Should I Watch..? Moonraker
What's the big deal?
Moonraker is an action sci-fi spy film released in 1979 and is the eleventh movie in the James Bond series. It is the fourth Bond film with Roger Moore in the lead and sees him battle an insane industrialist who wishes to wipe out humanity and lead a master race on his private space station. The film makes little use of Ian Fleming's original novel of the same name, using only the title and the name Hugo Drax. Technically, Moonraker is an impressive film with plenty of action scenes and extremely good model work and sets by Derek Meddings and Ken Adam respectively. But the film's ridiculous plot, even by the standards of the Bond series, hinder any chance of the film being taken seriously and the film resorts to being a light-hearted blockbuster instead of a gripping spy film. It was heavily influenced by the then-rise of science fiction in the wake of films like Star Wars, even replacing the previously-announced For Your Eyes Only in the release schedule.
What's it about?
A space shuttle, manufactured by Drax Industries, is hijacked mid-flight and British secret agent James Bond is assigned by MI6 to investigate its disappearance. Visiting the head of the company, Hugo Drax, Bond quickly finds himself at the mercy of Drax's henchman - Chang - although he also meets scientist Dr Holly Goodhead. Escaping after shooting one of Drax's snipers, Bond follows a lead to Venice where he uncovers a secret lab manufacturing a deadly nerve gas.
Drax's ultimate aim is to create a master race on board a private space station, unseen by radar based on Earth thanks to a jamming device. He will then use the nerve gas to eliminate all mankind and it is soon up to Bond and Goodhead to stop Drax at all costs. But Drax soon acquires the services of a man all too familiar with Bond, the metal-toothed murderer known as Jaws...
Corinne Dufour, Drax's pilot
Christopher Wood *
Release Date (UK)
28th June, 1979
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Despite the oh-so-simple brief of basically being 'Bond in space', there are some more Earth-based activities that Moonraker actually gets right. The film manages to take in as many exotic locations as I can recall in a single Bond film from Venice in Italy to Rio de Janeiro and the stunning Iguazu Falls. It also delivers on the action front - highlights include a nail-biting fight between Bond and Jaws on top of two suspended cable cars as well as a gripping boat chase through the Amazon. Even the pre-titles sequence is a stunner as Bond is thrown out of a plane by Jaws without a parachute and has to steal the last one from the pilot who is in free-fall. Shame Kiel's stunt-double looks nothing like him, though.
Visually, the film is also a triumph. The intricate model work by Derek Meddings is superb as his space station and shuttles look far more believable than the entire cast floating around in "zero gravity". The effects has a real polish and sheen to them that had been lacking in the series for so long and for once, this looks a decent film. Another long-time Bond stalwart, set maestro Ken Adam, also plays a blinder here with sets that are simply gorgeous to look at. Take the control room in Drax's Amazon lair which almost looks like a painting. On a purely aesthetic level, Moonraker is a masterpiece. Sadly, movies need to do a bit more than look pretty...
- The opening sequence with Bond and Jaws falling from the plane took 88 jumps and five weeks to film a mere two minutes worth of footage.
- The budget for Moonraker was greater than for the first six James Bond films combined. The title sequence for the film alone cost more than the whole budget for Dr No.
- The film holds two unusual records. It has the world record for the most number of actors in weightlessness (suspended from wires) and the record for the most amount of breakable sugar glass used in a single scene for the fight between Bond and Chang.
What's not to like?
The script is loaded with excessive dialogue (even Jaws has a line!) and a story which is not only a blatant rip-off of The Spy Who Loved Me but also so moronic that it's an insult to the audience's intelligence. The cast all struggle with the material and none more so than Moore who reverts back to playing the Walking Eyebrow, sleepwalking his way through the picture. For all the good work done on the effects, the end result is completely undone by the climatic shoot-out which features hundreds of people blasting each other with laser guns that look and sound as crude as you can imagine. Considering that the film is shamelessly riding the coat-tails of Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey, you'd think they'd put a bit more effort into it.
There are other issues as well. The horribly camp tone from Diamonds Are Forever makes an unwelcome return as Bond ditches the cool white Lotus from the previous film and instead uses a gondola which can pointlessly turn into a hovercraft. And save for Q's superb double entendre at the end of the film (which is the best in the series by far), the innuendos fall flatter than roadkill and are about half as funny. Lonsdale is a poor villain who barely changes his facial features in the movie, Shirley Bassey's theme tune is uncharacteristically forgettable and the film even has the temerity to reduce Jaws to a comic relief henchman. All that good work achieved in The Spy Who Loved Me is forgotten, making Moonraker the kind of unwelcome throwback to the lazy writing and poor decision-making that tarnished the series' more weaker efforts.
Should I watch it?
I wouldn't bother unless you are a die-hard Bond fan - in which case, I'd keep your finger hovered off the 'skip' button and just enjoy the action set pieces. But the film serves a tragic reminder that Bond had now become a joke under Moore's tenure, reducing one of cinema's stock characters to one that could be abused in comic-book carnage like this. It has its moments but Moonraker is a colossal disappointment and even the Bond faithful would struggle to recommend it.
Great For: action fans, set designers, modellers
Not So Great For: Bond novel fans, grown ups, anyone paying to see it
What else should I watch?
I'd like to say that Moonraker was a momentary blip for Moore but alas, his final outings as Bond - Octopussy and A View To A Kill - were equally ridiculous affairs. He would find form again in his next appearance as 007, the underrated For Your Eyes Only, but Moore's time as Bond would become synonymous with the sort of light-hearted buffoonery you see here. Ian Fleming is still rotating in his grave as I write.
Of course, Moore would always struggle to escape Sean Connery's long-standing influence as the first Bond. Goldfinger was the near-perfect blend of action, characters, story, girls and henchmen while still being the wrong side of daft. But he also had a more serious side that was much closer to the books - From Russia With Love is actually a great thriller in its own right and serves to remind viewers that Bond isn't just about sleeping with beautiful women and knocking back cocktails. Well, not entirely...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox