Blu-ray Review: Never Say Never Again

Released in 1983, Never Say Never Again, is a remake of the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. The film marked Sean Connery’s return to the role of James Bond after a twelve year absence. The title is based on a conversation between Sean Connery and his wife. After Diamonds Are Forever he told her he would ‘never’ play James Bond again. Her response was for him to “Never say never again”. She is credited at the end of the film for her contribution. As a result, it was the first Bond movie to use a non-Fleming originated title.

Never Say Never Again
also has the distinction of being one of the few Bond projects not to be made under the EON Productions banner. The first was an early, 1954, black-and-white television production of Casino Royale with Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as the villain. The second was the comic parody of Casino Royale made in 1967 with David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen taking turns as Bond. The fact that Never Say Never Again was produced outside of EON doesn’t make Never Say Never an illegitimate member of the Bond film franchise. It just means that they lack certain familiar elements such as the James Bond Theme music and the Gunbarrel sequence.

Never Say Never AgainAs Never Say Never begins, the double-0 agents have been decommissioned and Bond shipped off to a health farm; when a nurse asks him from across the room for a urine sample, “Will you fill this beaker for me?” Bond answers, “From here?” Honestly, the film starts out pretty slow and your left waiting for the action to pick up as Bond is stuck in the health farm. Later that afternoon there is one of the best fight scenes in the series, between Bond and a muscular henchman from SPECTRE. Even in this secluded location, Bond manages to find trouble. He stumbles on to yet another one of SPECTRE’s schemes to demand large sums of money from the world. This time, the plan is to steal thermonuclear devices and threaten to blow up major cities. Of course, the double-0’s are called back into action immediately.
Never Say Never boasts a solid supporting cast of villains, heroines and beautiful girls. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays a convincing heavy, as Maximillan Largo, head of SPECTRE’s operations, a quietly simmering madman. As the chief of SPECTRE, the fearsome Max von Sydow makes an equally formidable Ernest Stavro Blofeld. Then there are the two female leads: a young, lovely Kim Basinger as Domino, Largo’s girlfriend and Bond’s chief love interest when she finds out Largo had her brother murdered; and the sultry Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush, a man-hating femme fatale who vamps her way around the screen like a Diva done wrong. The supporting cast is rounded out by Bernie Casey as CIA-agent Felix Leiter; Edward Fox as “M”; Alec McCowen as “Q”; Pamela Salem as Miss Moneypenny; and Rowan Atkinson as a British civil servant, Nigel Small-Fawcett.
Director Irvin Kershner (The Flim Flam Man, The Empire Strikes Back) and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (Papillon, Three Days of the Condor) maintain a high level of excitement without resorting to extensive gimmickry. There is one high-powered motorcycle Bond uses and a watch with a laser beam. The rest of Never Say Never Again generates excitement with the use of intrigue and old fashion action scenes. The atmosphere doesn’t hurt either–the film is set in the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, the South of France, Monaco and Spain.
As Good as Never Say Never Again is, there are some issues with the film that keep it from being among the top tier Bond films. The absence of the familiar Bond theme music feels strange. Without the right to use that music, movie relies on tunes by Michel LeGrand and a theme song sung by Lani Hall (with a trumpet solo by Herb Alpert), neither of which cut it. Nor does the absence of the usual sexy Bond opening-credits do the film any good. Normally, one wouldn’t gripe about theme music and an opening credit sequence but those things are so iconic with Bond films, it’s very noticeable when they’re not there. Not to mention, the ending goes on way too long. Despite that, any true Bond fan will want to add Never Say Never Again on Blu-ray to their collections.
Presented in 1080p and encoded with AVC Mpeg-4, at the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, Never Say Never Again looks pretty good, despite a few major issues. The primary problem with the release is print damage; there are a number of scenes where print scratches and dirt become obvious, marring this otherwise excellent presentation. I noticed more issues cropping up during the film’s special effects shots, particularly during obvious optical composites. It seems Never Say Never Again hasn’t been run through the restoration process at Lowry, like EON Productions’ films have.
Contrast is generally impressive, with rich black levels. Colors are slightly washed-out, but that’s probably the nature of the film’s early-eighties photography. Detail is moderate, but appropriate given the source material. Lastly, there aren’t any noticeable compression- related issues with Never Say Never Again; the film has been given a high quality encode. While the film doesn’t rise to the same heights as most of the other Bond films on Blu-ray, this is still a worthy upgrade from any previous version of the film.
Surprisingly, the film has been given a substantial update in its sound mix, thanks to a potent helping of 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio encoding combined with some serious audio remixing. There’s a nice since of atmosphere throughout the film that mixes in a number of rear directional effects in action sequences. Dialogue is, for the most part, isolated to the center channel, while the film’s musical score takes root entirely in the front soundstage.
Never Say Never Again isn’t exactly loaded with extras, but is notable for the stellar Irvin Kershner & Steven Jay Rubin commentary track. Most film aficionados will recognize Mr. Kersher as the director of The Empire Strikes Back; he’s an interesting guy who clearly knows his stuff. Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin adds a welcome historical touch to the commentary and livens up the discussion with bits of trivia and fun facts. “The Big Gamble” is the most worthwhile of the set’s three featurettes. It does a fairly decent job of presenting an overview of the legal issues that made the film possible, though die-hard Bond disciples will be left wanting more. “Sean is Back” discusses Connery’s return to the role. “The Girls of” profiles the three girls of the film (including future Oscar winner Kim Basinger). Finally, there’s a theatrical trailer as well as a series of still photos included.

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