007 Cinema Dossier: Moonraker (1979)

Posted in Blog, Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies, What's Streaming? by - June 08, 2020
007 Cinema Dossier: Moonraker (1979)

“In the meanwhile, how do you kill five hours in Rio if you don’t samba?”

Moonraker is a box office success but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. This week’s entry is perhaps my least favourite 007 film. Science fiction films that were finding success at the 70s box office. And this film was designed to cash in on that wave.

Within weeks of the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, producer Cubby Broccoli and the studio had decided to go ahead with Moonraker (at twice Spy’s budget) as the next James Bond film. They went ahead with this instead of the teased title, For Your Eyes Only. Lewis Gilbert returned to the director’s chair for Roger Moore’s fourth outing. Moore was now fifty, and much older than his creator, Ian Fleming, imagined he’d be doing the job he does. Christopher Wood reprising his screenwriting role.

This bears almost no resemblance to Ian Fleming’s original novel. One sequence survived (a planned execution for Bond beneath a rocket exhaust). But Wood goes a little too far with his script, utilizing an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ attitude.

Derek Meddings worked on practical effects at Pinewood (for which he received an Oscar nomination). Economic reasons forced the production to set up interior studios in Paris. Meanwhile location shoots took them to Brazil, Argentina, Florida, California, as well as and Italy. Italy was used for an eye-rolling sequence that demonstrates how far off the rails the series had become.

The story sees 007 assigned to investigate a stolen shuttle. Owned by Hugo Drax (Micheal Lonsdale), Bond learns that shuttle was needed for Drax’s own plans for world domination. With his select group of Adams and Eves he is planning to wipe out all human life on Earth. He wants to start again with his new race.

Of course, Bond will stop him. Even if he has to travel to space to do it.

Ken Adam delivers some gorgeous set designs, including a beautiful clock tower, and Drax’s control room. Meanwhile John Glen returns to the editing suite. Meddings and his team deliver some exemplary practical effects, especially the final space battle. All of the space sequences, was being done in camera as much as possible. Meanwhile, Micheal G. Wilson has now moved on to an executive producer position.

Also in front of the camera are Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn. They play their iconic roles of M, Moneypenny and Q respectively. Lois Chiles comes aboard as the horrendously named Holly Goodhead. She’s supposed to be his equal, an astronaut and a CIA agent. But is anything but as the pair chase one another across continents before deciding to work together. Richard Kiel returns as Jaws. But because so many kids wanted him to be a good guy, the character is effectively defanged. That leaves the henchmen position open for Drax, and he uses Chang (Toshiro Sauga) and a number of ham-fisted assassins. Poor Corinne Clery is stuck with the thankless sacrificial Bond girl role, while Walter Gotell returned as Russian general, Gogol.

Thanks to Q, Bond is outfitted nicely, once again, and we aren’t given a proper car chase. But we get a nice boat/hang glider sequence. That scene uses John Barry’s 007 Theme brilliantly (and its last use, to date in the film series). And the aforementioned ridiculous gondola sequence. It’s made all the worse by the drunk tourist (Victor Tourjansky) double take. And a pigeon does the same thing. Sigh.

There’s a lot of silliness going on in this film. But it also has the usual Bond checklist, girls, gadgets, locations, and stunts. This time around, the pre-credits sequence features a tumble from a plane without a parachute. Apparently – though you can make out, it disguised to look like part of Bond’s costume. There’s stunning aerial photography here. There’s also a stuntman who has enough of a passing resemblance to Moore to pull it off. The scene allowing for some great shots, the film seems to start well, but then goes sideways.

There are pop culture references. The tones to one of Drax’s laboratories is the five note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s also a nod to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. Specifically we see The Man With No Name trilogy when Bond is outfitted as such. Alhough he rides to Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven Theme. References that only work at the time or for film buffs. It causes this film to feel dated more than most 007 films do.

Maurice Binder’s opening titles roll. And Shirley Bassey returns for a third and final time to croon an opening theme. It is one of my least favorites. I’m not a big fan of the film. But it does have a wonderful score by John Barry, something I feel grew stronger as the series progressed.

Moore’s reticence for guns continues, as the Walther PPK isn’t seen in this film at all. And he fires a gun once, the rifle used during the hunting sequence.

When it came time to promote the film, poster artist Dan Goozee delivered a number of similarly illustrated images for the international ad campaign. And with the exception of the Style B US one sheet, they all look more impressive than the film itself.

But perhaps I am being too harsh on Moonraker. I was one of many kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s. Moore was our Bond, and 007 is in space. How could you not love that? Space shuttles, space stations, laser battles, how could the youngsters not love this one?

But I think that’s the problem. This one was a simply a banal story,. It was dumbed down for its audience. As far as the producers were concerned they were just there for beautiful women. They were also there for the snazzy gadgets, and some half-wit witticisms spouted by Bond. When I was first introduced to 007 as a young teen, I totally dug this film. As I grow older, I think James Bond would prefer we forget this chapter in his life.

Having said that, Moonraker, released on 26 June, 1979, was the most successful 007 to date. And its box office would not have an equal until GoldenEye in 1995. I remember seeing the trading cards for this, little Corgi toys, all of which I thought were very cool. Looking back now, I realize that it was just because the movie were more in line with children. The same goes for the merchandise, as they were the consumer. That’s just like the surge in (most) science fiction films of the time.

As the film ended, we were once again promised that James Bond Will Return. This time in For Your Eyes Only.

Thanks are extended again to DK Canada for their extensive 007 library. That includes Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films. That also includes James Bond: 50 Years of Posters, and The James Bond Encyclopedia.

This post was written by
TD Rideout has been a movie fan since the moment he first encountered Bruce the Shark in 1975. As passionate about cinema as he is popcorn movies, his film education is a continuing journey of classics new and old. He is at his most comfortable with a book, a drink, his partner and his dog.
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