James Bond in Review: Moonraker

In 1977, the Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” restored faith in the franchise after a period of uncertainty, with the departure of co-producer Harry Saltzman and the somewhat dissiapointing critical and box office reaction to “The Man With The Golden Gun”. “Spy” largely restored a more cinematic Bond feel, with a larger widescreen ratio, more exotic locations, and the gadgets and over-the-top villains Bond had become to be known for, as well as a more likeable take on the character by Moore himself, who seemed to be trying too hard to replicate Connery’s ‘edge’ in his first two films.

However, there’s often too much of a good thing. Originally, “Spy” was going to be followed by “For your Eyes Only” (Which did eventually get made, one film over). However, it didn’t quite work out that way…

A little film called “Star Wars” came out, and of course cinematic science fiction was super popular again. Star Trek was in the middle of getting a second TV show when suddenly it’s priorities shifted to make a movie series to compete with Wars. Innovative science fiction films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien were huge hits. Various derivative works and parodies were made-and Bond-which had often used popular genres of the time for inspiration-just had to get a piece of that pie too. Hence “FYEO” was pushed back, and “Moonraker” was put in it’s place. The film, in it’s third act, takes Bond into Space, complete with laser pistols and laser-firing space shuttles, to fight the bad guy onboard a space station. It even ends with Bond saving Earth at the last minute by being a good shot, something sort of like Luke Skywalker’s “One in a million” shot in Star Wars.  Moonraker’ station even has even got it’s own fancy laser, although nothing on the Death Star scales.

As I’ve mentioned in my analysis of the novel, the Moonraker novel is actually somewhat closer to the film Goldeneye, with a bad guy wanting to get revenge on London using a nuke. However, apart from the name, Hugo Drax is pretty much entirely different in the film. He’s potrayed as a villain with pretty much the exact same plot as the previous film’s Stromberg-but with one exception-instead of the sea, he wants to create a utopia in space, and eventually repopulate Earth with ‘pure’ humans. His sense of humor and attitude is a bit more droll than Stromberg as well. He’s actually one of the film’s brighter spots.

Like his villain, a lot of the elements of the film copy “Spy’s” (It’s by the same director, who also directed the large scale Bond You Only Live Twice which also carried many of the same tropes). A vessel vanishes, Bond teams up with an agent from another country after some initial mistrust, and of course they’re pursued by Jaws, who is potrayed as far more of a joke here. He’s got one really pretty good scene-when he sneaks up on Bond’s female alley Manuela during a Carnivale celebration in Rio-which, unfortunately for him (But fortunate for Manuela and Bond himself), is not only broken up by Bond, but also revelers constantly entering the alley.

However, the rest of the film he’s pretty much poorly used. There’s the opening segment where he falls into the circus tent, a sort of poorly choreographed and fake-looking battle atop cable cars in Rio:

Whico of course leads to Jaws crashing, and then falling in love with a local girl, Dolly:

Who accompanies him to the Moonraker station, and is ultimately responsible for him helping Bond out when it starts to become clear that Drax may have no further use for him once they’re plans are complete, and leading to of course the moment where Jaws speaks his only line:

There’s of course some other silly moments too, which sort of hurt the film’s credibility further, such as the infamous Gondola chase, which ends with a moment that’s mainly intended to evoke the “dazed onlooker” scene in Spy Who Loved Me. It even has the same guy drinking in it (He’d also appear one more time in For Your Eyes Only during the ski chase). Plus to add to the lunacy, there’s a pigeon doing a double take.

The most silly element of the film is of course the final act, where Bond actually goes into space to Drax’s space station. There’s actually some decent model work here, not quite on Star Wars level but almost as good as Atlantis and Liparus in the other film.

But of course there’s somewhat undermined by the attempts by the actors to ‘act’ weightless which kind of come of as silly, and of course the space battle outside with astronauts with jetpacks and lasers. This isn’t any future stuff, by the way: It’s taking place in 1979. 

 

Like with “Spy” there’s a lot of nods to various other films in the music: The Romeo and Juliet theme when Jaws meets Dolly, small nods to Close Encounters and 2001’s theme as Drax’s stuff, and the magnificent Seven theme when Bond is in south America trying to locate Drax’s HQ.

John Barry returns to the series after a one film absence, however a lot of his score seems a bit more subtle than in the earlier films. The “007” theme-often played in action scenes in the Connery films-makes it’s final appearance here during the Q boat chase in the Amazon, but it does seem somewhat subdued as well. Barry’s best track is the Moonraker theme itself. Instead of using the ‘space theme’ he previously used for For You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, here instead he’s given a somewhat more ominous and majestic-sounding melody. However, Shirley Bassey’s title tune here is the weakest of her three, although it kind of works well in the film’s romantic scenes in it’s non-lyrical version.

 

Bond girl wise, we first meet Corrine, Drax’s assistant, who, helping Bond dig up dirt on her boss, unfortunately meets a bad end in one of the film’s most dramatic,  and well-done scenes (if of course, kind of disturbing as well). Along with the carnivale segment (with a brief Bond girl, Manuela), it almost seems out of place in this film.

Of course the major one is Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). She sort of comes off a bit bland next to her predecessor Anya in persona (if not by acting ability), although Lois Chiles does what she can with the material.

 

So in closing, Moonraker’s sort of a mixed bag. It’s got some well-done moments but it’s kind of let down a lot by it’s silliness and camp, and the toning-up of Jaws and the somewhat subdued score, as well as pretty much being a space version of Spy Who Loved Me. Things would be toned down of course-and come much closer to the original Fleming material for the next Bond, the delayed “For Your Eyes Only”.

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