007. In space!
It’s not as epic, or even as amusing, as it sounds. Matter of fact, MOONRAKER, once the highest-grossing of the Bond franchise, is probably the worst James Bond movie ever. This whole enterprise reminds me of KISS.
When disco was stomping the charts in the late ’70s, KISS – ever the commercialists – jumped the night fever bandwagon and released a couple of albums that pandered to the swivel-hipsters – Dynasty and Unmasked. So too, James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli must have watched as STAR WARS (1977) and STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) opened up new filmic horizons, desperate to cash in on the space craze with his own brand. Since author Ian Fleming had written no actual space films featuring his James Bond character, Broccoli decided to rape Fleming’s 1955 novel of the same name, in which a nuclear missile was named Moonraker.
Like the KISS experiment, MOONRAKER worked for its time, but is now looked upon as goofy. Roger Moore – in this 11th Bond film (and Moore’s 4th as Bond) – is still Dressed To Kill but Tears Are Falling if this is the best the franchise can do. (And look at the poster: It’s meant to be motion blur, but doesn’t Moore look like he’s wearing Ace Frehley boots?)
A Space Shuttle called Moonraker is stolen and Bond is commissioned to find it, uncovering a plot by a billionaire named Drax (the expressionless Michael Lonsdale) who wants to create his own Dynasty of perfect humans.
Writer Christopher Wood doesn’t so much craft a story as create a series of fine messes that Bond must get out of, with no thought to logic, continuity, motivation or plot. And we must presume director Lewis Gilbert to be mildly retarded to advocate such scatterbrained screenwriting. (Note this is the same team who brought us the previous Bond adventure THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.)
What else can we make of a movie made up of scenes with no connecting fabric and no thought to retaining tone (Bond goes from a slapstick gondola chase to a toxic lab, to a karate chop alley; he falls from a cable car, escapes an ambulance and then is a high plains drifter with the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme running under him)? It’s not like all the globe-trotting and disparate backdrops cohere into a tense thriller or unveil a greater revelation. They’re to distract you from the vapidity of the movie.
The first scenes are stock Bond: Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, who is getting way too old to flirt with. As soon as the mission starts, the film falls Into The Void.
Bond visits Drax’s Space Shuttle site in California, beds the chopper pilot (Corinne Clery, THE STORY OF O), whose bedchambers are somehow right next door to Drax’s safe containing secret documents, which Bond cracks, taking pics of the documents with his camera labeled “007” (because he’s a secret agent of course, who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s 007 – unless they find his camera). We expect a certain amount of ludicrousness in a James Bond movie, but stupidity within stupidity becomes intolerable. Bad acting and non-acting doesn’t help. Look at the reactions of people to intense situations: Bond escapes a centrifuge, disoriented, and the female scientist comes to his aid with a half-hearted, “Let me help you,” and a fishwife’s hand on his arm; or when Bond is hanging off a cable car and the same woman says with the fervor of a person reading the phone book, “Hang on, James.”
That woman with the barely-conscious delivery is a – snigger – CIA agent posing as a NASA scientist, with a sensible Bond-girl name, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles, whose acting talent is in inverse proportion to her looks. And her looks are stunning). Bond treats her with the requisite condescension and misogyny a female in any Bond movie deserves.
Drax orders his assassin Chang (Toshiro Suga) to kill Bond, yet Chang seems to be taking the exact opposite approach, appearing like Cato from THE PINK PANTHER movies at the most inopportune times, getting his ass kicked by Bond and proactively NOT killing him. By this I mean, I’m pretty sure guns were invented at the time of this story’s setting – yet Chang uses bokken, a centrifuge, glassware and intense staring. No one thinks to just shoot the bothersome secret agent when he’s standing right in front of them with his hands up.
Roger Moore is so damnably full of himself with his snappy comebacks that Tom Cruise called from the future and wanted his smug back. Every chick he comes across, he comes across. It gets annoying after awhile.
Seven-foot tall Richard Kiel reprises his role as the steel-toothed assassin Jaws (from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, but you better have seen that film or his pseudo-comedic appearance here makes no sense at all). His battle with Bond atop a cable car brings the movie up to the energy level of a toothpaste commercial.
After Bond and his chick fall to the grass from the cable car, ambulance interns appear, knock them out and tie them to cots in the back of a speeding ambulance. My question: Why does this ambulance sequence even exist? Firstly, it presumes these bad guys (sent by Drax, we’re guessing) knew where Bond was going to land – over the miles of cable car line; it also presumes Jaws failed in his mission to kill Bond. If the cable car was a murder attempt, why don’t the ambulance guys finish the job? Where are they speeding? To Drax? For more exposition dialogue on his diabolical plots, while complaining that Bond “refuses to die”? We’ll never know, because Bond and the guard grapple and fall out the back of the ambulance, which just drives off. With neck-snapping suddenness, Bond is riding a horse in a serape to his bosses in– where are we now? Who cares?! Moore must have made such an impression with that boat chase in LIVE AND LET DIE that they put him in a second boat chase in this movie… where he fires a torpedo at an enemy speedboat – and the guys inside the boat – not the boat – blow up when the torpedo hits. Show us how much you care, filmmakers!
After every passive-aggressive unsuccessful attempt on Bond’s life, Drax would complain to Bond how unsportsmanlike he is for not dying – while Drax’s armed guards stand around with machine guns that they never think to use.
Bond hang-glides into a rainforest. He follows a woman into a Mayan pyramid, where a flock of women wearing no bras look at him blandly. Then an anaconda puppet attacks him, which he stabs. Then Drax appears, complains to Bond once again how hard it is to kill him, while more knobs stand near Drax NOT pulling the triggers of their – Love Guuuuns.
By now we’ve forgotten this movie had anything to do with space. Drax shows what a 2000 Man he is by unveiling his command center, with six shuttles in liftoff countdowns, while he attempts yet another passive-aggressive demise for Bond. Which Bond escapes, then commandeering a shuttle to follow Drax on his Rocket Ride.
At the 1:33 mark, the feature piece of this movie, the Moonraker Space Shuttles and the space station where Drax plans to be God Of Thunder. Where the filmmakers display their zero knowledge of space shuttles, orbital dynamics, zero-g, lasers, manned maneuvering units, and kindergarten physics. Roger Ebert loved the scene where the gravity was nullified and hundreds of people floated into the air. But EVERYTHING in these space scenes is so painfully incorrect, it’s impossible to believe these filmmakers lived in the era of real life space shuttles. Then again, morons lived during all eras in history.
Last sequence is a laugh-a-minute attempt at suspense as Bond’s shuttle chases down 3 toxic probes into the atmosphere. No Sonic Boom as Goodhead says the Shuttle is “skipping off the Earth’s atmosphere” (which means it’s at too shallow an angle for re-entry), in the next instant, telling us she’s “coming in too steeply.” You can’t have Two Sides Of The Coin, woman!
As with most Bond adventures, movie ends with Bond and a chick in a prurient embrace, with his agency breaking in on him Calling Dr. Love.