Thunderball ★★★★

Initiate Mission. Code name: Thunderball


Bond-a-thon returns soaking wet - at least we didn't drown!

They call him the winner who takes all
And he strikes, like Thunderball!

Random Weekly Bond Trivia About Me: My first actual memory of a Bond film must be about Thunderball. The little me (probably 9-10 years old) stayed for the night at my friend's place playing edgy video games. When it was time to go to bed, I can recall us watching Thunderball which was playing in a small cottage TV. Funny enough, we had been swimming in the pool their family had just before that. Life is full of wet coincidences... or was it all destiny?

Side Note: The weekly fabulous glasses return


Before starting the grand underwater journey, I must express my fears. Thunderball is the Bond I didn't use to feverishly watch over and over again, the first film in the series I didn't "like" after adding it to Letterboxd. This film started my theory of how water simply bores me in movies, especially if the majority of action takes place in water or close to it. Sounds silly I know, but a few times it has proven itself to be quite true. Water must explain everything! In a way it's sad, for all these years I've kept Thunderball forgotten only because of my ridiculous assumptions. Bond-a-thon shall fix this issue, now I will find out whether the film really is that significant drop in quality after the three masterful works or was it all only about a kid who didn't get the brilliance of Bond this one time?'

"Behave yourself, Mr. Bond!"

The first Bond shot in widescreen Panavision. The opening gun barrel scene, now re-shot with Sean Connery instead of Bob Simmons. Bang! Let's face it: Thunderball is a damn good film, but a troubled one and troubled in ways that made me more aware of the flaws than before in Bonds. We shall get straight to the bottom of the sea and solve its secrets. The pre-credit sequence is brilliant, absolutely brilliant in its pure classic ridiculousness. Opening very quietly in the middle of a funeral, I can only sit and watch being astonished by how it all turns into an epic showdown so smoothly, like a film's climax in the beginning. Then Bond gets off with a goddamn (real) jet pack! One of the best, and one of my favourite beautiful overtures.

"Do you come here often?

After showing everyone how to do it right in Dr. No, the one and only Maurice Binder designed the title sequence once again after Robert Brownjohn's solid work in the two previous films. Binder wouldn't let go of that honor after Thunderball, creating rich Bond fantasies all the way to License to Kill. Binder's return to this cunning world is magnificent. The watery beginning, with silhouettes of women swimming around... ah! What a joy. I know the theme song causes some controversies among certain Bond fans (Johnny Cash versus Tom Jones), but as much as I like Cash and his version, the performance of Jones is close to perfection. As you could expect, the theme song's lyrics in the film doesn't come even as close to the quite spot-on story Cash provides, but Barry's composition reaches such staggering heights by combining Bond trademarks into one suave track that I'm instantly defeated. In the end of the day, it's Tom Jones playing in my head instead of Johnny Cash. The final stretch, Thunderbaaaaaaaaaall! And then supposedly Jones fainted. Those kind of legends make the series even more delicious.

"Vanity, Mr. Bond, is something you know so much about"

Today's story, the usual. Some bad guys want to do something very evil and it's up to Bond to prevent the disaster. Warning: doppelgangers included. In Thunderball, we go back to... SPECTRE! There's that white pussycat guy again (still not bald), overseeing everything and punishing his underlings for every mistake accordingly. The main villain here is Emilio Largo, a devil with an eye-patch played by Adolfo Celi. Largo now continues the tradition of dubbed antagonists and Celi charms his audience with the help of natural Italian charm. He's also a typical ruthless asshole. Then of course we have the Bond girl Dominique Dorvette (Domino), played by the dubbed beauty Claudine Auger, is one of the nicely working features we have here. I've seen worse opposites to Bond, she's spicy but could be even spicier. I wish she would have been more dominating, yet at least even now Domino takes a slight victory over Pussy and Tania. There's also a SPECTRE agent called Fiona Volpe (played seductively by Luciana Paluzzi), who is the "dominatrix" I had wanted. Despite the supposed games of James, Volpe uses Bond just as much as Bond uses her, for sexual pleasure and more. Paluzzi's villainess is definitely someone to remember from Thunderball.

"That gun. Looks more fitting for a woman"

John Barry's soundtracks are always a pleasure to discuss. The reason why I would use a whole paragraph for his work this time is that Barry's score for Thunderball is an important one. Since the very first film Dr. No, the musical dimension of Bond has differed in various yet subtle ways (where the biggest contrast can be seen when comparing Monty Norman's laid-back jazzy funk to Barry's scores). The very core of the music however has always been the film's theme song in all of the three Bonds so far. After the unforgettable excellency of Goldfinger, the score of Thunderball was destined to be a milestone without a doubt. Not a milestone in a way that it had to become surprisingly special or groundbreaking, but as the point where the formula is either permanently established or starting to repeat itself and bore. Pish-posh. Barry's third Bond score doesn't bore, it is glorious and sends the message "I'm here to stay". Barry is always the man I can trust to provide, the man who always manages to keep me interested with his music. In Thunderball, superb work. Moneypenny, remember to remind me that I seriously need to start gathering sweet Bond vinyls.

"I think I had a hat when I came in"

Thunderball is the first Bond with a running time over 120 minutes. It can be great to be the first, but the length in Thunderball is no doubt a hindrance. Various scenes are simply too long, exceedingly lingering and slow. The film is like battling against itself, and it happens way too often. There's the supervising editor Peter R. Hunt, who would return later again as the supervising editor & second unit director in You Only LIve Twice and as a director in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Hunt with the experience of three other Bonds already under his belt certainly does what he is able to helping the editor Ernest Hosler, whose only Bond this ended up being. Hunt was known in the series as a pioneering editor with his quick cuts and making the most exciting scenes even outside of action, especially noticeably in Goldfinger. Maybe he should have been the actual editor one last time? I can only imagine what kind of nightmare Thunderball had been to edit. There's space left for more cuts and editing, not to mention that some fade transitions don't work that well, but everything can't be saved inside of the editing room. Some things can be saved and probably are. Combined with Barry's thrilling sounds, there are many scenes which also shine in comparison to the weak ones.

"Oh no."
"Ah! 007."

Thunderball marks the return of Terence Young, the man who directed Dr. No and From Russia With Love. The final Bond from Young. His direction is mostly confident just like before, just as well maintained quality especially in the smaller scenes. In his direction Connery, if possible, is even more assuring as Bond than ever before and handles all sides of Bond flawlessly. Young certainly isn't in trouble when painting action sequences in a greater scale either, but occasionally seemingly hasty and odd decisions are made. I got a feeling that Young was more comfortable when Bond was smaller, and jumping into this huger production required adapting. If the younger me was right about something, it's the water. The underwater sequences are to be blamed for sure. The cinematography there sure looks gorgeous, but those scenes are simply monotonous and more often fantastically dull rather than suspenseful. The directing and direction is lost at times, but there are also moments where Young provides the audience quite lovely wet tension in addition to his expected skills on ground. I'm happy to say that the end's underwater battles are pretty marvelous, where the tedious slow pacing is actually intriguing to follow. The way Young dances and switches between men fighting & oblivious fish, fascinatingly fun.

"Aren't you in the wrong room Mr. Bond?"
"Not from where I'm standing"

What is Young's legacy? Instead of Young, Guy Hamilton made Bond go gold in Goldfinger and claimed the highest peak of glory you could get in the series. For some reason I always felt bad for Young because of that, but after Thunderball I'm not sure would have he really been ready for the task. His legacy, however, is undeniable. Even when Young didn't receive his ultimate achievement, he was there to start the journey of James Bond and prepare the series for its future majesty. Young made three truly good spy adventures starring the most important British agent on Earth, helping Sean Connery to become a superstar and a well-known sex symbol. If that's not an achievement great enough, I don't know what is. Terence Young, thank you for your service.

"Well, I'm not what you'd call a passionate man"

I desired to like Thunderball more than Dr. No, but I didn't. Why? I had one defining thought in the middle of the film. Thunderball is bigger, grander and more pompous than ever before... but only on paper. In reality, Thunderball does exactly the same with the budget of $9 million that Dr. No was able to do with 8 million dollars less. They both left a similar impression, indeed it seems like there are things you can't make better with only money. Thunderball's troubles ain't bothering enough for me to drop the rating below four (maybe 3.75), but Dr. No is always the winner in my heart.

Thunderball, your fiery breath can burn the coldest man
And who is going to suffer from the power in your hand

Thunderball might be the weakest film in the series so far, but it doesn't hit the rock bottom, not at all. Yes, sometimes it feels like all that swimming is lasting forever and killing you slowly, but that's no reason to forget the successful parts and let it stop you from enjoying a few finest moments of Connery's 007. If you can endure the problems and flaws, Thunderball is a mighty welcome addition and most of the times quite an entertaining Bond spectacle. So, what's coming up next week? You Only Live Twice! I will see you there.

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