I can’t believe how much I used to like the fourth James Bond film, Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965). The extensive listing of extras (especially the then-ubiquitous “collectible” booklet) made it the first “classic” Bond film I acquired on DVD after Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997), and it was also the first 007 soundtrack I purchased when they were remastered and rereleased in 2003. Watching it for this review, I found the movie incredibly boring and the music equally boring. At least I fared better in my viewing than my girlfriend, who struggled to make it to the end.
Thunderball represents the only official Bond film to be remade, in the form of the unofficial Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983). Both films are based on the book Thunderball (1961), which Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote based on a film treatment that he, Kevin McClory, and others had developed. Because of a lawsuit over the story’s rights, McClory received “producer” credit on Thunderball whereas the traditional series producing team of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were credited as “executive producers.”
It’s unclear how much say McClory had on Thunderball, but in the late 1970s, he began developing his own Bond film based on the original Thunderball story treatment. This film would become Never Say Never Say Again.
Both films follow Sean Connery’s James Bond in his investigation of SPECTRE’s involvement in the theft of nuclear bombs. Both films also feature seemingly never-ending underwater sequences and a plot that never feels suspenseful.
At least Thunderball is a better film than Never Say Never Again. I truly wonder how many people even realize that there is an unofficial Bond film or that it’s a remake of an official entry. As a kid, I remember catching Never Say Never Again during a showing on HBO, and I believe I knew it was a Bond movie only because of the description included in that particular month’s HBO programming guide. I had already seen Thunderball at the time, but I still liked Never Say Never Again because it not only starred my then-favorite Bond actor but also because it featured Rowan Atkinson – Mr. Bean himself – in a minor role as one of 007’s allies.
Watching Never Say Never Again is like entering into the Bizarro World’s version of the James Bond film franchise, one that features different actors playing the regular roles of M, Q, Moneypenny, and Felix Leiter. For my girlfriend, even the curiosity factor of the film wasn’t enough to stop her from calling it quits about midway through the film. I don’t blame her. Never Say Never Again doesn’t stand up as an easy Bond film to watch, with a horrendous theme song, inappropriate jazz score (that isn’t all that bad on its own), mostly bland characters, and the strangest set of fashion choices in pretty much any movie I’ve ever seen (even if you can’t remember much about the movie after seeing it, you’ll definitely have Sean Connery in overalls burned into your memory).
Likewise, Thunderball is a rather dull affair. Aside from the amazing Ken Adams sets, the beautiful and somewhat more richly characterized Bond girls, and a particularly prickly appearance by Q (Desmond Llewelyn), there’s not much to recommend here.
If I had to pick between the two films, I’d actually recommend Never Say Never Again. For all its faults, it’s more quickly paced, features a rather great performance by Connery, and doesn’t seem to spend as much of its running-time underwater. Also, when looking at Connery in the two films, it becomes clear that toupee-making apparently went through many, many advances between 1965 and 1983.
This blog will return with… You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967).