Never Say Never Again (Blu-ray Review)24 Mar, 2009 By: John Latchem
Stars Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Alec McCowen, Edward Fox.
The fact that this movie exists at all owes to a complicated legal battle dating back to the original Thunderball novel, which Fleming based on an unproduced Bond screenplay in development before Eon Productions obtained the rights to film the franchise. One of Fleming's partners in that venture, Kevin McClory, successfully sued Fleming for the rights to Thunderball.
Fearing the damage a rival Bond production could cause their fledging empire, Eon made a deal to let McClory serve as a producer for an official Thunderball adaptation in 1965, in exchange for his agreement not to make a rival Bond movie for at least 10 years. By the late 1970s, McClory did begin work on a rival Bond film, enlisting the help of none other than Sean Connery, while Eon kept the rights tied up in the courts to delay his progress.
By 1983, McClory had cut through enough legal red tape to get his new adapation off the ground, with Connery reprising the role he originated.
Once again, Connery owns the screen as Bond, which isn't much of a surprise. He could play this role in his sleep, and this being a remake of Thunderball, he's really already made this movie. One wonders what the allure of returning to the role was, aside from money and a chance to stick it to Cubby Broccoli. The title was invented by Connery's wife, a reference to Connery's declaration after Diamonds Are Forever that he would "never" play Bond again.
The story is unmistakably Thunderball, with a few modern upgrades. Unlike the Eon films, which are played as if Bond never ages, Never plays on the clever conceit that Bond is an aging secret agent in a world that doesn't have much use for him. The new M has restricted him to teaching and sends him off to a health clinic to get back in shape. The idea of M being an accountant concerned with MI6's budget works within the context of this set-up, and would be adopted by the Eon films in Goldeneye.
As with Thunderball, Bond is called to duty when SPECTRE steals two nuclear weapons and blackmails the world's superpowers. Max Von Sydow puts in a token appearance as Blofeld, handing over most of the villainy to Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo, turning in a very grounded, complex performance of a man driven by ego and hatred of Bond for embarassing him. Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush makes for a sexy henchwoman, whose orgasmic joy over killing her enemies would also be echoed in Goldeneye, with Xenia Onatopp. Kim Basinger is fine as Domino, but overshadowed.
The film is way too long, incredibly light on action, and scenes without Connery drag on to the point of boredom. The title song is catchy, but Michel Legrand's musical score is very underwhelming, and the lack of Bond-style music is a gaping hole.
Keep an eye out for Rowan Atkinson in a bit part as a British functionary. He'd go on to spoof Bond in the "Johnny English" films.