The viewer may be forgiven for feeling a little waterlogged after watching this fourth major installment in the Bond series. "Thunderball" has enough underwater scenes to keep a marlin happy. If it doesn't live up to its illustrious predecessors, "Dr. No," "From Russia With Love," and "Goldfinger," well, it still has Connery, and that's a plus in anybody's book.
Released in 1965, the film focuses on an issue of concern both then and now: The threat of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. In "Thunderball," Emilio Largo, the number-two honcho in the world-crime syndicate SPECTRE, steals two atomic bombs and demands a fortune from the U.S. and Britain or he'll blow up a city. Bond stumbles onto the scheme while enjoying a stay at a posh health club. It doesn't take him long to head for the Caribbean and get knee deep, nay, over his head, in plots, double crosses, bad guys, and beautiful women.
As 007, Sean Connery was never more charming or self-assured as here, his double entendres flying as fast as ever. He also never looked better or more fit, just the right age for the man described by Bond author Ian Fleming as perennially thirty-five. But the film moves at a slower pace than the previous films and especially slow compared to the latest Brosnan vehicles, where something blows up every thirty seconds. Still, there is a beautifully choreographed underwater battle at the end that is well worth the wait.
Adolfo Celi as Largo is not as colorful (or evil) a villain as others in the series, despite his eye patch and swimming pool full of sharks; and the main female interest, Claudine Auger as Domino, is not as characterful as other Bond heroines. Bernard Lee plays "M," Lois Maxwell is the original Moneypenny, and, as always, Desmond Llewelyn plays "Q." Is there any actor who has played the same film role longer than Llewelyn? Lucianna Paluzzi (what a name!) plays Fiona, a SPECTRE hit man, er, woman, and this time out Rik Van Nutter plays the CIA agent, Felix Leiter.
The movie was directed by Terence Young, who had done the first two Bond films and made this one his last. Some eighteen years later, Connery would take his final bow as Bond in a remake of "Thunderball" called "Never Say Never Again." It seemed even longer the second time around.
The film's Panavision screen size has been largely preserved in a 2.13:1 aspect ratio, and the picture quality is mostly good. Definition is sharp and colors are bright and vivid. However, there is an above-average number of jagged and fluttering lines that may be distracting to people whose DVD players are unable to alleviate the condition.
The audio, too, is erratic. "Thunderball" was apparently the first of the Bond films to be recorded in stereo; remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 it presents a decent, if narrow front-speaker spread, some interesting rear-channel effects, and added impact and clarity over the earlier mono of the series. However, the sonics are somewhat bright, hard, and edgy, with an annoying tendency to sound louder in the musical passages than in the dialogue. The result is that you might have to readjust your volume control several times to find a proper compromise setting that makes voices loud enough to be heard without blowing your shoelaces off when music and special effects take over.
As with all of MGM's new special-edition Bonds, this one has a ton of extras, starting with a clever, animated menu design. Within, one will find two pages of bonus items. A pair of full-feature commentaries head the bill, one a compilation of insights by the late director, Terence Young, and others, and a second with more members of the cast and crew. Two documentaries on the making of the film are included and one featurette, as well as an extensive stills gallery and a series of TV, radio, and theatrical trailers. Finally, MGM insert their usual informative booklet into the case. Language choices are English and French (monaural only); subtitles are English and French; and scene selections number an impressive fifty-two.
"Thunderball" seems more prolonged than its two hours and ten minutes, maybe because by the fourth issue the franchise was already showing signs of wearing thin. Later, more gimmicks and jokes would be added, and more recently special effects have taken over. But Connery will always be 007, and even at a leisurely pace he exudes more screen charisma than any subsequent Bond ever has. Recommended? Of course.
"Thunderball" may be purchased separately or in a boxed set that includes "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Live and Let Die," "A View to a Kill," "Die Another Day," and "Octopussy."