Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Never Say Never Again [1983]

Many people steadfastly refuse to list Never Say Never Again as a James Bond movie, given the fact that it was not produced by Albert Broccoli or his offspring.

We here at You Only Blog Twice have a more enlightened approach, and realize that not counting it as a James Bond movie is a simple fallacy.  Want an analogy?  Not counting it because of the origins of its production would be like saying that the Columbus Clippers are not a baseball team simply because they are not a member of the MLB.  That, of course, would be a silly statement, given that the Columbus Clippers demonstrably play baseball.

Similarly, Never Say Never Again is demonstrably a James Bond film.  It doesn't count as part of what we think of as the James Bond series, as produced by the Broccoli family, but that doesn't negate the fact that James Bond is its protagonist.

And so, for better or for worse, You Only Blog Twice is going to give it the same treatment we've given every other James Bond movie.




By the way, before we get started, maybe a wee bit of context is in order.  The reason producer Jack Schwartzman was able to make Never Say Never Again is because Ian Fleming was, depending on how you look at things, a plagiarist.  Well before the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was made, there had been attempts by various parties to launch a film series based on the Bond character.  One of those parties was producer Kevin McClory, who, along with screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming himself, helped to originate many of the ideas that would form the basis of Thunderball.  When their proposed movie failed to get made, Fleming took the ideas from the story sessions -- including the ones McClory and Whittingham had come up with -- and incorporated them, without credit, into the novel Thunderball.

Needless to say, this did not please McClory and Whittingham, and both sued Fleming over the matter.  None of this came to a head until after Dr. No had been released, and it made some trouble for producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.  The eventual verdict granted film rights to Thunderball to McClory, who struck a deal to co-produce the film with Broccoli and Saltzman.

He also retained rights to remake the film after a period of ten years, and once that time had elapsed, he began seeking to do so.  Eventually, he sold those rights to Jack Schwartzman, who was able to convince Sean Connery to star.

And thus, we have Never Say Never Again: a tepid bath, a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal, a rampant mediocrity, a pointless remake of Thunderball .. but, in every sense including the legal one, demonstrably a James Bond film.

Let's explicate the nature of its shittiness, shall we?

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

Much ado was made in 1983 about the fact that there would be a "Battle of the Bonds" in cinemas that year, with the replacement 007, Roger Moore, duking it out with the original secret agent, Sean Connery.  In box-office terms, Moore was the winner, though not by a huge margin: Octopussy outearned Never Say Never Again (in worldwide dollars, the total was something like $187 million to $160 million), and it did so on a smaller production budget, too.

In quality terms, I'd give Octopussy a clear advantage, despite its not being exactly an all-time high for the series (no matter what the title song wanted us to believe).




However, if we're putting Moore and Connery in a duel in terms of their respective '83 Bond films, I have to give Connery a slight advantage.  In my review of Octopussy, I wrote that I felt Moore was simply too old for the role, and that it hurt the film as a result.  In the case of Connery in Never Say Never Again, I think his age actually helps the movie in some ways, partially because the screenplay deals with it right up front, but also because Connery makes for a cooler, suaver old man than Moore does.




Understand, this is no knock on Roger Moore, who was plenty cool and suave in his own right.  Saying someone is less cool and suave than Sean Connery is hardly an insult.  No, I think it comes down to the simple fact that Connery was a better screen actor than Moore; he knows how to stand a bit better, how to walk a bit more confidently, how to use nonverbal reactions a bit more interestingly.  Again, this is no knock on Moore; Connery is one of the great film stars in all of cinema history, so you'd expect him to excel in almost every regard when compared with all but a small list of other actors.  It stands to reason, then, that when we're talking about double-oh-sevens in their fifties, Connery is bound to triumph.




That doesn't mean I think he's doing especially memorable work here.  Frankly, he isn't.  He's better than he was the last time out, in Diamonds Are Forever, but he's giving essentially the exact same type of performance: a wink-at-the-audience type of thing, an acknowledgment that he knows that he's in a piece of crap, but he's happy to be signing the paycheck, and he's happy for us all to be enjoying watching him do it.  There isn't a serious moment in this film from Connery; the closest we get is for him to be standing passively, rather than winking an eye or raising an eyebrow.  And given the material he's working with, that reaction is understandable.  You can practically hear Connery saying to himself, "Hey, it's not my job to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse; I'm here to do what the screenplay tells me to do, and that is all."
 
Needless to say, practically all of Connery's best moments in this movie are comedic ones: his reaction to the nurse cracking his back; the on-his-heels approach to the fistfight with the guy who tries to kill him using the weight-press machine; his wearing of overalls; the scene in which he convinces a goon that he's holding a bomb (which is actually a cigarette case); his refusal to be intimidated in the face of looming murder by Fatima; and so forth.





While the movie is giving Connery material like that to play, he's on solid ground.  Elsewhere, he's never bad, but he frequently -- as was the case in both You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever -- seems palpably disinterested, even when he's getting his sex on.  Heck, even Moore put some back into a scene here and there (i.e., his clown scenes in Octopussy); I'm starting to reconsider giving Connery the edge.

There is one scene where Connery does solid dramatic work: the Domination scene.  That particular scene is going to come up numerous times in this post, because I feel that -- for all its flaws -- it's one of the few genuinely interesting scenes in the entire movie.  Remember, in 1983 video games were somewhat new; the scene played as science-fiction to the majority of the audience, and that means that to the degree it has any dramatic weight at all, it is entirely dependent upon the actors to invest it with that weight.  Obviously, Connery is a big part of that; pay attention to the way he plays the scene, moving from Bond's bemusement at the game's existence to an understanding of the stakes involved to acceptance of the game as a thing to take seriously, and finally to something that Bond sees he can not only excel at, but conquer.  The scene has caught a lot of shit over the years, but in actuality it's one of the only genuinely Bond-ian moments in the entire film.  Given the fact that Connery seems to have engaged with the material, he almost certainly agreed with that sentiment; and that's good enough for me.







Points awarded: 004/007.  Connery has a twinkle in his eye, and is more adept at playing an elderly 007 than Roger Moore, but the screenplay and direction fail to take meaningful advantage of this on more than a couple of occasions.

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  As with Thunderball, the real main villain of Never Say Never Again is Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Here, he is played by Max von Sydow, who appears in, like, three scenes for a grand total of just a few minutes.  So whereas my inclination is to judge him and him alone here, I can't bring myself to do it.  Von Sydow is fine, although Blofeld's cat steals the show from him.  During one of the scenes, while Blofeld is holding the cat, the cat is doing that thing cats do with their paws; milk-treading, some people call it, whereas I've heard others refer to it as "making kitty-biscuits."  Whatever you call it, it's cute.




Decidedly less cute: Klaus Maria Brandauer as Emilio Largo, who is the film's primary bad-guy in terms of time spent on-screen.




I'm of a mixed mind in terms of how I feel about Brandauer's work here.  On the one hand, he is what you expect a Bond villain to be: charming, powerful, suave, intimidating.  On the other hand, he comes off as being actively unhinged.  He's nuts; Bond even says as much at one point, and Domino at another.  This begs a question: why would Blofeld put a lunatic in charge of such a delicate operation?  Doing so weakens Blofeld as a character, and as a result weakens the entire movie's plot.

For that reason, the Bond films have rarely gone down the road of having villains who seem insane right there on the face of things.  Bond may tell Pussy that Goldfinger is "quite mad," but the fact is that Goldfinger doesn't seem mad; he seems, in contrast, utterly, coldly sane.

Exceptions to this rule: Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me (one of the worst Bond villains of all), Max Zorin in A View to a Kill, (arguably) Dario in Licence to Kill, Elliot Carver (another terrible bad-guy) in Tomorrow Never Dies, Gustav Graves in Die Another Day, and (again, arguably) Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace.

Notice any similarities there?  Not a one of those movies works.  (Many of you will disagree with me on one or two of those points, of course.)  I'd argue that a Bond movie can't work if the villain doesn't work; the villain is, arguably, more important than Bond himself, because the villain is such a huge part of what makes Bond seem strong.  Ideally, the struggle between the two is a struggle of not mere power, but also of sophistication.  The idea is that part of what Bond must do in order to defeat the bad guy is to simply be better at being alive; better at being a man, all around.

What good is it, then, for Bond to square off against a man who seems one step removed from a sanitarium?  If Dracula was nearby, this version of Largo would be in a cell, munching on spiders and flies and crooning to himself.  That's no adversary for James Bond.  James Bond fights Dracula, not Renfield.




Whether the role was written that way explicitly or Brandauer simply played him that way and lines were added to reflect the change, I do not know.  Either way, it doesn't work.  And yet, Brandauer gives a very good performance.  He's compelling in the role.  It's good acting, but nevertheless inappropriate to the type of movie that was being made.  Ultimately, that falls on the head of director Irvin Kershner, who perhaps should have known better.


This sloppy kiss has been grossing me out for thirty years.


Points awarded (Main Villain):  002/007.  If I were strictly judging the performance, in isolation from its thematic significance, then I'd award Brandauer a 004, or maybe even a 005.  However, considering that the performance works against the movie, and not for it, I'm sticking with a 002.
 
Henchmen:  Ah, now here's an interesting case.






You're going to see the character of Fatima Blush pop up in two different categories: this one and Bond Girls.  Nothing weird about that; it's happened with several movies before this one, and will happen again in several movies after.  Such is the nature of being a bad-girl in a Bond movie.

However, this might well end up being the only movie for which I feel the character makes for a terrible henchman yet, simultaneously, a good Bond girl.

Allow me to explain.

Fatima Blush is played by former model Barbara Carrera, a lovely woman whose dark skin and magnetic eyes make for a striking visual.  And she's a strong actor, so Blush has some compelling moments on-screen.  However, remember a few moments ago, when I was complaining about how insane Brandauer's Largo seems, and how that insanity weakened the movie overall?

You can double that in the case of Carrera's Blush.  If Largo offers hints of insanity, Fatima Blush offers evidence of it.  She is flat-out unhinged.  In an over-the-top, scene-chewing sort of way, Carrera is terrific.  She actually frightened me as a child; I simply didn't know how to process that sort of energy.  I kinda still don't.

What I can say without any doubt, though, is that this is not a good model for a Bond villain.  Going back to Largo for a moment, what fails to work there is that Largo doesn't seem like someone who would be able to succeed in society.  He's too batty.  Surely someone would have noticed by now.  The way a Bond villain works, typically, is that he is a seemingly normal businessman, one whose sophistication and acumen causes him to go through life unsuspected.  Bond's own sophistication, though, is considerable, and it is strong enough that it permits Bond to see through the charade; sometimes, as in Goldfinger, this is what leads to Bond finding out the bad guy IS a bad guy; other times, as in Skyfall, Bond knows that the baddie is a baddie from the get-go, but the baddie will attempt to persuade Bond over to his way of thinking, and the conflict will become about 007 reasserting his own dominance.

With Largo in this movie, then, there can be no real conflict, except on a plot level; and without the subtext, the plot simply becomes a lot of running about.  That's fine, provided that the quality of filmmaking is sufficient to make the running about compelling in its own right; I'd argue that that is definitely not the case here.

Now, back to Fatima Blush.  The fact that she is twice as loony as Largo kinda works, in a way; it's at least consistent, because you can believe that Largo would hire someone like her.  But it weakens the plot even further, because it makes Blofeld even weaker.  This man's hiring decisions are simply wretched, and a company's leader is only as good as the staff he hires.  Blofeld seems to have hired based on some sort of asylum-outreach program.  There's no need for 007 to have to get involved to bring these jokers down; Inspector Clouseau might be up to the job.




The only henchman in the Oddjobb / Jaws mod is a nameless thug who shows up at the clinic just in time to try to kill Bond while he's lifting weights:




He's only in the one scene, and he's played by Pat Roach, who was frequently hired during the eighties to play hulking brutes in small roles.  You might have seen him in Conan the Destroyer, or in Willow, or in Red Sonja.  In the original Clash of the Titans, he played Hephaestus, but to me, he will always be this guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark:




Ah, but that wasn't his only role in that film.  He's also THIS guy:




In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, he's the massive Thuggee guard whom Indy sends through a rock-crusher:




He also had a small role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It was almost entirely cut from the film, but if you look close, you can see him.  Here's proof:




He's the Nazi without the hat.

In Never Say Never Again, the fight between Bond and this nameless henchman is unquestionably one of the highlights of the film.  It's my favorite scene, probably, if for no other reason than that Bond uses a jar of his own piss to finally subdue the man.  True story.




The only other henchman of note is Jack Petachi, the Air Force officer whose complicity enables the entire plot.  And yet, he's even worse than Fatima Blush!  Not because he's crazy, and not because the actor gives a bad performance; he doesn't.  (He's played by Gavin O'Herlihy, whom I remember from a small, but extremely menacing, role in Lonesome Dove.)




Nope, Petachi is simply a drug addict whose addictions are so bad that Blush is able to exploit him.




That might have made sense in a screenplay proposal written in the 1950s; in the 1980s, it works considerably less well.  Does the Air Force pay no attention its officers?  Would they not see that Petachi is a strung-out mess?  Would they have no questions about his eye surgery?  Does the clinic where Blush is nursing Petachi not look into its private patients in any way?

This is all pretty dumb.  You can say the same about the plastic-surgery stuff in Thunderball, but at least it's well-made enough to distract you and make you willing to just roll with the silliness.  Here, though, the entire plot hinges upon a drug addiction.  Does that seem like an awfully slender thread to allow a world-domination plot to dangle from?
 

Points awarded (Henchmen):  001/007.  The performances are fine, and Pat Roach's scene is a lot of fun.  In fact, he's the sole reason I'm even awarding one point; from a plot standpoint, both Fatima Blush and Jack Petachi are ridiculous, good performances notwithstanding.


Lamest collection of villains ever?


 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  001.50/007  

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  Alright, let's get it out of the way.  I do not find Kim Basinger to be attractive.  Not in this movie, not in 9 1/2 Weeks, not in Batman, not in nothin'.  She's pretty; she has a nice figure; I suspect she smells really good, too.  However, she has very little screen charisma, and her personality is roughly equivalent to that of a cup of water.




She isn't a bad actor; there are no moments in this movie (one of her first) where she embarrasses herself.  But is that enough to make for a good character?  Clearly not.  Domino is a bland, uninteresting woman.  What I'll say in her favor is that that at least seems consistent with the character of Largo, who would undoubtedly see a weak woman like Domino as being someone he could have fun controlling.

I'll also say that at the very least, she isn't as bad as Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun; she adds nothing to the film, but she doesn't actively ruin it, either.




Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  001/007.  Yawn.

Secondary Bond Girls:  Fatima Blush makes for a terrible henchman, but she's decidedly more interesting as a Bond girl.  She's obviously an analogue for Fiona Volpe from Thunderball, and in some ways she's successful like Fiona is.  Fatima, like Fiona, seems to offer a sexual challenge for Bond; she, like 007 himself, is not afraid to use sex as a weapon, and in terms of her interactions with Bond, provoking him sexually seems to be her primary goal.  There are also vague hints she has a similar relationship with Largo, and while the one scene between Brandauer and Carrera is electric, the film utterly fails to capitalize on their chemistry.




Say what you will about how far over the top Carrera goes, but the fact is that she also does subtle quite well.  Pay attention to the scene on the boat when she and Connery are disrobing; look at her eyes.  The coldness there is really something to behold, because it is coldness masquerading as warmth.  These are the eyes of a black-widow spider, and they are horrifying.




Carrera is also great in her final scene, when Blush is -- insanely -- trying to make Bond write out a statement declaring her to be the best lover he has ever had.  In what world does a plot development like that make even a shred of sense?  The fact that Carrera sells it as well as she does is a bit of a marvel.  Why has this woman not had a stronger career?




Elsewhere, Bond beds a few other ladies, just for the sake of saying he did it.  First up is Prunella Gee, playing Patricia.  She's playing the same role Molly Peters played in Thunderball, and while she's not as good-looking as Molly Peters, she's okay; she's got a couple of moments in which she gets to almost seem like an actual character.




That's more than I can say for Valerie Leon, who plays a character referred to in the credits as "Lady in Bahamas."  She's fishing, you see, and catches Sean Connery.  She's wearing overalls when this happens, and in the next scene, Bond is wearing the overalls.  That's good for a chuckle, but on the whole, Valerie Leon is here merely to part her thighs for Bond.  She looks good in a bikini, and since she was 40 when the movie came out, she's at least vaguely age-appropriate.



 
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  003/007

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  002/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  Earlier, I mentioned that Connery's fight with Pat Roach is my favorite scene of the movie.  That was a true statement, so it should surprise nobody that I'll list it as the movie's crowning achievement in terms of the action scenes.  It's not an achievement, per se; it's actually just a fun scene with a good sense of humor.  The action is nothing special.

And that should tell you what you need to know about the action scenes in the rest of the movie.  They are bland as can be, and here is one of the major areas where Never Say Never Again was trounced by Octopussy in 1983.

A few notes: there is, admittedly, a good scene involving a shark.  That shark is swimming around the stuntman -- and, in a couple of instances, around Connery -- like it's the most normal thing in the world.  Take this scene, in which Bond is trying to close a door to keep the shark from coming in:





The shark gives a hell of a performance.  It doesn't overact, like Brandauer or Carrera would; you can practically hear it thinking, "C'mon, man, just lemme in; it's boring out here in the other room!  C'mon, man!"  Later, it gets trapped under a pole of some sort, and I can't help but think of the scene in A Christmas Story in which Flick gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole.  He hasn't believed such a thing would happen, and his incredulity quickly turns to horrified agony.  He says, "Stuck?  Stuck?!?  STUCK!!!", and every year I love to holler it right along with him.

That's what I thought of when poor old Sharky McSharkington gets trapped by Bond under that pole.  He wasn't asking for that shit.






Two more notes about the action and stunts.

One: there is a souped-up motorcycle, which does very little impressive, except that it has a turbo boost function.  However, according to director Irvin Kershner on the DVD commentary track, the motorcycle was originally supposed to have wings so that it could fly.  Yes, you read that correctly; the original concept for that scene was apparently identical to a plot point from the television series Galactica 1980.

Wow.

Second point: British censors were apparently none too pleased by the scene in which Bond and Domino dive off a castle on a horse, into the ocean.  The real horse was apparently forced to make the jump, and while it was only fifteen feet in real life, that was enough to cause the scene to be censored for UK audiences.  I suppose that qualifies as a good stunt (and also as a cruel one), but the way it is filmed, it looks like shit.




Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 000/007.  Worthless.  The fight with Pat Roach is fun, but otherwise, this is barely an action film at all.  It seems to have designed that way purposely, but since you'd think the producers of a rival 007 film would realize the need to have stupendous action scenes in their film, I award a zero-point sum.

Editing:  I routinely fail to say anything cogent about the editing on these films, and this post won't be hugely different.  There's one good edit that stand out: during the sex scene with Fatima Blush, the ship -- for no sensible reason -- tilts, and Bond and Blush go sliding out of frame, only for the film to cut to a shot of the two of them diving into the ocean.  That edit works nicely, even if the plot has to be tortured a bit to make it happen.

There's also a good fakeout in which Blush detonates the bomb she has placed under Bond's bed.  This happens during a sex scene between Bond and Valerie Leon, who we assume are getting it on in Bond's room; but, turns out they're in Leon's room.  A similar fakeout would be used a few years later in The Silence of the Lambs, to better effect.  Was that influenced by Never Say Never Again in any way?  I suspect not, but you can never be sure.




However, a truly abysmal decision was made editorially regarding the opening sequence.  Irvin Kershner claims that the scene was designed with the intention of having the sound effect of a ticking clock playing in the background, thereby lending a sense of increased urgency to the scene.  You can see that Connery is clearly playing the scene with this idea in mind.  However, some goofball decided to replace the ticking clock with the laconic title song.  I don't mind the song, but the counterpoint between the laid-back music and the scene itself does not work in any way at all.  It definitely doesn't work as the opening to a James Bond movie.

Points awarded (Editing): 001/007.  That's probably a bit too harsh, but the decision regarding the opening sequence is too bad to let slide.

Costumes/Makeup:  The costumes are unmemorable, except for some appropriately outlandish outfits worn by Fatima Blush.  I'd've expected a bit better from the costume designer behind Blade Runner and Legend, which tells me that the producers and director were probably to blame moreso than costume designer Charles Knode.

Also, this bikini is just plain tacky:




Where are they, Gulf Shores?  That's a good bikini for the Redneck Riviera; less so for a Bond film.

As for the makeup, all I can say is that I don't care for Kim Basinger's makeup at all.  The mere fact that I'm noticing it is a demerit.  She looks, frankly, like a Mrs. Potatohead: as if her real face was just a smooth, blank space that someone added eyes and lips and a nose to later.  A lot of this has to do, I think, with Basinger's eyebrows.




Whatever the case, it doesn't work.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 000/007.  Harsh?  Probably.  Don't care.  This is a BOND MOVIE; bring glamour or go home.  Speaking of which...

Locations:  This, I believe, is Monte Carlo:




Notice how boring it looks?  See, the thing is, it's not enough to merely show us an exotic location; in order to wow us in the way the best Bond movies do, you have to present those locations properly.  This is similar to how you can send fifty different people to Niagara Falls, but only maybe one or two of them will manage to take any decent photos, despite the fact that they've all been to the same awesome place.  In cinematic terms, it ain't "location, location, location"; it's "presentation, presentation, presentation."

Say what you will about the Broccoli-produced Bond series, but at least the vast majority of those movies were made by people who seemingly had an understanding for what looks good on film in terms of locales, costumes, interiors, etc.  That is a skill, and it's been a massive part of the success of the Bond series.  No such skills were in evidence on Never Say Never Again.  That movie's producers knew the formula, but knwoing the formula and successfully replicating it are not the same thing.  If you hand me a great recipe for chicken kiev, that doesn't mean I'm going to be able to successfully prepare it; the success lies in the implementation, not in the possessing of the ingredients.

It happens in this movie exactly once:




Otherwise, Bond seemingly goes nowhere a Walmart employee on vacation wouldn't feel right at home. This film even fails to make the Bahamas look attractive in any way.  If there were a Razzie for location scouting, this movie would have deserved a nomination.

Points awarded (Locations):  000/007.  Awful.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  000.25/007 -- the grace that normally applies to a Bond film is nowhere to be found here.  It's not gonna be present in the next section, either.
 
(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  Here, I'm going to brief, because frankly, I'm growing tired of writing about this piece of crap movie.

Edward Fox plays M.  He speaks as though impersonating a Yank who is under the impression that British people all sound like Monty Python characters.


Edward Fox as M


So does Rowan Atkinson, who sounds even more stereotypically British, and who also sounds as though he's gotten only halfway through a mouthful of cabbage before speaking.  He plays a character named Nigel Small-Fawcett.  Get it?  That's kinda liked being named "Nigel Small-Cock."  Get it?  He's got a tiny dick, whereas Bond has a huge one.  (In one of the movie's best moments, a nurse on the other side of the room asks Bond to fill a urine-specimen jar for her.  "From here?" he asks.
 
Gold.
 
No pun intended.







The movie ruins the joke by showing the nurse's reaction; if it had gone out on Bond's question, the scene would be a classic.)


[Side-note: toward the end of the movie, there's a plot point involving Bond finding the location of the stolen warhead by correctly guessing that the medallion Domino wears is actually a map showing the location.  This is a dumb idea, but it was an even dumber idea to draw the map so that the place they have to visit looks exactly like a droopy penis.  Want proof?  Here it comes:





You might theoretically accuse me of having a dirty mind, but I'd remind you that this is, after all, a Bond movie we're talking about.]

Rowan Atkinson only appears in three scenes, I think, but he gives an absolutely wretched performance, and is one of the worst characters in film history.  I'd watch an eighteen-part miniseries about Jar Jar Binks before I'd watch a half-hour sitcom about Nigel Small-Fawcett, whom I would like to rename "Ty Niewang."





And why is he holding his mouth like that during that scene?  The fuck, dude...?

There also some guy playing Q, whom Bond refers to as "Algy."



 
 
He makes no impression, but he at least doesn't suck, and he gets a good line: "I hope we're going to see some gratuitous sex and violence," he tells Bond, in a meta fashion.  "I certainly hope so," Bond replies.  Connery sells it.

Pamela Salem plays Moneypenny.  She has less personality than Kim Basinger, which is an achievement.




We also gets the world's first black Felix Leiter, in the form of Bernie Casey.  He has very little to do here, but he's cool, and he looks good in a suit, and he's got a nice rapport with Connery.  With the exception of Jeffrey Wright, I think Casey is my favorite Leiter; take that, racists!




Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 000/007.  Except for Leiter, this category is dire.  I'm tempted to deduct a point from some other category based on how awful Rowan Atkinson is.

Direction:  Yeah, yeah, Irvin Kershner directed The Empire Strikes Back.  So what?

Evidence indicates that Kershner had a miserable time making this film, which was underfunded, barely produced (Jack Schwartzman spent most of the production tied up in legal battles with Cubby Broccoli, which apparently left the actual supervision of production in the hands of barely-qualified subordinates), and rushed.  So perhaps we ought not blame Kershner.  Nevertheless, the quality of the direction of Never Say Never Again is simply not good.  Maybe -- probably -- it wasn't Kershner's fault, and with a less experienced director at the helm, maybe -- probably -- things would have been outright disastrous.



 
Regardless, very little in this movie works.  Kershner seems to have very little notion of what makes a Bond movie tick.  He is, to date, the only American to direct a Bond film (assuming we discout John Huston, Robert Parrish, and Richard Talmade, all of whom worked directorially on the 1967 Casino Royale; we might also need to discount William H, Brown, director of the 1954 Casino Royale, although his nationality is unclear to IMDb).  Is it possible that his lack of Britishness was part of the movie's tone issues?

I certainly wouldn't rule it out.  The fact is that this simply doesn't feel like a Bond movie, and that's got less to do with the lack of the Monty Norman theme music than you might think.  A poorly-spent budget was a big part of the problem, but you've also got to fault Kershner's seeming lack of vision. 
 
Points awarded (Direction): 000/007.  He's got a keen sense of visual humor, but otherwise Kershner brought very little to this picture.  And he especially had no feel for how to make a Bond movie.

Cinematography:  The cinematographer here was Douglas Slocombe, who shot the first three Indiana Jones movies, and over the course of his career collected three Oscar nominations.

Why, then, does this movie look like shit?

The answer is unknown to me, and I'm not going to dwell on it.  All I'll say is that there are a good number of scenes that seem to have employed the old Vaseline-on-the-lens trick that I associate with episodes of Star Trek.

Ugh.  Awful.

Points awarded (Cinematography): 000/007.  What the hell were you thinking, Dougie?

Art Direction / Production Design:  The art direction and production design don't fare much better than anything else.

M's office looks like a hastily-redressed bedroom:




Q's lab looks like a hastily-redressed storage shed; you can see that above, in the screencap of Q himself.

This massage parlor has white-brick walls:




WHITE-BRICK WALLS!

This casino was an actual casino, and it mostly looks like shit compared to most Bond casinos.  Either way, couldn't somebody have been bothered to hide that power cable that's running along the middle of the floor in the following scene?




And whoever had the bright idea to insert all of these video-game consoles into a James Bond film -- and as part of a supposedly swanky casino! -- ought to be given a talking-to:




Even worse: did they all have to be either Centipede or Gravitar?  Could there not have been a bit of variety?




Oh, look!  A DigDug console!




Points awarded (Art Direction): 000/007.  This is not Bond-level quality; but apart from that, it's also shabby in terms of A-picture standards.

Special Effects:  It's hard to judge some of the blue-screen work that is used to insert missiles and whatnot into the film.  On the one hand, they look like crap, but on the other hand, I'm not sure if they would have looked like crap in 1983.  Let's assume they would have.

The underwater scenes also look weak.  There is no imagination behind them whatsoever.  The corresponding scenes in Thunderball get lambasted for being boring; I don't agree with that assessment, but either way, at least they look spectacular.  The ones in Never Say Never Again look like they were filmed in a swimming pool in Jack Schwartzman's back yard.

I will, however, say a few nice things about Domination, the game Bond and Largo play.  It's a nice design, and it looks great on-screen.  And remember, this was before CGI, so putting the game on-screen would have been trickier than we assume today.




I'd also like to point out that the defensive maneuver the players use to stop enemy missiles looks a lot like a gunbarrel.  You can only just sorta see it, but it's there; that's kinda cool.  Also kinda cool: the voice of Domination sounds a LOT like a '70s-era Cylon.

Not cool enough, though.

Points awarded (Special Effects): 001/007.  Domination is cool, but otherwise, the effects work here is merely competent.

Gadgets:  There isn't a huge emphasis on gadgets, unsurprisingly.  The producers were only allowed to adapt the novel, not the movie version of Thunderball, and since the gadgets were largely an invention of the Broccoli films, Schwartzman and friends would have been on thin ice legally if they tried to do much in the way of gadgetry.

And yet, we get an eye-pattern machine, a pen/gun combo, a remote-control shark, a laser-armed watch, a motorcycle with a rocket thrust, and some personal jet-flyer thingies that launch from a submarine.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  001/007.  None of the gadgets make much of an impression, but none of them are actively embarrassing, so that's something, at least.

Opening-Title Sequence:  My gut impulse was to disqualify this category from consideration, and not factor it into my Double-0 Rating for the movie.  However, I'm going to choose to punish the film a bit more for Rowan Atkinson by opting not to disclude this category, even though the movie has no opening-title sequence.

The closest thing to it is this not-bad motif of zooming in on a series of 007 logos, which open onto the film's first sequence:






In terms of what we think of as an opening-title sequence, though, there isn't one.

And I have to ask: why?  The producers were not legally able to use the Bond music, granted, but Broccoli did not hold a copyright on the idea of an opening-title sequence; hundreds, if not thousands, of films did that before Dr. No. did.

In other words, the producers chose not to have an opening-title sequence.  They could have tried, at least.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 000/007.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  000.29/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

I will give this movie credit for having some snappy dialogue at a few points.  I've mentioned a couple of those already; another comes in the scene in which Fatima Blush skies up to Bond and lands in his arms.  "I've gotten you all wet!" she laments.  "But my martini's still dry," he replies, unbothered.

Otherwise, the screenplay has nothing going for it.  There's no drama, very little tension, no sense of stakes of an even cartoonish nature.  Everyone seems to know exactly who Bond is and what his reputation is (a problem not specific to this film alone, granted).  Having Bond reveal the fact of Domino's brother's death while the two of them are dancing the tango was a nice move, but a few solid grace notes is not enough to salvage this mess.



Points awarded: 001/007.  I suspect that I am, again, being too harsh here.  I'm okay with that.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  I don't know that I'd call it a good song, but I don't dislike it.  Sung by Lani Hall, and produced by Herb Alpert (who played trumpet on it, and also on the 1967 version of Casino Royale!), it is a somewhat lazy song, but also kinda slinky and romantic.  It doesn't scream JAMES BOND! at you, but hey, neither did "All Time High," which was the same year.  This song isn't as good as that one, but it's decent.  Or maybe it isn't and I just kinda like it for no good reason at all.  You tell me, folks: use them comments section.  (Note: that's purposeful bad grammar, on account of how bad grammars make me laugh sometime.)




Points awarded (Title Song): 002/007.

The Score:   According to the commentary track, Irvin Kershner wanted to hire James Horner to score the film, but the producers, for reasons unknown to him, were unable to make it happen.  So he found himself with no composer at basically the last minute, and Michel Legrand was recommended to him by Barbra Streisand, who was filming Yentl nearby.  Kershner shrugged and went along with it, and judging from his comments on the DVD, he's not terribly pleased with the results.

Why would he be?  The interviewer on the commentary points out that the film's music is criticized by a lot of people, and Kershner snaps back, "Well, they should criticize the music."  You get the sense that he think of Michel Legrand none too fondly.

This is a terrible score, easily the worst ever composed for a Bond film, and possibly one of the worst I've ever heard for any high-profile movie.  It isn't that it's bad music, per se; it just doesn't fit the movie at all.  There are precisely three moments of good scoring in the entire film: (1) a brief, slinky instrumental version of the melody to the title song which plays as Bond is entering a house in which danger is waiting for him; (2) the tango scene; and (3) another, jauntier version of the title-song melody that plays toward the end, once the villains have all been dispatched and Bond is sharing a pool with Domino.

Otherwise...?

Pretty wretched.  There are scenes that are at least competent, if not actually good; but there are other scenes that are utterly inappropriate.  For example, during the scene in which Bond and Domino are escaping on horseback from the castle, there is lounge music playing in the score.  I kid you not; lounge music.




Points awarded (The Score): 000/007.  If it gets worse, I don't want to hear it.

Total points awarded (The Music):  001/007




Double-0 Rating for Never Say Never Again:  001.43/007

I think we can safely say that this is THE worst James Bond movie.  The only thing left that stands a chance of scoring lower is the spinoff cartoon television series James Bond Jr., which I fully expect to score a 000/007.  But I've never seen an episode of that show, so when we get to it, it'll at least have some brief novelty value.   And hey, at least that crap was for kids.  What's Never Say Never Again's excuse?
 
The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
   
You Only Blog Twice will return in ... A View to a Kill.

Before we part ways, though, here is a gallery of screencaps I took and then failed to work into the post proper:






"cinematography"







how elegant...










16 comments:

  1. Great stuff re: Pat Roach! I had no idea that was the same guy in Raiders and Temple of Doom (and, apparently, in Last Crusade.)

    Still haven't seen this one, unfortunately for commenting, but this sounds dreadful.

    Re: Patrick O'Herlihy, he looked familiar... Just imdb'd him and see he was Brad from Superman 3. Aha!

    Sadly, when I think Barbara Carrera, the first thing that comes to mind is Condorman. And, like clockwork, just typing or thinking that, puts the song in my head... thanks a lot, man.

    Those Rowan Atkinson pics crack me up.

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    1. He WAS in Superman III, wasn't he? I knew I knew him from something else other than Lonesome Dove, but I didn't bother to check out what it might be.

      Can't sympathize with you regarding Condorman. I never saw that one, believe it or not!

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    2. * Gavin O'Herlihy, my bad.

      Condorman! Needs a reboot. (Actually, I'm pretty sure it doesn't. But I watched it a lot as a kid.)

      (And yeah, that song is still in my head...!)

      p.s. fun synch-up: as I am typing this, the Trainspotting soundtrack I've been listening to this afternoon just ended. The last words are "Never! Say Never again..." I love when that kind of stuff happens.

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  2. Very nice review! Nice to hear a true word finally spoken about this film. I couldn't agree more about the overall points that you're making.. Except for Leiter, I don't like Casey at all. Maybe because of the extremely poor dialogue between him and Connery or the fact that he's wearing an apron at the riviera villa. Anyway I think both Van Nutter, Wright and Hedison made better Leiters.
    Best Regards

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    1. Speaking of Felix, I hope we'll get to see Wright play him again at some point; he's excellent.

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  3. I think you are a bit unfair on Never Say Never Again. It's a delightful piss take. I have always found Thunderball to be too drawn out, those underwater sequences are a yawn. Such a disappointment after Goldfinger. Lots of funny lines in the remake, great cast, locations, classy villain. Connery looks like he is enjoying this silliness for a change.
    Your review is detailed and exacting. A for effort. Great title.Have bookmarked your blog.
    My Bond posts are meagre by comparison. If you want to check them out, google "Don't read this crap".

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  4. Nice title! I'll check it out, even though you say not to. ;)

    Personally, I find the underwater scenes in Thunderball to be totally captivating, but I can see how someone else would have the opposite reaction. I've heard a LOT of people say that about them, so I certainly can't dismiss the claim.

    I'm glad you enjoy Never Say Never Again. That movie definitely has its fans out there. This post has actually been one of the most widely-viewed of any of the ones I've done so far. I'm a wee bit surprised I haven't had more people disagree with me.

    Anyways, thanks for reading!

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  5. Let me preface by saying I'm old enough to have seen all the Bond films in theaters (the first six after they were re-released as triple features between Diamonds and LALD, just before or maybe because they had been sold to ABC and started appearing on TV shortly thereafter) . . . when Never Say Never first came out, of course it was disappointing and while not disliking Moore but preferring Connery I had to admit Octopussy was the less-flawed of the two despite the many dumb things like Moore is supposed to be seriously getting away from the safari, but then they throw in the cheap laugh tarzan yell which makes no sense, he is trying to get away but they yell tells them where he is . . .just about every Bond film has a scene or two like that which take you right out of the glow, even ruin it ("I was just out walking my pet rat" . . . "hmm must have been her maternal instinct.)

    . . . however I recently re-watched Never Say Never on DVD and my old affection for Connery in the role came roaring back . . . to me unlike YOLT and Diamonds (I rank Diamonds much higher than you, some residual affection for it as it was the first one I ever saw at 15 years old and thought it was GREAT!) Connery strikes not a single false note in Never Say Never Again when it's made clear he's playing Bond as older. . . of course that alone is still not enough to save a dismal film (rotten putrid soundtrack agreed) though I think Basinger's performance has aged well . . .I would still re-watch Never over again ahead of all the Craig films. . . to me Craig while an excellent actor just does not look like a Bond (gets more bizarre-looking with each outing), and turning Bond into a Bourne-bot has drained the life out of the series . . . I grew to like Brosnan (poor guy got the series worst one-liners tho) but Craig in the role just makes me physically wince and I don't think I will ever come to accept him . . . I would suggest any reasonably intelligent person re-watch SkyFall and finally realize it has one of the dumbest plots of the whole series . . . Bond seems intent on punishing M for her opening bad decision, right up to leading her into a death trap . . . and everyone seems to fail to realize that Skyfall is the first Bond film where 007 UTTERLY FAILS (in OHMSS he loses his wife but at least foils the current plot) and in SKYFALL the villain UTTERLY SUCCEEDS in his goal of killing M and himself in the process (as Bardem states at end, wants same bullet to kill both him and M) tho ultimately Bond takes care of Bardem only to find out Bardem has taken care of M. . . . the REAL Q would never have put the virus anywhere near the mainframe. . . and the lowest point of the whole series is when Skyfall Bond chooses to have sex with the sex slave even though he already has the info he needs from her how to confront the villain, and then later calls her death a waste of good scotch. He did just watch her participate in a murder, and then she tells him to come to the boat to take him to Bardem, and they end up in the shower for a meaningless not to mention boring sex scene with a woman physically forced to become what she has become, meaning Bond slumming to an all-time sexual low after he has already performed his job and gotten what he needed. . . and we're still supposed to respect the character after that?

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    1. Dear lord, that Tarzan yell...yeah, that IS pretty bad, isn't it? It still kind of makes me chuckle, though, which is not to my credit in any way.

      I think you have some interesting points here about "Skyfall," and I'll try to bear them in mind when I finally get around to that review. Which, at this rate, is going to be around the time the next movie in the series comes out!

      Glad to hear you've still got affection for the series after all those years! I tend to be harsh toward the movies in the series I don't like, but -- in case this doesn't come through (and it probably doesn't!) -- I definitely don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of those movies. For example, I myself love "Moonraker," which many fans would probably rank near the bottom of the list. What can I say? We like what we like, and the fact about the series is that it's been diverse enough that two people can both self-identify as huge Bond fans and yet not agree on a single one of the movies themselves! That's kind of extraordinary, if you think about it.

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    2. thanks for your response . . .I also meant to say what the hell is the Goldfinger car doing in Skyfall . . . if the Craig Bonds are supposed to be a completely modern reboot then the Goldfinger car has no logical connection whatsoever . . . if we're meant to think Craig's Bond drove the car in the Goldfinger adventure (you know, the one where 007 belittles The Beatles!), are we just meant to ignore that even the car itself is older than Craig (born in 1968) . . . so much for the new "thinking man's" Bonds . . . including the car in Skyfall was probably just a crass move by the producers for the 50 year anniversary, or maybe an attempt to lure the the Craig naysayers back in, at the same time the producers are essentially jeering those who like the old ACTUALLY ENTERTAINING films better . . . one wonders if Barbara Broccoli has daddy issues . . . sure Skyfall made an undiscerning BILLION DOLLARS but there were also plenty of reports of people walking out of it, unheard of for a Bond film . . . myself I managed to get through it, my heart sinking ever farther wondering if I could ever like a Bond film again

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    3. Well, to be honest, I thought "Skyfall" was pretty great. However, I've heard other people talk about disliking it, or even hating it, and so far you are the ONLY person who has said anything that actually made me see things from their point of view. I still love the movie (and Craig's era in general); but I think I now understand the opposing argument quite a bit better. So thanks for that! My blog(s) don't get much attention, but the attention they do get seems to be almost universally of this variety: people who want to discuss things, rather than shout "I'm right!" or "You're wrong!" at each other.

      Now, back on the subject of the Aston Martin being in "Skyfall": I've got a theory on how that works. It's the same theory that I use mentally to explain EVERY weird piece of continuity oddness like that. Because as you point out, it really doesn't make any sense at all. I'm not going to get into it now, because it's going to be the subject of a long post that I plan to write once I'm finished reviewing all of the movies. So, instead, I offer a tease of that by saying that I think the series has actually been the subject of a large number of reboots over the years. Most of them have of the soft-reboot variety, rather than the hard-reboot that is represented by "Casino Royale." But not all.

      Ignoring that, though, I think the reason for the Aston Martin's presence is probably a lot simpler: director Sam Mendes is a huge Bond fan, so he probably just wanted it in there for the sake of directing scenes involving a vintage Aston Martin. Hard to blame him, really.

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  6. p.s. did you know your Moonraker link is dead? I'd like to read that one too . . . Moonraker was a perfectly fine Bond, the only real problem with it was turning Jaws into even more of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon (like you I never liked that character and agree he is one of the things that spoils Spy Who Love me) . . . .I even liked how the much-maligned space battle implied that technology is always a little farther ahead than our govt would like us to know, wink wink . . . yes the tarzan yell and popular music cues are clever but they break the fourth wall and force you to remember you are watching a movie . . .that all started with OHMSS and "this never happened to the other feller" and the janitor whistling the theme from Goldfinger, but (to me anyway) thankfully skipped Diamonds, Live and Let Die and Man With the Golden Gun (itself a horrible film if only for the return of Pepper and the slide whistle, but one of the all-time best for locations). . . I guess I should like the Craigs for returning to so-called "pure Bond" but Craig's Bond is such an automaton I'm not sure Fleming would even like him . . . the producers always make noises about "going back to Fleming" but even Fleming's Bond had at least some humor, remember the big outlandish SPECTRE plots are direct from Fleming, Fleming's Hugo Drax wanted to build a missile and send it into the heart of London, and in the book Dr. No even had a pet GIANT SQUID hahaha . . . plus the critics don't seem to notice Craig is playing Bond as a lower class stumblebum totally opposite to the previous films and Fleming's caricature

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    1. Thanks for the heads-up on that dead link. It has been replaced now, and is functioning. Just in case, though, here it is:

      http://you-only-blog-twice.blogspot.com/2012/09/moonraker-1979.html

      Glad to hear you, like me, are not a fan of Jaws in "The Spy Who Loved Me." I actually like him in "Moonraker," but -- as my review tries to make plain -- it's because the whole movie is such an exercise in cartoonishness that even though the character is exponentially sillier, the movie's also much sillier, so he makes for a better fit in that movie. I know that's a weird way of looking at it, and I've got no beef with anyone who can't see things that way. But it's my stance and I'm stickin' to it.

      You make a good point about the Fleming books having a core of humor to them. I think and hope that the next Craig-era Bond movie will bring some of that humor back to the forefront. It feels like it's time for that to happen.

      Speaking of Fleming, by the way, I do plan on eventually reviewing all of the novels -- Fleming's, as well as the many non-Fleming continuations books -- here. It isn't going to happen any time soon, but the idea itches at me persistently; it's been entirely too long since I read them (and there are a few of the Bensons and Higsons that I've still not read at all). I'd even love to review all of the video games, since those are such a major part of the Bond franchise; but I don't know if getting all of those systems is financially feasible. It's probably a decade away at the soonest, though, so maybe by then the financial side won't matter as much.

      Anyways, thanks for reading!

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  7. Your review seems to have left out Never Say Never Again's version of Paula Caplan, the ill-fated Nicole (Saskia Tanugi Cohen...what a name!) With the exception of Fatima, the rest of the NSAG bond girls are considerably water-downed from their Thunderball counterparts.

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  8. That was Valerie Leon? I never noticed - I need to dig out my Blu Ray of this!

    I think Kershner was the wrong choice, although a low budget is never going to help a Bond film. He wasn't very good with villainy, unless he had a really well written part. Star Wars fans rave about Empire Strikes Back, but if you take Vader, Fett and maybe Julian Glover's character out, they're all useless wimps - it's the only SW film where all the Imperial officers are played by British actors, and they're mostly 'chinless wonders'.

    But, my God, I love that boat!

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    1. Valerie Leon looks quite fetching in a bikini.

      I don't know if I'd ever consciously noticed that about the Imperial officer in "Empire." "Chinless wonders"! Hah! That's great.

      I've only seen a handful of Kershner movies other than these, and of the ones I have seen, only "Empire" works for me. I'm not convinced he was much of a filmmaker, to be honest.

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