Well, here we are yet again to spelunk into the cavern that is James Bond 007. We’ve covered all the stalactites and stalagmites that are before us and now I’m already bored with the cave exploration analogies. Moving on, I shall now go over a Bond movie that I’m sure most of you would have placed much, much lower than having it right about in the middle of the pack. Hey, I truly understand why you would, but seeing as how I’m the one paying myself with non-existent paychecks to continue on with this bloody thing, that’s just too bad.
That reminds me, I always had meant to ask Ian Fleming a question about Moonraker, but as he sadly inconvenienced me by passing away when I was -14 years old, I couldn’t broach the subject. So for all of you out there, here is the question I have: are there that many leaves on the lunar surface?
James Bond came back in a huge way in 1977. After the red hot mess that was The Man with the Golden Gun , the production team faced an uphill battle. Fortunately they managed to bounce back with what many think was the best of the Roger Moore Bond outings, The Spy Who Loved Me. Of course the script for Spy was just a refurbished You Only Live Twice, minus Japan but plus a huge assassin with metal teeth. You can determine if that’s a win or a loss.
With that success behind them, the producers were going to build on that foundation with the next Bond adventure they teased at the end of Spy: For Your Eyes Only. But then fate had a different plan and by “fate” I meant “the summer of 1977 box office”. There was no escaping the huge hit that launched to become a cultural phenomenon. The only question was how to have a Bond movie emulate Smokey and the Bandit. After all, Live and Let Die had enough cornpone rednecks and chase scenes so how could they add to that?
Okay, I’m obviously kidding. The cultural explosion that occurred from Annie Hall was to be reckoned with but the producers wisely understood that placing Roger Moore in that level of a neurotic comedy would be difficult if not completely erroneous and sad. Oh, all right, all right, fine you screaming geeks, I’ll get on with it. Star Wars was unleashed upon the public that summer and it changed the fabric of the box office. Sci-fi was suddenly big business and every studio looked for a product to cash in with.
Disney released The Black Hole and ultimately got sucked into it. Paramount woke up and realized they had this little unknown property called Star Trek that might be a good choice. The less said about Star Crash the better, unless the only thing you’re saying is snarky comments. The Bond producers decided to strike while the iron was hot and saw their unbelievable opportunity to finally use the final Ian Fleming Bond novel that they had been reluctant to use for 17 years: Moonraker.
Moonraker was the third of the 007 Fleming novels. Its story about a madman trying to launch a rocket into London was kind of dated, but as it had the word “moon” in the title, it was a timely godsend to the producers. A script was commissioned and aside from there being something that can be launched called Moonraker, James Bond, and the villain by the name of Hugo Drax, nothing else was retained. While that might have otherwise presented a problem in abandoning the source material, I’m okay with the decision in this instance.
Besides, the novel is a bit of a literal anti-climax because this is the one time Bond does not bed his leading lady by the end. This was changed for the movie because while I can sort of suspend my disbelief watching Bond in space, I cannot even come close to believing he won’t bed down with someone by the time the credits roll.
Roger Moore is back in his fourth Bond adventure and doesn’t really embarrass himself. He is truly comfortable as Bond and after the success of the previous movie, the scripts were now tailored to Moore’s strengths rather than forcing him into playing a Connery-type Bond. Yes, he does play for humor a bit more, but it hasn’t gotten completely obnoxious yet. Well, aside from that Magnificent Seven music piping in when he’s riding a horse in Brazil. That was a bit much, but that’s John Barry’s fault, not Rog’s.
Speaking of the music, John Barry returns and the score is just okay, at least when compared to his previous Bond outings. Barry always seemed off his game or playing compose by the numbers whenever having to do the Roger Bonds. Here is no exception and score just kind of goes along, never rising to previous heights. The title song is rather limp as well, despite the wonderful return of Shirley Bassey for a third time singing a Bond song. She deserves better than singing the words “Just like the Moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold, I search for love, for someone to have and hold.” Wow and yikes. Just wow and yikes.
Hugo Drax is one of the top villains in the Bond canon and here he was cast rather magnificently. Michael Lonsdale underplays him with just the right level of controlled menace. His line “Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.” is just right and said wonderfully. He’s also quite smart and matches Bond very well. Megalomaniacal on his way to full blown insanity, but yet still reserved, Drax is a bright spot in the 007 franchise and a model for other villains as well.
On the other villainous hand, we get the return of giant Richard Kiel as everyone’s favorite metal-mouthed indestructible killer, Jaws. Yes, he didn’t die at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, and apparently this meant he had to be brought back for this one. Granted, Kiel does play the role fine and has some good comic timing but there was already too much of a…well, good thing I guess, in Spy. Thankfully, he isn’t in all of Moonraker and eventually shows a character arc in that he helps Bond defeat Drax in the end. Yay, I suppose?
Kudos to the scriptwriter for actually having Bond do some detective work in this one. The answers aren’t all ready pat and the evil plot on a surface level isn’t horribly stupid. Oh, it gets outlandish, I’ll grant you, but the actual core of the idea isn’t bad and is almost on the level of Blofeld’s plan in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Only take it up about twice times tenfold because Drax wants to kill all the humans on earth. Well, now that I said it out loud, it looks ridiculous, never mind.
One other wonderful thing about Moonraker is that it has one of the most memorable pre-credits teaser sequences out of the entire series. The trend of great stunt ideas started with Spy and went through the next three Bonds. Having Bond be pushed out of an airplane without a parachute is still amazing to watch just because you see that there are real stuntmen really doing this. Personally, I would have not added Jaws at the end, but if they killed him there and didn’t bring him back in the main film, I would’ve forgiven the idea.
That all being said, I understand why this movie gets a bad rap, but frankly the movie, up through and until Bond gets captured by Drax and goes into space at least, is a nice Bond ride. I think the movie gets dumped on quite a bit and that might be a touch unfair. It doesn’t help that it is wedged in-between the two best Roger Moore outings as Bond. I think Moonraker deserves a second look because time has been kinder to it than you might remember. There, now that I’ve gotten that out my system, there are some issues I have.
Are space shuttles that are routinely flown on the back of jumbo jets fully fueled and ready to blast off at any moment? Seems like that might make the shuttle heavier than need be and the jet would never be able to take off. Then again for some reason the RAF was involved in transporting this shuttle and perhaps their procedures are different. Foolish, but different.
I love a good boat chase as much as the next guy. As a matter of fact, let me ask him right now. Yep, he loves them too. However, Moonraker needed to focus on having one really good boat chase instead of two rather mediocre ones. Now the gondola one mercifully is over quickly, but the Amazon River chase just is way too long. Yes, that might mean actually losing some of the gutbustingly hilarious comic gold involving Jaws reacting in front of an obvious process screen the whole time.
Moonraker was the most expensive Bond up to that point. Fortunately, it shows in the sense that the production value provided by Ken Adam is once again superb. His sets are spectacular and just a wonderful marvel throughout. Sadly, this would be his last Bond movie but he did go out on top.
If only this were true of the special effects. Now I know that Star Wars blew everyone’s minds away back in 1977 and is still quite remarkable today, “special” editions aside. And I understand the Bond effects guys did the best they could, but it simply was an unwinnable battle. The models look like models and I’m never really convinced about the space travel whatsoever. Then again, one could and should argue that Bond should never go into space, so there is that fair point to be made.
However there are still many bright spots to be had in the movie, such as the stunt work done between two real life cable cars, the rather comical fight in the glass artworks exhibition room, the centrifuge chamber scene where Bond is almost spun into jelly, and of course the name of the good Bond girl, Holly Goodhead. I’m still immaturely giggling. I can’t wait for Goldfinger!
On the whole, Moonraker is better than you remember and yes, the ending is so over the top, it blights everything that came before it. This is a shame because there is some good stuff amidst everything. Except for where Roger fights the large python and yes, that exists and oh, how I wish it didn’t.
There’s also the scene where Jaws falls in love. Ye gods, did I really write that down? Oh, and the product placement has never been so severe. I’m guessing that after watching this movie I should drink 7-UP and wear Seiko watches. Thanks for not letting subtlety get in the way of your crass force feeding products down my throat. They were this close to having Roger say, “Before I have my Dom Perignon ’73, I must say that this 7-UP is truly refreshing. Top marks for the un-cola!“
I think I’d better stop now. Oh, and did anyone get that leaves comment in the second paragraph? You see, it’s a Moon…raker. Get it? Leaves? Raking? Yeah, I over explained it to mercifully kill the line and not let it linger. You’re welcome!