It’s the fourth entry in the License To Watch review series and, not in the least bit coincidentally, time to review the fourth entry in the Bond cinema franchise. Can things really have slipped so quickly?
These days reaching the fourth instalment of a franchise is quite a feat. Unless that franchise is Transformers… sigh. Up to this point the Bond movies had continued to improve on one another: the somewhat turgid Dr No had been succeeded by the stylish and character driven From Russia With Love which, in turn, had been followed by the iconic and vastly entertaining Goldfinger. Then we got lumped with Thunderball. What went wrong?
Our first big clue is that Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton opted not to return so Eon productions instead brought back Terence Young (who had helmed the previous two films). I think it’s safe to say that by this point the Bond ‘formula’ had moved beyond what Young’s somewhat old-fashioned style was able to provide.
A second issue may well be the legal disputes surround the production, which amounted to an ownership tussle between Ian Fleming and collaborator Kevin McClory and which almost certainly can’t have enhanced anyone’s ability to produce a quality movie.
Was it really worth fighting over Thunderball? Well, if you think you’re in for a slice of the mighty Bond profits then the answer is probably ‘yes’. However, Thunderball adds almost nothing of worth to the Bond franchise (except for the idea of Blofeld’s lethal rigged chairs for despatching lesser minions).
Structurally, the script has numerous problems (I can’t speak for the book). Bond spends the first act of the movie in a health clinic stalking someone called Count Lippe. We’re led to believe that Lippe is important, but we see him in, maybe, three scenes which add almost nothing to the plot before he is killed off. Likewise, the introduction of Angelo (doppelganger for air force pilot Derval) makes us think he’s going to be the main protagonist; but then he’s killed off too. The rest of the plot staggers along in a similar stop-start fashion.
Another huge flaw is the over-reliance on underwater action scenes. Anyone who’s been underwater knows that it has three significant effects: firstly it slows down your movements; secondly, sound doesn’t travel too well; finally, you can’t talk (unless you want to drown). Now, you can go without the dialogue, but two things things that will really undermine a good action scene are silence and slow motion (unless you’re Michael Bay, of course). Consequently we have two major action scenes in the film which are not only almost impossible to follow, due to the editing and the fact that most characters have masks and identical scuba suits, but have minimal sound and rely on speeding up the film to look at all dramatic (which ends up just looking ridiculous anyway). The director’s further reliance on speeding up the back projection during the film’s climax (and even repeating the same footage at times) gives further evidence that he’s not really the man for the job.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that, given the uninspired script, ineffective direction and legal tussles, Connery was already starting to show his dissatisfaction with the role of James Bond. Having watched Thunderball I can sympathise.