For Fresh Eyes Only: Thunderball (1965)
So far, every new Bond film I’ve watched has become an instant new favorite. That streak is officially broken. While, I did not dislike Thunderball by any means, it just does not hold a candle to either Goldfinger or From Russia With Love. The seams are starting to show. Sean Connery looks like he’s getting bored, as does director Terence Young, and even though I know nothing of the real history, I’m going to attribute this to the yearly nature of the releases. It’s not all bad, though. I’ll get into it more, but the action scenes are just crazy enough to work, and they are ultimately enough to make me feel like I came away from Thunderball with something positive.
The film starts off on a weird note. Bond is nearing the end of another mission, and he gets in a fist fight with a man dressed as a nun. This fist fight is bizarre to say the least. Sean Connery is obviously swapped out for his stunt double every other frame, and the footage is sped up to... I guess sell the impact of the punches? It’s a weird effect, one that is repeated throughout the film, and most of the time is does not work. After the fight, Bond escapes via jetpack. He straight up has a jetpack for one scene and then it disappears. That’s the type of silliness I can get behind, but later on when Bond is presented with this film’s gadgets, they are so underwhelming by comparison. A little oxygen tank and a flare. Woohoo.
Things pick up from here with something i was waiting for. I was a bit disappointed to discover that SPECTRE didn’t factor into the plot of Goldfinger at all, but they are shown right off the bat here. It’s a short scene, but it does establish a little bit more of their nefarious plans. I know that they’re in both arms and drug trades, and that at the end of the day they’re really only obsessed with money, as evidenced by the murder of one of it’s own members for only reporting the paltry sum of 2+ million dollars.
I’m not going to get into much of the rest of Thunderball’s plot. I lost it on more than one occasion. I got characters and motivations mixed up often. I don’t even know the country that it was set in or the reason that the movie is named Thunderball. And I feel that it’s a bit against the spirit of this project to do much research so these questions are remaining unanswered until I’m done writing this. I do know that a few bombs were stolen from a fighter jet (that was on a training run. Why were the bombs even aboard?) in a pretty fun scene, and I think these bombs are supposed to be sold to the highest bidder.
I greatly appreciated the aquatic setting of Thunderball. Every time that the plot and pacing left something to be desired, there would be another massive, gorgeous shot of the landscape or a quick dive underwater into the beautiful blue ocean with the sharks. Whatever they invested to get those underwater cameras was damn worth it. They completely made this movie, and god bless those helicopters and sharks. And the parade, which seemed like it went on for years and was used as the escape for one of the film’s more effective scenes.
I mentioned that Sean Connery seemed off somehow, and largely I think that’s due to his waning accent. There are multiple scenes in this movie where Connery doesn’t even make an attempt to disguise his natural Scottish accent, and it’s a little jarring. I never even thought twice about it in the previous films and suddenly I was reminded of reality. That slack is picked up, though, by the likes of Claudine Auger, Martine Beswick, and the villainous turns by Luciana Paluzzi and the eyepatch sporting Adolfo Celi. Paluzzi in particular is really fun.
The film’s highest point is the bonkers action packed finale, which features an all out underwater battle with spear guns instead of arrows and knives instead of swords between two seemingly infinite armies of scuba divers. It was hard to follow the action but I honestly could not care less because this was too awesome. It’s something I’ve never seen before and I genuinely loved it. The following boat chase and fist fight was edited with the same weird two times speed that the previous fights were, but it worked more here. It really sold the idea that the boat was speeding out of control.
I hear that there is an unofficial remake of Thunderball that is coming up later, and I’m very much interested in that. Even though I didn’t love Thunderball, there were some interesting ideas, and maybe with some more focused filmmaking that could be made into a less lopsided movie. Especially if that scuba battle is repeated. Rest assured I will be covering that bonus movie (along with a few others future). For now, Thunderball is not bad, but it’s the closest to bad that any of these films have been.
Marcus will return in For Fresh Eyes Only: You Only Live Twice.