Bigger. Bolder. Better? Expect spoilers…
Bond has been all over the world, and in the depths of the sea. Makes sense that he would now go into space.
For this review, I’m capturing my thoughts as I watch.
A British air liner carrying a space shuttle “Moonraker”. Two goons hiding in the shuttle fire it up and fly off, leaving the plane plummeting to the ground.
Bond is in a passenger jet when the stewardess pulls a gun on him and the pilot wrecks the cockpit before leaping. Bond, is pushed out with no parachute, but swoops down to the pilot an steals his.
We see that Bond was pushed from the plane by Jaws (the metal-toothed assassin from the previous film)! Wait, how did he go unnoticed in the plane?
Editor John Glen was unit director for this sequence and the stunt is amazing. Eighty-eight jumps to film the sequence in multiple 3 second shots. Amazing. Yet the brilliant parachute stunt is tarnished by the silliness.
Jaws has a faulty chute so flaps his arms like a cartoon character and the jolly music explodes as he drops down on to a circus big top tent.
And wait, what happened to the stewardess?
06.00 THE THEME SONG
The haunting song is by John Barry and Hal David is sung by Shirley Bassey (third Bond song from the Welsh singer). Fabulous. Let’s hope they don’t ruin it with a disco version at the end.
Bond is dispatched to California to where the shuttle was built by the enigmatic Hugo Drax. The scene where he is flown over the area is great, showing the vastness of Drax’s engineering complex and his remote estate, a brick for brick relocation of a French Chateau and ornate gardens. This is extremely silly and outrageous, for surely only a megalomaniac billionaire madman would… oh, right! Of course.
Drax is played with the utmost politeness and sincerity by French actor Michael Lonsdale (this was an Anglo-French production). Drax is disappointed that the British have lost his shuttle, quotes Oscar Wilde, and offers Bond cucumber sandwiches.
As Bond leaves Drax sips his tea and says to his henchman (a guy in a kimono):
“Look after Mr Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”
The line, delivered deliciously, reminds me of James Mason’s great line in North by Northwest “This matter is best disposed of from a great height, over water”. Interestingly, the producers originally wanted Mason for the role of Drax.
Bond enters the facility and sees a woman (Lois Chiles) with a clipboard:
Bond: I’m looking for Dr Goodhead.
Goodhead: You just found her.
Bond: A woman!
Sure, Goodhead wins the scene by the time it’s over, and Chiles plays it well and of course Bond was as sexist as that in the books, but in this moment, he just comes across as a bit of a goodhead.
19.00 THE CENTRIFUGE TRAINER
A memorable scene, where Bond is strapped into the training arm to experience the G-forces expected at take-off. Kimono Man dials up the speed and Bond is only saved when he fires a dart from his bracelet that Q gave him (some nice editing here showing Bond remembering M’s office and Q giving him the bracelet).
29.15 THE HUNT
This is another scene I remember from seeing this upon first release. Drax tells his pilot Corinne that she must be terminated as she helped Bond get the blueprints.
Corinne’s end is beautifully shot and as she runs through the misty woods through shafts of light you are busy thinking “that’s really pretty” forgetting that she is about to be torn apart by Drax’s trained dogs.
Bond follows a lead and heads to a glass factory in Venice, where a random staring woman allows him to wander around. He sees mysterious hexagonal glass tubes in the factory.
38.10 DOUBLE TAKE
Bond’s gondola is attacked by a knife thrower who emerges from a coffin on a funeral barge. Then a speedboat appears, with goons and machine guns. Bond’s gondola becomes a speedboat-gondola, and what follows is a mix of Moore piloting this “Bondola”, some badly sped-up moments, a drunk, a kissing couple so engrossed in kissing they don’t realise their gondola has been snapped in two.
Bond heads back to St Marks Square, flicks another switch, and the gondola becomes a hovercraft.
- A sailor stares in amazement.
- A guy with a wine bottle does a comedy double take (let’s hope we don’t see him again!)
- We see a PIGEON DO A DOUBLE TAKE.
- A waiter accidentally pours beer on a customer.
- As the speedboat goons turn away, one of them falls in the water.
This sequence is irrelevant, unnecessary and achieves nothing.
42.30 THE LAB
Bond sneaks into a lab (the keypad plays the five-tone motif from Close Encounters – this is cheesy but fun – I remember laughing at this in the cinema).
The hexagonal tubes are being filled with clear liquid vials then put into large spheres. Bond sneaks a vial into his pocket just before another vial hits the floor and the fumes from the liquid kill some scientists.
Kimono Man (maybe it’s not a kimono) appears with a kendo mask and stick, and they have a fight which destroys the exhibition area of the glass factory.
Bond gives M (on an Italian holiday presumably) the vial while Drax phones Dial-A-Goon (I guess) to replace Kimono Man, and is impressed by what he hears:
“Oh yes, well if you can get him of course.“
Cut to an airport where an insanely tall man is walking through security and setting off the alarm. We don’t see his face yet, but of course it is Jaws, and then we see him flash his teeth. Now THAT should have been his entrance to the film, not the insane arm flapping parachute nonsense.
The shots from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain are breath-taking – a great location. The cable car set piece that follows is shot well, with nerve jangling stunts (one stuntman didn’t have a safety cable secured) but the fight is plagued by awful back projection and clumsy choreography.
Even worse, when the cable car crashes, Jaws emerges intact and falls in love at first sight with a girl with glasses and pigtails.
It was only when the pigtails appeared, that I suddenly remembered that they gave Jaws a goofy love story. Around half-way through the film is where your good will goes and you begin to get a little angry with it.
“The Magnificent Seven” theme starts, as Bond and two unknowns ride into town dressed like the man with no name. A spaghetti western reference FOR NO REASON.
Bond visits Moneypenny, M (still on his holidays I guess) and Q in a remote South American MI6 base. Q reveals the vial had orchid-derived poison and points Bond to a remote Amazonian location.
In a brief boat chase, Bond avoids toppling over a waterfall by triggering a pop-out hang glider.
We see another great Ken Adam set when Bond enters a temple. Lots of clinically cool upper-class women clad in white appear one by one and stare. Oh, right – that’s why Drax kept introducing them earlier.
The set is a huge interior of a temple with various waterfalls, metallic levels and foliage (Ken Adam called it The Great Chamber). Bond gets to fight a large rubber snake here.
Drax reappears with the best line of the film:
“Mister Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.“
Five shuttles launch into space and dock with a secret space station. Bond and Goodhead manage to disable the “radar jamming” device so they are visible, and the US send up a shuttle full of space soldiers.
Drax’s plan is to poison humankind with 50 globes full of the vials, replacing the population with his “superior” humans. Hearing this plan, Jaws turns into a good guy. I can’t believe they made him a good guy.
The US shuttle arrives, and the soldiers have a bizarre laser battle with Drax’s soldiers buzzing around outside the space station. The station crumbles and Drax is shoved out of an airlock.
Our two heroes have to take a shuttle to shoot down the three globes that had been released.
Jaws and his girlfriend find a bottle of Bollinger in the wreckage and have a drink. I can’t believe they made him a good guy. Then Jaws TALKS. Jeez, I had forgotten that.
Jaws helps them disengage the shuttle from the dock. I quite like Jaws as a good guy.
As Bond and Goodhead chase the spheres you can’t help thinking of the Death Star trench run in Star Wars, as they use the on-screen missile guidance. Then that fails and Bond must fire manually. Use the Force, James.
The officials tune in live to the shuttle, and they see Bond and Goodhead floating weightlessly wrapped in a bed sheet.
M asks, “what is Bond doing?” and Q replies:
“I think he’s attempting re-entry sir!“
Disco theme tune. Sigh.
Sadly, Moonraker would be the last time Bernard Lee would play M as he had passed away before the next production. Cast members spoke fondly of him as a performer and as a friend.
I loved Moonraker as a child, and maybe that’s why it pales now. It’s very enjoyable, inventive and much better looking than I remembered, but the childish humour grates.
The story is padded out with spectacular and expensive set pieces that do nothing to advance the plot or the characters, indeed there are long sequences that could be removed with absolutely no impact on the story.
The producers attempted to give fans everything they could want in a Bond film, yet made a spectacular movie which feels hollow, with characters that aren’t engaging – although that didn’t stop it making more money than any Bond so far.
Fans did complain about the silliness and the cartoon humour, so the next film FOR YOUR EYES ONLY would try to rectify that.
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented by: Albert R Broccoli
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Christopher Wood
Composer: John Barry
“Moonraker” music by John Barry
Lyrics by Hal David
Performed by Shirley Bassey
Production Design: Ken Adam
Cinematographer: Jean Tournier
Editor: John Glen
London Premiere June 1979