Thunderball is the third Connery Bond in the first wave of 007 Blu-ray releases, although most fans will know it was the fourth movie after Goldfinger. It was also intended to be the first story filmed, but due to disputed rights it wasn’t filmed until much later. Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham worked with Ian Fleming on an abandoned screenplay parts of which then ended up in Thunderball, and this history came back to haunt the franchise later. Kevin McClory is credited as producer on Thunderball. It was also why Never Say Never Again ultimately got made, because it’s a remake of this story.
In the greater scheme of things, this movie is notable for being the last directed by Terence Young, who also helmed Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and it also marked the return of Maurice Binder titles in the first wide-aspect Bond. I’d also add that it’s stuffed full of iconic material for Mike Myers to satirise mercilessly years later with Austin Powers.
For Bond aficionados, it is a decidedly action-heavy outing, with plenty of gadgets, beautiful women and exotic locations. I especially love the Vulcan bomber sequences, they might use special effects but a superb miniature and full size mock-up are in evidence.
If I’m critical it’s that this Bond has a little too many dubbed foreign actors in it, and some of the back-projection used in some sequences detracts from the overall high production values. It’s also even more fanciful a romp than Goldfinger, for those that like more excitement than espionage.
Fleming wasn’t alive at this point, but I can’t accept it was taking liberties with the already established genre. Thunderball might not have the gritty edge of From Russia with Love, but it’s a finely polished product now operating within clearly regimented guidelines. The audience knew what to expect by now, and here it’s delivered by the bucket. Connery looks entirely relaxed as the misogynistic 007, and all the other peripheral characters such as M, Q and Moneypenny all make appearances to maintain series continuity. Ken Adams contributed his usual stunningly architectural set design, demonstrating that the Bond production team was operating at flank speed.
In retrospect it isn’t the best theme by Tom Jones, but the superbly crafted John Barry incidental music more than makes up for it. Those who like the Dionne Warwick’s rendition of the alternate Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang theme, it’s on one of the two additional commentary tracks they’ve put on this disc. Which neatly brings me to what buying this one gives you above beyond the various DVD versions we’ve been offered.
How good does it look on Blu-ray? Thunder-bloody-tastic!
In my previous two Bond reviews I’ve mentioned the work of Lowery Digital in restoring these movies, and the work they’ve done on Thunderball stands out in the colour department. Where it slaps you across the face like a well aimed trout is in the underwater sequences; they’re glorious in the vibrancy and saturation they’ve managed to capture. I don’t think underwater photography got this good again until The Abyss.
But even above the waves Thunderball is of a high standard. All the footage they shot in Nassau looks incredible, even the night photography avoids any excess grain. In the Bond restorations I’ve seen so far this is the best yet, and I was blown away by the others.
Sound is remixed into six channel DTS-HD from the original stereo sources, although some of the stock sounds seem unsubtle when presented in this quality. I’m also curious if some of them aren’t entirely appropriate; the BSA motorbike used in one action sequence sounds like Russian tractor. But whatever the truth it’s faithful to the original release.
Thunderball in Bond lore is famous for having slightly different versions floating around. This one has the ‘mink mit’ sequence intact, and all the original incidental Barry music in place, but the spurious voiceovers/dialogs aren’t included in the presented movie. They’re all there however in a great collection of extras, which documents the impact that Bond and Thunderball was having in 1965, and the breakneck production schedule that saw the movie in the cinema less than nine months after the first cameras rolled.
Some of the extra content is lifted from previous DVD releases, but three extensive featurettes have been rebuilt in HD; Inside Thunderball, The Making of Thunderball, and The Thunderball Phenomenon. The content in these gives a fascinating insight into bringing Bond to the big screen, and they’ve not skimped here on quality or running time. When combined with the quality of the transfer this is now my favourite Bond release, although I’m still slightly miffed that Goldfinger was left out of the initial Blu-ray releases.
Thunderball is like being wrapped in a warm cinematic blanket, or stroked with a mink glove depending on your preference. It made me want to lower the lighting, uncork a bottle of suitably chilled Dom Pérignon – the 53 vintage preferably – and just luxuriate in this gold-standard escapist world.
If Blu-ray was made for anything, this is certainly it.