13 April 2011

BlogalongaBond- THUNDERBALL Review

Objects may be less exciting than they appear in image...
As penance for being all contrarian about the larger-than-life elements of Goldfinger last month, I was fixed up with Thunderball, which is so down to Earth that it's underwater. A lot. And not a lot of it is hugely interesting. That's right, folks- my crusade through BlogalongaBond has hit its first bum note.

SPECTRE return after an absence of one film, and they hijack a couple of atomic bombs and hold the UK and the USA to ransom, threatening to annihilate one of their cities each, unless the governments pay up within a week. MI6 dispatch all of their 00 agents around the globe in search of the stolen nukes, and typically, James Bond ends up in Nassau, rather than his originally assigned destination in Canada.

It's only in researching Thunderball after viewing that I noticed the first four Bond films were released annually between 1962 and 1965, but it's only in Thunderball that the strain begins to show. This adaptation was intended to be the first Bond outing back when Eon Productions got to work on the character, but they decided to hold it back for budgetary reasons. And then when it was released, it was delayed three months from September to December 1965, because it would otherwise be impossible to edit the film to an acceptable standard. I'd argue that the delay didn't help.

The single biggest annoyance in the film is the editing. It's no surprise to me that this was editor Ernest Hosler's only Bond film, because he made a total pig's ear of it. First off, about 90% of all the transitions are wipes. Wipes here, wipes there, wipes up and down, and even splitting up a scene at one point. You know when you try to wipe something up and it just spreads it around? That's all Hosler's wipes do, as the film reaches out beyond the two hour mark.

And the added length is especially annoying given how all of the scenes seem to be cut within an inch of their usefulness to the narrative. It doesn't quicken the pace, it just makes it look sloppy, and the slop is then wiped around. By a fucking wipe. Terence Young, who also worked on the first two Bonds, seems just as worn out as everything else about the film- the brutality and effectiveness of Bond vs. Grant in From Russia With Love now seems like a distant memory compared to the cartoonish Benny Hill-style speeding-up.

On a more positive note, I found it interesting to see the character of Fiona Volpe directly call out 007 on his routine seduction of women towards the side of right and virtue, which was so questionable with Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. She marks herself as a more driven Bond girl than most, and of course, she's the first redhead. This meant I liked her a lot, until I remembered that her single-mindedness, coupled with the fact she has tits, made her destined to be a human shield for everybody's favourite philandering bastard. Then he turns Domino, the villain's mistress, onto the side of right and virtue instead.

I've been quite harsh to Bond himself in the last couple of months, but I'm finding it difficult to get into the swing of identifying with him. Sean Connery continues to ooze charisma in the role, which makes it easier. As does the fact that the villain is shite in this one. Emilio "Number Two" Largo's plan all seems so elementary for SPECTRE- the obscured Blofeld's endorsement of the plan in the beginning seems almost like a parent sticking their kid's dribbly watercolour daubings up on the fridge. And by comparison to the histrionics of Auric Goldfinger, he just looks like a eye-patched twazzock, which he kind of is.

I can at least dish out a bit more praise on a technical level. They've got the ability to film underwater in this one, and golly, do they let you know about it. I didn't find the then-groundbreaking underwater fight scene at the end particularly exciting, but then let's never undervalue the great music of John Barry. There are a couple of repeated cues here and there, but the music enlivens the climax considerably. Just try and keep track of where Bond actually is, in between close-ups of a scuba-diving Connery looking urgent.

Thunderball is largely bilge- rushed through production with terrible editing to prove it, taking far too large a portion of its running time to get going and ultimately failing to excite. The production design looks good, but it's not exciting. The plot follows the same steps as previous outings, but it's not exciting. Hell, it begins and ends with the most outrageously brilliant bits of hyper-real gadgetry that you can imagine, but I never, ever found it exciting. Here's hoping the series will soon find a more palatable balance between over-the-top and... well, this.

#4- Death by spine-stretching table would be the most humiliating fate imaginable. Not only would you die in a spa, but images of your final moments would make for a great GIF-based LOL.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With You Only Live Twice... in May.

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