While watching Skyfall (2012) a few weeks back, I was struck by all the quips about James Bond's (Daniel Craig's) advancing age, and the film's reckoning with powerful idea that "time has passed." The new 007 film clearly recognizes that time waits for no man, and preserves no man. This thematic strand reminded me that another film in the franchise (at least unofficially) also played with those very ideas once upon a time.
Of course, that film is Never Say Never Again (1983), the return of Sean Connery to the 007 role after an absence of a dozen years. The film came out during the very year that many media outlets dubbed "The Battle of the Bonds" because Roger Moore's Octopussy (1983) was also released.
Perhaps the quality I most admire about Never Say Never Again is its ability to pit an older, but still in good-shape Bond, against a buttoned-down era that seems, well, drained of life 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..."
|In matters of death, SPECTRE is strictly impartial...|
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 -- a span 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.
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.
|Shaken but not stirred.|
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.
|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 that's how Bond beats Largo, literally, at his own game here.
Largo may know better the game he created, of course. 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...|
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 same sense of experience, and the game sequence makes this point.
|Two video game monsters, side-by-side.|
Again, he's a watcher, not a doer -- an armchair general rather than a soldier in the field -- and that quality proves his undoing. He doesn't understand what physical pain and danger can drive a man to do; what they can drive Bond to do.
The idea of video-games and computers taking over the world is one of the "big" ideas of the cinema of 1983, as we have seen from War Games, Superman III, and even the horror anthology, Nightmares.
The overwhelming fear expressed in these films is that our technology will run amok, and challenge human civilization. Never Say Never Again is "one of the pack" and it updates Bond for the video game age as much as Skyfall updates Bond for the Drone War Age.
|In shades of black and white, Bond's space in the frame is squeezed out.|
Pretty clearly, Never Say Never Again is a special Bond film for one reason primarily: it acknowledges that Bond is actually a human being who ages, and not an unflappable superhero in a white dinner jacket. This 1983 film thus allows James Bond to age and evolve -- something the canon Bonds did not permit of this particular hero until the reboots with Daniel Craig.