Beyond the normal canon of Saltzman and/or Broccoli-produced Bond films, there have been three anomalies. The first was an early, 1954, black-and-white television production of "Casino Royale" with Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as the villain. The second was the silly comic parody of "Casino Royale" made in 1967 with David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen taking turns as Bond. And the third is the subject of our review, "Never Say Never Again," the 1983 reworking of "Thunderball," starring that most capable Bond of all, Sean Connery. Apparently, Connery had secured rights to the story years before and decided after a twelve-year absence to return to the role and have the film produced himself.
The result was not quite the world-shaking event it was supposed to be, but it is a commendable Bond entry, with much of the familiar gimmicky of the regular series replaced by mystery and intrigue and much of the customary double entendres replaced by witty and sophisticated dialogue.
I've always thought Sean Connery got better as an actor as he grew older. It might appear that at age fifty-three he was a bit over-the-hill for the part, yet while he certainly appears more mature, he is as dashing and capable as ever as the world's greatest super spy. Indeed, he looks more trim and fit here than he did in "Diamonds Are Forever" a dozen years before. Viewers also forget that Roger Moore is two years older than Connery, and Moore made "Octopussy" at the same time as "Never Say Never" and made "A View To A Kill" a couple of years later! For my money, Connery could come back as Bond any time, especially after seeing him in "Entrapment," perhaps playing a Bond pulled out of retirement for one last case as Sherlock Holmes was persuaded to return in "His Last Bow."
Anyway, as "Never Say Never Again" begins, the double-0 agents have been decommissioned and Bond shipped off to a health farm. "Too many free radicals," says "M." "They're toxins that destroy the body and the brain, caused by eating too much red meat and white bread and too many dry martinis." "Then," says Bond after a moment's reflection, "I shall cut out the white bread, sir."
He shows up at the health farm in his old supercharged Bentley. "They don't make them like that anymore," says the doorman. Nor do they make Bonds like Connery any more. When a nurse asks him from across the room for a urine sample, "Will you fill this beaker for me?" Bond answers, "From here?" Later that afternoon there is one of the best fight scenes in the series, between Bond and a muscular henchman from SPECTRE. Yes, it seems no matter where 007 goes, trouble follows. In this secluded resort Bond stumbles onto yet another of SPECTRE's nefarious schemes to exact enormous sums of money from the world, this time by stealing thermonuclear devices and threatening to blow up key cities. SPECTRE doesn't stand for "Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion" for nothing. The double-0's are back in business.
No Bond film is worth its salt without strong villains, reliable heroines, and a solid supporting cast; and here "Never Say Never Again" comes through, especially since the plot, as I've said, is merely a rewriting of "Thunderball." Klaus Maria Brandauer makes an effective heavy as Maximillan Largo, head of SPECTRE's operations, a quietly sinister madman. He is one of the few actors on a par with the likes of Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No) and Gert Frobe (Goldfinger) as worthy and credible opponents for Bond. As the chief of SPECTRE, the redoubtable Max von Sydow makes an equally formidable Ernest Stavro Blofeld. Then there are the two female leads: the lovely Kim Basinger as Domino, Largo's girlfriend and Bond's chief love interest when she finds out Largo had her brother murdered; and the sultry Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush, a man-hating femme fatale who vamps her way around the screen like a silent-movie siren. Supporting roles are played by Bernie Casey as CIA-agent Felix Leiter; Edward Fox as "M"; Alec McCowen as "Q"; Pamela Salem as Miss Moneypenny; and for comedy relief Rowan Atkinson as a British civil servant, Nigel Small-Fawcett.
Director Irvin Kershner ("The Flim Flam Man," "The Eyes of Laura Mars," "The Empire Strikes Back") and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. ("Papillon," "The Parallax View," "Three Days of the Condor") maintain a high level of audience involvement without resorting to extensive gimmickry. There is one high-powered motorcycle Bond uses and a watch with a laser beam; that's about it. The rest is old-fashioned action, intrigue, and atmosphere, the locales set in the Bahamas, the South of France, Monaco, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Then there's the smart dialogue. When Bond tells Domino about Largo's treachery, they're on a dance floor in front of a hundred people. "Your brother's dead," says Bond. "Keep dancing." When Bond first meets Ms. Blush, she water skis up onto a verandah and into his arms. "How reckless of me," she says, "I made you all wet." "Yes," Bond replies, "but my martini's still dry." And my favorite line, Bond saying, "Could he have used a false eye?" and "M" replying, "Oh, do come along, Bond!"
Yes, do come along, because there are a couple of minor drawbacks that keep this Bond film out of the top five. The ending is entirely formulaic, purely by the book, and goes on too long to boot. The concluding underwater scenes were better in "Thunderball," although that one went on too long as well. Worse still is the absence from "Never Say Never Again" of Monty Norman's and John Barry's familiar Bond theme music. Without the rights to these trademark musical scores, the new movie relies on tunes by Michel LeGrand and a theme song sung by Lani Hall (with a trumpet solo by Herb Alpert), neither of which cut it. Nor does the absence of the usual sexy Bond opening-credits do the film any good. It isn't the same without the music and titles, and it proves that we sometimes take our blessings too much for granted, only missing things when we're forced to go without them.
The DVD picture quality is about on a par with other early Bond transfers, colorful but perhaps a shade soft in detail. There is little grain noticeable in this 2.17:1 ratio Panavision reproduction, and the image gives little cause for complaint.
The sound, though, is a rather ordinary two-channel stereo that comes across in Dolby Surround as rather ordinary two-channel stereo. Occasionally, something goes on in the rear channels but not often.
Unlike the Special 007 Editions from MGM, this one comes with virtually no extras. English and Spanish are offered as spoken languages; French and Spanish for subtitles. There's an informational booklet insert, thirty-two scene selections, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. No more. Also note what one of our DVDTown readers already commented on in the Forum, that MGM sent out an initial shipment of this disc with a missing segment, about four minutes, right after scene nineteen. You can't miss the omission. Bond walks straight out of a closet into a video game with the villain, Largo, with no explanatory transition between. If you should get hold of one of these defective issues, you can either return it to the store you purchased it at, or you can exchange it by calling MGM's Customer Relations Department at (310) 449-3175.
Although "Never Say Never Again" was originally a Warner Brothers/Orion Pictures production, the DVD is, as I said, being distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. The fact that they are doing nothing to publicize it may be further proof that the film is the orphan of the Bond series. But orphan or not, "Never Say Never Again" stands as one of the most sophisticated of the Bonds and an entry no Bond fan should be without.