Judge Clark Douglas is watching you through his two-way mirror. Carry on, young lovers.
Would the real James Bond please step forward?
For a wide variety of complicated legal reasons that have been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, the folks at Fox were able to make their very own Bond movie during the mid-1980s. This was a bit of a slap in the face to the "official" Bond series (which Roger Moore was the star of at the time), and adding insult to injury was the fact that Fox had secured the original 007, Sean Connery. Legal chaos aside, how well does the film hold up, and is this special edition Blu-ray disc worth checking out?
Facts of the Case
Over the years, MI6 Agent James Bond (Sean Connery, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) has been one of Britain's most reliable resources. He's battled villains and foiled world domination schemes his entire life, bedding women and dining on fine food the entire way. At long last, Bond's wild lifestyle is finally starting to take a toll. The doctors insist that all the caviar and alcohol should be replaced with fruits and vegetables. His body has taken a lot of damage over the years, and he needs time to recover. So, the ever-responsible M (Edward Fox, The Day of the Jackal) sends Bond off to a health resort. 007 is ordered to get his rest. It's not like he has anything better to do…M has also decided to temporarily de-activate all of the Double-O agents.
Alas, even at a place as seemingly innocent and calm as a health resort, Bond finds a way to get into trouble. It's there that he uncovers the first piece of a diabolical scheme being organized by SPECTRE, the terrorist organization run by the villainous Stavros Blofeld (Max Von Sydow, The Seventh Seal). Apparently, Blofeld has stolen two nuclear missiles from the American government, and he is prepared to use them if he's not given, oh, 25% of the world's combined oil resources. Bond is called back into action, determining to find the nukes before the ransom deadline is up. Unfortunately, he's going to run into trouble from the suave Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of Africa), a man determined to end Bond's life as quickly and creatively as possible. Can Bond save the world one last time?
When Never Say Never Again was released in 1983, it was greeted with open arms by many film critics. Sean Connery as James Bond? Hooray! Alas, ever since that time, the reputation of Never Say Never Again has been tarnished by many Bond fans. There are some who consider Never Say Never Again to be the worst film in the franchise, and few regard it as being comparable to the earlier "official" Connery Bond films. There are problems and flaws and unforgivable sins committed in Never Say Never Again, but you know what? I think it's high time to reconsider this film.
First of all, let's face facts: there is only one James Bond. Sean Connery IS Bond. He always has been, he always will be, and watching him essay Ian Fleming's secret agent is one of cinema's great pleasures. Oh sure, the likes of Moore, Brosnan, Dalton, and Craig all have their merits, but none of them command the screen the way Connery does. His Bond is an unapologetic rake, a hard-drinking, amoral, guilt-free government hero who takes pride in his shamelessly decadent lifestyle. These qualities are accentuated in Never Say Never Again, which partially seems designed to contrast Connery's Bond to Roger Moore's. Connery seems to be having a wonderful time here, exhibiting the sort of giddy playfulness that defined his turns in Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. There's a joyous confidence to his performance. Connery has this look in his eye that suggests, "I can beat any man, I can have any woman, I can eat and drink whatever I please, and I can look bloody damn good doing all of it."
However, Connery's superb performance is hardly the only noteworthy aspect of Never Say Never Again. Connery is very nearly matched at times by the wonderful Klaus Maria Brandauer, who provides a take on Largo that is far more complex and compelling that the one provided by Adolfo Celi in Thunderball (the original inspiration for this film). Comedian Rowan Atkinson has an amusing supporting turn as a hapless messenger, and Bernie Casey makes an appealing Felix Leiter (for those who thought Jeffrey Wright was the first African-American Leiter, think again). Max Von Sydow (who was playing a lot of blustery types in big-budget Hollywood flicks at the time) provides us with a wonderful Blofeld, perhaps the very best there has been (though I do have a fondness for Donald Pleasance's take on the role).
The film is perhaps closest to Diamonds Are Forever in terms of tone, with a lot of goofy humor being permitted to dominate the proceedings. While the plot rarely becomes as wildly silly as some of the Moore films, this definitely isn't From Russia With Love. Thankfully, much of the humor works, and the clever dialogue is solid throughout: When Bond is confronted about misusing his time at the health clinic, he replies, "What? I lost four pounds and who knows how many free radicals!" There's a bit less action in the film than usual for a Bond outing, but what we get is reasonably solid. My favorite sequence involves Bond attempting to get away from a pack of hungry sharks.
Now, let's take a look at the transfer. I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that the transfer here is a vast improvement over the previous DVD release. Of course it would be considering that this is a hi-def disc, but many of the scratches and flecks have been removed, and the film looks cleaner and clearer than ever. Now, the bad news: Never Say Never Again falls far short of the standard set by the other Bond films of yesteryear that are currently available on Blu-ray. All of the "official" Bond films have been blessed with great transfer and great sound, while Never Say Never Again is simply average on both counts. The picture here is a bit flat at times, and the level of grain throughout is irritatingly inconsistent (just look at the game sequence featuring Connery and Brandauer, and notice the way that the picture quality varies from shot to shot). The sound is rather lackluster, with surprisingly little that will shake your room or give your speakers any sort of workout. The audio is clear and reasonably well-distributed, but simply not remarkable in any way.
In terms of supplements, the same sort of good news/bad new scenario applies. There are a lot more features here than we got on the previous release, but the supplemental package isn't as substantial as what one usually gets with a Bond flick. First up is a commentary with director Irvin Kerschner and Bond Historian Steven Jay Rubin. It's a perfectly listenable track, offered the expected production info but never quite managing to become anything special. Three featurettes are included on the disc. The best of these is "The Big Gamble," which thoroughly details the troubled production and storied history of the film with refreshing frankness. "Bond is Back" (about Connery's return) and "The Girls of Never Say Never Again" are rather ordinary ho-hum pieces. Finally, a theatrical trailer is included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Much as I enjoy Never Say Never Again, the film commits some serious offenses, many of which are caused by the film's "unofficial" status. First of all, we get no pre-credits sequence, simply jumping right into the opening titles. Even more disappointingly, the credits are remarkably banal and ordinary, offering no silhouetted women or other goodies. To cap it all off, Michael Legrand supplies one of the very worst Bond songs; an absolutely unlistenable bit of dreck. His score is also unimpressive, and the soundtrack suffers greatly from not being allowed to employ the iconic James Bond theme at any point.
Edward Fox fares well enough as an irascible M, but Alec McCowan is just plain wrong a "Q." Not only does that part completely belong to Desmond Llewelyn, but McCowan just gets the character wrong. The fussy Q would never tell Bond to engage in lots of, "gratuitous sex and violence." He might think it, but he would never say it. Pamela Salem as Moneypenny? Um, no. Almost all of the female characters here are disasters. Kim Basinger has nothing much to offer (um, in terms of acting talent, anyway) as Largo's mistress Domino. Barbara Carrera is forced to participate in several embarrassingly bad scenes as the evil Fatima Blush. Her final scene is so awful that her ultimate fate seems a bit too appropriate. Interestingly enough, Bond beds no less than four women in this movie. Cool off, 007!
Never Say Never Again may not be a great Bond movie, and at times it may not even feel like a Bond movie, but I think it's good enough to be a part of any Bond fan's collection. As for this Blu-ray disc, it might not be a knockout, but it's sure worth an upgrade from the weak original DVD release.
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