This is Part 2 of a movie remake comparison. If you haven't already read Part 1, you may want to do so before you start reading.
I've always been a fan of the classic Sean Connery Bond films and so I've generally always liked Thunderball. In order to do this comparison, I watched it critically, perhaps for the first time, and I quickly realized it's one of, if not the, weakest of the original five Connery films.
The characters and plot are simple, but it's not like Thunderball was made to change the world. James Bond embodies excitement; toss in some suspense, a gadget or two, a leading lady, a dastardly villain, a few bull sharks and you're willing to suspend disbelief.
Outside of that, Thunderball is quite unremarkable. Sean Connery plays the leading role with familiarity, but no zeal. Bond's gadgets hardly deserve that title, Claudine Auger's Domino is little more than eye candy and Adolfo Celi's Emilio Largo is without real purpose. Of course, the sharks gain high marks from me. Perhaps they should have had some lasers on their heads.
Regrettably, Never Say Never Again was even worse. The tempo is constantly in flux, with some scenes moving slowly and others flashing by in the blink of an eye. This made it very difficult to watch and required more concentration that I really wanted to devote. Michel Legrand's "contemporary" 1980's jazz fusion score is utterly abysmal, compounding my disdain for watching the film. Never the less, I did my best to focus.
Never Say Never Again felt contrived from the start. It's bloated with unnecessary location changes, laborious and boring fight sequences and a weak hint at a larger political message. More isn't always more. Still, we're talking about the same type of escapist tendencies here.
James Bond and Domino in Thunderball
Klaus Maria Brandauer's Maximillian Largo is a psychopathic, loose cannon who's actions are utterly predictable. Kim Basinger's Domino is sadly the most dynamic character in the movie, although her evolution takes about three seconds, so that's really not saying much. She is lifeless, with nothing behind her eyes, then again, that might just be Kim Basinger, who has the same look in Batman.
Never Say Thunderball Again, Please
Obviously there are some differences between these two films, but I'm not too concerned with the minutia of inconsequential details. The truth is, both films failed dismally at producing an interesting and engaging story.
James Bond and Domino in Never Say Never Again
Both films barely kept me involved and suffer from underdeveloped characters and plot lines, like Thunderball's cold-blooded killer Vargas and the relationship between dastardly villain Maximillian Largo and deranged temptress Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again.
Given the 18 years between the two films, it should be no huge surprise that Never Say Never Again definitely takes the lead in overall cinematography and special effects, however the jetpack effects in Thunderball were as good as those of the XT-7B Personal Missile. There is just no overlooking the fast-motion sequences in Thunderball, especially during Bond's fight with Bouvar and the final sequences aboard the out of control Disco Vilante.
Jetpack V. Personal Missile
SPECTRE, especially Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has an exceptionally high Red Scare, comic book super villain cheese factor in Thunderball, with their Never Say Never Again counterparts seeming more realistic. I would have like to see Max von Sydow play Blofeld through the whole EON series of Bond films, as he brought sophistication and charm to the role typically known for being icy and mysterious. Lets face it, super villains are cliché, but they make for a great escape from reality.
Each film has it's own laughable, WTF moment. Thunderball alludes to the fact that Bond and Domino make love on the sea floor during a scuba dive, which may be the most uncomfortable act ever. In Never Say Never Again, we see Bond and Domino riding a horse, which proceeds to jump 200 feet, give or take 50 feet, into the Mediterranean Sea - and live, of course. At least Thunderball can rely on 1960's censors for some of it's shortcomings.
Sean Connery as James Bond
The real heart of this comparison for me was Sean Connery. In Thunderball, Connery seems to rely on his tenure with the character instead of laboring to produce. I dare say you can almost tell he's beginning to tire of the role. He lacks the snappy delivery and egotistical wit of his previous portrayals.
In Never Say Never Again Connery's plays the aging and under appreciated 00 Agent with more maturity and patience, likely do due to his own age. Still, it was refreshing to see Bond resembled the hard-boiled, no non-sense Bond we see in Dr. No instead of the more memorable love'm and leave'm persona from the other EON films.
Despite the weak script and poor dialog, the elder, mature Bond won me over, primarily due to Connery's stronger delivery and presence. He seemed to have some purpose in Never Say Never Again, with a general interest in saving the world from the big bad crime syndicate. It also helps that his performance reminds me of Captain Marko Ramius, his character from The Hunt for Red October.
Ultimately, neither of these works stand the time of time. Okay, they both might have been pretty dismal the day they were released too, but the common thread in their mutual suckery is the excessively weak plot line and poor dialog. The main story about the missing nukes is only as good as the subplots that get you from point A to point Z, and both of these films missed the mark in ever way.
Although EON Bond 23 is officially, maybe, on hold, I wouldn't be surprised to see another remake of the Thunderball story at some point in the future. With Sean Connery turning 80 today, perhaps he's willing to come out of retirement and see if the third time's the charm.