(Rewatched 20 June 2012.)
This Bond film is remembered as The One With The Jetpack And The Health Clinic And Lots (And Lots) Of Underwater Scenes.
You see, there really is an awful lot of underwater stuff. And despite being very pretty, underwater scenes suffer from a major inherent problem: they slow everything down, and are rather limited in the sort of action they can contain. There are only so many ways you can see someone get stabbed underwater, or harpooned underwater, or eaten by a shark underwater, or have their oxygen line cut underwater before it all starts to get a mite repetitive. That’s not to say that no entertaining action takes place in those underwater scenes – just not enough to justify spending so long on them.
At least all those dialogue-free underwater scenes give us lots of opportunities to listen to John Barry’s music. Speaking of which, Tom Jones provides one of my favourite theme songs of the series. (Also, Thunderball was the movie in which Maurice Binder finally nailed down the look of Bond opening credits, after Dr No‘s abstract dots and two versions of credits projected onto bodies.)
If the underwater scenes are oh-so-slow, then there are two occasions in which the film attempts to make up for it by speeding up the action, but ends up overshooting too far and simply looking ridiculous. The first is the rack scene in the health clinic; the second is the hydrofoil climax, spoiled by lots of speeded-up back-projected stock footage. The fight during that scene also contains several continuity errors (at one point Largo instantly switches from piloting the ship to facing the opposite direction in order to punch Bond) – it’s nowhere near the standard of the incredible train fight from From Russia With Love. As for some of the other action scenes: the jetpack escape is memorable, but pretty tame by today’s standards, while I didn’t find the Mardi Gras chase very exciting at all.
The story – SPECTRE using stolen atomic bombs to hold the world to ransom – is pretty much the epitome of a Bond movie plot. Nothing wrong with that; it’s nice and straightforward! The problem is that it’s not really enough to sustain the first 007 film to break the two hour mark: it takes a long time to get going, with a pre-credits sequence unrelated to the main story, followed by the health spa scenes which take a while for Bond to uncover his leads.
Things only really start to pick up in the scenes showing how the bad guys executed their theft of the nukes, which are some of my favourite in the film. The movie also gives us one of the series’ best SPECTRE meetings, complete with Blofeld (at this point still only identified as “Number One”) doing that You Have Failed Me For The Last Time thing to one of his underlings. Great stuff, on a great Ken Adam set! Sadly, Largo isn’t a villain who makes much of an impression – he wouldn’t be at all memorable without his eyepatch. The villain/henchman pairings in this movie aren’t exactly Rosa Klebb/Red Grant or Goldfinger/Oddjob.
The storytelling might not be up to much, but the script contains some of the cuter quips in the Bond series: “Mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead!” Really fun Q scene, as well.
[3 out of 5]