Monday, December 5, 2011

Never Say Never Again

 1983's Never Say Never Again was a film conceived out of a long drawn out legal battle and petty mindedness. I have in previous Bond posts alluded to the legal battle over the novel Thunderball and the use of the character Ernst Blofeld and the organisation SPECTRE. Ian Fleming wrote the novel from an abandoned screenplay that he co-wrote with Kevin McClory. When published Fleming gave no credit to McClory for the use of his ideas which lead to McClory taking Fleming to court for breach of copyright. When Eon productions made Thunderball they made a deal with McClory which stipulated he could produce the film but not make his own version for a period of ten years afterwards.

 These legal wranglings are the reason why Blofeld and SPECTRE do not appear in any Bond film after Diamonds are Forever as Eon Productions were legally bound not to use them. Of course Blofeld makes a small re-appearance in 1981's For Your Eyes Only where he is forever written out of Eon films as Roger Moore's Bond unceremoniously dumps him down a chimney! This scene is not only a humorous scene to watch but also a very serious on screen ' fuck you ' to McClory and the legal battles he had fought over the character.

 All of which in a round about way brings me to the why Never Say Never Again was ever made. As you all know the film is not an official Bond film. But now that McClory had won his legal battle over his rights to the novel, and more than ten years had passed, the way was clear for him to make his version of it into a film. This is the sole reason for the films existence and nothing else. So in essence there is a certain degree of petty mindedness in McClory's decision to make the film. After all he had won his legal battle and the right to be identified as the creator of Blofeld and SPECTRE but what use was that to him? All he could do was make his own version of the novel and Never Say Never Again was the result.

 Over the years McClory had tried unsuccessfully to get a film off the ground. Those ongoing legal issues saw to that and it wasn't until the early 1980's that the way was clear. And then in stepped Sean ' never again ' Connery! After his 1971 quip ' never again ' when asked if would make another Bond film he reneged on it to make Never Say Never Again. His fee of US$3 million was to include a percentage of the profits, along with casting and script approval. Unfortunately I can't find anything else on Connery's motivations for returning as Bond for this film. Suffice to say though that no other actor was considered or even approached for the role.

 Somehow with this background it is no surprise the film had a troubled production. In fact it was so troubled that Connery himself had to take on production duties as producer Jack Schwartzman's lack of experience shone through. He was so poor that money ran out half way through filming and he had to finance the rest out of his own pocket. He later admited he had underestimated the cost to make such a film. Fortunately for him and all involved the film grossed US$160 million on its final cost of US$36 million.

 Never Say Never Again of course competed in the same year with official Bond release Octopussy. It is almost impossible then not to compare the two. For instance as Never Say Never Again ran to US$36 million to make Octopussy was made for less ( US$27.5 million ) and grossed US$187.5 million. So in every aspect the official Bond franchise knew how to make their own product for less but also how to gross more in the process. It goes to show that even having Sean Connery back as the most iconic, let alone preferred Bond, that the cinema going public backed the official Bond film far more that its rival. Fortunately for posterity no more unofficial Bond films have been made.

 I say fortunately because Never Say Never Again had the potential to forever scuttle and ruin the official Eon franchise. If more unofficial Bond films had followed to compete with Eon, then eventuality one would have been driven out of the Bond business, or both ( and hence Bond films as a whole ). Whilst I sympathise with Kevin McClory and his rights to the Thunderball novel I'm not overly impressed with the motivations behind the making of Never Say Never Again simply because of the potential trouble it could have brought to the future of the Bond films. Fortunately Never Say Never Again made a profit, starred an aging Sean Connery against an aging Roger Moore, but at the end of the day Eon really won through.

 Interestingly by the time of Octopussy Roger Moore himself was having a Sean Connery ' never again ' moment. His initial contract with Eon had been for three films after which he was contracted on a film by film basis. He had made it clear he wished to retire from the role after 1981's For Your Eyes Only his fifth Bond film. Many criticise Moore for apparently staying on in the role too long. But the reality was it wasn't his desire to do so as he was heavily pressured by Eon to remain. What many do not realise is that American actor ( and father of Josh ) James Brolin under went extensive screen tests for the role of Bond for Octopussy as Moore's replacement. But when Eon found out McClory and Connery were to remake Thunderball they re-contracted Moore as it was  felt he, as the established Bond, would be more than able to compete with McClory's film.

 As the figures show Moore in Octopussy did just that. Again I stress the importance to posterity that Octopussy outperformed Never Say Never Again and Moore must take huge credit for making the film when so reluctant to do so. I never saw Never Say Never Again when it was released in cinemas. In fact I never knew of its existence until it played on NZ telly several years later. Suffice to say though that I did see Octopussy and still consider it one of the better Roger Moore films. But then again I have a real soft spot for the Bond films of the early 1980's because they are the ones I saw first on the big screen and hence have retained a real affinity for.

 But in all reality how well do the two Bond films of 1983 stack up against other outside of money made, who wrote what script, and who played Bond? To be honest I think Octopussy the superior film of the two. Again Never Say Never Again is a little more than a Thunderball remake with some clever script changes to incorporate Connery's age ( ie the idea that the 00's were obsolete and James Bond an aging super hero ) whereas Octopussy was an original Bond story. Besides my reservations behind the motives for making the film there is enough about it to like. It is far from awful and in fact on release in 1983 was generally well received by critics worldwide.

 All the ingredients are there besides the plot. It has two Bond girls, a villain, SPECTRE and Blofeld, exotic locations and a theme song Never Say Never Again sung by Lani Hall. But because this was an unofficial Bond film the Bond theme is glaringly obvious for its absence as is the opening credits gun barrel sequence. Instead we get a screen full of 007! Personally I found a lot to like even though the idea of a 52 Connery/Bond having it off with a then 20 year old Kim Basinger/Domino Patachi didn't quite work. Otherwise the film has enough Bond going for it, even though Octopussy surpassed it in every way......but one. And that was in seeing Sean Connery back in his iconic role which showed the world yet again why he was considered the quintessential James Bond.

 Again to comparisons! IMDB has Never Say Never again with 6.1/10 and Octopussy with 6.5/10 ( I'd give them 6/10 and 7/10 respectively ). There isn't a lot between the two but even with IMDB ratings Octopussy beats its 1983 competitor, and rightly so in my opinion. I do like Never Say Never Again as a Bond film. It is certainly a better film than several of the official Eon productions and it was great to see Sean Connery back in the role he defined. But besides liking it as a stand alone film I totally dislike both Kevin McClory's and Sean Connery's motivations for making it. There is a degree of pettiness about it all. Even though Connery is the best Bond of them all it was disappointing he returned to the role in an unofficial film that threw the proverbial brown stuff at Eon. It was a sad attitude to take with Connery's end as Bond to my mind ( fortunately his wink at the end of the film really did signal ' never again ' !!! ).

 In a word.....interesting for Connery's return but not as good as it's official rival.

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