You Are Here: Home » Film » Film Review: The James Bond Series; Thunderball

Film Review: The James Bond Series; Thunderball

Title: Thunderball

Directer: Terence Young.

Writer: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkin.

Genre: Spy.

Released: 1965.

Starring: Sean Connery, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bernard Lee, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi.

Running Time: 130 minutes.

ThoughtsThunderball was one of the most difficult Ian Fleming novels to adapt to the big screen. The main problem, was unfortunate legal disputes between Ian Fleming and former collaborators of his, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. Ian Fleming published the novel Thunderball in 1961, but then was accosted by McClory and Whittingha, who claimed the novel was based upon a screenplay written between the three for a failed cinematic translation earlier in Fleming’s career. Having been sued by McClory and Whittingham, the lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, with McClory and Whittingham offered certain screen rights for the story, plot and characters by Bond producers Saltzman and Broccoli. The movie itself would demonstrate the growth of the series, becoming the most complex yet. Four different filming units were used, with a quarter of the movie being devoted to underwater scenes, and was also the first, of many, Bond movie to have a running time of over two hours.

During the lead-up to the actual movie, Broccoli intended for actresses for the role of Domino, to be of a stronger dramatic ability. Julie Christie was the original favorite, but Broccoli was left disappointed after their initial meeting; Broccoli then looked to Raquel Welch, who passed it over the movie Fantastic Voyage. Broccoli also looked towards Faye Dunaway, who came close to signing. Eventually, it was decided to go with a former Miss France, Claudine Auger. When choosing the director, Guy Hamilton, of Goldfinger acclaim, was approached for returning to the chair, but he cited himself as feeling worn out and “creatively drained”, so Broccoli returned to the previous series director, Guy Hamilton, who had directed Dr No and From Russia With Love, who accepted the role, having previously thrown his hat in for directing Thunderball.

One of the major effects that was utilized for the movie, was the inclusion of a jet pack, or ‘rocket belt’, which was actually known for working in real life, including being used infamously during Superbowl 1. The budget for the movie was also higher than the previous movies, a total of $9 million, eclipsing all three previous movies combined budget. Due to the much bigger elements of the movie, in contrast to the previous three movies, it was perfect timing for going higher with the budget. It was during this movie, that Connery began to become increasingly agitated with intrusions of his life by the press, as well as becoming distracted by marriage difficulties with his then-wife Diane Cilento. Connery, stating his frustration with the press harassment due to his chosen role, also began blanking journalists, refusing to speak to them or photographers, at one point being quoted as saying:

I find that fame tends to turn one from an actor and a human being into a piece of merchandise, a public institution. Well, I don’t intend to undergo that metamorphosis.

For the opening credits, the opening credits originally brought in Shirley Bassey to sing, writing a song entitled Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, that was supposed to describe the character of James Bond, feeling that a song with the words Thunderball included would be too difficult. But ironically, the studio United Artists requested the inclusion of the title within the opening credits. To acquire this, the producers had Tom Jones brought in to sing Thunderball, offering a male, bombastic contrast to the Diva quality of the previous movie. Supposedly, Tom Jones’ vocal range went so high in the final note, that Jones fainted in the recording booth, commenting that

I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.

When the movie debuted, it made the highest grossing movie of not only the year, but also of the Bond series yet, making a total of $141.2 million, obliterating the opposition. When adjusted for inflation, it seemingly is the highest current earner in the history of Bond, making an approximate $1 billion. It also was highly critically acclaimed, as well as winning an Academy Award For Best Visual Effects, awarded to John Stears. And yet, surprisingly, this is the first Bond movie that doesn’t fill me with major excitement, or has me drawn into the movie. I just find there to be something missing in comparison to the other three. Maybe it was the fact I watched it after the fantastic Goldfinger,but it just doesn’t work as well as I hoped.

First of all, it has to be noted, that without question, this is one of the most infamous of the James Bond films. The reason for this, is that it has not only impacted upon several other Bond movies, but it has also influenced upon parody films, such as Austin Powers. The plot for Thunderball, involves villains, working for SPECTRE, stealing nuclear warheads and holding major cities to ransom, depicted through Number 2, Emilio Largo. This would inspire the often-used plot of villains stealing nuclear warheads, and without fail, attempting to hold major cities to ransom. The villains in parody movies will often have sharks as pets, just like Largo does, in this film. Also, the evil villain may have a patch over one eye, or reside on an island, just like our main villain, Emilio Largo. But as the original, the important question is, does it work? Mostly, yes, it does.

The plot, contemporary wise, was very new, and was deemed an interesting new idea, the simplicity of the threat allows to set up the plot very quickly, and helps give 007 an agenda for the entire film. It also helps that it is executed in an interesting manner, the story including the use of plastic surgery and facial doubles in order to accomplish the task, which have now grown to become a regular inclusion for spy or thriller movies. Here, it comes across as more believable, SPECTRE takes two years to accomplish both the surgery and the facial doubling, is primarily used for just the disposable of fallen employees.

Emilio Largo, as portrayed by Adolfo Celi, isn’t a terrible villain, but he is just an, okay villain, the problem is that his methods are often more frightening than himself, he uses sharks and torture against his opponents. However, I found him to be slightly bland at times, but I will mention, that other times, he was pretty good, making the audience squirm. What he just needed, was an act of more consistency, too often he would fluctuate. The better villain was actually Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi, who unfortunately is probably most known for being the most endowed woman in the Bond worlds yet. But in actuality, Volpe also happens to be equivocally evil, she was both beautiful and maniacal, and I was more invested in seeing how Bond would defeat her, than Largo, the supposed main villain. However, I did enjoy again that Number 1 of SPECTRE, was portrayed as being cut throat and willing to use any method. The film helped build up SPECTRE as a more worldwide villain, as opposed to being portrayed as just a drug cartel or gang, which would have positive impact in the following movie.

The Bond girl is average, just okay at best, Domino was mostly a means to an end, Bond getting close to her through her connections as sister of a dead pilot, who was involved with NATO and as the lover of Largo (yes, that did feel slightly convoluted as I explained it). One positive was that it was interesting to see Bond as a more manipulative character, demonstrating his steel of character and in all fairness, she in fact ends up becoming very vital by the end of the film, but I didn’t find her very memorable. I actually remembered more an early conquest of Bond’s, but not in a positive way. Several times, Bond comes onto a nurse, who dispels him, but later on, when Bond is recovering from an attack, he manipulates the nurse, forcing himself upon her. Obviously, afterwards, she suddenly decided that she loved Bond, but still, it is an extremely uncomfortable scene to watch, and turns me off Bond as a character.

One thing I noticed was the inclusion of several water scenes, supposedly one of the first major movies using underwater fight scenes. Now, granted, sometimes the underwater fights looked good…but other times, it was actually quite detrimental to the movie. At times, it was in fact difficult to tell who was actually who underwater, unless they were maybe color coordinated, but even then you couldn’t distinguish them beyond being either ‘a hero’ or ‘a villain’. Also, there was sometimes twenty minutes dedicated to fight scenes underwater, which became slightly boring, replying purely on average music to pass the time. I do applaud them for trying something different, but I’m uncertain it worked on a regular basis, becoming monotonous once the uniqueness had petered off.

Of course, unsurprisingly, Sean Connery was, as always, good and solid as Bond, which by this point, kind of goes without saying, he just suits the role very well, being intelligent in that he relies upon his strengths: his impeccable charm, and his physicality. However, whilst the film was interesting on paper, in actual execution, I was disappointed, and even slightly bored in small areas, and I’m uncertain on whether or not it ages well. I would probably still watch it again, as a fan of James Bond, and would probably recommend it to Bond fans, but I wouldn’t recommend that you sit there thinking too much about the plot or what is occurring, just kind of go along with it. Overall, my first disappointment of the series.

Thumbs Up, 6 out of 10.

About The Author

Post-Graduate from Falmouth University, having taken "English with Creative Writing". 22 years old, based in Plymouth.

Number of Entries : 24