007 observations/opinions about Never Say Never Again (1983)

Never Say Never Again has always been an odd duck among the James Bond movies. It’s not part of the film series, yet it has the original film Bond. It’s the only movie that’s an actual remake of another James Bond movie, Thunderball. It’s the one time audiences have really gotten to see how a production company other than Eon Productions would fare making a 007 film; the 1967 Casino Royale was an out-and-out spoof that made no attempt to mimic (much less surpass) any of the Eon series.

Never Say Never Again also spurs debate among Bond fans. Because of that, we offer the following observations and/or opinions:

001. Making a James Bond movie is harder than it looks. Originally, Never was supposed to come out in the summer of 1983 and go up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the Eon series. But the film’s release date got delayed until the fall of 1983 (some of that history can be found by CLICKING HERE), giving Eon’s Octopussy the summer market for itself. (Not that Octopussy didn’t lack for competition — Return of the Jedi came out that same summer — but it didn’t have to worry about a competing Bond film).

Never was a sprawling production, with scenes shot in the south of France and in the Bahamas. While one can critique Eon’s series, you have to concede the company met its commitments once a release date was made. Jack Schwartzman, Never’s producer, apparently found out the hard way that making 007 films isn’t easy. Add insult to inury: after catering to Connery, the star later called Schwartzman “a really incompetent producer” while commenting on a radio show that was filmed and aired later on television. If Schwartzman heard those comments, one supposes he could have called up Eon bossman Albert R. Broccoli to trade war stories about dealing with Connery.

002., Never Say Never Again isn’t any more serious than any other 007 film made between 1971 and 1985. Bond informs Domino that her brother has been killed by SPECTRE chieftain Largo during a campy tango scene played for laughs. Rowan Atkinson provides a preview of the schtick he’d do as Mr. Bean while playing Nigel Small-Fawcett, a British diplomat. Bond defeats an attacker by using his own urine specimen as a weapon. High drama, this is not. It’s on a par with exploding villains (Live And Let Die), stuffing a murderous dwarf in a suitcase (The Man With The Golden Gun) or using a Beach Boys song for an action scene (A View To a Kill).

003. Many 007 fans give Sean Connery a pass for Never Say Never Again. Hey, some fans say, it’s Connery so it has to be good. Problem: Connery was a de facto producer of Never Say Never Again. Without him, the movie doesn’t get made. If Connery wants new writers (Ian La Frencais and Dick Clement? Get them! So if you like Nigel Small-Fawcett, Connery gets part of the credit. If you think Nigel is a silly, over-the-top character? Well, it can’t be Sir Sean’s fault. Can it? Put another way, Connery had more input on Never than he did with any other 007 movie, for good or for ill. But fans tend to concentrate on the former and ignore the latter.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Ask yourself the following two questions: 1) Is Never Say Never Again really better than Moonraker/The Man With the Golden Gun/A View to a Kill? 2) Are you really being honest?

004. It’s inferior to Thunderball. Never is a remake of Thunderball and, thus, begs for that comparison. Thunderball had spectacle (even if it had editing and continuity issues). It even had drama amidst the typical mix of action and humor (Bond telling Domino her brother had been killed as part of SPECTRE’s plot). Never often comes up short in direct comparison to its predecessor, in our humble opinion.

005. If Roger Moore had done Never Say Never Again instead of Octopussy, some of Never’s fans would scream it was too campy. Moore gets blamed by some fans for the tone of the Bond film series from 1973 to 1985. He was the star, so he does bear some responsibility. But he also was doing was directors Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert and John Glen told him to do. Famously, Moore objected to a scene in For Your Eyes Only that called for Bond to coldly kick a car containing a killer off a cliff. Still, he did it, an indication that his input only went so far. Connery’s input on Never (and, for that matter, Diamonds Are Forever, his last film for Eon, where he publicly praised Tom Mankiewicz’s rewrite of Richard Maibaum’s early drafts) suggests he didn’t mind light stuff at all. Would Connery have really minded briefly disguising himself as a circus clown in Octopussy? We’ll never know, but the answer may not be as conclusive as some fans believe.

006. Michel Legrand’s score is a contender for worst 007 score of all time. Michel Legrand could make grown men cry with his score for the 1971 TV film Brian’s Song, he could do a serviceable score for the adventure film Ice Station Zebra, he could do musicals such as Yentl. But he was no competition for John Barry, who scored 11 of the Eon films and established the 007 musical sound, or even the likes of Marvin Hamlisch or Bill Conti, who provided the music for some of Eon’s films when Barry wasn’t available. Good news for Legrand: Eric Serra’s score for Eon’s GoldenEye (1995) does provide Legrand competition for the worst 007 film score so it’s not automatic that Legrand get branded the worst Bond movie composer.

007. Never Say Never Again generates strong arguments among fans. Some fans bristle at the notion of referring to Never as an “unofficial” Bond film (a typical description for Bond movies not produced by Eon) saying that’s an unfair label. POn the other hand some will attack it because how dare anybody other than Eon attempt to make a 007 movie. Now those are broad generalizations but visit a typical Bond fan site message board and it won’t take too much effort to find posts taking either position.

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3 Responses

  1. 001. Making a James Bond movie is harder than it looks.

    Unquestionably. And Never Say Never Again was working under constraints, such as having to stick to the Thunderball plot, that didn’t make it any easier.

    002., Never Say Never Again isn’t any more serious than any other 007 film made between 1971 and 1985.

    Generally agreed. I would argue it tends more toward the For Your Eyes Only end of that spectrum, but it certainly suffers from instances of the self-parody that was the fatal flaw of all the Bond films in that timeframe.

    003. Many 007 fans give Sean Connery a pass for Never Say Never Again.
    …1) Is Never Say Never Again really better than Moonraker/The Man With the Golden Gun/A View to a Kill? 2) Are you really being honest?

    1) a. Close call. The good parts of Moonraker (yes, it had several) were better, the bad parts were worse.
    b. Never Say Never Again was better.
    c. Never Say Never Again was considerably better.
    2) Yes.

    004. It’s inferior to Thunderball.

    Unquestionably. It has a lot of company, but the direct remake nature of the film makes this a fair cop.

    005. If Roger Moore had done Never Say Never Again instead of Octopussy, some of Never’s fans would scream it was too campy.

    Never Say Never Again has fans?? I’ve seen it defended (I’ve done that myself), particularly from the charge of Not Being A Real Bond Film, but I don’t know anyone who considers it much better than “okay.” That being said, can anyone really think it would have been improved by Roger Moore’s performance in the lead?

    006. Michel Legrand’s score is a contender for worst 007 score of all time.

    It was pretty awful; at least GoldenEye had a decent main theme. It’s tempting to blame some of it on the fact that he couldn’t use the iconic James Bond Theme, but David Arnold’s Casino Royale score showed a Bond film could be well-scored without leaning too much on that crutch.

    007. Never Say Never Again generates strong arguments among fans.

    What scurilous slander! My seconds will be in contact with your seconds directly, sir!

  2. Excellent points!

  3. Except for using the basic plotline, they had, pretty much, a free rein to do whatever they wanted, and did do exactly that. Despite what they always moaned about during the filming, they were never ‘working under constraints’ as the final release certifies. There is little, if anything, of the Ian Fleming novel and the original McClory treatments in that film.
    I remeber being at Warners’ early on and seeing the “THUNDERBALL II” poster on display (the last two L’s made up the II) and that was pulled and replaced with another of him flying in a missle container (The catch-line was something like: “Nobody is as hot as Sean Connery as 007, or as cool”), which was also pulled. They were not too bad and, like the film itself, it all got worse as they progressed.
    The posters were, probably, the only things that were changed about the release of the film.

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