If you have watched any movies in the past four decades, there is little doubt that at least a few have been about a debonair spy named Bond, James Bond. Since 1962 this one character has dominated the box office with every new film among the most highly anticipated of that year. Over this time some 22 films have joined this highly popular and financially successful series of movies. The fourth installment in this franchise was ‘Thunderball’; the ninth novel about this character from famed author Ian Fleming. The film before this one, ‘Goldfinger’ was the transition from a straight forward character-driven espionage movie to a high tech wonderland of gadgets. We all wanted that car from ‘Goldfinger’ and couldn’t wait to see what new and amazing devices would be issued to Bond for this adventure. ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Thunderball’ changed the focus and direction of the series and whether you like this alteration from the original novels or not you will have to admit that it was a major factor in the longevity of the franchise. The studios and producers demonstrated their commitment to the Bond films by increasing the budget with each film. The first film, ‘Dr. No’ had a modest budget of about a million dollars. This one cost $9 million. That is not a lot by today’s standards, but back in 1965, this was a lot of money for a director to work with. This infatuation with the gadgets would form the basis of most spy stories in both film and television. It was spoofed in the ‘Our Man Flint’ flicks and pervasive in TV shows like ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Wild, Wild West.’ There were still movies that concentrated on the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union using more traditional techniques and formulas but by this movie the Bond films became the gold standard for the genre. MGM/UA has released six classic Bond films as ultimate editions in both DVD and Blu-ray. The movies have never been presented better, so this is the time to break down and add them to your collection.
Providing the script for this film are a pair of writers; Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory. This would be their only ‘official’ Bond film as defined by those produced by EON Productions. The writers would reunite some 18 years later for ‘Never Say Never Again.’ That film was about Bond and did return Sean Connery to the lead role, but it was not produced by the official production company and is not considered canon by many fans. As with most of the earlier Bond flicks, those with names that are the same as the source novels, Whittingham and McClory did attempt to maintain the basic themes and plots with the book. Now they also had to balance the inclusions of the gadgets and stage battles that would film well. They did offer a great vehicle to showcase the considerable talents of Mr. Connery. This is one of his better performances in his portion of the series.
Returning after a one film hiatus to the director’s chair is Terence Young. This would be his last Bond film although he did direct another work from Fleming, ‘Poppies Are Also Flowers.’ After that, he helmed one of the best suspense thrillers of all time ‘Wait Until Dark.’ He did seem more at home with conventional storytelling rather than effects and stunt-driven film like this. Perhaps this was one reason why he left such a lucrative franchise. The film is just a bit too long and could have been helped by some tighter editing, but overall it remains one of the best of the series. You get so caught up with the action that you don’t notice the excessive length until afterward. The movie flows quite well pulling in the audience and holding them there. Considering this was before the age of computer-generated effects the special effects team did an incredible job of making the action realistic and believable. Adding to the difficulty for Young were all the scenes shot underwater. Under normal circumstances, this is an arduous enough but to choreograph elaborate battles with newly created devices such as the underwater jet packs and the hydrofoil ship. This was also the first Bond film to be shot in widescreen. That greatly affects how a director has to frame the action and requires more attention to the peripheral area of the shots.
Because of the increase in the gadgetry the part of the service’s weapon master ‘Q’ (Desmond Llewelyn). This afforded this fin actor more quips with Bond and added the right comic touch. By this point, much of the format of a Bond flick was down to a formula. There is the titillating opening sequence with naked young women; very important to those of us entering the teen years back then. Of course, they were colored with lights and shadows. The tradition of getting a popular recording artist to sing the titular song was included here with Tom Jones singing ‘Thunderball.’
As the film begins, Bond is watching the funeral of a known SPECTRE operative, Colonel Jacques Bouvar. His death was faked, and he was disguised as his widow. Bond is chased by other operatives but gets away with a jet pack. Back in England being’ (Bernard Lee) is concerned with Bond’s health and sends him off to a luxury resort. While there Bond spots a suspicious man with a Tong tattoo and begins to investigate. He is once again almost murdered but finds that the dead body of a NATO pilot was on the premises. It turns out that SPECTRE is creating a duplicate of the pilot through extensive training and surgery. The point is to have him crash a bomber with two nuclear weapons in the ocean so SPECTRE can retrieve them and use them to blackmail the United States and Great Britain. Bond is dispatched to Nassau to track down the team that will get the bombs and the mastermind behind the plot. That evil genius is SPECTRE’s number two, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) who is answerable only to the head of the terrorist organization, the unseen Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It wouldn’t be a Bond film if he didn’t meet a beautiful woman. In this case, the lucky lady is Domino Derval (Claudine Auger), the sister of the dead pilot. All the investigations lead bond, and a team of CIA hired frogmen to a climactic battle with SPECTRE divers in one of the best underwater battles ever filmed.
MGM/UA has re-released this film as an ultimate edition. They mean it; it is the best this film has ever been presented. You can get it in DVD or Blu-ray either as an individual film or part of a special three pack. Like the other Blu-ray releases in this set, the video is astonishing. The audio is presented in your choice of the original mono or a re-mixed DTS HD. There are also enough extras to keep any Bond fan very happy. This is one of the best Bond movies ever.
Posted 10/17/08 Posted 3/30/2019