Wednesday, July 18, 2012
50 Years of 007 - Never Say Never Again
50 Years of 007 drifts into unofficial seas as Cody takes a look at "the other Thunderball", 1983's Never Say Never Again.
As discussed in the Thunderball article, the rights to Ian Fleming's ninth Bond novel were complicated due to the fact that the story came from ideas that had come out of a collaboration between Fleming, filmmaker Kevin McClory, and writer Jack Whittingham. McClory ended up with film rights to the story and made a deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to have Thunderball made as an official entry in the Eon Productions Bond series in 1965. He also retained the right to produce a remake of Thunderball ten years later and, to the annoyance of Eon, he started to move forward on getting a remake made soon after that time was up.
As McClory developed the project through the late '70s under working titles Warhead and James Bond of the Secret Service, he was even able to get Sean Connery to come aboard. Connery had retired from the Eon films after 1967's You Only Live Twice and later made a one-time deal to return in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever. After Diamonds, Connery stated that he would "never again" play Bond. Yet here he was, working on another Bond film, and was eventually convinced to star in it, leading his wife Micheline to suggest the final title - Never Say Never Again.
When Never Say Never Again finally came together, it was in close competition with Eon's Octopussy. Both were released in 1983, with Octopussy coming out in June and Never Say Never Again in October. I don't really know why Connery got involved with this, it's odd that he would want to go against the wishes of the people who had boosted his career to extraordinary heights. It was a strange move to make.
Connery had final approval on many aspects of the film, and for the director he went with Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back, whom he had worked with on 1966's A Fine Madness.
The story had been changed quite a bit during the development. Drafts written in 1976 - '78, which credit Connery as a co-writer with McClory and Len Deighton, have some striking similarities to Eon's The Spy Who Loved Me. Both feature a villain with an underwater base, in the Thunderball remake script it's an "underwater kingdom" called Arkos or Aquapolis. The sabotage of nuclear submarines plays into the plots of both, it's where SPECTRE gets their warheads this time, instead of a bomber jet. Stromberg had a supertanker that could conceal submarines within it in TSWLM, the SPECTRE operatives have an old dredger that can conceal a submarine within it. Blofeld shares Stromberg's love of the sea, and wants to take over the world's oceans.
Blofeld does have some different plans - from the oceans, he will control the economic and political decisions of the rest of the world. He wants to stop pollution, fix the economy, and bring about world peace, and he intends to achieve this through executions and nuclear threats. If the United Nations don't have a meeting to discuss how to go along with Blofeld's New Order, a major city will be nuked. If the UN still doesn't comply after that, he will detonate two warheads under the Antarctic ice caps, flooding half the world's cities and drowning most of the population. The major city targeted in the first part of his threat is New York City, and from their base in the Statue of Liberty, SPECTRE sets out to detonate a warhead beneath the New York Stock Exchange. The method of delivery: robot sharks. The warhead is placed in a robot hammerhead, which is sent into the sewer system with robot tiger sharks as bodyguard escorts, attacking anyone who gets in their way. A big setpiece features Bond pursuing robot sharks through New York City sewage.
The coincidental similarities between TSWLM and the Thunderball remake drafts played into the lawsuit between McClory and Eon at this time, and while McClory was successful in keeping Blofeld and SPECTRE out of Eon's film, it was ultimately decided in court that if he was going to make his remake, it would have to stick close to the Thunderball novel. It's been said that they could only work with elements taken directly from the novel or implied within, but I think they had to have been able to take things from the 1959 treatments and outlines as well, because that's where villainous female Fatima Blush comes from, she wasn't in the book.
The final script for Never Say Never Again was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., best known for his work on the 1960s Batman TV series, with uncredited work by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais.
Producer Jack Schwartzman was in court with Eon representatives throughout the production, trying to come to terms on what could and couldn't be done in the film. Nothing from the Eon films could be replicated, though I think they pushed their luck on that point.
Kershner was faced with the challenge of making a film that was sufficiently Bondian without using any of the traditional elements that had come to be identified with Bond films. So he did some twists on those elements.
Instead of a gun barrel, the film opens on a grid made of "007"s. This grid gets closer and closer until the camera passes through it and into the movie's opening action sequence. In an Eon production, this would be a pre-title sequence, to be followed by the titles with a song playing over them. Kershner mixes them all together - the titles appear over the action, while the song "Never Say Never Again", performed by Lani Hall, plays on the soundtrack.
Originally, the film was going to begin at a jousting tournament, leading into an action sequence of Bond chasing someone through the streets of London on horseback. Clement and Le Frenais suggested a change, and their suggestion won out - the film begins with Bond raiding a rundown compound, where revolutionaries have been holding a millionaire's daughter captive for eight weeks.
The location was an abandoned house that Kershner just happened to come across in the Bahamas, and this house must've been a truly awesome place in its day. Bond successfully takes down the revolutionaries, but as he unties the girl she pulls a knife and sticks it between his ribs. James Bond has been killed.
Luckily for him, this has just been part of a series of practice "war games" that the new M has been putting him through for two weeks. This new M, played by Edward Fox, is such a stuffy Brit that it borders on parody, and he has little use for the 00 section. Bond's job has mostly consisted of teaching lately.
M sends Bond to the health clinic Shrublands for diet and exercise because he has bad lifestyle and eating habits, and his war game failure implies that he's getting rusty. Connery was past 50 when he starred in this film, and they did not shy away from his age. He's playing an older Bond here, there's questioning of his capabilities and he looks back fondly on the good old days when he and the missions were in their prime. The Shrublands stay is more easily acceptable here than it was in Thunderball.
The 30 minutes or so following Bond's arrival at Shrublands is when this film most closely resembles the 1965 version.
We were introduced to the villains of Thunderball by seeing Emilio Largo move through the Paris building that housed the charity organization The International Brotherhood for the Assistance of Stateless Persons, entering a SPECTRE conference room through a hidden doorway. Here Fatima Blush enters a SPECTRE base hidden in a French bank. When two P.O. boxes are simultaneously unlocked, the wall slides down to reveal a passageway. After a hi-tech security scan, Fatima enters a room where SPECTRE head Blofeld is holding a meeting.
The great Max von Sydow plays Blofeld in what is little more than a cameo and he lays out SPECTRE's plans while, like in the Eon films, holding a white cat in his lap. From a wall-mounted monitor, SPECTRE agent Maximilian Largo confirms that their next and most audacious operation is underway.
Largo has gotten an American Air Force officer named Jack Petachi hooked on heroin and turned him into an obedient servant by exploiting his addiction and promising him a large payoff. Petachi's sister Domino is also in danger if he doesn't comply. Largo has the bases covered. The fact that the SPECTRE agents even know who Petachi's sister is fixes the massive coincidence in Fleming's novel, where Largo's mistress just happened to be the sister of the man he murders.
The Petachi set-up is sort of a mix of the plans in the Thunderball novel, where a pilot was simply hired to take part in SPECTRE's plan, and the film, where the pilot was replaced by a man who had undergone plastic surgery to look just like him. Here, Petachi has undergone a corneal implant so that his right eye is now an exact replica of the President of the United States'. Largo has assigned Fatima Blush to be Petachi's caretaker as he convalesces... at Shrublands.
And so, it's at the clinic that Bond, by pure chance, first gets wrapped up in SPECTRE's schemes. His stay isn't just filled with health food and exercise, he also makes it worthwhile by seducing one of the therapists there, Patricia Fearing (played by Prunella Gee). While he's in bed with Fearing, Bond overhears Fatima disciplining Petachi for smoking. Seeing what appears to be a nurse beating the hell out of a patient, Bond goes in for a closer look... and soon sees even stranger things going on. Fatima spots Bond and immediately recognizes him. She knows who he is and that he's a threat.
In Thunderball, the SPECTRE agent watching over the convalescing pilot doppelganger was a man named Count Lippe. There's a Lippe in this film as well, but this guy is a massive beast of an assassin who Fatima sends to take Bond out of the equation. Lippe is played by 6'5" wrestler Pat Roach, best known for having encounters with Harrison Ford in all three of the 1980s Indiana Jones movies, playing a different character in each. His extended fight with Bond throughout Shrublands is a lot of fun and one of the highlights of the film.
While Bond is ejected from Shrublands and M threatens to suspend him, Petachi moves forward on SPECTRE's operation. The Air Force is launching two cruise missiles with dummy warheads to test distance and accuracy, but with an eye scan of his Presidential cornea and the typing of a code, Petachi is able to replace the dummy warheads with live nuclear devices.
The missiles are launched and Petachi has outlived his usefulness. Because he severely overreacts when Fatima tosses a non-venomous, rather sedate snake into his car while he's driving, she can easily tie up the loose end that he has become. SPECTRE is able to take control of the missiles mid-flight and land them safely in the ocean, where Largo and henchmen retrieve them.
A video from Blofeld informs NATO that SPECTRE is now in possession of two nuclear bombs. If a payment amounting to 25% of each country's annual oil purchases isn't paid to SPECTRE within seven days, the bombs will be detonated in two separate locations - one somewhere on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, the other in an unspecified oil field.
While snooping around in Petachi's room at Shrublands, Bond found a symbol of two crossed flags. He's checking up on this symbol on a computer in MI6, a search that has led him to information on Maximilian Largo, when Miss Moneypenny informs him that M needs to see him - SPECTRE's threats have caused the 00s to be reinstated and Bond is on the job.
Miss Moneypenny is played by Pamela Salem, but Bond does not have the same kind of interaction with her as he had in the Eon films, because they avoid the flirtation. Moneypenny seems to care deeply for Bond, but they exchange no sexual innuendos. There's also a large age difference between the characters in this film; Connery and Roger Moore were close in age with Eon's Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, Pamela Salem is twenty years younger than Connery.
Before departing on his mission, Bond also meets up with another popular character from the Eon films, Q. This Q is also referred to as Algernon and is played by Alec McCowen, who is very reminiscent of Michael Caine, if only Caine was even more Cockney. Algernon is a Q who sort of lives vicariously through Bond, he's excited to see him go off on missions and endulge in "gratuitous sex and violence". This Q is also disgruntled in his work, dealing with budget cuts and shipping problems, and when he and Bond stroll through the Q Branch lab it looks quite like a typical auto shop. Except for the rack of weaponry in the middle of the room. Despite these changes, this scene is one that seems dangerously close to Eon's territory. Algernon provides Bond with a pen that fires an explosive charge and a watch equipped with a lazer cutter. These don't seem like things that would've been in the original writings, these are more like Eon specialties.
Maximilian Largo owns the Flying Saucer (the English translation of the name of Largo's boat in Thunderball, the Disco Volante), the biggest yacht in the Caribbean, which has a helicopter pad with the crossed flags symbol painted on it. Largo has his own personal little computer and communications control room where a wall slides open so that he can spy, through a two-way mirror, into a small dance studio. This dance studio is where his mistress, Domino Petachi, spends most of her time.
Domino is played by Kim Basinger, who I think is one of the most attractive actresses to appear in a Bond film, official or otherwise. Largo may have only made Domino his mistress to have leverage with her brother, but he's done quite a good job of seducing her - she tells him that he's all she wants in the world. And even though Jack isn't around to be concerned for her anymore, Largo still considers her a very valuable possession, one he's determined to keep around. Domino's joking question of "What if I ever leave you?" gets a chilling response from Largo: "Then I cut your throat."
Since he already had a lead on Largo, Bond is dispatched to the last known location of his yacht, the Bahamas, the primary setting of Thunderball. He's met by a representative from the British embassy, Nigel Small-Fawcett, a brief comedic appearance by Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean/Blackadder/Johnny English himself. Small-Fawcett informs Bond that the Flying Saucer has set sail, assuring us that this version of Thunderball will not be sticking around in Nassau.
Largo may be gone, but Fatima Blush has stuck around to do some water skiing. Since Bond hadn't gotten a good look at her in Shrublands, she's able to charm her way into his good graces. He tells her that he's in Nassau on a fishing expedition, so she offers to take him out to the best waters. Bond has to wait around for Small-Fawcett to find out where Largo's yacht went and here's a chance to spend his free time with a beautiful woman, so of course he accepts. While they boat out to a diving spot, Fatima throws herself at Bond. Bond may hook up with a lot of women in his movies, but no other shows as much of a sex scene as this film does, with saxophone playing on the soundtrack. The closest is between Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry in Die Another Day.
Bond and Fatima then go diving at an old shipwreck, where Fatima reveals herself to be a villain by planting on Bond's oxygen tank a transmitter that attracts sharks. Like many who were terrified by Jaws as a child, I find shark action in films to be rather fascinating, so I quite enjoy this sequence of Bond being pursued through and around the shipwreck... and there's something very cool about seeing sharks swimming around inside a structure, smashing through glass and being stopped by doors getting closed on their snouts.
Bond manages to escape the sharks and is plucked out of the sea by a woman who truly is in the Bahamas on a fishing expedition. A quite attractive woman, played by Valerie Leon, who had appeared in the 1977 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me as a hotel receptionist. By hooking up with a second woman in the same afternoon, Bond is able to avoid another attempt on his life - Fatima blows up his hotel room, but he's safe in bed with Valerie Leon's unnamed character in her room.
Small-Fawcett finds out where Largo is headed and Never Say Never Again gets back on the Thunderball track in a different location - Nice, France. There he meets up with a couple allies; local contact Nicole who, like Paula in the 1965 film, is really just in the film to be killed, and Felix Leiter, who is introduced much like Jack Lord's rendition of the character was in Dr. No - as a suspicious stranger lurking around an airport.
For the first time, Leiter is played by a black actor, former NFL player Bernie Casey. Casey remained the only black Leiter until Jeffrey Wright in the Daniel Craig films.
Nicole has set Bond up in a rather extravagant hilltop villa, from which they can use a telescope to spy on Largo's yacht in the bay below. It's not until 59 minutes into the film that Bond first sees Domino and discovers that Petachi's sister is with Largo, spotting her through the telescope as she dances on the deck of the yacht. Now he has the perfect way to find out more about what Largo's up to.
Domino goes to a spa for a massage and Bond follows her in, where the crafty old devil poses as a masseur and engages her in conversation while giving her an unprofessional rubdown. When Domino finds out the man who just had his hands all over her wasn't a spa employee, she doesn't seem to mind too much.
Largo is holding a ball at a casino that evening, proceeds said to be going to a children's charity, so Bond decides to attend as well. He's not on the invite list, but he gets in by shoving the doorman into a closet and putting a cigar case in his hand, convincing him that it's a motion-sensitive bomb. As the doorman struggles to stay as still as possible, Bond goes on with his night.
Bond and Largo first encounter each other, as in this film's predecessor, over a gaming table. But rather than doing a card game again, this version brings things into the '80s and has them play a video game. The game is called Domination, red vs. blue in a nuclear war for the fate of the world. They play for real money... and real pain. The joysticks give the players a shock, and the more they lose in the game, the stronger the electrical current gets.
After a couple losses, Bond gets the hang of it and comes out the victor. He wins $267,000 from Largo, but he trades it for one dance with Domino - during which he clues her in to what's going on. "Your brother's dead. Keep dancing."
Bond returns to his villa at dawn the next morning, and in a nod to Thunderball's grape moment he stops by a bowl of fruit... and chooses an apple. Something is off about the villa and Bond eats his apple while checking the place out. Windows are open, Fatima is moving through the place outside of Bond's eye range. He discovers Nicole's body floating facedown in a waterbed, then spots Fatima escaping in a car.
Bond gives chase on a motorcycle that Q/Algernon had shipped to him, a gadget-equipped vehicle that takes its cue from Fiona Volpe's rocket-firing motorcycle in Thunderball. Bond's bike has tire guards and a rocket booster, according to Irvin Kershner it was also supposed to have wings that would slide out, and the rocket boost would enable the motorcycle to take flight and sail over a building. There was a mix-up with the designers and Kershner didn't get his winged bike. He was disappointed to only be able to have the motorcycle ramp over a couple things. There are already multiple instances of poorly-aged effects involving objects flying through the air in this movie, so I don't think the flying motorcycle was really a loss.
The chase sequence ends with Fatima getting the drop on Bond. What stands out as memorable about the villain performances in this film is the fact that Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo and Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush play their characters as completely bugnuts crazy. Or, as Bond more delicately describes Largo to Domino, "He's certifiable."
Fatima's insanity really shows in her final moments with Bond; as she holds him at gunpoint, she demands that he write out an endorsement naming her as the greatest lover he ever had. Conveniently, Bond has a pen in his pocket, one given to him by Q... The endorsement doesn't work out for Fatima, but Bond does save her from having to report yet another failure to Largo.
Diving around the Flying Saucer the next morning with Leiter, Bond ends up being trapped in a hidden compartment near the bottom of the ship and is politely welcomed aboard by Largo, who acts like there's absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on between them. He offers a drink, Bond asks for a vodka martini.
The yacht is now en route to yet another location, Largo's vacation home Palmyra in North Africa. The hospitality ends once they reach Africa. Bond ends up shackled in a room full of skeletons and vultures, while Largo attempts to have Domino sold into slavery, since he saw her kissing Bond in her dance studio. As a dying man's request, Bond asks Largo where the bombs are. Largo reveals the location of one - Washington D.C. - but keeps the other a secret.
The jousting/chase through London was dropped, but a Bond-on-horseback sequence remains in the film as he and Domino make their escape. One of those aforementioned dodgy effects of something flying through the air occurs here, in this case it's the horse, when Bond jumps it off the roof of a fortress, down to the sea below. The long fall is an effect, but a horse was really jumped into water from a height for this scene, a fact which got it deleted from the film in the UK. The censors objected to it because the horse wouldn't have made such a jump willingly.
Bond and Domino are picked up by Leiter and the crew of an American submarine. While the sub pursues Largo and the Flying Saucer to its final destination, Bond finally gets a chance to fool around with Domino.
When the Flying Saucer enters waters too shallow for the submarine to follow it into, Bond and Leiter exit the sub in new, top secret transportation devices. Missiles are launched out of the sub, then split apart in mid-air to reveal Bond and Leiter on rocket-boosted platforms, an obvious callback to the jet pack in Thunderball. With dodgy special effects, the agents fly their way to shore.
Largo and his henchman are moving the second bomb through an underwater cave to a location beneath some oil fields, as Blofeld promised, and the stage is set for a final confrontation that occurs both in the cave system and, as in Thunderball, underwater. The underwater battle is mercifully much shorter than Thunderball's.
Never Say Never Again is an interesting movie to watch, to see how they were able to make a Bond film without being a proper, official Bond film. I don't like it as much as the average Eon production, but in direct comparison I think I enjoy it a bit more than Thunderball overall. Thunderball had pacing issues, while NSNA keeps things moving along and there's more happening in it.
It's enjoyable to see the older Bond approach with the returning Connery, and odd to see how the film plays on the cinematic history of Bond, relying on the audience being familiar with him from the other films while at the same time being separate from them. This is a Bond who seems to have lived the adventures from the official series, although he couldn't have lived Thunderball, otherwise he'd be questioning reality and his sanity as he relives the same scenarios with people who have the same names.
Connery is great in the film, he still had it in him to play Bond even at fifty+ and after a twelve year break. He's better in this than he was in some of his official turns... He could say "never again" with no trouble after this one, he made no more return films, and in this alterniverse where Thunderball hadn't previously happened, it appears that Bond gets the happy ending of retiring and settling into a life of relaxation with Kim Basinger's Domino. Maybe. It wouldn't be a bad way to go out.
This wasn't the end of the Thunderball remake attempts and lawsuits for Kevin McClory. In 1997, he teamed with Sony to pursue a second remake, with the working title Warhead 2000 A.D. MGM, distributor of the Eon productions, was not pleased with this news. As MGM tried to stop this rival Bond production from getting off the ground, Sony countered that McClory was co-author of the cinematic Bond and deserved payment for every Bond film that Eon had made. With a court date looming, a deal was made between the companies. Sony would drop the Warhead 2000 plans, giving MGM exclusive international rights to the Bond series. MGM bought out the rights to Casino Royale, the 1967 version of which was in the Sony library, finally getting Eon the rights to do an adaptation of that Fleming novel. At this same time, MGM and Sony were in disagreement over which studio has the rights to make a Spider-Man movie, so in exchange for the Bond rights, MGM dropped their claim on Spider-Man, freeing Sony up to move forward on that project.
Kevin McClory passed away in 2006. In 2008, his hard copies of the '76 and '78 drafts of the script, along with the NSNA shooting script and some storyboards, were sold at an auction for £46,850.