Moonraker (1979) REVIEW
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli
Screenplay by Christopher Wood
Based on Moonraker by Ian Fleming
Starring Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Bernard Lee
Music by John Barry
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1977 was a big time for cinema goers around the world. The Spy Who Loved Me had been released to massive praise both critically and commercially. Fans were happy and Roger Moore had officially solidified his place in the eyes of all Bond fans leaving Sean Connery a distant memory (not really). But there was something else on the horizon. Something no one anticipated, a little film by the name of Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) was also released in 1977 and it quickly took the world by storm.
The science fiction space opera proved so influential in its release (over $307 million at the box office in the US alone), Cubby Broccoli decided to scrap the next planned 007 film and send him to space instead. Because of this decision, Moonraker was born and put into production with a cinema release of 1979.
So far so good, right?
Unfortunately, no. You see, in the rush to capitalise on the popularity of Star Wars and the science fiction genre in general, Cubby Broccoli put For Your Eyes Only aside in favour of Moonraker. From what I’ve heard, it deviates heavily from the novel of the same name, instead using the ‘Moon’ as a launching pad for science fiction. Now generally I wouldn’t be bothered by this. James Bond has had science fiction elements in the franchise before. The swallowing of shuttles in You Only Live Twice and the space laser from Diamonds Are Forever. They have been able to introduce these far fantasy elements in without necessarily placing Bond himself in outer space. However Moonraker goes that extra mile and puts him right in the thick of the action.
During my review for The Spy Who Loved Me, I made mention of plot elements being lifted from You Only Live Twice. It bugged me, but still felt fresh for the most part. What they managed to do here, is remake The Spy Who Loved Me and change it up to be in space instead of the deep ocean. Remember, The Spy Who Loved Me had a plot to highjack submarines with nuclear missiles on board to start World War III and begin a new civilisation under the sea in Atlantis. Moonraker does pretty much the same thing. The film opens with a space shuttle highjacking in the pre-title sequence and is quickly revealed to have been done so by billionaire megalomaniac, Hugo Drax. He intends to poison the planet killing all human life while he and his “aryan race” of perfect humans wait it out on an orbiting space station. All animals and plant life will be unaffected on Earth, and once Drax is certain the human race has been erased, he will take his ark back to Earth beginning a new civilisation. Of course James Bond teams up with a bevy of women to help him stop Drax.
Even though the plot is lifted from the previous film in the franchise, I can’t help but still find it entertaining on some level. Due to the quality of actors, script and everything in between, The Spy Who Loved Me was a success for the franchise. It still stands out as one of the best 007 films and is a personal favourite for Roger Moore. Cubby wanted to replicate that success here, and did for the most part. It was a smash hit, landing in the top 10 films of the U.S. box office, at the time, being the highest grossing Bond film (until GoldenEye). Unfortunately, it also happened to be the most outlandish and fantasy driven one of the lot.
Even with a change in location on the villains behalf, it isn’t enough to throw people off the scent it’s simply a re-skin of the previous film.
Now if it sounds like I’m only ragging on the film, hear me out. It was entertaining, and there were times I was really having a laugh and enjoying myself. It has some flaws and suffers from trying to appease some people, but most important of all, it takes James Bond to heights he was never intended for. I’ve tried explaining to others, and all I can say is, Indiana Jones dealing with creatures from space. It happened and the die hard fans were upset claiming it killed the character and franchise, and that’s how I feel here. It goes against everything 007 was created for while trying to cash in on the science fiction band wagon.
I get movies attempting to stay relevant, but science fiction and James Bond don’t mix.
Yes, I am rather passionate about this because it’s these outlandish ideas which leave people with a sour taste after mentioning a certain invisible car. I don’t mind the idea of Bond heading space (as he was about to do in, You Only Live Twice) I dislike the fact we GET a film of him actually doing so. The character is a (mostly) grounded one, and sending him into the far reaches of space, just comes across as far fetched at the best of times.
Not helping with my thoughts on this film, is the character of Holly Goodhead, as played by Lois Chiles. Originally Chiles was wanted for the role of Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me, apparently she was semi-retired at the time. But when it came time for casting Moonraker, Lois just so happened to be sitting beside director Lewis Gilbert on a flight. Needless to say, she was cast despite her acting abilities. Never seen her in anything before or after Moonraker, and from her ability to emote on screen, I never want to. Holly is so wooden and at times appears disinterested in the script and scene. She is painful to hear and not even that pleasant on the eyes. Lois Chiles tries her best, and I give her credit there, however someone should’ve said something.
Holly is a CIA agent and astronaut obviously, and feels so forced into the film simply to have her opposite 007 in the final moments of the film.
While shooting The Spy Who Loved Me, Cubby Broccoli had a feeling that Jaws would prove a fan favourite upon its release. He was right too, as the character was and still is, considered to be amongst the top villains of the franchise. Based on fan mail the production office received after the release, it was decided that Jaws would be made a ‘good guy’ during this film. Wrong choice.
During his first appearence, Jaws was a deadly assassin. Slow moving and a large frame made him scary on screen. Here, he appears to be working for some sort of henchmen for hire agency and is called upon by Hugo Drax when his current henchman is disposed of. Jaws is dumbed down, and completely gullible at all times. He flaps his arms like a bird when his parachute fails to open. Is swept off in a crowd of people while trying to kill Bond. Rips a steering wheel off a speed boat appearing to not know his own strength. Falls in love with a woman who for some reason appears in the climax of the film in space. And finally, Jaws talks. I just never understood the massive shift in characterisation from one film to the next, and I’m rather upset that it ruins the character, retrospectively in the process.
I’ve always been a fan of Roger Moore, and that doesn’t change here. Roger Moore for me is the saving grace of this repeat of a movie. This time around, he is more gentleman than deadly, and clearly has his tongue very firmly in cheek throughout. He does the most when acting against Lois Chiles, and all his action scenes are well done. At times when Moonraker dips into absurdity, Roger Moore continues to see it on his coolness, especially during the motorised gondola chase. Moore will continue to be a great James Bond, but I will admit that he is beginning to show his age here, 52 at the time of release.
Villain of the film is Hugo Drax played by french actor, Michael Lonsdale. Introduced ‘playing’ piano to a few beautiful women, he is from beginning to end a character you love to hate. Played smugly throughout the film with obvious Nazi type of plans for the human race, Hugo Drax is actually another part of the film I like. He clearly falls into the same tropes of other bad guys before him, but at least addresses it here, by complaining that James Bond refuses to die after planning so many ‘amusing deaths’ for him. I laugh each time I hear this line. Not the most memorable villain of the franchise, but he serves the needs here.
As I read the review back, I can’t help but feel like I’ve sided really the negative aspects of Moonraker. But please remember, I did laugh and had a good time watching certain parts. I was glad that John Barry returned to the musical score delivering a very solid piece. Acting for the most part was okay, with Roger Moore hamming it right up when needed. The first third proves to be a very solid movie, but as soon as the franchise goes into space, my interest completely fades away. I struggle to stay entertained as I see the US battle against Drax’s men with lasers, while watching the cast move around trying to mimic zero-g. It feels a little unBond like and never grabs me.
Moonraker could’ve been a good film, but as soon as that third part of the film kicks in, it becomes a Star Wars wannabe. I don’t want Bond in space and thats why I’m so down on the film.
James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only