the side of the bombs it reads "Handle like eggs".  Makes sense, really.
  • Funnily enough, as over the top as the film is, the gadgets are just right for the mission.  Bond gets an underwater camera, a watch with a Geiger counter and a homing beacon plus a few other small items, everything else is just stuff lying around that proves to be useful.
  • The Nassau stuff is great as it is not only a beautiful location but it also  introduces us to our two other key players: Bond Girl for the evening Domino (Claudine Auger) and Felix Leiter (Rik van Nutter).  Leiter's role is more or less just to be Bond's yes man but Auger is spectacularly attractive and considering her voice was dubbed, Auger does fine with the acting side of things.  She and Connery have good chemistry (though to be fair, the man is so magnetic you almost have to be dead to not do well in a scene with him).
  • The connection with Largo and Domino is a rather convenient plot device but it works well enough.
  • The casino stuff with Bond screwing with Largo is great.  I always enjoy seeing Bond poking and prodding at the bad guy, it always makes for a good show.  We get even more of this when Bond visits Largo at his house.
  • Another thing I enjoy about the middle of the film (along with the rest of it) is how the plot just unfolds at a leisurely pace, letting the audience luxuriate in it.  That's what I've always loved about the series, especially seeing an entry in the theater for the first time.  It's sometimes fun to just sit back in your seat and let the film wash over you.  Skyfall, Casino Royale and Goldeneye do this, as does Octopussy.  No shock that those are my favorites.
  • I also enjoy Martine Beswick as Bond's assistant Paula.  She's not in much of the film, but she does look great.
  • I enjoy Philip Locke as Vargas, one of Largo's henchmen.  His death is one of the best moments in the film.
  • The parade sequence with Bond evading Fiona and her goons is a nice bit of action.  I especially like the music used, Barry always did well with action scenes.
  • Fiona's death is nicely done, I also find it rather amusing how after she's shot, the bad guys sort of lose interest in chasing Bond down.
  • I love the way the bad guys covered up the location of the downed plane with a tarp.  Setting it down in shark infested waters was another nice touch.
  • Bond finally getting Domino on his side is done very well.  This is probably Sean Connery's best overall performance as Bond.  He's cool throughout, even when telling Domino Largo killed her brother.  In a nice bit of subtle acting, Bond's hand shakes a little when he hands her her brother's dog tags and watch.  Connery also puts on a pair of sunglasses, a nice little bit of business that gives the indestructible 007 a bit of humanity.
  • Contrast that with The World is Not Enough where the film basically bashed us in the head with the whole "Bond is also human" angle.
  • Sure the beat that follows this nice bit of acting is Bond shooting Vargas dead with a harpoon gun as he sneaks up on them but that's just part of what makes the film cool.
  • The thing that really stood out for me once I got this film on VHS and later on DVD) was just how damn brutal it is!  I had mostly seen the film in a cut down for TV version on ABC and boy did they ever chop the hell out of it.  The fights underwater have quite a bit of blood, the scene where Largo tortures Domino after catching her spying on him is completely gone and the overall tone of the film is quite choppy in that version.
  • The biggest change is the underwater showdown between SPECTRE and I guess the Navy.  I'd love to see another army vs. army sequence at the end of a Bond film, it's been quite a while since we've had one.
  • As for this one, It's quite brutal, set to John Barry's thunderous action theme and is a real highlight.  I especially love Bond leaping into the fray after it's been going on for a bit and absolutely slaughtering SPECTRE.  I can only imagine the cheers this must have gotten during the film's theatrical run.
  • Even better is the fight on Largo's boat as he tries to escape.  First off, the fact that his yacht can convert into a hydrofoil is just plain cool.  Second, it's just a thrill to see Bond taking on four guys at a time and more or less thrashing all of them while also trying to control the out of control boat.  The capper of Domino being the one to kill Largo is just icing on the cake.
  • Sort of an amusing bit to end things on for this film, apart from the opening gunbarrel sequence, the end credits are the only time we hear the James Bond Theme.
Thunderball is, quite simply the best Bond film.  It's large in scope, has great action, acting and humor and is still as fun to watch now as it was when it first came out.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

After a protracted legal dispute, producer Kevin McClory was finally able to mount his own Bond film, the only caveat being that the story had to be based on the Thunderball novel.  In essence, the only way he could make a Bond film was to remake the fourth.   I watched this a lot when I was a kid (along with Swamp Thing, Conan the Destroyer and Yor, the Hunter From the Future) and honestly, it doesn't hold up to well.  Let's take a look at why.
  • Since it had to be the same as Thunderball, the story hits all of the same beats only with some location changes and other minor alterations.  Fiona is now Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), the plot involves something about destroying the oil fiends on North Africa, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple does what he can but this is no Die Hard.
  • The opening titles play out over an okayish war games session where Bond infiltrates a base to rescue a girl, only for the girl to stab him in the side (turns out she was brainwashed).  Much is made of Bond (and by virtue of that, Connery) being older but while it adds a few humorous bits in the beginning, it just sort of peters out.  Sort of like the rest of the film.
  • The music is not that good either.  The best part of it is the main title song and even that is sort of crappy.
  • The spa stuff follows more or less the same sequence of events as in Thunderball, though in the case of this film we see Bond being sent to the spa.  Unfortunately, Edward Fox makes for a rather shrill, unlikable M and Moneypenny is a non-entity.
  • As for the actual content, it's way too drawn out, though we do get a decent enough SPECTRE intro with Max von Sydow as Blofeld.  Barbara Carrera and Klaus Maria Brandauer are also good as the villains with Brandauer's Largo standing out.  Unlike the earlier version who was classy but ruthless, this version is just a psycho.  It works fairly well, though.
  • In an odd nod to the novel, Largo is referred to as "Number One".  In the book, this was also the case and Blofeld was "Number Two".  The bit seemed strange in the book (why would the guy in charge take the lower number?) and here it's just dialogue.
  • The biggest flaw in this film is the pace.  The spa stuff takes too long, the action is rather languidly paced (odd since the director also did The Empire Strikes Back) and there is no real sense of urgency.  In the original, even with the rather relaxed pace, the sense of danger was always present.  Here, the real plot doesn't get going until about an hour in when Bond arrives in France and hooks up with Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey).
  • While it is sort of a letdown to have the character Bond spies on at the beginning of Thunderball reduced to just a huge thug here, his fight with Bond is a fun one and the payoff is amusing.  It would have been nice if there was a little shot of him arriving before he attacks but the fight is still decent.
  • The hijacking is done more or less the same way, though in a more high-tech fashion (it being the 80's and all).,  I do like Gavan O'Herlihy as a heroin addicted SPECTRE dupe, he's not too bad but the bomb stealing sequence is just a little too slow.
  • One touch I do genuinely like is Blofeld announcing his demands and the traditional "Blofeld's hands and the cat" shot is accomplished simply by having the man sitting on a table.  Could have done without the NATO reaction which comes off like something from a badly dubbed monster movie from the sixties.
  • The stuff with Q (or as the film calls him, Algernon) is okay.
  • The Nassau stuff comes off as being there simply because the other film was set primarily in The Bahamas.  The bombs end up being nowhere near there and the scenes do little to advance the plot.  Hell, most of the important stuff takes place in France and the Middle East.
  • Rowan Atkinson is truly annoying in his supporting role as an inept agent sent to help Bond.  I like the guy, Blackadder was hilarious but here he's just terrible.
  •  Even after the film gets going, it goes about its task in a clumsy manner.  Domino's brother being revealed is not really handled well, Bond's contact in France delivers lines offhandedly offscreen while Bond and Felix are chatting, and the scene where Bond and Domino (Kim Basinger) meet is really more focused on finding Largo.
  • The best scene in the film is the charity event where Bond and Largo meet for the first time.  They have a duel with a video game about the domination of the world that is very good and nicely acted by both Connery and Brandauer.
  • Unfortunately, the dance scene with Bond and Domino doesn't work as well.  Connery is fine, Basinger is...Well, she's hot but not much of an actress here but the nice subtlety on display in the original is lost by Bond bluntly telling Domino her brother is dead.  The script essentially takes the casino and beach scenes from the first film and violently Hulk-smashes them into one muddled mess of a sequence.  It doesn't work.
  • Another rather bad bit of writing is how Largo invites Bond onto his boat, and then lets him just wander around unsupervised.  The scene that follows with Domino is okay but the relationship between the two is so shallow that it doesn't really track.
  • The bike chase in France is an acceptable bit of action, though even then it's nowhere near as good as it could be.
  • The latter third of the film is very uneven with the North Africa stuff barely registering outside of Brandauer's insanity and some nice sits of action at the end.  The finale goes down more or less as it did in the book with Bond and Largo fighting underwater until Domino shoots Largo.
  • Really, the only truly good things in the film are Connery and Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush.  She's a great over the top villain and once she's dead after the bike chase the film just drags along in as dull a manner as you can imagine.  Her last scene is good, though as she is just insanely egotistical.
  • Connery is his usual cool self, though to be frank, he is on full auto-pilot here.  He wasn't too thrilled about doing the movie and the making of it did little to improve his mood about it.
On the whole, the film is watchable but very, very sloppy.  It has a good cast but horrible pacing issues, dull action and the energy level is barely there at times.  It's a very poor imitation of an excellent movie.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.