The jetpack. It is what Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965) is most famous for. Bond straps on the rocket-powered device during the pre-credits sequence. Like many Bond stunts, this one is real. Conceptually, it is spectacular. Cinematically, it lacks vigor. It feels ill-conceived. It feels ill-framed. And it feels oddly powerless. It is telling that Thunderball is frequently reduced to this scene. The remainder of the movie does not offer a lot of memorable moments. Rewatching Thunderball, I came to realize that it is long, way too long. The plot is meandering and it does not have enough filler action scenes. Notwithstanding its big-budget grandeur (the Ken Adam sets rank among the most impressive in the series), the movie does not distinguish itself within the crowded action genre and the overall Bond franchise.
Thunderball’s lasting effect is based on an off-screen legal battle between author Ian Fleming and producer Kevin McClory that dates back to 1961. McClory secured a sole producer credit for the movie, along with exclusive rights to the novel (which he would later use for an unofficial remake titled Never Say Never Again in 1983). In this regard, Thunderball is responsible for adding an intriguing complexity to the Bond canon, at one point literally putting two Bonds against each other at the box office.
Where the budget packs a punch is the large-scale underwater battle. It begins with a team of Navy SEALs parachuting into the water to confront a group of henchmen. The camera follows the characters closely, making it a tense and claustrophobic experience for the viewer. The music is subtle, allowing the eerie cacophony of water, oxygen, and harpoons to take over. It is a disorienting spectacle of the grandest kind, a logistical masterpiece, among Bond’s best.
A collection of massive set pieces, Thunderball shows early signs of Bond excess, an emphasis on epic scope rather than character-driven intrigue. As a franchise, Bond’s success stemmed from the title character’s central role in the narrative. This is where Thunderball lacks most of all.
This blog will return with … You Only Live Twice.