Moonraker (1979) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, language and innuendo (would be PG-13 today)
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Christopher Wood (based on the book by Ian Fleming)
Reviww published January 5, 2016
At this point in Roger Moore's tenure as James Bond, his fourth (of seven), the makers of the series are content to just amuse audiences with self-parody, meta Hollywood in-jokes, painful puns, cheap innuendo, rampant product placement, and lavish explosions. Moonraker is probably the epitome of how far Ian Fleming's spy stories would stray from the original material. Capitalizing on the wave of science fiction trends that made blockbusters out of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (spoofed here through security touch-pad tones), the intended For Your Eyes Only would be shelved in favor of the more futuristic plot. Even if Fleming's original book had nothing to do with space travel, it did have a space-y sounding name, and that would be enough to try to capitalize on the space-age frenzy of the ravenous public looking for more spaceships and laser guns. So, Moonraker would be hastily pushed into production to strike while the iron was hot; it's a one-off Bond entry meant more to cash in on what else was out in the theaters at the time than in anything that had come before it in its own series.
According to this film, the Moonraker is the name of America's space shuttle, which is stolen while piggy-backing on a Royal Air Force plane while in mid-flight. It's an embarrassment for England, which ends up sending its best agent, James Bond (Moore, The Cannonball Run), to Los Angeles to check out the Moonraker's manufacturing plant for further information on potential whereabouts. It's there Bond meets uber-wealthy manufacturing baron, Hugo Drax (Lonsdale, The Remains of the Day), and one of his assistants in the lovely and intelligent former astronaut, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Chiles, Coma). Drax welcomes Bond, while also trying to find ways to kill him, as his nefarious plans on remaking the Earth in his making are not ones he wants spoiled by nosy spies.
Lewis Gilbert directs for the third time in the series (after You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me), continuing the featherweight tone that had taken over the series since Moore's taking over the reins of the role in Live and Let Die. It also continues its trend of gimmicks and gadgets for Bond to get out of scrapes (a power-boat gondola in Venice that doubles as a hovercraft to escape a knife-throwing assassin who floats by in a coffin laced with cutlery ranks among the worst, punctuated by a pigeon(!) doing an double take as it speeds by), as well as rampant sophomoric slapstick. Returning as the villainous henchman is Richard Kiel (Silver Streak) as the hulking brute Jaws, repeating the popular turn from The Spy Who Loved Me, except now he's mostly used for stupid sight gags involving crushing things with his metallic teeth and impossibly bending iron and steel constructs with his hands. He even gets an even more improbable romantic subplot that comes out of nowhere.
There are just enough elements to appease fans, including seeing Bernard Lee as M (his final appearance), Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q. Shirley Bassey returns to sing the theme song, her first since Sean Connery's last, Diamonds Are Forever. Lois Chiles' does get the silly double-entendre name of Holly Goodhead, but at least does get to play someone of supposed intelligence, and who can fight side by side with Bond, rather than just getting saved by him. However, even if it gets a few things right for the series, nothing can save Moonraker from the worst ideas ever pushed into the series. The end of the film is as rushed as can be, with an actual battle in space that there is no way that people of Earth would have been prepared for. The fact that Drax is, essentially, trying to make a Nazi "master race" that includes only good-looking Caucasians is glossed over for cheap theatrics and lots of sparkly explosions and laser fire. It's all so illogical -- the space station Drax has constructed has a way to jam Earth's satellites from knowing of its existence, but how were all of the pieces shuttled up to space and put together without people of Earth knowing?
Despite the fact that its budget would be the most of any Bond film to that time by a long shot (twice as much as its predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me, which was already twice the budget of its predecessor, The Man with the Golden Gun), in my opinion, Moonraker is the worst of the James Bond films. Decent stunts (love the early skydiving sequence) and lavish sets by Ken Adam (his final for a Bond film) are marred by a lack of genuine tension, as well as gaudy (and obvious) spaceship miniatures and dated special effects, even for its era. It's always watchable in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way, but you'll spend a good deal of that time watching with your hand on your brow out of embarrassment at seeing just how far the series has devolved. Despite its box office success, the biggest money maker of the series until Goldeneye, even the makers of this one could see that they had to reel things in for the series to continue, which they did in the comparably more modest, and consequently more respectable, For Your Eyes Only.
©2016 Vince Leo