Never Say Never Again

(1983) ** 1/2 Pg
134 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Directors: Irvin Kershner, Michael D. Moore, Ricou Browning. Cast: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger.

/content/films/3371/1.jpgWhen 53-year-old Sean Connery agreed to return to the role of James Bond (a role he had abandoned, seemingly for good, twelve years earlier) in Never Say Never Again, the lead was that the original James Bond was back, but many also harped on his age, something which the film itself explicitly acknowledges. Ironically, Roger Moore, playing Bond in neighboring theaters in 1983's Octopussy, is three years older than Connery, and Moore hung on to his tux for two more years, bowing out after 1985's A View to a Kill. Despite the movie's playful acknowledgement that Bond had substantial mileage, Connery proved plenty fit for one more outing. Made outside of "Cubby" Broccoli's EON production stable, Never Say Never Again turned out to be a likeable but somewhat mediocre adventure handsomely mounted in the traditional Bond style but still lacking a few elements (most notably Monty Norman's Bond theme).

It's well documented how Never Say Never Again (a winking title suggested by Connery's wife) is a remake of Thunderball made possible by a sprawling lawsuit over the rights to the story co-written by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Bond creator Ian Fleming. So Connery is, in a way, retracing the steps of a Bond movie he's already made, in which Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Max von Sydow) and SPECTRE (the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) oversee a plot to hold two W80 warheads over the governments of the world and extort billions of dollars from them. Meanwhile, the beautiful Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger) seeks revenge against SPECTRE's man in the field, Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), when she discovers he's responsible for the death of her brother, Air Force pilot Jack Petachi (Gavan O'Herlihy).

While the principal plot is fairly generic, uncredited writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (rewriting credited screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr.) and director Irvin Kershner add some flair around the edges. Take the opening passages, in which superspy Bond—ordered by "M" (Edward Fox) to eliminate "free radicals" after failing an MI6 test—checks into a health spa, where he finds himself in a knock-down, drag-out fight. Bond also must contend with a fearsome and funny femme fatale in Fatima Blush, played winningly by Barbara Carrera. Like the women, the locations are typically easy on the eyes: much of the film takes place in the Bahamas. And though the film frequently bogs down (and fatally so in the underwater climax), there is some solid action—in particular a fantastic motorcycle chase, expertly staged by Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back).

The inspiration of '80s fads dates the picture: besides the title song sung by Lani Hall with Herb Alpert trumpet solo (it's the exception and not the rule, after all, when a Bond title song isn't dated) and a terriblr score by Michel Legarnd, the plot nods to a pop culture dominated by Jane Fonda workouts and video-game arcades (one suspense sequence pits Bond against Largo in a wired-to-kill game of "Domination"). Instead of Desmond Llewelyn as "Q," Never Say Never Again offers Alec McCowen as Algernon. In one of the film's most drily funny scenes, Algernon tells Bond, "Good to see you, Mr. Bond. Things have been awfully dull around here. Bureaucrats running the old place, everything done by the book...Now you're on this, I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence." Bond's CIA buddy Felix Leiter turns up—as an African-American, for the first time—in the person of Bernie Casey, and a young Rowan Atkinson provides passing comic relief as the suggestively named Nigel Small-Fawcett, a nebbishy diplomat from the British Consulate.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 3/24/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In its Blu-ray debut, Never Say Never Again comes in a Collector's Edition (mirrored on DVD) with brand-new bonus features. For a film that's always looked a bit drab, Never Say Never Again looks its very best here, maximizing its source in an accurate transfer paired with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that gets the job done but offers little in the way of dimensional surround effects.

Bonus features include an interesting commentary with director Irvin Kershner and James Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin that recounts the film's convoluted history.

Three featurettes also piece together the experience of developing and then making the film. "The Big Gamble" (16:24, SD) features interviews with Rubin, consultant to producer Talia Shire Schwartzman, John Hyde of Producers Sales Organization, producer Jack Schwartzman's son John Schwartzman, Lorenzo Semple, Jr., Kershner, uncredited screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and Barbara Carerra. "Sean Is Back" (8:04, SD) is a largely fluffy collection of clips about the absent Connery; participants include John Schwartzman, Carrera, Kershner, Semple, Jr., Pamela Salem, Talia Shire Schwartzman, and Clement and La Frenais. Lastly, "The Girls of Never Say Never Again" (10:07, SD) is a nice rundown of the female cast, with comments from Talia Shire Schwartzman, Kershner, Carerra, Valerie Leon, and Pamela Salem.

Last up are a "Theatrical Trailer" (1:27, SD) and a Photo Gallery, in keeping with other MGM-distributed Bond releases.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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