Monday, October 10, 2011

[JD's Take] Thunderball (Ian Fleming)

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of "movie vs. book" comparisons of the James Bond books. I've been reading through the series in no particular order, and my intent is to compare the film treatments and the novels, because it amuses me.
These reviews will contain spoilers!

First though, I feel like I can and maybe should give a general review of Ian Fleming's legendary series of spy thrillers in general. The James Bond stories were written between 1953 and 1966, and it shows. The conflicts are classic postwar and cold war struggles of nations, mixed with some rogue actors who tend to operate at the same scale. They are also sexist and racist in the casual way of novels from this era. To a modern reader this can be very off-putting, although half the time it just comes across as vaguely hilarious. If you're familiar with the movies, Bond himself might come as a bit of a surprise. He's a dangerous spy with a love for fast cars and fast women. That much came across pretty well. What you don't see often in the books is his cruelty and obsessive focus when he's on a job. And where in the movies he's a smooth-talking charmer in the books he's... not. Oh, and the gadgets are far more realistic in the books. :)

So without further ado.... Thunderball!

The Book
Because I'm a rebel, I boldly started with the 9th book in the series. Take that, established conventions! So, we start out with a James Bond being lectured by his boss. M thinks that he smokes too much (around 60 cigarettes a day, of the unfiltered variety he imports from eastern Europe somewhere), drink too much (a bottle of bourbon a day to take the edge off) and is generally in poor health. So, M sends bond to a health spa to be treated the finest in 60s-era health treatments! Bond is... not amused. So, he goes through a whole infomercial of steam baths, near-starvation, toxin purging, massage, traction, and hot nurses. There he casual starts some shit with another of the patients when he discovers that he might be associated with some drug smugglers. The smuggler tries to kill with with a traction machine, so Bond returns the favor by locking him in a steam box. Hilarious trips to the hospital for the smuggler, recovery sexing from the hot nurse for Bond... overall, that's a win.

Next, we are introduced to Blofeld, the most famous Bond villain of all time. He's a master schemer, manipulator, and secret keeper who has gathered a team of the best criminal minds in the world to form a co-op of evil (SPECTRE) that arranges extortion, thefts, murders for hire, kidnappings, drug smuggling and probably littering around the world for shared profit. They have a new scheme now, intended to be their last hurrah before breaking up so they never get caught. They're gonna steal some nukes, hide em, and blackmail the US and the UK with the threat of nuking a major city if they don't pay up. Pretty solid plan, really.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and James Bond is sent to catch them in Jamaica. He does, and it's actually pretty cool. There's an underwater fight scene, some actual sleuthing, a bad guy with freakishly large hands, and a gadget! The gadget, in this case, is a Geiger counter disguised as a camera. He woos the bad-guy's chick and manipulates her into helping him track down the nukes. This gets her tortured. Um. Did I mention he's kind of a dick?

The Movie
Sean Connery does all that same stuff! The movie version is actually pretty close to the book in terms of plot. They combined some characters (and gave Felix Leiter an extra hand), naturally, but that's no tremendous sin. They added a totally boring section where the Jamaicans have a big... voodoo... party of some sort. I'm not going to lie, I actually nodded off a bit through that section (I've seen this movie dozens of times though, to be fair). They made the bad-guy's boat into a boat/submarine just for laughs, and gave Bond some extra gadgets while they were at it. Oh, and no torture.

Still, on the whole the movie followed the book very closely, and I enjoyed both of them.

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