Thunderball Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Oct 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Thunderball Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £21.69


    Updated to hi-def 1080p glory, Thunderball definitely surpasses its previous Ultimate Edition in terms of detail, colour, clarity and overall visual panache.

    So let's get the detriments out of the way first. There is some of the usual edge enhancement but, as with From Russia With Love, it is not at all distracting. The use of copious back-projection seems to add some glaring edges to objects and characters, yet this is inherent to the print and cinematography, so it not an over-zealous transfer error. Damage to the film is actually still apparent. Two instances of splotches and dirt on the lens occur in the pale blue skies at the extremes of the frame - the first is when Domino drives Bond to the shore after their initial meeting, the second is when Fiona Volpe does some shooting with Emilio. Otherwise, the print is actually very clean, bright and blemish-free - well, okay, that final close-up shot of Bond and Domino sailing through the air suffers from a grubby back-plate, but that, too, is inherent to the initial master. Although artefacts were slight and noise has been smoothed away, there was evidence of some slight instances of judder on distant trees during a sideways pan and also some vague shimmering on the white railings. Contrast fluctuations were rare but virtually negligible even when they did occur.

    But Thunderball looks spectacular, folks, despite any of these slight discrepancies. You hear a lot of talk about grain structure with hi-def images and Bond's fourth cinematic adventure retains a thin veneer of its original fine grain. The Lowry restoration allows for plentiful depth and texture, and the element of DNR that creeps into the transfer is not at all worrying, or even detracting. It makes the image look cleaner and brighter, although I do believe that one or two shots may have lost a little of their more finite information. This said, there are close-ups here that are staggeringly crisp and detailed. Emilio Largo's mush is especially fascinating, with pock-marks, crags, wrinkles, pits and a tan that receives a richer, more leathery shade this time out. Hi-def can be so unflattering at times. But check out the craggy rocks of the little atoll Bond is winched from by Felix for lots of crisp new detail.

    The fireball of Count Lippe's car has much more detail and shading going on within it than before; the vibrancy of the Nassau street-life and its gaudy Junkanu festival have keener primaries and more clarity in the further reaches of the frame; the underwater sequences boast cleaner, more defined imagery - from bubbles to barnacles and from sharply delineated spears and knives to smoother, brighter submersible vehicles. Colours are bold and striking - the orange of 007's scuba-suit, or the pink of his holiday-shirt for instance, are so much more vivid than ever before, and this new level of robustness gives the image a very refreshing quality that does literally "pop" from the screen. Three-dimensionality is pleasantly boosted to the point where views down roads - such as looking at the gunmen running after Bond when he has landed in his jet-pack outside the chateau - have lots more convincing depth and images containing both the dazzling sea and the skyline look appreciably distant and realistic. The underwater scenes don't look anywhere near as murky as they have done in the past, and this version even improves on the stellar work done for the SD Ultimate Edition.

    Black levels are also greater than before, although there could be some element of lost detail in the deeper recesses of the shadows - especially during Bond's night-time assault on Largo's estate. But, either way, there is more of a consistent anchor to the picture as a result of this new depth.

    Thunderball Picture


    Monsieur, with this DTS-MA 5.1 lossless audio revamp, you're really spoiling us!

    Yes, once again, MGM have provided their hi-def Bond with hi-def sound and Thunderball provides some real treats.

    Starting with the title sequence's famed gunshot there is definite rear presence - the bullet whistling over to the rear right speaker. The surrounds play only a sporadic part in the overall proceedings as, once again and perfectly accurately, the film is predominantly based around the frontal array. But, having said this, Thunderball is still very atmospheric and benefited by plenty of ambient detail. The RAF Vulcan taking off and making its descent into the briny; the spurt of bubbles underwater; the Junkanu carnival and the dance-club number; the vast undersea battle and the much more aggressive skirmish topside at the end - all feature effects and little elements that are spread around the set-up without sounding stupidly added for no reason. Machine-gunfire is startlingly powerful and there is a great whistle and thud as Bond's spear-gun impales Vargas to the tree. Whilst much of the film is frontal-based, there is a fine, wide spread across it that makes for a fair bit of dimensionality.

    Dialogue can suffer a little, however, as some speech sounds slightly submerged by the overall design. Some of the occasionally badly dubbed moments also seem slightly more apparent this time out, such as when Bond is telling Leiter about Largo. Words can sometimes sink a little, but this is nothing too troubling and there is never a time when you are struggling to hear anything. Barry's score is well-treated, although I had expected more from the opening song from Tom Jones - I don't know why, but the track felt slightly “contained” and less far-reaching than I'd have hoped. But the full score definitely rocks throughout the rest of the film with great moody swirls denoting the underwater majesty, top action ostinato from the 007 theme and delicious rising crescendos aplenty.

    But the thing that I enjoyed the most was the unexpected amount of bass activity - both overt and subtle. For a kick-off we get some nice bass throb from the sliding door to Blofeld's HQ and some robust sub foundation for the neat sizzle as SPECTRE's no.1 fries an embezzler at his grand meeting. The roar of the Vulcan taxiing and taking off sends some deeply felt shockwaves around the set-up and the hand grenades dropped over the side of the Disco Volante have an authentic water-compressed concussion.

    If anything, I think that the fire-alarm in Shrublands, some breaking glass there and the moment when Bond slides back the curtains to investigate the bandaged corpse are slightly overdone, but, on the whole, Thunderball sounds quite exciting and thoroughly energised in this hi-def makeover. Fist-fights and body-impacts have that broadly exaggerated crack and boff! that the Indiana Jones films loved to perpetuate, and these effects sound great here. Once again, the original mono track is supplied and this sounds fine, but even purists will have to admit that there is much more strength and vigour to the remix and that this goes quite some way to enhancing the atmosphere of the film and bringing it to life.

    Thunderball Sound


    Once again, the full raft of Ultimate Edition goodies have sailed over to the Blu-ray.

    We get two commentary tracks to supply reams of production trivia. The first, from Director Terence Young and an assortment of other crew members provides plenty of grass roots dimension to the mammoth undertaking - from stunts to sharks. The second takes a few deviations from the norm by providing us some Spanish language sections to help compare and contrast Connery's more sun-kissed brogue and to highlight some scenes that had actually been cut from the Spanish print, and also by giving plenty of time to co-screenwriter John Hopkins, who discusses screenplay methodology, likens Bond to a mythical hero and makes the whole thing sound like a slant on the epic Greek poems. Ponderous, yet worldly and profound - perhaps too profound, at times, for the film that he is discussing.

    Incredible World of James Bond is prime-time vintage promo. Running for a lengthy 50 mins, this is a fast, fun and totally daft run-through of Bond and his adventures up to battling Emilio Largo. Narrated in that strict staccato fashion and playing non-stop footage from the films, this still has limited appeal for anyone who isn't a young kid watching this back in its heyday. Bond is likened to Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and even the Scarlet Pimpernel and we are given a vaguely romantic back-story to him taken little snippets in the books that Fleming actually wrote. Basically, a massive montage of clips that aired very successfully on TV just before Thunderball was released theatrically.

    A Child's Guide to Blowing Up a Motor Car is another vintage promo that also has the emphasis on fun. Made by the Ford Motor Company, this had outtake-aficionado Dennis Norden taking his godson, Chris, to visit the set of Thunderball to see Count Lippe's car getting blown up and to see exactly how such effects and stunts are achieved. “Those ladies are, uh, James Bond's chums,” Dennis claims when young Chris finds a glamour-mag of the girls in the film. This is good, old-fashioned fun with an ending that you can see coming a mile off.

    On Location With Ken Adam (13.06) gives us a set of home movies filmed whilst locations were being scouted for the film. Adam narrates the show and we are definitely treated to an awful lot of bikini shots. Even the positively pneumatic Anita Ekberg crops up.

    Bill Suitor: The Rocket Man Movies introduces us to the guy who flew the US Army's Bell jet-pack in place of Connery. Of course, Connery actually flew it to begin with, but did it without a helmet - which was against all regulations. This is a bit of filler, but still pretty interesting. The jet-pack can go for 21 seconds and travel at a speed of 60 mph - apparently.

    Thunderball Boat Show Reel (2.51) is a montage of clips from the film edited together for the Boat Show promotional reel. This even features some alternative footage of the undersea battle.

    Selling Bonds - original 1965 television commercials. Now these are good cheesy fun. It's important voiceover-man time again and some crazy little 30-second adventures proving that Burton's raincoat and Burton's action-slacks are the ultimate in super-spy-wear ... from Burton's. Apparently, they're bullet-proof as well, judging by the ad. And they're from Burton's, you know.

    After the Interactive Guide to 007 - that rather superfluous alternative to the more conventional scene selection - we get The Making Of Thunderball. Lasting for 27.34 mins and hosted by Patrick Macnee this examines the genesis of the story, based on an abandoned screenplay by Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham and we hear of the subsequent legal wrangles that surrounded it. Most of the principle people involved have their say in the usual nostalgic manner. After the comical slant of the Dennis Norden skit on Count Lippe's car getting blown up, we find out about the real trick what was played on Terence Young by Bob Simmonds, the courageous stuntman who drove the burning wreck. Hidden cameras made records of real-life Vulcan Bombers and nuclear warheads, revealing the almost espionage tactics that the crew employed to make sure that they got everything right. We even hear about the plexi-glass barrier that wasn't long enough to keep the sharks away from Sean Connery, who thought that he was safe on the other side of it. Capped-off with some great behind-the-scenes footage of the final fight aboard the Disco Volante, this making of is comprehensive and enjoyable stuff.

    The Thunderball Phenomenon (31 mins). Once again, we hear the familiar tones of Patrick Macnee, and this doc does, indeed, commence with a lot that we already know and have learned from these discs. But what makes this study so worthwhile is the deviation it takes to chronicle the cult growth of the character in book form and then his even more meteoric rise to glory in the movies. It is good to hear that the hype and press junket that surrounded the early films were, if anything, even more ridiculous and over-the-top than similar things today. Lots of interviews chart the course of Thunderball's hugely anticipated arrival on cinema screens and we are treated to footage of the amazing spin-off merchandise - even the notorious 007 Road Race toy-set from Gilbert, that looked great ... but didn't work. John Barry tells of the trials of getting the title song right - from Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick to the final Thunderball from Tom Jones. Effects co-ordinator John Stears proudly brandishes his Oscar and we also hear about the re-releases and the TV airings. A great all-rounder, folks.

    The Secret History of Thunderball (3.56 mins) is not quite as intriguing as it sounds. This small featurette takes a little glance at the differing versions of the film as it was releases around the world and to television, offering snippets of different dialogue here and there that, certainly in one case, mean that the film has lot continuity quite badly.

    Then there is the usual selection of theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots and another fine stills gallery in the Image Database.

    So, all things considered, the extras selection for Thunderball definitely goes the distance. The film's controversial conception, inspired and gung-ho production, its mega-hyped expectations and its sky-high success are all covered with respect, humour, insight and an immense level of satisfaction.

    Thunderball Extras


    Slightly overlong and feeling somewhat overblown, as well, Thunderball is, nevertheless, another classic in the 007 canon. This was the biggest and most outrageous Bond adventure out of the earlier slew of movies and definitely Connery's most inventive and exhaustive spell of duty. Shark-loving Emilio Largo makes for a colourful villain, but Adolpho Celi never quite hits his stride when competing with Connery's cocksure swagger, but the set-pieces are great fun and we get to see Bond in a couple of tight spots that show his resourcefulness and courage. Terence Young directs with style to burn and Peter Hunt, who would soon take up directorial chores himself with the glorious OHMSS, brings some mighty wallop to the bruising action sequences with savage editing dexterity.

    Thunderball also looks hugely impressive on Blu-ray, although the step-up isn't quite as dramatic as it is with either Dr. No or From Russia With Love. But the detail is definitely there and the new DTS-MA mix offers lots of great new audio moments to enjoy. The extras are extremely good, too. The cross-section of vintage and much more recent fare is very welcome, offering different tones and slants on things, but certainly proving that Bond was as popular back then as Daniel Craig has made him now. Thunderball remains a thunderingly exciting “event movie” that provides plenty of bang for your buck and its place in pop-culture history is totally justified. And its place in your Blu-ray Bond collection is not up for question. A very strong 8 out of 10 for Thunderball, overall.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.69

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