The James Bond Chronicles: 'Moonraker'
I almost didn’t write this film up, not wanting to waste another minute of my life on it. Moonraker is, regrettably, a misfire in almost every respect. The film feels like a cynical attempt to cash in on Star Wars, a clumsy and clunky plot, delivered without any regard for reality. It’s a mish-mash of scenes thrown together in an attempt to substitute substance for spectacle.
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We begin as we always do, with Roger Moore’s portrayal of 007. There’s not much forward progress in his interpretation of the role, as it's pretty much a reply of what he accomplished in The Spy Who Loved Me. And yet, we must give Mr. Moore tremendous credit, for he is able to ground an absurd film. His sophistication and British charm really does count for a lot, and is really the saving grace of the movie. There is a throwaway line early on, after bedding one of Drax’s workers, where he says to her, “Take care of yourself." It’s a stupid line, and it’s played entirely on her, but what makes Roger Moore so wonderful is that he delivers it totally convincingly – as if he actually cares. Other than that, I have little to add.
Anytime you see a terrible film, chances are the script was awful. In this case, it certainly is. Any movie that begins with the space shuttle being hijacked off the back of its airplane transport is not going to be a good film, for who would believe the shuttle to be fully fueled during transport? The ludicrous plot holes just pile up one after another. It’s a total insult to the audience. He’s given a wrist dart gun, which includes cyanide tipped darts, and yet fails to use them on occasions when it would save his life – such as the attack by Jaws on the cable car. And once again, we have a nutty scientist bent on destroying the world so his master race can live on. And the multiple opportunities for the villain to just point a gun at Bond and eliminate him that go unused. And that wonderful line, as Jaws and Dolly sail back into Earth’s atmosphere, “They’ll be alright. It’s only a hundred miles to Earth” (never mind that the remains of the space station would burn up well before). U.S. Space Marines? Why even kill Bond in the cable car? Why not just blow him away when he exits the darn thing? A gondola that converts to a hovercraft, with Bond nonchalantly driving through the Venice streets amidst “funny" reaction shots? Ugh. I can’t go on.
Jaws goes from a rather sinister nemesis in Spy Who Loved Me to a source of goofy comic relief. The whole insta-romance with Dolly is unrealistic, silly, and irritating. Again, it’s a shame, because the switching of Jaws alliance is itself an interesting storyline. Michael Lonsdale, who is a rather interesting actor (Name of the Rose, Munich), is wasted as Drax (the role was originally offered to James Mason--now HE would’ve made a great villain if given a meaty role).
By this point, I’m sorry to say that the asexual villain wearing a brown tunic is no longer interesting (Dr. No, Blofeld over and over again, etc. etc). It’s a terrible waste, because this might have been a character superior to Bond in every way – sophistication, refinement, a scientist – but why bother? Lois Chiles is uninteresting as a Bond woman and not a terribly strong actress. Again, she could have been a new Diana Rigg given her attributes but…why bother? Ugh. I can’t go on.
It’s a shame that the movie isn’t very good, because the skydiving fight is really great. Remember, we hadn’t seen this level of stunt work in films much at this point in history, and there’s some very impressive aerial photography in this sequence. It was accomplished under second unit director John Glen, who would later deservedly earn several shots as director. Mr. Glen has a gift for shooting action sequences, and it’s about the only part of the movie that really stands out.
I must give kudos to the masterful production designer Ken Adam who, given the largest budget he probably had yet on a Bond film, delivers with fabulous sets from Drax’s chateau to the You Only Live Twice homage of the launch station to the beautiful set of the space station itself (and once again, circles everywhere to indicate evil). John Barry’s score is his worst, replacing the brass-driven arrangements with more classical strings. “Lumbering” is how I would describe the music. The one bright spot otherwise is outstanding special effects. All the space stuff comes off very wel….that is, except for the late 70’s version of the slow-motion underwater fight in Thunderball – floating U.S. Space Marines vs. Drax soldiers.
I don’t need to further justify the MPBFRS rating of one star on this film.
To recap all the films:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Man With The Golden Gun
From Russia With Love
Diamonds Are Forever
The Spy Who Loved Me
You Only Live Twice
Live and Let Die
James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.