Moonraker (1979)

James Bond film #11 (Roger Moore Bond)

Moonraker (1979)

After the success of Star Wars in 1977, Cubby Broccoli decided to jump in on the emerging science fiction craze and choose Moonraker as the next Eon Productions Bond movie. Roger Moore returns for his fourth Bond film, investigating a stolen space shuttle that leads him to Hugo Drax of Drax Industries. Drax’s plan is very similar to Stromberg’s from The Spy Who Loved Me (10) – he plans to destroy humanity and repopulate the Earth as he sees fit. There are a few slight differences – instead of nukes, he’s planning on using poison, and instead of hiding out underwater, he’s planning on chilling in space during the apocalypse – but this déjà vu is symptomatic of Moonraker‘s tendency to coast on the coattails of its spectacular predecessor.

The copycat syndrome kicks in before the opening credits even roll. In the film’s cold open, Bond is ejected from an airplane and freefalls for a really long time without a parachute. Not only is this (admittedly very cool) airborne sequence similar to the ski jump opening in The Spy, Bond is pushed out of the plane by that movie’s main henchman, Jaws. Even Drax is quite similar to Stromberg, though it’s hard to argue that the cultured sophistication of these two villains isn’t shared by every other antagonist throughout the series. Drax does zero-in on multiculturalism as a point of pride, his château full of artwork from all over the world, and his repopulation plot involving the finest human specimens from all creeds and colors.

From Drax’s estate in France, Bond heads to Venice, then to Rio de Janeiro, then into the Amazon, and finally into outer space, evolving from globetrotter to straight-up Bondstronaut. Despite the cavalcade of locations, Moonraker has a relaxed pace to it, sometimes even plodding. Almost every scene lacks a sense of urgency,  from Bond’s battle with henchman Chang (which only serves as an excuse to break a bunch of glass with a wooden stick) to the cable car fight with Jaws (which is still pretty cool, and nearly killed stuntman Richard Graydon when he slipped while filming it). Still, the subdued pace just sort of works for Moonraker. Maybe it’s because it’s in line with the art-collecting leisure life of the principal villain, maybe it’s just a welcome breather after the excitement of The Spy Who Loved Me, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t detract from the movie.

What does detract from Moonraker is how far they take the camp factor, especially with Jaws. The greatest henchman in all the land, it’s great to see Richard Kiel return as a formidable foe for Mr. Bond, but by time he gets distracted and swept away by a crowd of Carnival partiers, it’s obvious that his purpose has shifted from terrifying villain to comedic relief. After he fails to subdue Bond atop the cable cars, Jaws is rescued by a random blonde woman named Dolly, with whom he begins a corny love affair. That shoehorned romance leads to Jaws’ final conversion aboard the Moonraker space station, fighting alongside Bond amidst the most ridiculous and unrealistic space battle in cinematic history.

Moonraker is all about mixing the good and bad. From its relaxed pace to its outlandish science fiction, it’s a mixed bag throughout its 126-minute runtime (a length that has become standard for these films). There’s an awesome scene in which Chang tries to kill Bond in a centrifuge chamber. There’s an equally awful scene in which Bond drives a gondola around St. Mark’s Square in Venice – the lowbrow physical humor on display there is the worst in the series. At least Holly Goodhead is another competent Bond girl, a CIA agent with her own collection of gadgets who helps Bond foil Drax’s poisonous “necklace of death”.

Moonraker marks a return to complacent coasting after the relative innovativeness of The Spy Who Loved Me, but luckily, it’s some seriously big-budget coasting. Although the film ignores all sense of physics when it goes into space, the sci-fi locale does invigorate the hitherto slow-moving film, raising the final result to middling instead of subpar.

Final rating: 6.5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Another way this film rips off its predecessor is by having diegetic classical / opera music score a henchman’s death. Previously, it was Stromberg’s secretary getting eaten by a shark; this time, it’s Chang being thrown through stained glass by Bond. It’s a fun way to film a death scene, and both instances have been cool, but they need a new bag of tricks if they want to stay fresh.
  • How does this poison work on humans but not on animals? I’ve done some extensive studying of neurotransmitters and the way drugs and poisons cause their effects on our bodies and brains, and uh… pretty sure that doesn’t make any damn sense.
  • It almost seems weird that it took almost a dozen Bond films to get the guy out in space. Come on, James, you’re 18 years later than Yuri. Don’t lose this Cold War for the West.
  • Another cool scene is the one in which Drax sicks his dogs on Corinne Dufour, his personal pilot who ends up helping Bond. The shots of her running through the woods look very modern.
  • Jaws’ only line, in a surprisingly sweet voice: “Well, here’s to us.” Turns out his change from heel to face happened because director Lewis Gilbert (who previously helmed You Only Live Twice (5) and The Spy Who Loved Me) kept getting mail from little kids asking the character to be nicer. This is what we get when we tailor our films to children, people. Ewoks and nice Jaws.
  • Looks like this was the last appearance by Bernard Lee as M, since Lee would die two years later at the age of 73. He played M since Dr. No (1), the only actor to appear in every Bond film up to this point. His presence will be sorely missed.

Bond Girl Fate

Holly Goodhead

(Lois Chiles)

Main Bond Girl:A CIA agent pretending to be an astronaut pretending to work for Drax, Goodhead (come on) is cold to Bond at first but eventually warms up to him enough to have zero-gravity sex (which gets seen by all of MI6)

Corinne Dufour

(Corinne Cléry)

Secondary Bond Girl: Drax’s helicopter pilot who gets seduced by Bond to give him all sorts of information. Drax responds by having her chased down in the woods and eaten by dogs. 

Manuela

(Emily Bolton)

Brazilian Contact Bond Girl:Bond’s contact in Brazil, she spends just enough time with him to bang him and take him to a carnival. Sounds like a good night to me.

Dolly

(Blanche Ravalec)

Jaws Girl: She never interacts with Bond, so she’s clearly not a Bond girl, but Dolly wins over Jaws’ heart after saving him from wreckage. Also partially responsible for making him a good guy, so fuck Dolly.

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