Moonraker (1979)

Posted: November 28, 2019 in James Bond
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Bond is back, but curiously not in For Your Eyes Only, instead, following on from the phenomenal success of Star Wars, the producers decide that a Bond film with more of a space flavour might be more successful, and since they have a book titled Moonraker that’s all about rockets, why not use that?

Of course, the novel of Moonraker bears little resemblance to the film. A former Nazi wanting to nuke London is chickenfeed compared to a lunatic who wants to wipe out humanity so he can repopulate the Earth.

Moonraker is a film that divides opinion. For some it’s the nadir of the series, the film that went too far, preposterous and terrible, for others it’s their favourite Bond film, fun and epic and exciting.

Of course, what you quickly realise about Moonraker is that it can be both these things simultaneously. Terrible and wonderful in equal measure. I mean it really is poor, yet it’s so much fun. If there’s one Bond film that’s a guilty pleasure, it’s surely this one.

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Riffing on The Spy Who Loved Me, the film opens with a large bit of high-tech kit being nabbed, in this case a Moonraker shuttle. You could ask why the shuttle has fuel in its tanks, but I guess Drax could have planned that…

Once again 007 is seducing a woman who wants to kill him, seriously this happens around 50% of the time by now. James Mason appears to menace Bond, but only ends up donating his parachute. Not that Bond’s out of the woods yet as Jaws is also in the air. I mean, where was he hiding? Why was he hiding? Just in case James Mason couldn’t finish the job? Anyway, some dubious lookalikes and Jaws’ comedy arm flapping aside it’s a good pre title sequence.

M despatches Bond to California, but not before Q gives him a wrist activated dart gun, which in fairness 007 does manage to use several times, and as far as we can tell brings it back in one piece as well.

Anyway, California…or rather France, I mean that’s just ridiculous, you can see miles of forest all around Drax’s house.

This has to be one of the earliest meetings between Bond and the villain, and it seems odd that Drax should order his death, I mean that isn’t likely to throw MI6 off the scent is it? Still it’s hard to harbour any kind of grudge against the wonderful Michael Lonsdale who’s everything Stromberg wasn’t, and his delivery of lines like “Take care of Mr Bond, see that some harm comes to him,” or “You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season” are just wonderful. He really deserved to be the villain in a much better film.

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Anyway, Bond’s off to meet Dr Goodhead (seriously?) who, SHOCK, turns out to be a woman. I mean in the last film 007 met a female spy who was his equal, should he really be so surprised that a woman could be an astronaut? Lois Chiles isn’t a terrible Bond girl, but for a while she’s kinda rubbish, her worst moment being trying and failing to help Bond fight Jaws on the cable car. Odd that by the time we hit the space station she can kick ass, take names and fly a space shuttle, it’s almost the reverse trajectory of XXX.  She does at least have the decency to be offended by Bond’s casual sexism.

So Roger Moore than take 12 Gs, apparently Connery could only take 10… have to love how shaken (but not stirred) Roger is afterwards

Its bad enough that Bond’s reputation precedes him everywhere now, but his equipment having 007 written all over it really is taking the piss.

Bond’s shooting scene with Drax is interesting, but again why try and kill him, you’re only going to make M suspicious, Drax!

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And here we hit an odd moment, one of a few in the film, that’s completely at odds with the general tone. Corinne’s death, chased down through the forest by dogs, is genuinely horrifying. For a generally family friendly film it’s like something out of the fucking Omen (and again probably deserved to be in a better film).

The tone soon goes off the deep end again when Bond travels to Venice and has to utilise a gondola that turns into a speed boat and then a hovercraft, but then he is menaced by a man with a coffin’o’knives. Cue that drunk guy from The Spy Who Loved Me and a double taking pigeon. One sympathises…

Bond infiltrates a lab, inadvertently gets some scientists killed (but they were evil so we don’t care) before battling Chang with a vial of toxin in his shirt pocket. The fight’s all right, but Bond’s “Play it again San” isn’t a good look.

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The Moore with no name?

Drax’s clean-up operation must be a world record, but why didn’t 007 give M the vial of toxin before they raided the lab? Anyway it’s off to Rio now, courtesy of Concorde, where we get the second horror movie moment as Jaws, dressed as a carnival clown, preys on poor Manuela who’s already had to fend off Roger Moore all afternoon. Again, it’s an unsettling scene at odds with the rest of the film as he lumbers down the alley towards her. You have to love Jaws’ initial annoyance at being dragged away from killing Bond morphing into ‘what the hell’ acceptance as he decides to party. But then this is a film that takes an unstoppable killing machine and turns him into an unstoppable killing machine, with a heart of gold. Love tames the beast, well love and self interest because even Jaws isn’t stupid enough to imagine he and his petite girlfriend have any future in Drax’s new Eden. Kiel is always good value, and I can see why they brought him back, but whilst it isn’t the debacle JW Pepper’s return was, you do have to wonder why they bothered? You also have to wonder why poor old Baron Samedi didn’t warrant a second appearance given how awesome he is.

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Slight aside, if you’ve heard of the Mandela Effect (a shared false memory phenomenon) here’s a question, does Jaws’ girlfriend Dolly wear braces on her teeth?

You do have to love Jaws’ facial expressions, especially in the cable car and on the boat as it goes over the waterfall.

Bond infiltrates Drax’s jungle lair, and whilst his fight with a huge snake is ridiculous (Roger stop wrestling with the draught excluder!) we get another unsettling moment. The way Drax’s coterie of women stand around relishing Bond’s imminent death is a trifle disturbing.

Anyway, next stop space, and crikey whatever you think of the film you have to admire the miniature effects work of Derek Meddings and his team, the design work of Ken Adam and the music of John Barry for providing some stunning outer space footage. Who needs CGI!

The final battle in orbit is nuts, but is suitably epic, and Bond’s showdown with Drax is nicely handled. It isn’t over just yet however, and Holly and Bond’s pursuit of the nerve gas spheres is quite tense.

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Pew! Pew! Pew!

We end with the now obligatory double entendre, after keeping the British end up last time, now 007 is attempting re-entry (Holly’s “Take me round the world one more time” line is far better.) You really would think M would know better by now. Sadly worse is to come, but we’ll get to that next time.

I’ve always been fairly relaxed when it comes to Bond, and I enjoy the grounded and the ridiculous films in equal measure even so Moonraker hits heights of ludicrousness that thankfully won’t be seen again until an invisible car turns up.

Yes it’s ridiculous, and no it isn’t a classic, but Moonraker is fun and diverting, and you know what else? It rattles along at a cracking pace and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I wish I could say the same about some of the more recent entries.

Next up the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, and following on from Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film, comes possibly his most grounded. See you in Corfu!

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