Review: Moonraker

Welcome to my review of Moonraker, the eleventh part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, here. Spoilers follow.

Moonraker
(dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Moonraker trailerI was ready and willing to give Moonraker a break. For years, I’ve been under the impression that the film was rubbish, partly because of Roger Moore and mostly because of the silly sci-fi action at the end. But if this review challenge has taught me anything, it’s that Moore is not an intrinsically bad Bond and that his films are not necessarily awful. As noted in my previous review, The Spy Who Loved Me is a genuinely good film, as is Live And Let Die. Even The Man With The Golden Gun is not terrible, although it is clearly the weakest of the three so far.

Long story short, I came into Moonraker with hope in my heart. This optimism lasted about six minutes.

The eponymous Moonraker shuttle is stolen as it is being transported from the US to the UK. Okay. Bond gets into a fight on a plane. Great. Bond is thrown out of the plane without a parachute, and manages to catch a bad guy and grab their parachute. Actually, as unlikely though it might be, that’s pretty cool.

Then Jaws shows up and, after a brief scuffle, is left to drop onto a circus tent, complete with comedy music and facial expressions.

Shit.

Without a doubt, Moonraker is the worst film in the 007 franchise so far. There is no one thing that makes this true; it is a result of multiple factors.

The easy way to point out the flaws in the film is to summarise the plot. Obvious bad guy Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) hijacks his own shuttle, which was apparently easier or less risky than simply fixing the defect on one of his own. This leads Bond to Drax’s California facility, where he meets Dr Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), who is working as an advisor for Drax’s space program.

Drax then tries to have Bond killed very obviously several times over. This immediately tells Bond that Drax is the big bad guy, but rather than having Drax arrested or reacting in any sane way and thus ending his mission easily and efficiently, Bond then travels to Italy, because the multi-billion dollar shuttle manufacturing company gets its scientific-grade glass vials from a small glass-blowing company in Venice. This is totally an excuse for a rubbish boat chase on the Venetian canals, which involves Bond driving a fortuitously placed motorised and heavily armed gondola.

Bond meets up with Goodhead again, who turns out to be a CIA agent. As the UK and US are allies, they agree to work together, and then for no reason whatsoever proceed not to.

The action then shifts to Rio de Janeiro so that Bond can have a fight on a cable car with Jaws (Richard Kiel), who on being defeated immediately falls in love with a comically breasted tiny girl with glasses. There’s a speedboat chase for no reason, where Bond has a speedboat with built-in weapons. Bond and Goodhead team up properly this time.

Everyone travels into space, including Bond and Goodhead, who sit in the pilot seats of a shuttle that luckily runs on autopilot, so all Goodhead has to do is dock with a space station that despite being on Drax’s team she didn’t know existed (because luckily she really is trained by NASA, and that didn’t turn out to be simply a CIA cover story).

We hear about Drax’s plan destroy the world and use maybe a hundred pretty people to repopulate the entire human race, and then Bond warns America about the space station and the CIA send up lots of men with laser guns in the space of ten minutes and there’s a big laser fight that is totally inspired by Star Wars, which came out in the same year as The Spy Who Loved Me. Jaws turns into a good guy.

So what don’t I like about this film? Is it the plot, which runs largely on idiocy? The laser guns? The recycled IN SPACE plot of The Spy Who Loved Me? The way that Jaws is turned from an intimidating villain into a Looney Tunes cartoon? The laser guns? The lack of disregard—even by the standards of a series that includes You Only Live Twice and Thunderball—for basic realism? Is it the gondola chase, which ends with the gondola turning into a hovercraft so that we can see a pigeon do a badly filmed double-take? That somehow Roger Moore has started to look a bit like a Gerry Anderson puppet? The laser guns? The ridiculous, ham-handed comedy that really isn’t funny in any way? The fact that everywhere Bond goes, the villain’s men are waiting with ludicrous pre-prepared weaponry, even if the villain had no way of knowing when Bond was headed? The laser guns?

Or is it all of these things combined?

Title song: Even Shirley Bassey’s Moonraker seems a bit tame compared to her other entries to the series. Ho hum.

Greatest moment: Bond almost dying on a centrifuge designed for space training is actually pretty tense, even if it is a bit obvious what is about to happen when we first see the contraption.

Worst moment: Sigh. The gondola.

Best gadget: Bond’s wrist mounted dart gun is both realistic and practical, unlike almost every other gadget in the entire film.

Best quote:
Corinne: The Drax residence: every stone brought from France. Cute, isn’t it?
James Bond:
Magnificent. Why didn’t he buy the Eiffel Tower as well?
Corinne:
He did, but the French government refused him an export permit.

Most obvious product placement: Rio de Janeiro is clearly sponsored by 7-UP, judging by the number of billboards in every bloody scene.

Verdict: Last place, without a doubt.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  4. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  5. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  6. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  7. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  8. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  9. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  10. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  11. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

All right, thank God that’s over. There seems to be a little pattern emerging with the franchise where they’re alternating between duff and good films, so hopefully For Your Eyes Only next time will be easier to watch.


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