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Slick, enjoyable but not premium Bond
on 12 December 2007
At once the victim of impossible expectations after years of false starts and rumors about Connery's return to Bondage and also a breath of fresh air as the Roger Moore Bond films increasingly floundered, Never Say Never Again was a welcome riposte to the worst excesses of the EON franchise in 1983, but time hasn't been that kind to it. There are certainly some horrible miscalculations, Carrera's cartoonish villainess Fatima Blush (like Faye Dunaway on steroids), Edward Fox's self-parody as M, Pamela Salem's simperingly moronic Moneypenny and an embarrassingly over-the-top Rowan Atkinson's horribly unfunny Nigel Small-Fawcett among them, not to mention that problematic and much-despised easy listening score from Michel Legrand.
A famously troubled production, with Cubby Broccoli frightening studios, investors and co-stars away through years of lawsuits and Connery taking against the film's inexperienced producer Jack Schwartzman so violently that he would reportedly hide whenever the actor came anywhere near his office, most of the scars aren't visible in the finished product. Thankfully the worst excesses of the legendary unfilmed but sadly rather silly and OTT script Connery and Len Deighton penned in the early 70s, Warhead (which climaxed with a hang-glider attack on the Statue of Liberty and boasted a villain with his own underwater lair), were also toned down, albeit largely for budget reasons. With only a watered-down version of their radio-controlled sharks remaining, this version is at least a little more grounded than the rampant silliness that had seen the Bonds stray unrecognisably far from their roots in Ian Fleming's novels. Despite uncredited co-writers Ian La Fresnais and Dick Clements pilfering their earlier movie spinoff of Porridge for some of the jokes, the more streamlined screenplay flows better than Thunderball, which was always the clunkiest of Bond scripts in its desperation to throw everything including the kitchen sink into the mix, but it's also less fun. Odder still is the very American feel to the film, with a clean, spare look that's uncomfortably at odds with Connery's previous outings.
On the plus side, Klaus Maria Brandauer is particularly good as Largo, Bernie Casey brings an easy familiarity to his role that makes him one of the best of the many Felix Leiters in Connery's tenure, and Alec McCowen and Max Von Sydow are fine in undemanding parts while Robert Rietty, who voiced Largo in Thunderball as well as numerous other Bond characters over the years, turns up briefly onscreen for a change. It's also thankfully light on the gadgets that got particularly out of control in the EON series during the 80s and the action scenes are for the most part well-handled, with an excellent fight with Pat Roach the standout despite a particularly lame gag ending. Enjoyable but no enduring classic.
After years as only a no-frills edition with just a trailer, Sony released an NTSC collectors edition that includes a heavily-lawyered three-part documentary on the making of the film, audio commentary by director Irvin Kershner and Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin, trailer and stills gallery - but do be warned that the US Blu-ray is Region A encoded and won't play in UK machines, though a UK Blu-ray is finally available as of April 2013. The picture quality is a distinct improvement, with warmer colour, but it is the UK censored version omitting two shots of a horsefall.