By a stroke of coincidence, it’s Global James Bond Day today. Happy Bond Day everyone! What better way to celebrate than taking a look at one of the worst ever Bond films?
Eagle-eyed viewers of The Spy Who Loved Me will have noticed that the end credits promised that James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. They’ll also have noticed that the next film wasn’t called For Your Eyes Only, the geniuses that they are. Y’see something happened in 1977 that hit bigger than anyone was expecting and made sci-fi the cool new thing. That’s right- Czechoslovakian comedy science-fiction classic Což takhle dát si špenát (A Nice Plate of Spinach) changed the cinematic landscape as we know it. Unfortunately, that was too awesome to have happened and what actually happened was motherflippin’ Star Wars. Based on this newfound spacemania, the producers decided to take the title of the only space-sounding Fleming book and knock together an intergalactic 007 adventure.
When the space shuttle Moonraker is hijacked ,the British government send James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate, starting with the ludicrously wealthy man in charge of the shuttle’s construction, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Bond eventually recruits the help of undercover CIA agent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) to take the madman down, leading them to blast off into space to stop Drax’s plan to destroy all human life on the planet and replace it with his own master race. Also fan-favourite henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) makes a reappearance. Moonraker is one of the sillier Bond films, tonally linked with the shitbox that was Diamonds Are Forever. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Bond ending up in space (although the notion does heavily tax my willing suspension of disbelief) but they way they go about it here is insane. Ignoring Jaws surviving a freefall without a parachute in the pre-credits sequence, the film is perfectly fine until about 40 minutes in when the wheels fall off and the film starts bibbling its lips and slapping its bum. It’s just all too slapstick for my taste.
Moore is back in Man with the Golden Gun mode, smarming his way around from scene to scene. I like Lois Chiles’s Dr. Goodhead (and you thought the name “Pussy Galore” was bad.) but she’s not particularly interesting. For someone who is a CIA agent, Sally Suckjob seems pretty useless- a phenomenon not just particular to this Bond film. Women, no matter how well trained, turn into typical gal pals when 007’s around. Character of the film by far is Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax. Drax is a lot better written than most villains and consistently delivers better one-liners than 007, my favourite being “Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.” This ended up being Bernard Lee’s last appearance as M and I haven’t talked about him much so far in these reviews. I always liked Lee’s gruff schoolmaster take on MI6’s chief. He’s tough but fair. Plus, the man had great comic timing and played a great foil to 007’s antics.
That 40 minute mark I mentioned earlier may seem oddly specific to you. Well, up until that point it’s all pretty good. Bond encounters Drax, seduces his pilot, Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) and talks her into giving up the location of Drax’s safe. There’s a surprisingly harrowing bit where Drax learns of Corinne’s treachery and sets his highly trained dogs on her, leading to a stylish but unnerving sequence where she runs for her life through the woods before getting merked by Drax’s pooches. Bond ends up in Venice and here’s where the problems start. There’s the infamous “Bondola” bit where Bond’s gondola turns into a hovercraft and he drives across St. Mark’s Square, complete with baffled onlookers, waiters distractedly pouring drinks on customers and FUCKING DOUBLE-TAKING FUCKING PIGEONS. It’s unbelievably cringeworthy. The power of the English language can only get me so far in describing this bit. Just fucking watch it and feel my pain.
The film also turns Jaws into a walking punchline, even getting himself a tiny girlfriend (when they first meet the film plays this music, which gives you an idea how cartoonish it all is.) In fact, the film has a strange preoccupation with using famous pieces of music. Granted, The Spy Who Loved Me used the Lawrence of Arabia theme, but Moonraker uses the above Tchaikovsky piece (ugh), the 5 note motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (actually I kinda like that one) and the theme from The Magnificent Seven. I always find it strange when Bond films use “outside” music. I like to think of them as a world unto themselves and find that famous songs never quite fit into the Bond universe. A good example of this is the appearance of The Clash’s “London Calling” in Die Another Day. Talking of music, Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker” is so fucking dreary and forgettable it matches the equally rubbish title sequence perfectly.
Frustratingly, there are good elements here, they’re just overpowered by campy slapstick and nonsense. Ken Adam’s sets are still amazing (I will never stop praising Ken Adam), some of the stunts are top-notch, such as a bit where Bond is hanging off a cable car suspended 1000 foot in the air (the stuntman did this truly death-defying stunt without a safety harness) and as I said, damn near half the film works. This next bit may sound great to you, but in practice it is really awful, but the space laser battle between two astronaut armies is like the underwater battle in Thunderball but with 1000% more lasers and cheesy “pew-pew” sound effects.
Apart from just being shit, I think the reason for Moonraker being so rubbish is the fact it was the first pandering Bond film. Space was popular, so they did it. Kid fans wanted Jaws to be a “goodie” so they did it. They ramped up the comedy because it’s the biggest crowd pleaser and audiences wouldn’t know what makes a good Bond film if it came up to them in a hovercraft gondola. In its favour, it’s not tedious like Thunderball or consistently shite like Diamonds Are Forever. It’s patchy, going from promising scenes one minute to ludicrous flights of fancy the next. Still, what do you expect from a film that credits “outer space” as a filming location?