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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
English DTS 5.1
English Monaural
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $89.98
Release Date: 11/7/2006

• 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 Incredible World of James Bond” Original 1965 NBC TV Special
• “A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car” 1965 Ford Mustang Promotional Film
• “On Location With Ken Adam” Featurette
• “Bill Suitor: The Rocket Man Movies”
• “Thunderball Boat Show Reel”
• “Selling Bonds” Original 1965 TV Commercials
• 007 Mission Control Interactive Guide
• 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: Ultimate Edition (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 also showed that this institution-to-be would soon become institutionalized. What was fresh would 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 A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus A

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

Sharpness was solid. Only a smidgen of softness affected some wider shots. Otherwise, the movie appeared crisp and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a sliver of edge enhancement appeared. Source flaws were virtually absent. This was a consistently clean transfer.

Colors stood out as quite strong. The movie exhibited a broad palette and used many lively tones in its variety of exotic settings. These were vivid and distinctive. Blacks seemed deep and firm, while low-light shots demonstrated pretty solid delineation. I found little to complain about in this fine presentation.

I was tremendously pleased with the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Both seemed very similar to me, as I wasn’t able to discern any notable variations between the two.

It's hard to believe these strong tracks came from a more than 40-year-old mono original, but it did. Actually, the audio remained somewhat 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 became somewhat distorted, as when explosions occurred. Nonetheless, the positives far outweighed the negatives in these strong soundtracks.

How did the picture and audio of this 2006 “Ultimate Edition” compare with the original 2000 release? Audio stayed about the same, but the new transfer was much more satisfying. Cleaner, sharper and livelier, it offered substantial improvements over its predecessor.

The “Ultimate Edition” includes many of the same extras from the 1999 DVD and adds some new ones. I’ll mark the new features with an asterisk, so if you fail to see a star, the element already showed up on the prior set.

First up on DVD One are two 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.

Heading to DVD Two, the package splits into a few subdomains. Under Declassified: MI6 Vault, we get six components. *The Incredible World of James Bond original 1965 NBC TV special runs 50 minutes and 50 seconds. It purports to offer an examination of 007’s character, but mostly it just gives us lots of movie clips.

Still, a few interesting components appear. We get a recap of Bond’s history as laid out in Ian Fleming’s novels, and we also hear a few comments from Fleming himself. The show presents some nice shots from the set, including a staged “violence school” for the three babe actresses in Thunderball. The second half focuses more closely on the creation of the film, so it offers much better material. This is a promotional program but it offers more than enough interesting footage to make it worthwhile.

*A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car offers a 17-minute and seven-second 1965 Ford Mustang promotional film. “Guide” shows a guy who takes his godson to watch them shoot a scene from Thunderball. As one might anticipate from the title, this involves the destruction of a car; specifically, it details the scene in which Fiona offs Count Lippe. It gives us a tongue in cheek approach that delivers an unusual form of behind the scenes examination. It’s quite fun and informative.

For material with the production designer, we go to *On Location With Ken Adam. The 13-minute and seven-second featurette presents a collection of Adam’s home movies accompanied by his narration. We see footage from location scouts, boats, sets, Adam tells us about the locations, the folks involved with the flick, and other aspects of his films. The shots themselves are interesting, and Adam’s narration fleshes out the pieces to make this a satisfying featurette.

More of this sort of footage comes to us via *Bill Suitor: The Rocket Man Movies. This three-minute and 54-second clip shows footage from the set accompanied by narration from Suitor, the man who flew the rocket pack in the movie’s opening sequence. The quality of the film is very rough, but we still get some nice shots, and Suitor’s remarks provide good information about creating the famous sequence.

*Thunderball Boat Show Reel goes for two minutes and 50 seconds. Michael Wilson introduces this vintage segment that was used for a 1965 boat show. It offers an alternate version of the movie’s climactic underwater sequence. That makes it interesting for fans to see.

Under the banner of *Selling Bonds, we get three original 1965 TV commercials. These include 007 raincoat (0:32), 007 slacks (0:34) and 007 action pack toys (1:01). Each is very amusing and great fun to watch.

With that we head to the *007 Mission Control Interactive Guide. This splits into components under seven different headings: “007”, “Women”, “Allies”, “Villains”, “Mission Combat Manual”, “Q Branch”, and “Exotic Locations”. An odd form of “greatest hits”, this simply presents a few selected scenes that match the topics.

One of the only interesting elements comes from the presentation of the opening credits without text (3:00). “Locations” (3:18) also gives us a narrated set of clips. Maud Adams chats over the scenes and tells us about the locations. That makes it more useful than the others since they just show snippets from the final film. The rest of the set is a waste of time.

Heading to Mission Dossier, we begin with the 27-minute and 31-second The Making of Thunderball. Narrated by Patrick Macnee, it presents notes from Llewelyn, Adam, Browning, Paluzzi, Peters, Maxwell, Young, associate producer Stanley Sopel, Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, actors Martine Beswick and Sean Connery, chief draftsman Peter Lamont, special effects supervisor John Stears, and production buyer Ron Quelch. The show looks at the origins of the story and complications related to how it came to the screen. From there it moves through getting a director, underwater photography, casting, the opening sequence various stunts and effects, boats and sets, locations and the tone during the shoot, various scene specifics, and the movie’s reception.

A nice complement to the commentaries, “Making” covers the production well. Inevitably, it duplicates some info from those chats, but it manages to give us a different perspective on many issues. We find a solid recap of the important subjects in this tight little show.

Called The Thunderball Phenomenon, the second program lasts 30 minutes, 59 seconds as it covers the publicity of the film and discusses the way Bond impacted upon society as a whole. Again narrated by Macnee, we hear from Maxwell, Peters, Stears, Paluzzi, Beswick, Llewelyn, Lamont, writer Richard Maibaum, Ian Fleming Foundation president Michael Van Blaricum, UA art director Donald Smolen, James Bond 007 Fan Club president Graham Rye and ABC News correspondent Bill Diehl.

The show repeats the Bond bio from “Incredible World” and some other elements in that program before it digs into notes about Terence Young and his impact on the character. From there we hear about the success of both the novels and various forms of publicity, spin-offs and merchandising. We see a lot of cool elements, especially when we check out the toys and other retail elements. Though a few of these can be found elsewhere, we still find plenty of great bits in this entertaining piece.

Lastly, The Secret History of Thunderball appears and lasts a whopping three minutes, 47 seconds. 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.

Under Ministry of Propaganda, the 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.

When we go to the Image Database, we find a 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. It offers some fun facts about the production; you'll hear some of them elsewhere, but most aren't repeated in other areas.

While I wouldn’t refer to Thunderball as flawless Bond, it remains one of the series’ best efforts. With its great action, interesting settings and stellar babes, it’s a winner. The DVD presents very strong picture and audio along with a solid roster of extras. This package comes with a high recommendation.

Should folks who already have the original Thunderball DVD upgrade to this “Ultimate Edition”? Definitely. It presents substantially improved picture quality as well as a few nice new extras.

Note that this “Ultimate Edition” of Thunderball can be purchased only as part of “The Ultimate James Bond Collection Volume Two”. This five-movie set also includes A View to a Kill, Licence to Kill, Die Another Day, and The Spy Who Loved Me.

To rate this film, visit the original review of THUNDERBALL