Never Say Never Again: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM / Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (16th June 2009).
The Film

"Never Say Never Again" has been plagued by problems almost from day one, this film is the one and only Bond film not to be produced by EON Productions, who at the time was making Bond films with Roger Moore in the lead. The film's producer, Kevin McClory, owned the remake rights to "Thunderball" (1965) having created many of the film's stylistic elements and some characters. This was the product of a long running legal battle between EON and United Artists against McClory. Still the film was made and released to fun fan fare and a healthy box office return by Orion Pictures who picked up the distribution (interestingly enough MGM, would eventually buy Orion thus picking up this film as part of their catalogue along with all other Bond films).

The most interesting aspect of this film is that after 12 years Sean Connery returned to the character that launched his career for a final time, this time as a middle-aged Bond. He has been relegated to teaching at MI6, but is quickly pulled back into service when his health retreat is interrupted when he discovers that SPECTRE are behind a plot for World domination. SPECTRE agent #2, Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) has stolen two nuclear missiles and plans to use them unless a ransom is paid by NATO. Bond has to infiltrate Largo's ship and basically save the world, in his own suave and charming way.

There are a few differences between this Bond and EON's Bond, first the opening credits are not what we are used to, with Bond seen through the barrel of a gun or featuring a stylized credit sequence, instead we open this film on Bond during a training exercise as the film's theme plays over (Not the best theme song either... in fact it's one of the worst songs created for a Bond film). The usual gadgets aren't to be found here, he doesn't drive around in his trademark Astin Martin instead he trades that for an armored motorcycle, and although Bond is much older here, he's still up to his usual tricks and bedding women wherever he finds himself.

As far as Bond films go, there was much less action here than seen in the Moore films being released around that time, the first three quarters of the film focuses more on setting the story, introducing Bond to various characters and exposition with a chase sequence thrown in for good measure, and finally picks up the pace in the final act with the thrilling action scene that closes the film but then tends to falter a bit as it ends in the underwater action scene. What I love about the Bond films are the constant over-the-top ways in which the villains try to kill him, and although this is a more "psychological" Bond film (as opposed to an action-packed threat) we still have Bond fighting sharks and avoiding death by explosion... while entertaining start to question their intelligence, surely it's easy to just shoot him? Something that translates well into the recent Bond films, which are grounded in reality more so than these entries.

The usual exotic locations, intrigue and attractive women are not only expected but delivered in spades as our hero gallivants around the Bahamas and the South of France among others and Connery effortlessly reprises the character as if he'd never left the franchise and reminds viewers that he is the one and true James Bond, while the support cast leave a lot to be desired unfortunately and never match Connery's cool. Rowan Atkinson is embarrassingly bad as the bumbling agent Nigel Small-Fawcett, Klaus Maria Brandauer as our villain basically phoned his performance in (Adolfo Celi was a much better Largo in "Thunderball" and a fare more convincing villain) and Kim Basinger is probably the most forgettable Bond girl of them all. I must admit, however, it was quite a trip seeing a very young Steven Seagal briefly as a martial arts instructor.

"Never Say Never Again" will not be named among the best of the Bond series, but I enjoyed it more than "Thunderball" and although the film does have it's critics, it serves its function well of entertaining viewers and at the very least worth watching for the return of Sean Connery.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression codec. While the film is 26 years old, I was pleased with the overall quality of this image, however falls short of excellent and landing somewhere between good and OK. The image isn't as sharp as I'd have liked as there are plenty of scenes that feature a soft image, especially some close-ups which can be distracting. There was also some obvious print damage in the form of dirt, specks and scratches, while other Bond films have received meticulous restorations this one hasn't despite having performed extremely well at the box office and subsequently on home video in just about every format. The colors are fairly good although limited due to the film elements of the time, skin tones are natural, detail looks good primarily in wide shots and there were no compression related problems, so that's a bonus.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio and it was largely unimpressive. Dialogue is clear and distortion free and music tends to use the surround channels quite well and there are some directional effects that also make use of the rear channels, however it was lacking in depth, range and is mostly front heavy. Purists will likely gravitate to the film's original 2.0 surround track which is included on this disc.
Subtitles included are in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin and Thai.

Extras

This film has been released with a decent collection of extras that included an audio commentary, three featurettes, a theatrical trailer and photo gallery. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Irvin Kershner and Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin. This track is a perfect example of never judging a book (or in this case commentary) by its cover, I had already dismissed it as something that would probably end up boring me, the tone being droll and featuring countless moments of silent gaps... but I got the exact opposite. Both participants were lively and delivered a hugely informative and enjoyable screen-specific track for fans. Rubin also wrote the Bond Encyclopedia and carries the track as an interviewer, the track opens with the director commenting on the film's opening sequence and provides some cool tidbits about the film's production, remaining faithful to the Bond character but also in keeping the stunts and sequences believable for an "older" Bond. They cover the casting of the film and the characters especially on padding out the character Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) into a much bigger role than originally scripted. The also cover varying aspects of the production including story elements, the director's involvement early in the production and the development of the script as well as commenting on the lawsuits that impeded the film's production among other things. This track is definitely worth listening to.

Next up is "The Big Gamble" featurette which runs for 16 minutes 24 seconds, this clip covers the film's history and development as the participants include key people from the production as well as relatives of producer Jack Schwartzman, the involvement of Sean Connery and how the title came about. The director and screenwriter talk about the development of the story, on making the villain a contemporary businessman and veering away from the type of over-the-top villains Bond is used to fighting, on the various changes made to the script before tall the parties finally came together to shoot the film among other things including the challenges faced during the shooting.

"Sean Is Back" is the next featurette which runs for 8 minutes 4 seconds, and focuses on exactly as the title suggests. The filmmakers and cast all talk about how great he is, his imposing presence, basically a vanity piece of how awesome Connery is, how they were lucky to have him back as Bond and how much of a professional he is. Sadly Connery himself is not interviewed in this clip, which would have been nice but I can understand that would have been difficult.

The final featurette is "The Girls of Never Say Never Again" which runs for 10 minutes 7 seconds. This clip takes a look at the Bond girls of this film, the casting of the girls and what they brought to the production. Kershner recalls having to direct Kim Basinger and shares some memories from the production. The clip also looks at the casting of Barbara Carrera and wanting a specific exotic look for the character and the problems she had with the first version of the script, as she recalls memories from the film shoot. Pamela Salem talks about playing Miss Moneypenny and we also hear from Valerie Leon who plays the girl from the Bahamas that Bond ends up sleeping with.

The disc also features the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 27 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is a photo gallery which featuring production photos cut together into a reel that runs for 3 minutes 12 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C Video: C+ Audio: C- Extras: B- Overall: C

 


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