Contributed by: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin

(May 3, 1917–January 15, 1986): Veteran cinematographer and underwater specialist who was responsible for the large-scale battle sequences in Thunderball, the opening underwater sequences in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, in You Only Live Twice, and the adventures of the Lotus submarine car in The Spy Who Loved Me. He also filmed James Bond’s duel with a giant water snake in Moonraker.

Unlike dozens of “diving for sunken treasure” or “monsters from the deep” exploitation films, Thunderball was conceived of as an ambitious, widescreen underwater epic. United Artists, perched on a tidal wave of 007 interest in early 1965, was ready to pour nearly $6 million into the next Bond adventure. It was going to be the biggest Bond film yet, with underwater battles with dozens of spear-gun-carrying frogmen, a trip to an underwater garage where stolen atomic bombs were hidden, a romantic swim with Bond (Sean Connery) and Domino (Claudine Auger), and a tense encounter between Bond and an underwater sentry guarding the Disco Volante hydrofoil. The task of photographing these landmark underwater sequences fell to Lamar Boren.

Boren, who claimed to have taken part in his first dive at eleven years old, had been shooting underwater films since the late 1940s. He knew about Thunderball, because producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli had first contacted him in the summer of 1961, when it was slated to be the first Bond film. But Thunderball had been shelved due to a copyright dispute between Ian Fleming and one of his collaborators on the original story, producer Kevin McClory. Boren returned to the Bahamas to wind up his fourth season on the popular Sea Hunt television series. As the Bond films grew in size and importance, he remained in the Caribbean working for Ivan Tors Studios, a Miami-based production company that specialized in underwater adventure shows and films, including Sea Hunt and Flipper.

Underwater photography had come a long way since 1914, when a photographer named Ernie Williamson hand-cranked the original version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea off Nassau in the Bahamas. In those days, Williamson worked on a specially built catamaran on which a photosphere was balanced between two pontoons. The photosphere—a glass canopy in which Williamson placed himself and his camera—was then lowered into the water to photograph the various divers and props that had been assembled for the film. Boren knew Williamson and admired his techniques, but his own dream was to physically follow the underwater action with an airtight camera that could operate under its own power.

In his early days at RKO, around 1950, Boren designed an airtight stainless steel camera case for an old Eyemo camera, and he was followed around the studio tank by a stagehand carting a car battery for the power supply. This worked well enough for the studio tank, but when Boren began filming Sea Hunt in the Caribbean, an independent power source was needed. He didn’t want generator cords or battery cables to inhibit his progress underwater.

The solution came in 1957 when he acquired some miniature silver cells from a friend. The tiny batteries were part of the guidance system of an air-to-air missile, and they were being manufactured in limited quantities by the Yardney company of New York. Boren incorporated this portable power source into his Eyemo, creating one of the first independent underwater cameras. He was now free to explore the full breadth of the ocean. The quality of his work and the variety of his subject matter improved considerably, and it was not long before a number of production companies were hiring him to do underwater work.

By the early 1960s, he had replaced his Eyemo with Panavision cameras, two of which would film all the underwater action in Thunderball. Boren recalled, “Thunderball was the most ambitious underwater film in history. Cubby [Broccoli] and Harry [Saltzman] were so pleased with our footage that they kept increasing its importance in the film. One thing that made the whole project even more interesting was the creation of so many functional underwater props and gadgets.”[1]

Boren worked closely on the film with a unit from Ivan Tors that would eventually number more than sixty professional divers and employ $85,000 worth of Voit diving equipment. Production designer Ken Adam and art director Peter Lamont also designed several futuristic underwater vehicles, including several one-man, electric-powered, spear-gun-equipped scooters and the two-man sled designed to carry the hijacked A-bombs. The vehicles were built by Miami underwater engineer and cameraman Jordan Klein.

Boren also put to good use the filming techniques he had perfected earlier on Sea Hunt. To adjust the level of his camera, he used his lungs like an elevator. To rise up, he took a deep breath of oxygen. And to drop down, he exhaled. By controlling his breathing in such a fashion, he was able to keep himself perfectly balanced—which contributed to the steadiness of his camera and the crystal clarity of his underwater shots.

Thanks to Boren, the ocean itself became a character in Thunderball. Married to composer John Barry’s beautifully mellow musical score, the underwater sequences lent the film a unique atmosphere of enchantment, just as exotic Jamaica had enlivened Dr. No.

The freshness and otherworldliness is evident from the start, in the early sequence in which James Bond (Sean Connery) meets Domino (Claudine Auger) in the sea off Nassau. Agent 007 sees her swimming underwater among the exotic tropical fish that inhabit the Caribbean coral. As she glides through the underwater scenery, Bond is entranced by her wonderful form. And when her foot gets caught in an outcropping of coral, Bond comes to her rescue. He helps her to the surface, where he introduces himself. It’s a short sequence, but it perfectly captures the magic of the tropics and the romance that is such an integral part of the film. Note: Claudine Auger’s stunt double during these sequences was Lamar Boren’s wife, Evelyne.

[1] Lamar Boren, interview by Steven Jay Rubin,  La Jolla, CA, August 17, 1976.


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