UK / USA / West Germany, 1983
Review by Leo Goldsmith
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD (R2)
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
“Now you’re on this, I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence.” These words herald the return of both James Bond and Sean Connery from semi-retirement in Never Say Never Again, but more pointedly, they stand as a challenge to the “official” Bond series.
This is the 007 film that many would just as soon forget. It is a “rogue” Bond film, the product of a copyright loophole lingering from the days of Thunderball (of which it is a pretty faithful remake). Saltzman and Broccoli tried as hard as possible to suppress the film, and out of a certain fidelity to the franchise, most Bond aficionados tend to rate the film poorly. (Interestingly, it seems that MGM also releases this DVD, though they don’t put their logo anywhere on the package.) In subsequent interviews, even Connery himself considered the film to be a mess (though he had a great degree of control over the content of the film and its production), unfavorably comparing his performance to a toilet.
In retrospect, however, Never Say Never Again is as good a Bond film as any of its close contemporaries in the official franchise (and quite a bit better than Octopussy, also released in 1983). This is due in no small measure to the presence of Connery, who so fully embodies the role that even a mediocre performance outclasses all other contenders. Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner provides a sturdy product with a handful of nifty action sequences, including the violent desecration of an archaeological site and a face-off over a ColecoVision-style video game. And thanks to some script doctoring by Likely Lads writers Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais, the dialogue is characteristically tongue-in-cheek.
Even if Connery seems a bit lazy in the lead role, the rest of the film’s cast offers plenty of small pleasures: Klaus Maria Brandauer is a wonderfully boyish and charming super-villain; Barbara Carrera plays the truly weird, snake- and shark-wielding hit-woman, Fatima Blush; Rowan Atkinson pops up as a fusty English bureaucrat; and Kim Basinger prances about mostly naked. Strangely, Max Von Sydow appears briefly as Blofeld, sporting a Dracula accent and a silly haircut, rounding out a series of puzzling cameo appearances in such early-’80’s films as Flash Gordon, Strange Brew, and The Ice Pirates.
The film’s only real faults are the schmaltzy jazz-funk score by Michel Legrand and the totally lackluster underwater climax, which must be one of the least exciting action sequences ever filmed. But aside from these minor flaws, Never Say Never Again is a surprisingly standard Bond film, one that could easily be integrated into the “official” franchise with very few adjustments. It studiously satisfies all the requirements of the formula (the women, the gadgets, the double entendres) and gains extra points by coaxing Connery back into his defining role.