Tuesday, 13 October 2015

007 - Thunderball

Terence Young's back in charge for a third and final pass at James Bond. Thunderball might be overlong and dramatically slack but at least 007 is calling the shots. As sumptuous and entertaining as Goldfinger is, that Bond comes very close to being a passenger. In Guy Hamilton's film the secret agent is a nosy parker swept up in events and reacting, rather than actively participating. Young's Bond is no such thing. He's a dark cloud, sweeping over the tropical landscape, foretelling ruin.

There's an element of mechanism in Young's take, a cold, remorseless calculation in everything he does. Other people don't quite register with him, they're just not equally important. Allies get thumped. Love interests are used up and manipulated, 007 employing sex as a kind of bullying coercion. In Goldfinger Hamilton's Bond was having fun, tripping his enemies up and thwarting their plots. It was all a game to him. Young's version wants, needs, to win. He's a shark. Even his kiss-off lines are delivered with spite, a victor pouring hate on top of murder instead of the usual levity.

Four films in we have an emerging franchise about a bad penny that fouls up the plans of the rich and psychotic. Terence Young tries to conform to this template but can't quite help making a Biblical epic length treatise on cruelty. An underwater action sequence, that could have passed in a perfunctory shuffle, ends up a terrifying, sustained leer at interpersonal jeopardy. Colour-coded divers stab and prod each other in a desperate, slow-motion struggle. Death piled upon death until Young is photographing an expansive, leaking vista filled with nothing but pain and termination. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted blockbusters, Young was better suited to thrillers that ran on pure nihilism.

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