Moonraker (1979)

Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore, Richard Kiel, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Corrine Clery, Geoffrey Keen, Walter Gotell, Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny
Music: John Barry
Title Song: ‘Moonraker’ performed by Shirley Bassey
Very loosely based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Moonraker gets a lot of crap heaped upon it for being the worst Bond film. But in all honesty, for much of it’s running time it is quite good. It only drifts off course towards the end with a rather silly, Star Wars inspired space story. Another weakness is the plot itself – actually it’s not weak, simply it is the same story as the previous (and rather successful) film, The Spy Who Loved Me. The difference being that the Ocean and Ships, have been changed to Outer Space and Space Shuttles. It must also be noted, that The Spy Who Loved Me was in fact, very similar to You Only Live Twice. So the plot wasn’t weak; it was simply a matter of the film-makers going to the well one too many times.

The movie opens with a space shuttle being piggy-backed on a 747 jet liner. The shuttle engines fire up unexpectedly and the shuttle takes off. The blast from the shuttles rockets incinerate the jet which plummets to the ground. The shuttle disappears.

On another, smaller plane James Bond (Roger Moore) is being held at gunpoint. The two pilots are going to shoot Bond, bail out, leaving Bond’s remains to crash with the plane. After a struggle, Bond forces the two pilots out of the planes hatch, without being pierced with a bullet. He thinks he is in the clear and may be able to land the plane. But as he stands at the hatch, he is pushed out sans parachute by a set of large hands. These hands belong to Jaws (Richard Kiel), the seven foot tall evil minion who survived at the end of the last movie.
Bond is freefalling without a parachute, when he spies one of the pilots he forced out of the plane earlier. Using the air currents, he glides from above towards his quarry, then wrestles the parachute off the pilots back.

Back safely on the ground, and back at M.I.6 headquarters, ‘M’ (Bernard Lee in his last appearance in the series) and the Minister Of Defence, Frederick Grey (Geoffrey Keen), brief Bond on his new mission. He is to investigate the disappearance of the Moonraker space shuttle. He is sent to California and to the estate of Sir Hugo Drax, the multimillionaire who’s company manufactures the space shuttles for NASA.

Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) is a Frenchman, who now lives a very opulent life in America. And he is also obsessed with space. So much so, that he wants to kill practically everybody on the planet, and repopulate it with his own hand-picked, perfect human specimens which will live on an orbiting space station that revolves around the earth. Yeah, I told you the story was kinda silly!

The main Bond girl in this film is Doctor Holly Goodhead, played by Lois Chiles. Goodhead is a strange character, because she isn’t really sure who she is. On on hand, she is Bond’s equal, working for the C.I.A. and is a qualified Shuttle pilot. She can handle herself in a fist fight too. So we have one of the first truly equal Bond girls. She doesn’t scream all the time, and barely has to be rescued by Bond. But this equality and independence create a void where ‘romance’ should have been. The relationship between Bond and Goodhead is one of the coldest in the Bond series (for a leading lady, that is). That’s not to put down Lois Chiles’ acting performance – I think the written character wasn’t fully developed.

As always, Bond has a few gadgets to rescue him from dangerous situations. The first is a dart gun, that gets strapped to 007’s wrist. In comes in handy when Bond is trapped inside a G-Force simulator that is spinning wildly out of control. The second, and silliest of the Bond gadgets is a Gondola (or ‘Bondola’ if you will), which Bond uses on the canals of Venice. The Gondola can turn into a hovercraft. Err, yeah! The best is the speedboat, which Bond cruises down the Amazon river in. It features torpedoes, mines and a hang-glider which separates from the roof of the boat.

The music is by the maestro, John Barry, which by his high standards is rather ineffectual. The musical highlights are revisions of The Space March Theme from You Only Live Twice, and the 007 Theme from From Russia With Love. Even the title song, Moonraker, performed by Shirley Bassey is rather subdued. That’s not to say the music is bad. Generally it works, but doesn’t have the drive or isn’t as ‘brassy’ as previous musical scores for the Bond series.

As I said at the outset, Moonraker cops a caning for being the worst Bond film. I personally believe that Die Another Day is an inferior film. There’s a lot to like in Moonraker. There’s a classic scene at a pheasant shoot, which involves some poor marksmanship from 007; and plenty of boats chases, as mentioned above in the paragraph about gadgets; and even a cable car chase. All this adds up to a fairly entertaining Bond adventure, if somewhat marred by the film-makers desire to compete with the Star Wars franchise. And as a final word, it must be pointed out, whether you believe Moonraker is a good or bad film, that until the arrival of Pierce Brosnan (the Billion Dollar Bond), in unadjusted dollars this film was the most successful (profitable) Bond film, so someone must have liked it?

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