11 May 2009

Thunderball and You Only Live Twice

Skip Thunderball, Enjoy You Only Live Twice
By Kristin Battestella

In this recent Bond escapade I’ve embarked upon, I caught the fourth and fifth installments of the series back to back. Same Bond, same SPECTRE, yet crappy Thunderball and good You Only Live Twice.

ThunderballIn Thunderball, Agent 007 James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent by M (Bernard Lee) to a health spa to recuperate after defeating SPECTRE Number 6 Jacques Bouvar. While there, Bond romances therapist Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters) and stumbles upon the henchmen of Emilio Lago (Adolfo Celi), SPECTRE’s Number 2. Lago, along with the beautiful but deadly Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), steals atomic weapons and retreats to his cruise ship the Disco Volante. Fortunately, Bond gets under the skin of Lago’s mistress Domino (Claudine Auger) as he trails Lago from Miami to Bermuda, above the water and below.

I have to admit, I think I zoned out somewhere in the middle of Thunderball. I previously watched the 1983 unofficial remake Never Say Never Again, and in direct comparison, Thunderball looses. Connery’s short shorts may have charmed ladies in the sixties, but goodness gracious they look dumb now. And the orange itsy bitsy diving suit, oiy! As if the underwater sequences weren’t bad enough-you can’t tell who is who in the ill choreographed, dark sequences-the only thing you can see is Connery’s tight little wet orange butt. If that is the only thing I can clearly remember about Thunderball, that’s not a good sign. I can’t believe these were state of the art, award-winning effects in 1965.

Amid the weak script from count ‘em six writers, we do have a fine helping of Bond girls. From therapist Patricia Fearing to vixen Fiona Vulpe, James gets his fair share of loving. It is however bizarre to strengthen women like Vulpe and Bond’s assistant Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick), yet have misused chicks like Domino and Fearing. Even though they all look different and serve Bond at different times, sometimes I had a tough time remembering which gal was whom in Thunderball. And everybody is dang dubbed again!

In addition to confusion with the ladies, there have always been issues behind the scenes for Thunderball as well. Frankly, with such a poor showing here and a less than perfect redo twenty years later, why should I care who has the right to produce this story? I must say, I would love to see this nuclear plot updated to today with a rival Bond against current actor Daniel Craig. I can’t help myself, and the story does have an intriguing premise, an as yet not fully tapped SPECTRE villain Lago, and a chance for another hot Domino. Why not?

You Only Live TwiceFortunately, I have more love for Connery’s fifth turn as 007 in You Only Live Twice. Instead of anticlimactic water locations, Twice gives us exotic Asia locales and a touch of seriousness for good ole James. After faking his death in Hong Kong, Bond re-emerges in Tokyo to investigate mysterious spacecraft comings and goings over the Sea of Japan. With the help of Japanese Agents Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), 007 uncovers the true mastermind of the space age American and Russian dissident: Ernest Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), head of SPECTRE. Bond goes undercover as a Ninja and infiltrates Blofeld’s volcano lair with his pretend Japanese wife Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama). Will Bond stop Blofeld before American’s next space launch?

A lot of it is very cliché, and I really don’t know why these chicks are always dubbed, but the Japanese feels in You Only Live Twice make the film. Yes, we’ve had stereotypical Asian girls and villains before, but this picture Bond is in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Little of Fleming’s tale is here, but Roald Dahl’s story utilizing fake deaths and undercover ninjas tops any dated faults. I think the Little Nelly helicopter sequences are a little goofy, but unlike Thunderball, what’s dated here seems all in good fun.

After several actors and numerous cloak and dagger tactics, we finally see Blofeld and his white kitty in all their glory. Ala Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is perhaps the best villain ever in You Only Live Twice. He knows what he’s doing and isn’t afraid to be ruthless with Bond or his SPECTRE agents. Villainous front man Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada) also gives Bond an intriguing nemesis, as does corrupt secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor). Even if the spaceships and volcano tricks seem silly, there is definitely a sense of peril for Bond, his allies, and the world!

Sometimes it is tough to tell which gal is which, for they sound and look the same-and we never actually hear Kissy Suzuki’s name. Nevertheless, they are beautiful, even if they merely exist to serve Bond again. There is a fine line between being kinky and racist with these easily replaced Asian chicks that Bond beds, but You Only Live Twice embraces its Japanese lovelies and locales more than it abuses them. Karin Dor is also a delight as the ambiguous vixen Helga Brandt. Her scenes with Bond are great, and her fate at the hands of Blofeld is classic.

Though Connery seems to take too long to do everything in Thunderball, he turns serious for You Only Live Twice. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek with all the babes, but Bond really seems like a secret agent here. From the false death to his undercover absorption, Connery totally immerses himself in all of Bond’s skills. He was unhappy with the role and was coaxed back, and in a way, Connery’s displeasure and fear of typecasting helped strengthen and develop Bond into a complex agent with multiple talents to utilize.

You Only Live Twice, I have to admit, is not perfect. The spaceship footage and rocket motifs look like a bad joke today. Some of the ninja montages and volcano finale are also weak; and good Lord Bond receives ‘plastic surgery’ and is made to look Japanese with some fake skin over his eyes! Um, yeah, that would fly today. The last half hour is too long as well, but all in all, You Only Live Twice has a complete hour and a half worth of its complex story. I couldn’t wait for Thunderball to end, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from You Only Live Twice.

I’m sure there are some fans that swear by Thunderball and outlaw You Only Live Twice; it’s the nature of this franchise. The serious plots and strong characters from Twice have however outlived the outfitted Aston Martin and super jet packs from Thunderball. Hard core Connery and lovers of all Bond regardless can love both pictures, but casual viewers should leave Thunderball.

Of course, new, young viewers looking for the latest effects and action won’t find any of the modern fancies in either film. Unfortunately, Thunderball is available on bluray while You Only Live Twice is not. It figures the James Bond Bluray Volume 2 crams Thunderball with For your Eyes Only and From Russia with Love. If only there were a rhyme to these packages beyond financial reasons. For audiences like me who can leave as many Bonds films as I take, picking and choosing isn’t so bad. For collectors, unfortunately, the Bond piggy bank is bleak. All those VHS, then individual DVDs, then the ultimate DVD sets, and now individual and random bluray collections. When will the rape of the 007 consumer end? Begin saving yourself the trouble by skipping Thunderball and enjoying You Only Live Twice.


Matt said...

Wow! You may be the first person I've heard of who liked Never Say Never Again more than Thunderball! I actually have a soft spot for Thunderball, maybe because it was one of the first Bond movies I saw. While it's no Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, or Goldeneye, I still rank it higher than most of the Roger Moore Bond outings. I enjoyed reading your opinion though!

Kristin Snouffer said...

Hi Matt. Thanks for stopping by!

I think a lot of Bond pictures depend on Mood. Sixties nostalgia or New Wave memories. And I've been thinking more on my second remake of Thunderball notion, too!

Check back for more Bond Reviews!

The Rush Blog said...

Wow! There are people out there who think that movies like GOLDFINGER, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN are better than 1965's THUNDERBALL?

I'm stunned.

Kristin Snouffer said...

Welcome Rush!

I think a lot of people personally love Thunderball, but I don't know anybody that thinks Goldfinger is bad. Thankfully, there's enough Bond for everyone.

Feel free to visit again and check out the rest of our Bond reviews.