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Terence Young
Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Martine Beswick, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, based on the character by Ian Fleming

Look up! Look down! Look out! Here comes the biggest Bond of all!

Rated PG.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Monaural

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 10/19/1999

• Audio Commentary with Director Terence Young, Actors Luciana Paluzzi, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Rose Alba, and Molly Peters, Composer John Barry, Special Effects Technician Bert Luxford, Production Designer Ken Adam, and Underwater Specialist Ricou Browning
• Audio Commentary with Editor Peter Hunt and Co-Writer John Hopkins
• The Making Of Thunderball Documentary
• The Thunderball Phenomenon Documentary
• Photos Gallery; Inside Thunderball Featurette
• Collectible Making-Of Booklet
• Original Theatrical Trailers
• Television & Radio Spots


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Thunderball (1965)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2006)

And now for a review of my second favorite Bond movie: 1965's excellent Thunderball. This film solidifies the success of the previous year's breakout entry, Goldfinger, and attempts to up the ante with more action, higher production values, and more daring stunts. It works, and it works very well, but it lacks some of the flair and spark of Goldfinger. Bond was well on his way to becoming an institution, a predictable bi-yearly affair that would offer more excitement but fewer surprises than your average pro wrestling match.

Boy - that was a pretty nasty sounding introduction, wasn't it? Gee, if I weren't so lazy, I might go back and rewrite it, because I don't want anyone to get the impression that I don't like the Bond films. In fact, I think most of them are a lot of fun and quite creative in many ways.

But make no mistake: Thunderball did mark the start of a steady decline. The Bond series peaked with its third entry in 1964, and while Thunderball nearly equaled its predecessor, it showed that this institution-to-be would also become institutionalized. What was fresh would soon become formula, which could be fun and exciting but never could quite regain the highs and originality of the early efforts.

As I mentioned, Thunderball uses most of the formulas from Goldfinger but it doesn't coalesce quite as well. The film excels its predecessor in only one way: the women. While Pussy Galore was one of the strongest and most effective female characters in the Bond realm, and some of the lesser women were very attractive, they don't in any way compare with the goddesses we see in Thunderball. Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi - oh my! Not only are those two sexier and more beautiful than any of the women in Goldfinger, I think they're the two hottest Bond women ever; none of the other films has even come close to presenting women as amazing as those two. Of course, your opinion may differ, and you're welcome to it, even though it's wrong!

What Thunderball does best is present the Bond film as a widescreen spectacle. This was the first Bond movie to be shot in the anamorphic widescreen method with its aspect ratio of 2.35:1 - the previous three entries were matted to a much milder 1.75:1 ratio - and you can tell that the filmmakers went nuts trying to fill that wide frame. At times this picture borders on "everything and the kitchen sink" filmmaking as it presents a nonstop array of over-the-top set pieces.

While this method does make Thunderball seem like more of an epic film than its predecessors, it also has its drawbacks. The primary flaw in this equation comes from the fact that some of these action bits are actually pretty boring. To me, the film's main miscalculation is the huge underwater battle toward the end of the picture. This scene goes on for far too long, and the sameness of the visuals - there's only so much you can do to spruce up coral and guys in wetsuits - and the slowness of the action - there's only so fast you can move underwater - negatively affect the impact of this scene. I don't much care for these large-scale battles in Bond movies anyway - I only care to see Bond himself go after the baddies - but the logistical issues make this part even less entertaining than usual. I find it almost impossible to watch the underwater skirmish without hitting the "fast forward" button.

Connery is his usual suave, confident self, though it seems that just a touch of weariness was starting to enter his work. Connery defined Bond, but he never wanted Bond to define Connery, so I suspect that attitude may have begun to wear on him by this point in time. Still, he pulls off the role nicely and provides an effective presence.

This film's villain - Emil Largo, as played by Adolfo Celi - is a workable baddie, but he thoroughly lacks the impact and self-confident smugness of the previous film's Auric Goldfinger. Largo seems to be more of a run of the mill nemesis. We dislike him because we're supposed to, but it's hard to get a good "hate-on" for him. Conversely, we never convey upon him the odd respect we felt for Goldfinger. The latter was a bad guy, but he was so clever and so successful that you couldn't help but admire him. Largo just provides us someone to die during the film's climax; he presents no kind of forceful charisma.

Thunderball doesn't follow the lead of Goldfinger and include a quirky sidekick to our main villain ala Odd Job. Really, the secondary baddie in this film is Paluzzi's Fiona Volpe; she's a slick and sexy assassin. Volpe stands the usual Bond convention on its head, since Bond bags her but this doesn't affect her world outlook, unlike the impact he had on Pussy Galore. Volpe remains one of the Bond series' toughest females; her combination of sexiness and sadism remains hard to top.

Auger's Domino provides a much more standard "Bond girl." She's the typical beautiful but helpless presence. Okay, she's not completely helpless – she saves Bond's bacon in the end - but nonetheless she spends most of the movie being rescued and protected and looking as fragile as a fallen leaf. (An amazingly sexy fallen leaf, but still...)

Despite my complaints, I continue to really enjoy Thunderball. It’s easy to watch the flick and ignore its problems. There’s more than enough excitement and flair onscreen to make it a winner.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio A-/ Bonus A-

Thunderball is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this dual-layered, single-sided DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found the picture to look disappointing.

Sharpness was a key issue. Some prominent edge enhancement meant that the film often seemed soft and indistinct, particularly in wide shots. Although many parts of the movie displayed solid delineation, far too many exceptions occurred. No issues with jagged edges occurred, but I noticed some shimmering. Source flaws were another distraction. Specks, marks, nicks and other problems cropped up frequently throughout the movie. I’ve seen dirtier efforts, but this one could use a good cleaning.

Colors varied. Thunderball went with a lively palette that often seemed quite vivid and dynamic. However, the hues became too heavy on occasion, and they could seem a bit messy. Blacks were deep and dense, but shadows were less successful. Low-light shots tended to be excessively opaque. This mix of good and bad led me to a “C-“ grade for visuals.

As disappointed as I was with the image of Thunderball, I was tremendously pleased with the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It's hard to believe this strong track came from a more than 40-year-old mono original, but it did. Actually, the audio remained largely monaural in nature, but the remixers opened it up enough to make it sound much better.

It's really the improved fidelity of John Barry's classic score that made the difference here. It's not quite "CD quality," but it's very bright and fresh-sounding nonetheless. Instruments seemed to be reproduced pretty accurately, and the clean and crisp audio really brought this soundtrack alive. Mainly music emanated from the right and left front channels and from the rears, but some effects appeared in those other speakers as well. There's even a little split surround action, such as when planes flew overhead.

While the dialogue and effects didn't sound as good as the score, they still appeared pretty good. Speech betrayed a little flatness and tinniness, as did effects. The latter also occasionally become somewhat distorted, as when explosions occurred. Nonetheless, the positives far outweighed the negatives in this strong soundtrack.

An adaptation of a 1996 laserdisc, Thunderball comes with a bunch of extras. First up are two running audio commentaries. Hosted by John Cork, the first combines comments from a number of participants such as director Terence Young, actors Luciana Paluzzi, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Rose Alba, and Molly Peters, composer John Barry, special effects technician Bert Luxford, production designer Ken Adam, and underwater specialist Ricou Browning. All sit separately for this edited piece. The track covers stunts, action and effects, cast and crew notes, story and script development, underwater photography and related elements, the score, and various other production elements.

As with most of these Bond tracks, this one tends toward anecdotal material. We get a good sense of nuts and bolts material but also find many stories about the participants’ experiences. There’s a little dead air at times, and Cork carries too much of the load. With so many folks involved, we should hear more from them and less from a narrator. That said, the commentary proves informative and useful.

Heading to the second track, we hear from editor Peter Hunt and co-writer John Hopkins. Both sit separately for chats with Cork, who again acts as narrator. Hunt and Hopkins discuss general aspects of their careers as well as specifics about their work on Thunderball. In addition, we hear the movie’s original theme song played over the credits and get a few sequences with the actors dubbed into other languages.

This commentary also drags a bit, but it usually gives us good info and it works well for the most part. Granted, I could do without the foreign language segments but I’ll forgive them due to the commentary’s laserdisc origins. That format didn’t allow for as many different soundtracks as DVD, so dubbed scenes were more of a novelty. In the end, this is another pretty good commentary.

Thunderball also includes two documentaries about the film. The Making of Thunderball provides a strong overview of the creation of the picture in its 27 minutes. Most of it comes from Nineties interviews with the participants; those clips are interspersed with vintage footage from the set. It's a nice piece that gives us a fine look at the movie.

Called The Thunderball Phenomenon, the second program covers the publicity of the film and discusses the way the film impacted upon society as a whole. I liked this piece even more than the more traditional "making of..." program because it offers such a nice look at the way the world reacted to Bond in 1965. While some of this documentary focuses on interviews, most of them - and the rest of the footage - comes from that era. That's the part that makes it so much fun. New interviews are great because of the perspective they offer, but historical information can be very entertaining because of their immediacy. Lots of fun!

One technological glitch slightly mars the presentation of these two documentaries: they are listed incorrectly on the DVD menu. So “The Thunderball Phenomenon” is actually “The Making of Thunderball and vice versa. Some Internet newsgroup reactionaries have made this minor fault to be a horrible blight upon the face of the Earth. Me, I think it's no big deal; I'd be bothered if there were flaws in the presentation of the materials, but a mislabeling is nothing big. Just remember which one's which and you'll be fine.

One additional documentary appears here. It's called Inside Thunderball and it lasts a whopping three minutes. Still, it's short but sweet; it features interesting information about the differences among some releases of the film, and also shows the effects of overdubbed vocals and some scene deletions.

In addition to this featurette, the Thunderball DVD presents a tremendous amount of publicity materials. Three trailers appear here. Two of these are from the film's original theatrical release; in the style of the day, they tend to be rather loud, garish, and overbearing. The third promotes a double bill re-release of both Thunderball and You Only Live Twice; it's not as grating as the other two, but it's still pretty annoying.

Five television ads can be found on this DVD. Two are for the original release; the first resembles the obnoxious trailers, but the second – which features only the theme song as audio accompaniment - is much more elegant. The other three ads promote a re-release double bill of Thunderball and From Russia With Love. All three of these ads are essentially the same; they just vary in length.

We also receive ten radio spots on the DVD. All of these are reminiscent of the film's standard ad campaign - with its call of "Look up, look down, look out!" - but they're not quite as shrill as are the trailers.

Another recurring feature for the Bond special editions is the extensive still photo supplement. The section for Thunderball includes a whopping 150 photos, which is about average for the Bond DVDs. As with the others, these photos are presented under different chapter headings; there are 11 of these in all, and these offer a nicely efficient way to manage the pictures so that you don't have to wade through tons of dreck to later review one that you like. As always, I'm not a huge fan of these still archives, but this one is well executed and you gotta love being able to see more shots of Auger and Paluzzi!

Finally, the Thunderball DVD includes a nice eight-page booklet inside the case. It offers some fun facts about the production; you'll hear some of them elsewhere, but most aren't repeated in other areas.

As I mentioned at the start, the Thunderball DVD adapts the materials from a $125 laserdisc set. So what's missing? Not too much, but unlike the Goldfinger set - which made the translation from LD to DVD with almost nothing absent - Thunderball loses one major component: an ABC television special from 1965 called The Incredible World of James Bond. That program ran for nearly an hour and offered some strong vintage footage. Its absence is understandable - there simply was no room left on the DVD - but it's nonetheless regrettable. This program seems to be the only omission from the LD set.

Overall, Thunderball makes for a quality DVD. Yes, the image quality was disappointingly problematic, but this is balanced out to a degree by the wonderful sound remix. A fine complement of supplements adds greatly to the value of this set. Thunderball is a no-brainer purchase for Bond fans, and it should also appeal greatly to anyone who likes good action movies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.113 Stars Number of Votes: 115
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