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Thunderball

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This page is dedicated to Sean Connery, who died on October 31st, 2020. May he Rest In Peace.

Thunderball
Thunderball.jpg
"SO HE STRIKES! Like thunderball..."
Theme song
Genre: Spy
Action
Thriller
Directed By: Terence Young
Produced By: Kevin McClory
Written By: Richard Maibaum
John Hopkins
Starring: Sean Connery
Claudine Auger
Adolfo Celi
Luciana Paluzzi
Rik Van Nutter
Desmond Llewelyn
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Distributed By: United Artists
Release Date: December 9, 1965 (Tokyo; premiere)
December 29, 1965 (United Kingdom)
Runtime: 115 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $9 million
Box Office: $141.2 million
Franchise: James Bond
Prequel: Goldfinger
Sequel: You Only Live Twice


Thunderball is a 1965 British spy film and the fourth in the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions, starring Sean Connery as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. It is an adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, which in turn was based on an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham devised from a story conceived by Kevin McClory, Whittingham, and Fleming. It was the third and final Bond film to be directed by Terence Young, with its screenplay by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins.

Plot

The film follows Bond's mission to find two NATO atomic bombs stolen by SPECTRE, which holds the world for ransom of £100 million in diamonds under its threat to destroy an unspecified metropolis in either the United Kingdom or the United States (later revealed to be Miami). The search leads Bond to the Bahamas, where he encounters Emilio Largo, the card-playing, eyepatch-wearing SPECTRE Number Two. Backed by CIA agent Felix Leiter and Largo's mistress, Domino Derval, Bond's search culminates in an underwater battle with Largo's henchmen.

Good Qualities

  1. The idea of the enemy using a nuclear weapon to extort a ransom was considered a unique idea at the time.
  2. Good direction by Terence Young.
  3. Emilio Largo is a decent villain.
  4. Great acting.
  5. A great theme song that feels (ironically) bombastic which fits what the plot of the film is all about.
  6. The fight scenes are well done especially the ones underwater.
  7. Great cinematography.
  8. The underwater scenes in this movie are revolutionary for the time period, but what's truly impressive is how well they've aged. Most of the underwater sequences, especially the war at the end, still look downright beautiful today.
  9. Great special effects.

Bad Qualities

  1. Bond forcing himself on the nurse and blackmailing her into having sex with her is very cruel.
  2. Emilio and Fiona wouldn't have been outed as being Spectre agents if they didn't go around wearing Spectre's logo on an oversized ring.
  3. Padding: The biggest criticism that the film receives is for the excess of underwater scenes. As beautiful as they are, it is often agreed that they last longer than they should. The underwater war at the end could've been cut down a couple of minutes.
  4. The enemy's plot, while unique for the time, is now considered one of the most cliched evil plans in the book.
  5. Ass Pull: Q never once explains to Bond that the infra-red underwater camera has a built-in Geiger counter (only that the watch does) which comes as something of a surprise when Domino uses it later on in the film. (In the commentary, actor Desmond Llewelyn complained that his favorite part of the Q scene ended up on the cutting-room floor; perhaps the explanation was part of that bit.) This is an adaption-induced mistake, as the book version of the device had the Geiger counter in the camera and a measuring dial on the watch connected by a thin wire up Bond's sleeve.
  6. Bond Villain Stupidity:
    • Fiona Volpe successfully seduces Bond- not that it's especially difficult to do so- and doesn't kill him, but then monologues about how easy it is to do so and generally screws around until Bond escapes, killing her shortly thereafter.
    • Largo himself provides a classic example. He catches Bond in his pool fighting with one of his men. The mook with him is just about to shoot Bond, while Largo stops him and instead traps Bond in there to be eaten by his sharks. Naturally, Bond uses this to escape - there were no security precautions keeping Bond from swimming to the shark pool and leaving from there apart from the sharks themselves.

Trivia

  • This is probably the only Bond film to have had four songs recorded.
    • Shirley Bassey was the first to record a theme, after the success of Goldfinger, and called "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". An instrumental version of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is heard at various points during the movie as a kind of secondary leitmotif. After some apparent problems with Bassey's singing, Dionne Warwick was brought in to do another take of the same song. The producers planned to use the Warwick version of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" over the end credits, until Shirley Bassey sued. The Warwick version of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is featured in its entirety on the secondary commentary track of the Thunderball laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray.
    • The one they eventually went with was Tom Jones' iconic "SO HE STRIKES! Like thunderball..." track. The film was set to go with Warwick's version "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", but at the last minute the producers insisted that, no, the theme had to have the word "Thunderball" in it, so a new song was hastily written to be recorded by Tom Jones and parts of the film were rescored to feature the instrumental version of that song as a leitmotif too. Tom Jones actually passed out after holding that really long note at the end.
    • Johnny Cash (of all people) also recorded a song, also called "Thunderball", and submitted it to the EON producers. Unsurprisingly, it sounded too much like a western for a Bond film.

Reception

Upon its release, Thunderball received generally positive reviews.

Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times remarked after seeing the film that "The cinema was a duller place before 007."

David Robinson of the Financial Times criticized the appearance of Connery and his effectiveness to play Bond in the film, remarking: "It's not just that Sean Connery looks a lot more haggard and less heroic than he did two or three years ago, but there is much less effort to establish him as connoisseur playboy. Apart from the off-handed order for Beluga, there is little of that comic display of bon viveur-manship that was one of the charms of Connery's almost-a-gentleman 007."

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times found the film to be more humorous than its previous instalments and felt "Thunderball is pretty, too, and it is filled with such underwater action as would delight Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau." He further concluded his review with praise for the principal actors and wrote "The color is handsome. The scenery in the Bahamas is an irresistible lure. Even the violence is funny. That's the best I can say for a Bond film."

Variety felt Thunderball was a "tight, exciting melodrama in which novelty of action figures importantly."

Philip K. Scheuer, reviewing for the Los Angeles Times, was less impressed with the film writing, "It is the same as its predecessors, only more–too much of everything, from sudden desire to sudden desire." Additionally, he wrote: "The submarine sequences are as pretty as can be in Technicolor, featuring besides fish and flippered bipeds, all sorts of awesome diving bells and powered sea sleds – not to mention an arsenal of lethal spear guns. If I could have just known more than half the time what, precisely, they were doing, the effect could have been prettier yet."

Time applauded the film's underwater photography, but felt the "script hasn't a morsel of genuine wit, but Bond fans, who are preconditioned to roll in the aisles when their hero merely asks a waiter to bring some beluga caviar and Dom Pérignon '55, will probably never notice. They are switched on by a legend that plays straight to the senses, and its colors are primary."

According to Danny Peary, Thunderball "takes forever to get started and has too many long underwater sequences during which it's impossible to tell what's going on. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable entry in the Bond series. Sean Connery is particularly appealing as Bond – I think he projects more confidence than in other films in the series. Film has no great scene, but it's entertaining as long as the actors stay above water."

Critics such as James Berardinelli praised Connery's performance, the femme fatale character of Fiona Volpe, and the underwater action sequences, remarking that they were well choreographed and clearly shot. He criticised the length of the scenes, stating they were in need of editing, particularly during the film's climax.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a "Certified Fresh" 87% rating based on 52 reviews with an average rating of 6.70/10. The website's consensus reads: "Lavishly rendered set pieces and Sean Connery's enduring charm make Thunderball a big, fun adventure, even if it doesn't quite measure up to the series' previous heights."

On Metacritic the film has a score of 64 out of 100 based on reviews from 9 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors, and stunt actors to list their top action films; Thunderball was listed at number 73.

Box Office

The film premiered on 9 December 1965 at the Hibiya Theatre in Tokyo and opened on 29 December 1965 in the UK. It was a major success at the box office with record-breaking earnings. In its opening in Tokyo in one theatre, it grossed a Japanese record opening day of $13,091 and the following day set a record one-day gross of $16,121. It grossed $63.6 million in the United States, equating to roughly 58.1 million admissions, and became the third-highest grossing film of 1965, only behind The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago. In total, the film has earned $141.2 million worldwide, surpassing the earnings of the three preceding films in the series—easily recouping its $9 million budget—and remained the highest-grossing Bond film until Live and Let Die (1973) assumed the record. After adjusting its earnings to 2011 prices, it has made around $1 billion, making it the second-most financially successful Bond film after Skyfall.

Accolades

Thunderball won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects awarded to John Stears in 1966. Ken Adam, the production director, was also nominated for a Best Production Design BAFTA award. The film won the Golden Screen Award in Germany and the Golden Laurel Action Drama award at the 1966 Laurel Awards. The film was also nominated for an Edgar Best Foreign Film award at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

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