Thursday, August 23, 2012

50th Anniversary Bond Rewatch "Thunderball" (1965)

As a fan of the popcorn, guilty pleasure, mindless entertainment aspect of the Bond series of films, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the films with the company of my brain. Maybe there is more to be found than escapism. Maybe some of the culture and thinking of the past 50 years has left its imprint…

For a long time, this was my favorite old Bond film. I still find aspects of it incredibly fascinating. When this movie was made, scuba technology had only been available for a decade or so, and this was a brave new world of exploration. Knowing that one can appreciate just how amazing the gadgets for this Bond film were in the eyes of its first audiences. They were exciting and new, but they were real!

So, in a more realistic setting than the last film, but still a more fantastic world than the dramatic reality of “From Russia with Love,” we have here the pinnacle of Bond as reality action… at least until the newest incarnation of the spy some 40 years later. You can see why it would be considered the cream of the crop. These movies are always technical achievements of editing, effects and cinematography.

Yet here, perhaps because of the realism of the set-up, we have another story that lets us down. When you simply allow yourself to be led from setpiece to setpiece, you don’t notice the holes, but they are everywhere. This film would be remade in 1983 and if recollection serves it is improved a lot in the story department. Here, though, we are left guessing why Bond starts out in a spa. And that is only the first of several cases of Bond benefiting from blind luck and circumstance to solve his case. For some reason in Bond the spy genre and the sleuth genre are never allowed to coexist. Bond is continually given missions that appear to be mysteries in need of solving, but he never really deduces anything.

To make matters worse, not only is Bond not working to unravel the mystery… as an audience we are shown every detail of the scheme that the bad guys are pulling off. We know everything that Bond doesn’t. It makes his “stumble-on-the-answers” detection all the more insulting.

However, the biggest insult comes early on in the story and it is once again in the women department. Even more blatantly that in “Goldfinger” Bond forces himself on a woman sexually. Not only that, but he blackmails here into bed with threats of hurting her career. Never fear, though, once she has been forced to have sex with Bond, she can’t get enough of him. Not surprisingly, once he has had his way with her he is no longer interested. Hero indeed. Bond doesn’t bed every woman he interacts with in “Thunderball,” (that we know of) but all three that he does are shown to just be used by him for other means; namely to try to get to the villain.

Cut out that total of less than a minute of (suggestive) film and you would not have this problem at all. Eventually the series is going to begin to think this way, but not before the next time around…

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