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.