Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bond Watch: Never Say Never Again (1983)

I was supposed to be spending the evening writing up Shin Godzilla, but the weirdest thing happened, and when Paul, Jamie and I went to the movie, for some reason the hard drive the theater received had a piercing 1khz over the entire soundtrack.  So, we got a refund, went to the bar nextdoor for a couple of hours and then we headed home.

Jamie wanted to finally see this rogue James Bond movie - and try as I might, I never quite remember the details of how this movie came to be.  I know the ownership of the character - filmwise - was under contention or something, and that problem continued until they settled their differences and we got Casino Royale.  So all's well that ends well.

But this film is not by the Brocollis or at MGM.  As the film's credits rolled at the end, Talia Shire gets a special credit as a consultant to the producer, her husband, Jack Schwartzman.  Always glad to see Talia Shire is keeping busy.  And, of course, it starred a 53-year-old Sean Connery (really in terrific shape) coming back to the role that made him.

I was shocked to figure out I had never seen Never Say Never Again (1983), making this one of three I am positive I've never seen all the way through.  Or, if I have seen it, I have totally forgotten it, but that seems marginally unlikely as I've realized here and there what I've seen before as we've gone along.

I'm sure there's an article on the why's and how's of this film, but the weirdest impact is that it doesn't feature a Bond score or other members of the supporting cast like Lois Maxwell.  And the opening credits are kind of... meh.

Compared to Octopussy, released the same year, this is a hard-hitting, gritty espionage story free of clowns, gorilla costumes or acrobats.  It's also roughly Thunderball without some of the cooler stuff and some commentary on social trends of the time as James Bond is made to go a health spa and eat wheat germ.

The screenplay was by Lorenzo Semple Jr., which eagle-eyed Batfans will recognize as the guy who wrote a huge number of episodes of Batman, and the screenplays for Three Days of the Condor, Flash Gordon and a bunch of other stuff.  It's not like the guy didn't like to get in some smirking at popular culture when he could.

The film is less silly than what was going on over at MGM.  This is less of a kids' film, and we're certainly back to every woman who meets Bond is ready to hand over her motel room keys.  And, honestly, I kind of missed Connery's crankier Bond.  It grounds the character a bit more if he's not constantly snickering at the people attempting to kill everyone.  The action sequences are actually not too bad, but less exciting than in Thunderball, and in between, the movie can feel pretty dull or awkward.

I feel bad saying all of this as its directed by Irvin Kirshner, and when he's on, he's on here.  But you kind of get the feeling there's just not much gelling between Connery, Kirshner and the producers as they tick off the Bond-ian tasks (go to casino) and then mess it up with a clunky sequence where Bond engages our villain in a high-stakes game of Missile Command, demonstrating as early as 1983 why you don't want to spend movie-time showing people playing videogames.*

But, yeah, pacing and sequences that felt like we'd been-there-done-that from prior movies certainly are keeping this one from making my top ten Bond flicks.

The movie was clearly meant to be it's own series as it reintroduces SPECTRE and Blofeld (played by Max Von Sydow), and the SPECTRE agent in play is played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who you'll remember from Out of Africa (if you haven't seen it, not a bad flick).  His ladyfriend is played by Kim Basinger, so for some of us, that's a plus.

All in all, it's a bit of a skippable installment except for the sheer novelty factor.  But it's also not impossible to guess that the Casino Royale crew took some notes to see what they could borrow as they revitalized the series.  Make it less goofy, ground it in reality a bit...  Stuff I felt like they also tried with Timoty Dalton, so we'll check that out when we get there.

Next up... Christopher Walken as Bond villain.

*no, I don't get how you gamers watch those videos on YouTube.

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