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THUNDERBALL
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi
Director: Terence Young
Audio: English DTS or monaural, French 5.1, Spanish monaural
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080p high-definition
Studio: MGM
Features: Two commentaries, image database, two TV specials, six featurettes, trailers & radio spots, commercials
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008

You appear to be unbeatable, Mr. Bond.

Film ****

Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel Thunderball was his ninth in a long series of adventures about his literary creation, British super-spy James Bond.  The novel also introduced what was to become a fixture in the early films based on Fleming’s novels - the international crime organization known as SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).  SPECTRE appeared from the very first in the film versions of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, was absent in Goldfinger, but made a glorious return for Thunderball, the fourth James Bond movie in which SPECTRE’s operatives tangled once more with James Bond to their detriment.

The original Fleming novel dealt with a Plan Omega as devised by SPECTRE.  This scheme called for the theft of armed nuclear warheads and a subsequent extortion plot against NATO for their return.  SPECTRE agent, Emilio Largo, was the chief mastermind charged with carrying out the plan to its completion, while the British operation codenamed “Thunderball” was tasked with recovering the lost weapons.  The film retains this essential storyline and most of the novel’s characters and settings.

Thunderball was the third and final James Bond film directed by Terence Young, and it was certainly the most epic Bond film to date.  Young’s previous entries in the franchise had been more suspense-thrillers than action-adventures, but the third Bond film Goldfinger had set a new standard for gadgets, large action set pieces, and wit, a formula to which subsequent Bond films generally adhered.  Accordingly, Thunderball received a great amount of media attention and anticipation.  The scope of the marketing blitz accompanying the film’s release was also quite unprecedented, and not surprisingly, Thunderball became the most successful of the Sean Connery outings as James Bond.

Thunderball follows the general trend of previous Bond films - a rich megalomaniac set on power and world domination is foiled by James Bond.  This go around, the villain is SPECTRE’s Number 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who along with seductive SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) has successfully completed stage one of a daring plan to steal nuclear weapons right off a NATO jet and then to blackmail the world’s governments into paying for their return.  The price of noncompliance with this demand is severe - nuclear detonation.

The world’s governments are given a deadline by which to respond and to pay up.  Enter, James Bond to save the day!  But first, our super-spy has to save himself from excessive wining, dining, and smoking.  Deemed physically inadequate as the film opens, Bond is shipped off to a health clinic for rehabilitation.  While there, he encounters a mysterious corpse which may have links with SPECTRE’s latest extortion plot.

Sure enough, after returning to London, Bond is flown post-haste to the Bahamas to follow-up on this possible clue to the whereabouts of the missing nuclear weapons.  While having fun in the sun, Bond soon encounters a beautiful girl named Domino Vitali (former Miss France Claudine Auger), mistress to a mysterious millionaire named Emilio Largo.  Bingo!  Inevitably, the usual cat-and-mouse chases, fights, and entanglement with SPECTRE agents ensue, everywhere from amidst a Junkanoo celebration in Nassau, on the waters in Largo’s yacht the Disco Volante, and in the water among the sharks, too!

Fortunately, Bond has the support of the ever-reliable Q Branch with its gadgets.  Plus, a few handy Yank agents, lead by Felix Leiter, a supporting character from previous Bond films, render American assistance to our British super-sleuth.  Leiter’s U.S. Coast Guard agents will certainly be welcome by the film’s finale, which features a massive underwater clash between scuba-geared combatants and frogmen.  Needless to say, the weapons will probably be recovered, and Bond will save the day (and get the girl).

In some ways, Thunderball was perhaps too successful for the good of the franchise.  The following film, You Only Live Twice, went a bit overboard with its silly sci-fi elements in an attempt at being bigger-and-better, and Sean Connery was essentially gone as James Bond by the film after that.  The Roger Moore films of the 1970’s, while entertaining, moved away from the early suspense-thriller elements of the Bond franchise and tended to lapse into corny humor and excessive use of gadgets.

But at least we still have Thunderball.  And Thunderball has it all - a storyline faithful to the Ian Fleming novel, a great theme song, that 007 wit, gadgets, exotic settings, gorgeous girls, superb action set pieces, and best of all, Sean Connery at his very peak as James Bond!

Video *** ½

This Blu-ray disc of Thunderball offers very solid 1080p high-definition.  There are a few minor scratches and instances of dust, but otherwise the image quality is crystal-clear.  While the rear-projection effects remain obvious, the details are certainly sharper than in previous releases of this classic Bond thriller on home video or disc.

Audio ****

Experience the film in the original English monaural or the more immersive DTS HD 5.1 master lossless audio re-mix.  Also available are a French 5.1 track and Spanish monaural one.  But really, once you've heard Thunderball in bombastic DTS, there’s no going back.

Features ****

There are many supplemental features carried over from the previous DVD release of Thunderball.  There are two available commentary tracks, one with director Terence Young and the other with editor Peter Hunt and co-screenwriter John Hopkins.  The featurette The Making of Thunderball (27 min.) provides history about the film, the novel, and some controversy which would eventually lead to the film Never Say Never Again.  The Thunderball Phenomenon (31 min.) looks at the general popularity of the 007 character.  The short featurette The Secret History of Thunderball reveals minor variations in dialogue or editing in the theatrical and TV versions of the film.  Lastly, there is an image database of just over 150 publicity shots, lobby artworks, and production stills; other promotional features are three vintage theater trailers, five TV ads, & ten radio spots.

Moving on to the new bonus features for this release, there is a dossier section for Thunderball that looks at 007, the film’s women, allies, villains, gadgets, and more.  Most of these selections merely take viewers to specific clips from the film; one segment on exotic locations is narrated by former Bond girl Maud Adams.

The Incredible World of James Bond (51 min.) is a 1965 NBC TV special.  The mythology and psychology of James Bond, described as a modern-day folk hero, is explored in this documentary.  Numerous clips from the first four Bond films, as well as production footage from Thunderball, are used to illustrate the popularity and extent of the cultural phenomenon that is James Bond, agent 007.

A Child’s Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car (17 min.) is a short film produced by the Ford car company.  A father takes his young son to the production filming of one of Thunderball’s car chases.  There is a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes footage revealing how this action sequence was created, although the narration is a bit silly at times.

On Location with Production Designer Ken Adam (13 min.) offers Ken Adam home movie footage of the numerous exotic location sites (mostly in the Bahamas) and the cast & crew at work and play; Ken Adam narrates and identifies the various sites and people shown.

Bill Suitor:  The Rocket Man Movies (4 min.) features home movie footage of the actual operator of the jet-pack flown in Thunderball pre-credits sequence.  Yes, the jet-pack really worked, and yes, it was as dangerous as it appeared.

The Thunderball boat show reel (3 min.) offers a truncated, alternate cut of the film’s climactic underwater fight.  There are three 1965 commercials (2 min.) for Bond-related clothing and toys.

In general, the new supplemental features alone are probably not worth the price of a new purchase for owners of the previous Thunderball DVD.  On the other hand, the film looks more spectacular than ever, thanks to Blu-ray technology, which certainly makes a key selling point.

Summary:

Thunderball was the most successful of the Sean Connery outings as James Bond, and the film retains much of its excitement and capacity to entertain even today.

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