Saturday, 22 September 2012

Never Say Never Again (1983)

To give you a taste of what we’ll be doing on the Bondathon weekend, we’ve had a bit of a trial run with one of the non-official Bond films, Never Say Never Again. We tossed a coin to see who would blog and who would podcast, and I won the coin toss and so decided to blog 

As you may know (or not know), I’m not a huge fan of Thunderball. It’s something to be endured rather than enjoyed. So sitting through Never Say Never Again (or Thunderball II: The Revenge as I like to think of it) was never going to be first on my list of things to do on a Friday night. But watch it we did. And I have to say… if I never see this wretched abomination of a film again, it will be too soon.

The story of the making of Never Say Never Again is a fascinating one, as I learned from Rhys’ excellent article on it. I have to say, if I was Kevin McClory, having fought so long and so hard to get my Bond movie made, I would be bitterly disappointed with this as the result. From the very opening (with a theme song that makes ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ a contender for Best Bond Theme by comparison) to the cheesy cartoon-esque wink at the camera Connery plants on us at the end, the film is dreadful.

It largely follows the plot of Thunderball; SPECTRE agent Largo steals two nuclear warheads and plans to blackmail the world, so Bond has to go get them back and avert disaster. There’s the usual globetrotting (taking in the south of France and the Bahamas amongst other), the usual beautiful women and the usual large-scale action sequences and stunts. Everything you expect from a Bond film.

But what happened here?

One of many things I was surprised to learn was that the screenplay was not written by McClory; it was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. who must take the vast amount of responsibility for this stinker. The characterisation is all to cock- Edward Fox’s M is belligerent and miserable throughout, forcing Bond to go to a health spa to get rid of ‘free radicals’; Alec McCowen’s Q is hoping for ‘lots of gratuitous sex and violence’ which is frankly ridiculous.

Largo, the main villain (played by Klaus Maria Brandauer), isn’t a great threat, coming off as a creepy little runt who comes out with charming lines like ‘I’d cut your throat’ when Domino asks what he’s do if she left him and childishly smashing up his studio with an axe when he sees Bond kissing Domino before leaving her chained up and attempting to sell her off to a mob. The first showdown between Bond and Largo at the charity ball isn’t played with any kind of tension and the metaphor of playing a videogame for world domination is as subtle as a brick, coming off as a macho pissing contest instead.

Barbara Carrera absolutely chews the scenery up as Fatima Blush, the femme fatale SPECTRE agent who is first seen as a nurse at the health spa; she’s grooming Jack Petachi to gain access to the warheads. She devolves into a crazed loon, demanding that Bond writes that she was the best he ever had (which gives Bond the chance to shoot her with an exploding pen).

The direction is lacklustre and workmanlike in places, so it was a surprise to find out that this was directed by none other than Irvin Kershner- who directed Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. A lot of the underwater scenes look like they may have been shot in someone’s swimming pool, with a scene where Bond is chased by sharks utilising less believable rubber props than were used in Jaws. The fight scenes are often poorly choreographed, the CGI is staggeringly bad (even for 1983 standards) and there are some utterly bizarre script choices that absolutely beggar belief- Jack’s death by Fatima throwing a snake into his car being one of them.

Bond has a reputation for being a womaniser and that’s played to the hilt here- bedding no less than four women throughout- but the sex scene between Sean Connery and Barbara Carrera has been dreadfully cut together and there is something remarkably uncomfortable about the scene where Bond poses as a masseur to get to talk to Domino- Connery was in his early fifties at the time, whilst Kim Basinger was thirty. In fact, the more I think about it, there’s a rather unpleasant borderline misogynistic streak that runs through this movie which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

However, that’s not to say the whole enterprise is entirely beyond redemption- whilst it was a struggle, I did find a few things I liked about it. Max Von Sydow makes for an impressive Blofeld, giving the few scenes he’s in a much-needed kick; I also liked Bernie Casey who gave a decent turn as Felix Leiter. There are a few nice lines throughout that raised a wry smile rather than a disbelieving snort but they were few and far between.

I could continue to run this film into the ground, but I’m not going to. I hope this final sentence sums up how bad I found this film: Never Say Never Again makes Octopussy look good.



Rhys’ podcast review of Never Say Never Again will follow shortly.

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