Monday, September 13, 2010

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Never Say Never Again (1983)

In my review of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) the other day, I wrote briefly about trends involving the youth demographic in the 1980s, and some of the tension in America at the time over age, at least so much as related to its popular President, Ronald Reagan.  

This was the era during which the M.P.A.A. rating PG-13 was born; so that younger audiences could see more "adult" movies, for instance. This was also the age of MTV's blazing ascent and influence on everything from marketing to the specifics of film cutting.

Another genre film from approximately the same time period -- the "unofficial" James Bond picture starring Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again (1983) -- also benefits from this very historical context. 

In this film, the audience encounters an older, slower -- but still lethal -- agent 007 as he faces both Blofeld's SPECTRE and the specter of looming retirement. 

Where Captain Kirk in The Search for Spock must not only contend with real ideological foes (the Klingons), but higher-ups amidst the "young minds and fresh ideas" of Starfleet/The Federation, here James Bond must deal with a vastly changed (and highly officious) new iteration of MI6.   He's outmoded: a dinosaur or relic of another age.

At least that's according to the new "M' (Edward Fox), who -- in a great reaction shot -- physically recoils after seeing Bond head-butt an opponent during a training exercise (the pre-title sequence which opens the film.)  He has no taste for such messiness; such brutal improvisation. 

The world has changed...and apparently passed Bond by in the process.

But as Bond's over-worked, under-paid gadgeteer, Algy (Alec McEwen) comments mid-way through Never Say Never Again: "Bureaucrats running the old place.  Everything done by the book.  Can't make a decision unless the computer gives you the go ahead.  Now you're here.  I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence..." 

This amusing comment may serve a double, subversive purpose.  First, Q's comment works contextually, regarding the "re-activation" of the 00s (and Bond) in the narrative of Never Say Never Again, particularly against the backdrop of the new era of the corporate, computerized 1980s. 

But metaphorically, the line also serves as a pointed jab at the official EON James Bond film line, which had -- during the reign of Roger Moore as Bond -- adopted the official stance that James Bond represents Disney-fied violence; or "violence for the family."

The re-activation of Connery's original, craftier Bond in Never Say Never Again is therefore not merely a breath of fresh air in terms of the movie's PC world; but in terms of a real-life world where the aging James Bond feature film franchise was no longer considered legitimately dangerous or cutting edge. 

After all, audiences at this point had seen Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Alien, Dirty Harry...and more was to come.  The Terminator, Lethal Weapon, Batman and Die Hard franchises were just on the horizon.

Accordingly, Never Say Never Again feels like the most dangerous, edgy, unpredictable Bond film in ages (particularly after the toothless and farcical -- if enjoyable -- Moonraker [1979]. 

Where the Bond films had long ago reduced main characters to off-the-shelf, familiar types like the General Villain (Goldfinger, Scaramanga, Stromberg, Drax, etc.) and the Soldier Villain (Odd Job, Nick Nack, Jaws, etc), Connery's return feature largely restores the humanity and individuality -- and therefore the unpredictability -- to these familiar cliches and stock types.

Spectacular (if fantasy-based) stunt-work is also largely eschewed in Irvin Kershner's Never Say Never Again, in favor of the aforementioned head-butt and a concentration on more grounded, macho and personal fisticuffs (a hallmark of Connery's early, grittier era, back in the 1960s). 

So nobody is dangling from blimps-in-flight over The Golden Gate Bridge here, if you get my drift. Not that there's anything wrong, inherently, with the other approach. 

There is also a deliberate, overt focus on sex in Never Say Never Again (particularly in Bond's coupling with the evil Fatima Blush [Barbara Carrera].)  Bond beds no less than four women in the course of the movie, actually.  Again, this is an approach that the official Bond series reversed by the late 1980s, making Timothy Dalton's Bond a one-lady-kind-of-guy (to accommodate in the culture the emergence of AIDS).

In short, Never Say Never Again feels a bit more passionate, a bit more human,  and lot less rote, less predictable, than some of the 1970s Bonds...even though it is loosely a remake of 1965's Thunderball.  

Bond may indeed be a bit older here, but as the film deliberately points out (in regards, expressly, to the character's beloved Bentley), he's "still in pretty good shape."

Your Reputation Has Preceded You; Or You Were a Very Good Secret Agent.  Really.

In matters of death, SPECTRE is strictly impartial...
Never Say Never Again tells the story of a wicked gambit on the part of Blofeld (Max Von Sydow) and SPECTRE. 

Using a heroin-addicted American air force officer, Jack Petachi (Gavin O'Herlihy), a villain named Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and Fatima Blush, or Agent 12 (Carrera), steal two American W80 thermo-nuclear warheads during a routine training exercise centered at Swadley's Air Force Base. 

Blofeld blackmails the West (NATO, in particular): pay an exorbitant fee or see the bombs detonated in two days time. 

As one anxious diplomat describes the plot, it is "the ultimate nightmare," this nuclear blackmail. (And ironically, this story of loose nukes seems more timely and relevant in the 1980s -- when the hawkish, Peace-Through-Strength Reagan decried the "Evil Empire" and jokingly announced that "bombing begins in five minutes," -- than it did in the 1960s, when Thunderball premiered...)

Agent James Bond (Connery), 007 -- who has spent most of his time in recent years teaching --  is re-activated and sent out by the officious M to recover the bombs. 

Following a stint at the health farm, Shrublands, Bond heads to the Bahamas, where Largo's yacht, the Flying Saucer, may be carrying at least one of the warheads.  There, Largo executes SPECTRE's plot, code-named "The Tears of Allah," all while deceiving his beautiful girlfriend, dancer Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger), about the death of her brother, Jack.

Now Bond must outwit and outfight Fatima with the help of his CIA buddy, Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey) and discover where the jealous Largo is hiding those warheads.  In doing so, he will require Domino's help...

Shaken but not stirred.
Behind-the-scenes, Never Say Never Again represents Sean Connery's return to the iconic role that made him a star following a dozen-year absence. 

It's an unofficial Bond film as well, one born from producer Kevin McClory's (1926-2006) early efforts with Ian Fleming to first bring James Bond to the cinema in 1959. 

A lawsuit awarded McClory the rights to produce a remake of Thunderball, a story that he initiated, and which was known, over the years as both Warhead and James Bond of the Secret Service.   But because the film Never Say Never Again was unofficial at the time of its successful theatrical release, it could not make use of such "official" Bond film touches as Monty Norman's world-famous theme song, and the trademark gun barrel opening. 

For some, this is enough to disqualify the effort from serious consideration as a great Bond film.

The title of Never Say Never Again itself arises not from Fleming, but from Connery, who -- after 1971's Diamonds are Forever -- declared that he would never again don the tuxedo, order dry martinis and carry a license to kill.  So the movie title -- much like Algy's line quoted above -- plays on two amusing levels; both as Bond's declaration to Domino that he intends to retire; and as an in-joke aimed at Connery who, despite protestation, is back as Bond one more time.

The year 1983 was widely heralded as "The Battle of the Bonds" since it pitted Roger Moore's Octopussy against Connery's Never Say Never Again, yet Connery and Moore always professed an admiration and friendship for one another, outside of such competition. 

Just One More Game for the Rest of the World...

Domination, video game style.
Today, at least one scene in Never Say Never Again stands out as being a legitimate Bond classic. 

At approximately the hour-point of the narrative, James Bond tricks his way into Largo's casino in Nice, France. 

But rather than engage his wily opponent in high-stakes poker, or the oft-seen Baccarat (Chemin de Fer), Bond duels Largo in...a video game.

And it is no average video game, either. 

Rather, Largo has designed and constructed "Domination," a video game battle for ownership of the world itself.  The objective, Largo states, is "power."  Two players battle for territory, for land, while racking up dollars on the big screen.  The left-hand joystick controls two nuclear missiles that can be launched against an opponent; and the right-hand joystick controls missile shields which can block the W80 thermo-nuclear warheads. 

Players target with their lasers small geometric territories that light up on their screens.  The player that hits the territory first is the winner and owner of said territory.

Armchair general...
And Largo -- being a super-villain -- has wired his elaborate video game to deliver electric shocks to the players every time one's defenses are breached, or the enemy gets ahead. 

"Unlike armchair generals," suggests Largo, players of this game will "share" the pain of soldiers in the field. 

This is an important distinction in the world of Never Say Never Again.  Bond is one of those afroementioned soldiers in the field; and knows all too well about physical pain; but the world has had little use for James Bond and his skill-set post-Detente, and the men who deploy him in the field  (armchair generals like "M") have no idea how -- as he states early in the film --  "adrenaline" (another word for pain) provides him an edge in the heat of the moment.
And that's how Bond beats Largo, literally, at his own game here.  Largo may know better the game he created.  He's holding all the cards (as he's also holding the missing nuclear weapons...) but Bond still has his "edge" in the field to rely upon.  The pain of the electric shocks gives him just the kick he needs to get back in the game (come out of retirement) and fight back for "just one more game...for the rest of the world."

...versus a soldier in the field...
This tense, brilliantly-executed sequence with the Domination video game is the most significant in the film for a number of reasons.

First, it again reveals Bond out-of-his element in the modern, high-tech world.  This older, slower James Bond  is not part of the video game generation.  We are used to seeing him play and excel at cards, not manage a joystick.  So the game is a metaphor for Bond being out-of-step with the modern world.

Yet 007 soundly beats Largo here -- at the video game -- for the same reasons he ultimately defeats him in the larger narrative: because of his "edge," because the pain (delivered by the electric shocks, in this case) activates his adrenaline.

There's something about being a "soldier in the field" -- some combination of instincts and experience -- that takes over in Bond and refuses to "lose."  Largo -- for all his intelligence and savvy -- doesn't have that sense of experience, and the game sequence makes this point (right down to the use of game-styled W80s mimicking the plotline of nuclear blackmail).

Furthermore, after Bond defeats Largo, he gives up his monetary winnings for "one dance" with Domino. 

That too echoes the film's finale.  Bond retires from the service after foiling Largo's plans...and it's for one dance, again, with Domino.  They become lovers and Bond steadfastly refuses to return to duty, even with M begging.  The video game sequence telegraphs the idea of Bond's final, victorious dance after one last game for the rest of the world.

Two video game monsters, side-by-side.
In one truly great and telling visual composition, Kershner even reminds us that Largo is a creature of today, a video-game villain.  He stands perched beside an old arcade game on which a fantasy-styled monster has been painted, and the point is made by putting the two "creatures" in close-proximity. 

Even Largo's command center -- where Largo spends much of his time -- is highly computerized, consisting of a wall of screens and keyboards.  Largo even has a secret window (another form of viewing screen...) through which he can peek illicitly into Domino's dancing studio. 

Again, he's a watcher, not a doer -- an armchair general rather than a soldier in the field -- and that proves his undoing.  He doesn't understand what physical pain and danger can drive a man to do; can drive Bond to do.

They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore...

In shades of b&w, Bond's space in the frame is squeezed out.
I realize what I'm going to write next may anger some long-time Bond film fans, but Thunderball (1965) resides -- for this critic, anyway -- near the bottom of the 007 pantheon. 

It arrived after arguably the best two Bond films ever (From Russia with Love and Goldfinger) and at the height of the Bond craze of the mid-1960s...but it's nonetheless  a big, incoherent spectacle.  Thunderball is over-long, over-dull, and lacking in much by way of narrative or personal interest and impact. 

It's also the point in the series at which you can see Connery is growing bored with the role...and who can blame him? 

Furthermore, the much-talked abou underwater battle sequences in the film are plodding and poorly edited (filled with continuity errors and confusing angles).  The villains and Bond girl look great in Thunderball...but are given nothing of particular interest to do in the film.

More unconventional framing for a movie hero icon.
Thus, I find Never Say Never Again, the remake of Thunderball, superior to the original by a wide margin, and for two significant reasons. 

First, the 1983 film allows James Bond to age and evolve -- something the canon Bonds did not permit of this hero until the reboots with Daniel Craig. 

This idea of Bond aging (both gracefully and not so gracefully...) adds a layer of real human interest to the narrative.  Bond still has his edge; but it is it sharp enough -- in his mid 50s -- to get the job done?  That's the movie's big question, and Connery is great here at playing the same man we love and remember, but some time down the road toards mortality; when he has more yesterdays than tomorrows ahead of him.

And secondly, but of equal importance, director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back [1980] has executed a great tactic in the visual presentation of Never Say Never Again.  To put it bluntly, James Bond no longer owns the frame.  Rather, he intrudes into it and his space is intruded upon constantly.

Between a rock and hard place? More limited visual space for 007.
I always say that the medium of film reaches its apex when visual form echoes, reflects or augments film content, and that's precisely what Never Say Never Again accomplishes with tremendous flair. 

Remember, the overriding idea here is that Bond is a man out of step with the "new," high-tech but bloodless world of the 1980s.  He is not the swaggering, cocksure, center-of-the-frame hero of the 1960s.

It's a more dangerous world for the older, less-physically imposing Bond, and so he has to fight for a foothold in it every second.  Accordingly, Kershner provides the audience these great moments of tremendous spontaneity and danger, during which Bond must put his instincts (and that adrenaline; that edge...) to the test.  

In other words, Bond is not blocked and framed in Never Say Never Again like he is in the canon Bond films.  He is not an impervious figure of power.  Rather, he's visually jeopardized and threatened, almost constantly.

During a fight, Bond flees...into a slamming door.
For instance, during a deadly, extended fight at Shrublands -- which goes from a weight room, down a flight of stairs and into a working kitchen-- Bond attempts to escape his opponent by hiding, first and then running away, escaping. 

In a great and laugh-out-loud moment, a female chef flees the tight kitchen as the nemeses fight...and Bond tries to run after her...but the door slams in his face and he has a moment where -- using that edge -- he must improvise.  You can almost visualize Connery's Bond thinking, "thanks a lot, lady..." and then getting on with it.

Again and again, Kershner positions 007 in this unconventional and amusing fashion in the frame.  Emerging from behind a tree, even...skulking about.  Or in a tight shot of stark black-and-white shading inside his modern French villa; his available space in the wide-frame "cut off" by the off-screen but nonetheless considerable threat of Fatima Blush.

I noted above that Never Say Never Again is an edgier, more dangerous style of Bond film, and that feeling suffuses the film, thanks to the way that Kershner perpetually frames the iconic character.   Bond is more imperiled than ever before and as a result, the audience roots for him as never before too.  This isn't a non-plussed quipster sauntering through his movie in an unblemished white dinner jacket...he's a man who is imperiled and affected by what is happening around him in the frame, and must -- by power of his instincts and edge -- forge his own positive outcome.

Again, I must stress that this dedicated  visual approach welcomes the viewer in. We don't sit back and marvel at incredible stunts or special effects here.  Rather, we're in the field ourselves, with Bond, rooting for him to improvise and beat a much bigger, much more physically-imposing foe.

Furthermore, Kershner contrasts his visual depiction of Bond (fighting for survival and placement in the frame) with his depiction of the colorful, even flamboyant, highly idiosyncratic villains. 

Effortless, dangerous power in the foreground.
Fatima Blush, for instance,  is often filmed from a low angle (atop staircases, or looming over Bond, right before her demise), giving the impression of tremendous power and constancy. 

When she detonates a bomb in Bond's hotel in the Bahamas, Fatima does so without even a casual look over a shoulder, and Kershner's gorgeous framing again suggests a villain in total, effortless control of the environs.  

Again, look at that careful, beautiful framing and placement above for just a second.  What you see there is raw, well-established power dominating the foreground of the frame, while chaos reigns -- unimportant -- behind her.

Kershner also lets seemingly spontaneous, apparently unplanned moments from Klaus Maria Brandauer play out for maximum impact.  This villain is a dangerous character, and the actor virtually steals every second he can get in the limelight...and perhaps more too.  This Largo is a power-hungry grabber, a drama queen, a man who solicits attention, and Brandauer goes nuts with the role.

Swapping spit with Largo.
Whether it's delicately blowing a  soothing kiss on his electrically-shocked hands after losing to Bond  in Domination, or kissing Domino for so long -- and so passionately -- that a line of spit visibly connects their lips, Largo "dominates" the frame too.

Again, Kershner's patience and unique approach to the performances (particularly with the quirky Branduer) make Never Say Never Again feel more dangerous, more spontaneous, more edgy and immediate than many official Bond films in the valhalla.  Where they rigorously adhere to a specific formula and template, Never Say Never Again attempts to explode it, presenting a vulnerable, mature Bond who must, again and again, really fight (and improvise) for his life. 

In my book, Brandauer is the most deadly threat to Bond since Goldfinger; an amused sociopath who is drunk with power, and this Bond -- going back to Ian Fleming's literary vision -- seems the most human (at least until Daniel Craig came along...) 

Also, there's something I find absolutely fascinating about these powerful, alpha males who are past their physical prime.  Kirk (William Shatner) in The Search for Spock and Bond (Sean Connery) in Never Say Never Again

Look at how they continue to lead; how they dominate, how they find crafty, tricky means to assert and re-assert superiority over dangerous situations even though they are no longer the physical powerhouses they were in their youth. 

I don't know, but in some way, an older James Bond and an older Captain Kirk -- forced now to rely on their wits and experience -- are infinitely more appealing and heroic to me than the characters were as dashing, insufferably handsome, youths.  They have to work harder for what once came naturally to them, and in bracing that challenge, I find them infinitely more heroic and sympathetic.

Never Say Never Again suffers a bit from a weak finale (Domino spears Largo and the whole affair is over...), but otherwise the film must rank as one of the best of all the Bond films.  It showcasess another side of the hero, and in defining Bond's "edge" helps us to understand -- finally, after twenty years and a dozen films -- what makes this hero tick; what makes him thrive.

Just as the Bond character was growing stale and old, and distinctly non-edgy, a fifty year old Connery (and a brilliantly-stylish Kershner) provide the hero just what he (and the audience...) needed:  a healthy dose of gratuitous sex and violence...shaken, not stirred.

Valedictory head-butts for everyone...


  1. Grayson3:58 PM

    I really should watch some of Kershner's earlier films.

    Connery was absolutely great as Bond. Roger Moore seems like a really nice guy, although I never totally bought into him as Bond. I have read that some of his other work is far superior, especially his stuff pre-Bond. Most interesting is that he was originally considered to play Bond for Dr. No back in 1962.

    Maybe it is time to read through all of the Ian Fleming novels, which is something that I have meant to do for years.

    Great review, John!

  2. Interesting review, John.

    I'm not a big fan of Thunderball either (it has a great opening sequence but like all too many post-Connery Bond films, it doesn't have much worth remembering after that.) However, I'm also not a big fan of Never Say Never Again--perhaps because it seems like one of those action thrillers that seemed great on paper but not all that entertaining when you're actually watching it in the theatre.

    I remember actually going to see it when with high hopes back when it was first released and feeling an acute sense of disappointment. Yes, it does deserve credit for taking a different approach from Octopussy and A View to a Kill but in the end, different didn't necessarily mean better. It just meant different.

    Perhaps the film improves with age. Some day I'll have to rent it and see.

  3. Hi Grayson:

    I've become a big Kershner fan of late, and Never Say Never Again doesn't disappoint (which makes me think a re-evaluation of Robocop 2 is in order as well...).

    I don't dislike Roger Moore in the slightest, either -- I enjoy his outings as Bond on the basis for what they are, and I grew up with him in the role -- but I still prefer Sean Connery as Bond. But heck, a guilty pleasure of mine is the Roger Moore movie Ffolkes. I love that movie and Moore's performance.

    Hi Tonio:

    You know, I went through a spell where I sort of remembered Never Say Never Again poorly. I didn't think it was aging well, and the effects dated the film.

    Then I screened it for the first time in years this week (on Blu-Ray) and was surprised how good it is.

    It really stands up as a fine Bond film, and more than that, a pretty great movie overall.

    Brandauer is superb in the film as Largo, and Kershner found the key to understanding Connery's Bond at this point in his career -- that edginess; that reliance on instincts and the moment; and then he used that idea in his unconventional visuals/use-of-frame.

    Again, like I said in the works really, really well. And that video game scene is terrific, holds the key to the movies themes and sub-text.

    So yeah, you might give it a whirl again and see what you think of Never Say Never Again today. Maybe you'll like it better. I certainly came away liking it better than I thought I would.

    Thank you both for the very kind comments, I hope you are both well.


  4. Okay, I'll rise to the bait and defend THUNDERBALL as my fave Bond film of the entire series. You've got Tom Jones belting out the theme song as only he can which is a nice way to start things.

    The prologue is quite interesting in how vicious Bond fights with the SPECTRE operative. For the time, this must've seemed quite brutal but it works. And then you have Bond taking off in a jetpack!

    I also think that THUNDERBALL has one of the loviest, sexiest Bond girl to date with Claudine Auger as Domino. Sorry, Kim Basinger but you're not even in the same league - not in looks or acting.

    Not to mention the film ends with an epic, incredibly choreographed underwater battle that is just amazing.

    Plus, I love the name of Largo's boat - the Disco Volante and was loved that Mr. Bungle named their second album after it.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I do really enjoy NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN but, for the most part, it feels unnecessary and, at times, Connery looks a little silly running around shooting and beating people up. I certainly do prefer it over the Moore Bond film that came out at that time and I'll take Connery at any age as Bond over Moore, that's for sure!

  5. Hi J.D.

    Ah, a Thunderball defender! Excellent!

    No, seriously, your opinion on the matter is welcome here, my friend.

    In fact, I used to have a friend who also thought Thunderball was the best of the Bond movies, so you are not alone. Not at all.

    I don't share that opinion, however.

    The movie starts off strong...but ends with incoherence and confusion. It's over-long, over-edited and short on story.

    And Claudine Auger never won an Oscar, did she? :)

    No, just kidding. She's absolutely gorgeous, but she doesn't have much of a character to play. She's supposed to be fiery and passionate, but her Domino is just kind of vacant.

    Also, I vehemently (but respectfully...) disagree about Connery looking silly in Never Say Never Again.

    Here, Bond uses his wits and improvises to destroy his foes. It's not like he just physically out-muscles them. I think Connery looks great, and still moves great in Never Say Never Again.

    But thank you so much for adding to the debate, and bringing in another viewpoint. Great comment, my friend!


  6. SteveW1:24 PM

    Wish I could share your enthusiasm for "Never Say Never Again" (or, for that matter, "Star Trek III"). It's better paced than "Thunderball," to be sure, though still overlong. In my book it ultimately doesn't make a case for itself as a new type of Bond film and doesn't really justify Connery's return to the role. After a few tentative jokes about his age early on, the film then goes about pretending that he isn't really as old as he is. He races motorcycles, plays video games, beds much younger women, etc. etc. There's almost nothing about his age being an issue at all. Truthfully, I don't really want a Bond film with "depth," or one that explores the aging ideal of the Bond character--but if you're going to set up that expectation, you can't really go about fudging it like this film does. Brandhauer is okay, but he never really comes across as a serious threat to Connery. To me it's a fairly routine string of action set pieces that don't achieve the polished high style of the best of the series. And I say that regretfully, despite sharing your admiration for Kershner and the stylish quality he brought to "The Empire Strikes Back" and other films like "The Eyes of Laura Mars."

  7. I never knew you spoke Bond, JKM! And so well, too. You bring up some great elements in Never Say Never Again, and Kershner's wonderful direction in it (and the direction it took with Sean Connery's second return to the Bond series--DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER being the first). I have to agree with much of your points concerning the film and how it compared with the Roger Moore (and Timothy Dalton) entries. Like J.D., I am Connery man. I did enjoy OCTOPUSSY, though. But, RM was way too old to entirely carry it off--and don't get me started with A VIEW TO A KILL! I hated that one, for sure.

    I admire NSNA immensely and thought how they used Connery's age and experience with the character a real strength of the film. Plus, it has one hell of a villain/henchwoman duo! This may sound like a cop-out, but both you and J.D. bring up valid points re: THUNDERBALL. I lean more toward FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER for Connery as Bond favorites, but the fourth installment has some absolutely extraordinary moments (and women!). Still, there are moments that do drag some in its 130 minute run-time. And, I think it starts better than it ends.

    Never Say Never Again, though, doesn't escape from silly moments. That launching out of the submarine missile sequence and the running in their boxers scene I could probably do without ;-). However, Sean Connery looks and acts great here. I think he looks better in NSNA then he did in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (a dozen years later!!!). How'd he do that?!?

    I love the analysis here, especially your key points of how Kershner framed Bond for this film. Great stuff, John. You, sir, are on a roll! Thanks very much for this, John.

  8. John Kenneth Muir:

    I do agree that the film is long but then so is ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and that is pretty gripping, involving for its entire duration. Of course, both are very different films but I guess it all depends on how involving you find what you're watching.

    "And Claudine Auger never won an Oscar, did she? :)"

    Hah! Touche, my friend. Of course, Basinger hadn't an Oscar at the time she did NEVER SAY NEVER but I digress.

    "She's absolutely gorgeous, but she doesn't have much of a character to play. She's supposed to be fiery and passionate, but her Domino is just kind of vacant."

    Really? I didn't think so at all. My only complaint is that she didn't get enough screen time and so maybe we don't get as invested in her story as much as we should.

    As for Connery looking silly... I do like the bits where he does use his wits and the video game showdown is pretty cool, 'tis true. But watching him running around with a shotgun... I dunno. Of course, he did it again in THE UNTOUCHABLES but then you've got someone like De Palma to make you look pretty cool and formidable.

    I have to say it has been ages since I've watched this Bond film and really should give it another viewing.

    I just finished watching the Lazenby Bond film which I hadn't seen in at least 10 years and really enjoyed it! WOw, what a gritty, emotionally-involving and dare I say downbeat Bond film!

  9. This may be a useless comment but I refused to read your article on Never Say Never Again BECAUSE I'm afraid I'll end up saying 'damn it JKM, now I HAVE to see this' because I refuse to watch it since it isn't true Bond canon (though, technically, the story is Thunderball).

    So, in the end, I am complimenting you on making me want to watch stuff I've either never seen or never wanted to see! You have the touch. . .but I must resist this time.

  10. Hi everyone:

    SteveW: Well, it sounds like you're not a fan of this one. :)

    But to each his own...or as Kirk says in Search for Spock - c'est la vie!

    I do feel the aging aspect of Bond is a little more consistent/present in Never Say Never Again than you might remember, from the early jokes regarding the Bentley and his time spent teaching, to the late decision to go into retirement (mentioned twice in the third act); and certainly, the use of framing throughout suggests Bond is not a superman, but a guy fighting for his life and stay one step ahead of the opposition.

    We are in complete agreement, however about our admiration for Kershner! I'm going to watch his other films again and report back here about 'em.

    Thank you so much for your great comment, Steve -- I appreciate reading your point of view (and like I said, we don't have to agree to talk about the relative/debatable merits!)

    Le0pard13: An insightful comment, as usual! I like your point (and I have to agree with it, as much as I like the film): it starts better than it ends. That is very, very true, and a solid interpretation of NSNA, in my book.

    I also agree with you that Connery looks better here than he did in Diamonds are Forever 12 years earlier. Here he is a very fit guy in his mid-50s (and incidentally, still some five years younger than Roger Moore; so if people feel he looks silly in NSNA, Moore must look even more silly in his last three or four outings...). But we also agree on our taste in Bonds: Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, etc. Thanks for some great commentary!

    J.D. I love you, man! I hope I wasn't too glib in my earlier response to your first comment...I was just having a little fun.

    And you make a sterling point about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. A great, emotional movie, and quite a long one at that. It works, even at that length. I could not agree more about the quality of the film. I've been thinking of reviewing it here on the blog; truly one of my favorites.

    You're also no doubt correct about Claudine Auger's screentime. Maybe that's it. Thunderball just feels so bloated to far as I'm concerned, you don't really connect meaningfully with any of the personalities in the film; even in terms of what we expect in an action/Bond-styled film.

    But again, different strokes, right? I enjoy the fact that we can debate the whole Thunderball vs. NSNA experience!

    Will: Well, you've GOT to watch Never Say Never Again, my friend, because Sony now owns the film, and it has become, actually, official Bond canon! So don't miss out! :)

    Thank you for all such insightful and interesting comments on this review. I appreciate your readership, and your fellowship.


  11. JKM:

    Ah yes, agree to disagree, my friend! You certainly raised some very good points and I really should watch the film again. It really has been too long.

    And I would love to see you do a review of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. I was really struck at how atypical a Bond film it really is!

  12. A great post.some comments:

    1."(particularly after the toothless and farcical-if enjoyable-MOONRAKER [1979]": I would argue that EON itself had already begun a course correction towards greater realism. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) was a remarkably down to Earth Bond film, especially in comparison to MOONRAKER's Bond in space plot.For that matter, 1983's OCTOPUSSY (NSNA's opponent in the BATTLE OF THE BONDS)was also comparatively realistic. Of course, EON then promptly scuttled this approach with the ludicrous A VIEW TO A KILL.

    2. "loosely a remake of 1965's THUNDERBALL...": Depends on how loose your definition of loose is. I would argue that it is a fairly close adaptation.

    3.(...this story of loose nukes seems more timely and relevant in the 1980s...than it did in the 1960s,...): Well, seeing as how THUNDERBALL came out three years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'm not quite sure that I would concur.

    4. THUNDERBALL: I think that my reservations against the film have to do with the fact that it was the first "formula" Bond film. The previous three Bond films were each quite distinct from one another: DR NO, an exercise in Sax Rohmer style pulp supervillainy; FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE, a tense Cold War spy thriller; GOLDFINGER, pure OTT popcorn entertainment. With THUNDERBALL,however, EON evidently decided to start using the GOLDFINGER approach over and over again.

    5. Aging Heroes: I'm with you on this one. There is something quite poignant in the sight of an aging action hero. I suppose that that is why ROBIN AND MARIAN is my favorite Robin Hood film.

  13. Hi Syon,

    A great, thoughtful comment. Thank you for posting it.

    You are absolutely correct. I think EON had to pull back after Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only is actually my favorite Moore Bond. I think Octopussy is enormously entertaining too...

    2. You are right again -- depends on how you define loosely. I guess I was thinking that Thunderball did not feature the Domination video-game smackdown (the thematic lynch-pin of Never Say Never Again...), the motorcycle chase, the Domino-sold-into-sexual slavery(!) sub-plot, and the retinal scan gambit by SPECTRE. But certainly you are right that broadly, the plot is the same: two loose nukes!

    3. A good point about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yep. Can't really debate that one; except to say that what SPECTRE does here is more like nuclear/international terrorism, and that was becoming more an issue in the 1980s; as opposed to the CMC, which was about state against state brinkmanship. But your point is valid and true.

    4. I love this point. The idea of "formula" Bond. That's a solid interpretation of Thunderball, and the reasons (at least for me) that it doesn't work; and doesn't quite live up to the previous entries in the franchise. Nicely said.

    5. I've got a thing for aging heroes too...tempered machismo. And I love Robin and Marian...I saw that in theaters as a little kid, and still remember it.

    Some great insights in your comment, thanks for posting!

    all my best,

  14. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Hello everybody!

    Fine review, although I do not agree in every statement.
    First I have to say, that Roger Moore is three years older than Sean Connery and second, Moore doesn't look older in his last two movies than Connery in this one.
    In his first four appearances Moore even looks younger than Connery in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER did.
    We also see, from Connerys first movie DR. NO to Moores last appearance in A VIEW TO A KILL "one" Bond character, who, of course, ages. We see his and Tracy's wedding, we see/hear Anya Amasova talk about his wife in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and we see him at Tracy's Grave in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
    So I never bother about his age.
    But I have to admit, that NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN was a good improvement to show older Bond problems.
    And that's really funny.
    I also agree that THUNDERBALL could be a bit shorter. Some underwater scenes are too long, but in 1965 they were state of the art.
    Anyway, I prefer THUNDERBALL.
    Why? Because it is classic Bond film. You have, like you mentioned, the Bond formula in it. And for me Connery doesn't seemed bored (in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE he did).
    Kim Basinger is/was sexy, but Claudine Auger is one or maybe the hottest Bondgirl of all time and do not forget LUCIANA PALUZZI!!! She was far better than Barbara Carrera who acted over the top.
    I also prefer Adolfo Celis Largo. His character seems to know what he does. Brandauer is also fine, but he is a bit too much bubbly.
    Than we have of course Tom Jones and John Barrys score.
    I really don't like LeGrands score for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. That music fits for pure comedy, but not for a Bond film.
    Than we see all 00-agents sitting on their chairs in THUNDERBALL, what is quite interesting.
    I really enjoy Connery in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, also the action scenes, but THUNDERBALL is far better.
    AND, I'm also a fan of Connery's second and third Bond film.

    My top 10:
    1. The Spy Who Loved Me
    2. Goldfinger
    3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
    4. The Living Daylights
    5. From Russia With Love
    6. For Your Eyes Only
    7. Live And Let Die
    8. Casino Royale (2006)
    9. Licence To Kill
    10. Thunderball

    By the way, my favourite Bond actors are Connery and Moore, followed by underestimated Timoty Dalton.
    Lazenby played in one great Bond film, but he never had strong charisma or starpower like Connery and Moore.