Thunderball :: History Repeating

Tonight, in the rain, I sat in a hangar at the local airport and watched the fourth Bond movie produced by Eon Productions. It should have been the debut, but there was a bit of a dispute between Ian Fleming and two guys called Kevin and Jack over who wrote what which meant this had to wait until 1965 for production. The former got named as the producer but numerous legal issues which dogged Thunderball’s plot and characters never really went away. Even after Kevin McClory’s death in 2006 the name Spectre couldn’t be used in a Bond film: only when MGM and his estate formally settled with Danjaq, sister company of Eon Productions in November 2013 was it possible for Daniel Craig’s 007 to return to what clearly is held by many Bond fans as the apex of the canon.

Thunderball made more money than the previous three Bond films combined, but that is where the resemblance with current output ends. The production positively creaks under the weight of shoddy continuity, awful pacing and editing with some quite horribly dated tropes. This film undoubtedly remains a product of its age. Bond’s treatment of women, frankly, looks horrendous in the current light of #MeToo. My son, seventeen and apologising profusely as he knows how much Bond means to me, explained exactly what he thought he’d seen and how it made him uncomfortable. [*] My daughter, thirteen, was completely lost and frankly a bit upset. I’d tried not to let the present affect my idea of the past, and the very rosy image this movie used to inhabit in my head.

Tonight’s viewing made this part of the canon both look and feel its age. It appeared dearly loved by many of the people who watched it, but for me, there were few moments of genuine enjoyment and interest. I’ve been spoilt by Daniel Craig, a Bond who may be unable to escape the legacy of his predecessor but at least presents a 007 who seems to care about the people he works with. Connery’s charm and charisma appear as dated to me now as everything else, and even Desmond Llewelyn’s brief field appearance could do nothing to raise the spirits. However, quite scarily I was reminded of Spectre in many places, especially the chase through the Nassau Carnival.

Maybe borrowing from the past is no longer an acceptable means of reinventing the future.

I have nothing but good things to say however about the location, despite the rain and some issues with sound quality in the hangar. I’d love to see more films like this if they can fix the acoustic issues, and having the Vulcan here with the significance the aircraft play in the film was probably the main redeeming feature of the entire endeavour. I applaud the Festival for all of this, and my lack of enjoyment of the evening has NOTHING to do with the location or attractions, and pretty much everything to do with the film chosen.

Bond needs to change. Eon already grasps this and that’s why Danny Boyle’s being linked with the project, a director who has the ability to evolve 007 out of the sexist, misogynist rut that has driven the production since inception. No longer can Bond joke about his conquests, before saving the World. Something fundamental needs to change. If that happens, will the generation who sat in the hanger with me tonight and loved what they saw care, or consider that the franchise no longer caters to their desires?

Maybe it is time to leave Bond’s legacy to those who yearn to remain in the past.



[*]
 Consent in this movie is strained at best. If it were shown at cinemas now, in the current climate, my son suggested there would be an outcry, and I tend to agree with him. A discussion about rape followed the watching of this, and that there are some very uncomfortable moments that become ‘acceptable’ because this guy works for the British Secret Service.

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