Mission Dossier: Moonraker
The Year: 1979
The Director: Lewis Gilbert
The Bond: Roger Moore
The Girl: Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead, a CIA agent.
The Baddie: Hugo Drax, with more than a little help from the returning Jaws.
I loved Moonraker as a kid, but these days Bond in space makes me suspect horrifying cringeworthiness. Horrifying cringeworthiness with lasers of course.
The film does not start in the cringeworthiness vein. In fact the first hour of the film is really quite excellent, with not a hint of space travel involved. The prologue section is one of my favourites in the series. Subtle it is not, but delightfully action packed it is. First of all, a space shuttle is stolen, managing to simultaneously destroy the huge airplane that was carrying it in one fell swoop. Then Bond is tossed out of a plane parachuteless and has to flog a parachute off another dude as he tumbles to earth at great pace. Then Jaws shows up, just for good measure. His parachute does not open, but luckily for him he lands on a circus tent so survives. That may all sound like Bond at its worst, but it is really fantastic. Following this, Mr Bond gets on to the main part of the film involving the villainous Drax. Drax’s company constructs space shuttles, including the one that was stolen. The devious plan is another with a Nazi-esque feel to it, just like The Spy Who Loved Me. This time the idea is to wipe out the human race. Oh except for Drax and the other members of his perfect class of people, they will be up in space getting ready to repopulate the world.
One of the great features of Moonraker, as with a number of Bond films, are the hilarious methods for attempting to kill Bond. This time we have attempted death by centrifugal G-force trainer and death by python in the Amazon. The latter one is actually a really cool and tense scene. The script flirts with breaking the fourth wall but manages to remain nicely self-referential. Late in the piece Drax exclaims with disappointment to Bond that he has managed to “defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you”. Drax is a vicious bastard, and there was one point early in the film that really shocked me. When dealing with a lady who assisted Bond, Drax releases his two dogs on her. What follows is the most beautifully filmed scene in the first 11 James Bond films. The woman desperately tries to flee through the forest, with light slanting through the trees. A piano tune builds and there is even the slightest touch of slo-mo used. It comes out of nowhere, but is a stunningly filmed piece of beautiful violence. Overall, the non-space elements of this film are excellent – there is a good villain, a great mystery and a deft touch to the whole thing. And of course it has Jaws, a whole lot of Jaws, including the beloved (by me at least) cable car scene. He also features in that great plot swerve late on when Bond points out the incompatibility between Drax’s rather Aryan view of the future of the human race, and Jaws’ physical appearance. That of his beloved girlfriend too.
Now to the vexed question of Bond in space. To be fair, it must be said that only the last half hour of the film takes place in orbit. Some of the space effects in earlier films have been to put it bluntly, woeful. Worse than that, they have been so bad that they have seriously compromised enjoyment of the films in which they feature. Moonraker though has really convincing space effects when it finally heads into orbit. To my mind, they are on par with those seen in Star Wars (1977), a film of similar vintage. One of the issues some may have with the film is the fact that the final 15 minutes belongs almost exclusively in the sci-fi genre. Frickin lasers and all. But for me, it works well, and if you can let go of the fact that this spy series is dabbling in the all of a sudden popular genre of sci-fi, then you will find much to like. I think that people who take issue with the space elements of the film are barking up the wrong tree anyway. Without a doubt the worst part of this film is the appearance of the shittiest hovercraft ever seen on film, which unfortunately closes out an otherwise cracking boat chase through Venice. The whole film just has a delightful randomness that more often that not works really well. Take for example the Aikido fighter that pops out of nowhere in Venice. No lead up, but then he and Bond put on a fantastic fight scene. There are ‘fun’ Bonds films, and then more serious ones. This definitely belongs in the ‘fun’ camp, and is one of the very best of them.
Plenty of the aspects of this film just should utterly not work, Jaws’ relationship for example, but they do somehow. By far and away the best Roger Moore Bond film so far, and for me, one of the best of all the Bond films. Take a look at this one.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
- Thunderball (1965)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Dr No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- The Spy who Loved Me (1977)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Diamonds are Forever (1971)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
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