"I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence."
When is a James Bond movie not a James Bond movie? The story behind the making of 'Never Say Never Again' is a lot more interesting than the film itself. In the late 1950s, author Ian Fleming attempted to write an original screenplay for a proposed movie featuring his Agent 007 character. He enlisted the help of screenwriters Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory. The project fell through, and Fleming (without permission from his co-writers) used the story they'd developed as the basis for his novel 'Thunderball'.
Cut to a few years later, producers "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman brought three of Fleming's other 007 books to screen with spectacular success through their EON Productions shingle. They tried to obtain the rights to 'Thunderball', but were stymied by a lawsuit from McClory. Eventually, they settled on terms whereby McClory would be named a producer of the movie, and would retain remake rights to the story (including limited use of the James Bond character) after a period of ten years. The 'Thunderball' movie was released in 1965 and became the franchise's biggest hit yet.
Next we jump forward to the mid '70s. McClory was eager to exercise his remake option and floated a script called 'Warhead' to various producers and studios. The Broccoli family attempted to block it, but the project found backing from Warner Bros. and Orion Pictures, both of which wanted a piece of the James Bond action. Somehow, they convinced Sean Connery (in desperate need of a hit at the time) to return to the iconic character he had abandoned after 1971's 'Diamonds Are Forever'. To celebrate this coup, the film was given the snappy new title 'Never Say Never Again', in reference to the actor's earlier pledge that he was done with the role forever. The movie was released in October of 1983, four months after Roger Moore's 'Octopussy', the most recent entry in the official Bond franchise from EON.
Although some of the specific details have been changed, the film's basic story structure follows that of 'Thunderball' pretty closely. In a daring coup, European millionaire and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative Maximilian Largo (formerly called Emilio Largo, here played by Klaus Maria Brandauer) hijacks two nuclear warheads from a N.A.T.O. training flight. The British government immediately sends Agent 007 into action to foil the plot. Tracking the villain to the Bahamas, Bond seduces his mistress Domino (a very young Kim Basinger) and boards the fabulous yacht being used as a staging area for the operations. Things wrap up with a lot of shooting, fisticuffs, and some underwater scuba action.
As an unofficial James Bond movie, 'Never Say Never Again' lacks many of the familiar trappings from the film series, such as the 007 logo, the "James Bond Theme," an elaborate opening credits sequence, or the gun barrel iris (though a nod to the iris is slipped in during the video game scene). It does, however, feature many popular supporting characters such as M (Edward Fox), Blofeld (a cackling Max Von Sydow), and Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey, the first black actor to play the role). Q makes an appearance to outfit Bond with a laser watch, but the character is alternately referred to as Algernon, and Alec McCowen plays his personality nothing like Desmond Llewelyn ever did.
At 53 years of age, Connery kept himself in surprisingly fit and trim condition, but nonetheless looks too old to play an action hero (not that Roger Moore was doing much better at the time). The filmmakers wisely wrote that into the script, positing that the entire Double-0 section had been decommissioned years ago, and that Bond was being pulled from semi-retirement (essentially ignoring any continuity from the Moore pictures). In 'Thunderball', the agent went to a health spa to recover from an injury, but here he's been ordered there to get whipped back into shape. Even so, the actor wears a bad toupee and looks ridiculous both when fighting the baddies (martial arts instruction by Steven Seagal!) or seducing younger ladies.
Even if not for the blatant 'Thunderball' plot rehash, 'Never Say Never Again' feels like a low-rent Bond knockoff. As directed by Irvin Kershner ('The Empire Strikes Back'), the film is mired in '80s cheese. It opens with an atrocious disco theme song by Lani Hall, followed by a thoroughly dreadful score from Michel Legrand. The women wear their hair big and their fashions loud. Kim Basinger spends half the movie Jazzercising in a leotard and leg warmers. A major story point involves a casino's wealthy patrons playing Atari arcade games, while Bond and Largo face off in an only slightly advanced version of "Missile Command."
The movie is dull and plodding, and runs at least 40 minutes too long. The dialogue is poor, the scripting is lazy, and the action scenes are bland and derivative. The special effects haven't aged well either. I swear, there's one stunt involving a horse jumping off a castle wall that looks like an outtake from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.
In 1983, the story of the two competing James Bond pictures was the buzz of the entertainment industry. Box office analysts predicted that audiences would flock to see Sean Connery back in action, and that 'Never Say Never Again' would claim a decisive victory. Amazingly, both were sizable hits, though 'Octopussy' edged ahead in the final tally. Frankly, neither is among the best of 007 on film.
The ensuing years have been much kinder to 'Octopussy'. 'Never Say Never Again' survives mainly as a curiosity. Connery was right the first time. A better title for this movie might have been 'Once Was Enough'.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The distribution rights to 'Never Say Never Again' have changed hands a few times over the years. The movie was originally produced by Orion Pictures (now defunct) and Warner Bros. Throughout the '80s and '90s, Warner Home Video released the picture on VHS and Laserdisc. In 1997, MGM acquired the Orion catalog, and with it this film. Thus the unofficial bastard stepchild of the James Bond franchise was brought into the fold with the rest of the series. However, MGM has always treated it as a separate entity and has refused to brand it as an official 007 movie.
MGM Home Entertainment last released 'Never Say Never Again' on DVD back in 2001 as a stripped-down disc with negligible bonus features. Currently, the studio's catalog is distributed on home video by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Nevertheless, their DVDs and Blu-rays continue to carry the MGM Home Entertainment logo. Except 'Never Say Never Again', which arrives on Blu-ray under the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment banner.
Fox has released the film on Blu-ray as a single-disc Collector's Edition. The Blu-ray debut coincides with the official Bond productions 'Goldfinger', 'Moonraker', 'The World Is Not Enough', and 'Quantum of Solace'. To differentiate it from the canonical entries, the ugly Photoshop case art for 'Never Say Never Again' lacks the gun barrel iris or 007 logo.
In a rarity for the studio, the disc has no obnoxious promos or trailers before the main menu.
'Never Say Never Again' has clearly not undergone the type of loving restoration afforded to the official James Bond movies on Blu-ray. With that said, it looks better than I might have expected. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (presented at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio) was mastered from spotless source elements in mostly excellent condition. The first scene does look kind of awful, though. It's very soft, flat, and dull, like a multi-generation dupe print. Since the scene plays out under the opening credits, this may be due to the optical compositing process used at the time.
As soon as the credits are over, the picture starts to come to life. Make no mistake, the movie has a very drab '80s look to it. The photography is a bit on the soft side as a whole. Colors and contrasts tend to be bland and rarely sparkle. The film stock is frequently grainy, especially during special effects sequences. On the other hand, detail and clarity are fairly strong despite the overuse of mist filters. In general, the transfer does look satisfyingly film-like, even if it won't qualify as eye candy.
I'm less impressed with the disc's audio quality. Although the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is technically encoded in 5.1 format, Fox has made no attempt whatsoever to remix the audio into 5.1. For all intents and purposes, this is 3.0 track. If there's any surround activity at all during this movie, I didn't notice it. And there's certainly no deep bass extension.
The cinema purist side of me tends to dislike 5.1 remixes of mono or stereo soundtracks anyway, so the lack of surround action doesn't terribly bother me. However, 'Never Say Never Again' was originally mixed into matrixed Dolby Surround, and even played in 6-track 70mm engagements back in 1983.
Even more problematic is the general sound quality, which is hollow and thin. Dialogue is flat, with too much blatant ADR work. Sound effects are dull, and explosions are extremely weak. This is just a very sonically boring disc.
Ironically, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the disc bleeds more music to the rear channels when decoded with ProLogic II processing, and is slightly more engaging in that respect. Unfortunately, the lossy nature of the format just compounds the audio's other problems. Neither option is particularly pleasing.
The DVD edition released by MGM in 2001 was bereft of video bonus features other than the movie's trailer. This Blu-ray shares its supplements with a comparable Collector's Edition DVD being released simultaneously.
'Never Say Never Again' exists as a curiosity -- a James Bond movie that isn't really a James Bond movie, a remake of 'Thunderball' that was far superior the first time Sean Connery made it. The Blu-ray has a pretty good picture transfer, all things considered, and some decent supplements. But the audio quality is awful, and so is the movie. This one's for completist James Bond collectors only.