29 November 2010

Blu-ray Disc: "Never Say Never Again"

Never Say Never Again Collector's Edition
Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Alec McGowen and Edward Fox as "M"
Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Based on an Original Story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming
Directed by Irvin Kershner
MPAA Rating: PG
Blu-ray Disc + DVD Release Date: 3 August 2010
Cinescopes Personality Types: Passionate Maverick, Chosen Adventurer
List price: $24.99

The Film
You can spend hours researching the convoluted history of this movie, but suffice it to say it is a remake of Thunderball not produced by the same production company that has been responsible for the majority of the Bond movies.  Never Say Never Again is most notable for luring Sean Connery back into the role of James Bond after a twelve year absence, and his final screen outing as 007 debuted four months after Octopussy, the thirteenth "official" Bond movie.  Never Say Never Again invited comparisons, then, to the original novel, the Thunderball film and Octopussy, as well as Connery's previous six outings.  You know what?  It holds up fairly well on all counts.

The premise is simple: international crime syndicate SPECTRE (run by Blofeld, played here by Max Von Sydow) absconds with a nuclear bomb and blackmails the west for its safe return.  Countering this is James Bond, assigned to locate the bomb and neutralize the threat.  Adolfo Celli's Largo (SPECTRE's man in the field) may have become iconic for wearing an eyepatch, but Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo is genuinely psychotic and a far more interesting nemesis for Bond.  Made in the furor of Bondmania in the 1960s, the production of Thunderball was clearly exhausting and it shows; the entire film is mired in lethargy and Connery pretty much walks through the film.  He's never in doubt that he'll save the day, and while we aren't, either, it comes off as though stopping a nuclear blackmail is more of a scheduling nuisance than anything else.  Returning in Never Say Never Again, Connery's Bond is still assured of victory but now it feels appropriate; it's not arrogance, but experience that guides the veteran spy.

Where the film succeeds is in giving us an interesting James Bond who relies on experience and not superheroic strength or encyclopedic knowledge of obscure subjects.  He's a human being; we even see him wearing gray sweats in one scene, and denim overalls in another (no worries; Connery still rocks the tuxedo).  Barbara Carrera vamps it up as antagonist Fatima Blush and it's easy to understand why she's still popular with Bond fans 27 years later.  She infuses each of her scenes with a visceral wildness, the likes of which wouldn't be seen in an Eon-produced Bond movie until 1995's GoldenEye.  Even without the conventions of the "official" Bond movies, there can be no mistake that that's what Never Say Never Again is.

The Blu-ray Disc + DVD Combo Pack
Previously, Never Say Never Again had only been released on DVD with its trailer and a booklet.  This release adds a commentary track featuring Steven Jay Rubin and director Irvin Kershner and a handful of featurettes.  "The Big Gamble" explores the hectic circumstances under which the film came to be produced; "Sean Is Back" lavishes Sir Sean Connery with praise for bringing his professionalism to the production; "The Girls of Never Say Never Again" is self-explanatory.  Kershner (who sounds like Ray Romano) is enthusiastic about praising Connery in the featurettes and the commentary track.  The basic knocks on Never Say Never Again are that Michel Legrand's score is subpar and incongruous with the film, and that its climax is rushed.  Kershner concurs on both counts; he wanted James Horner to score the film and makes clear just how much pressure he was under to just finish the film.  The content is the same on both Blu-ray Disc and DVD, so you've got your choice of format in one package.

The Recommendation
Officially, Never Say Never Again doesn't fit into the Bond series.  Setting aside all that, it's still a movie starring Sean Connery as James Bond.  The film falls just shy of its potential; a little more time and money (and a James Horner score) might have put it over the top but as it is it's still pretty entertaining.  And the nice thing is that it's a one-off production so you don't need to concern yourself with any continuity.  Unfortunately, the Blu-ray transfer is less than stellar; you're not going to get the astounding visual experience you may have hoped to find.

Note: I also reviewed the previous DVD release here.

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