James Bond Overdose Part 11 – Moonraker (1979)

Bond! In! Spaaaaaaaaaaace!

This is to Roger Moore what Diamonds are Forever was for Sean Connery, though ramped up to a billion. The Spy Who Loved Me was the moment of balance at the edge of the diving board, and then this movie is where you sort of fall headlong off the edge, jumping shark after shark after shark as you go.

After the hijacking of an American space shuttle called the Moonraker, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to investigate the man who runs the Moonraker program, the exceedingly wealthy and obsessive Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Along the way he “crosses paths” with Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), an undercover CIA agent who is also investigating Drax, and the two of them discover that Drax has something dastardly planned that involves wiping out humanity and starting over with a new master race. Also, metal-toothed foe Jaws (Richard Kiel) is back and now it seems he’s working for Drax!

If that sounded a lot like The Spy Who Loved Me, you’re not crazy. Lewis Gilbert’s three Bond films are all sort of variations on a theme.

The thing is, this could have been just as good as The Spy Who Loved Me, but it just goes too far in places. The wry humor of the former becomes silly in the latter, and the balance between camp and story is thrown out the door in favor of cartoonishness. Also, the chemistry between 007 and Holly is insipid at best, and the villain fails to ever register as a serious threat. All in all, it’s simultaneously crazy and blah. As a kid, I loved this one because it was crazy, but looking at it now, it’s a bit too goofy. It’s definitely a “watch this while drinking with your friends and making sarcastic commentary throughout” kind of movie.

But for all its faults, it does have some good moments. I love the opening where Bond is thrown out a plane and steals the other dude’s parachute mid-air. I love John Barry’s score which is much more mature and beautiful than the movie really deserves (it’s also nice that Barry was able to escape from bureaucratic purgatory). I love how M gets to be a bit mellower and almost paternal with Bond, now that he knows what to expect from him. I love Bond’s Amazon-cruising boat (I want one). And I do actually like the slow reveal of the space station at the end. It’s very much a nod to 2001: a Space Odyssey. And, even though it’s completely bonkers, I’m just going to say it; I love Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), Jaws’ awkward-but-sweet girlfriend whom he meets in this movie. The two of them are so gosh darn cute together that you can forgive the excessive cheese (Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo Juliet Fantasy Overture” swells to flowery life in the scene where they first meet, for example).


It’s funny that, despite its mixed critical reception, this movie did amazingly at the box office, shooting to the position of highest grossing Bond film pretty quickly (and it would hold that place for the next 20-ish years before Goldeneye ousted it). Coming two years after Star Wars took the world by storm, it’s not any big surprise. The poster plays up the space and sci-fi stuff, even though the actual space part only makes up a teeny part of the movie’s run time.

It’s not too much of a tragedy that this one is sort of a mess, though, because it’s basically just The Spy Who Loved Me in a space suit. We’ve already seen this story done well. This is more like a parody than a next entry. It’s fun in its own way, but it doesn’t really feel like a missed opportunity, by any means. It’s to Roger Moore’s credit that he does his job well and stays true to the character he’s created, even though everything around him is becoming a cartoon.

But Moore is the central point in a three point setup, and the other two points, romantic interest Holly Goodhead and villain Hugo Drax, just don’t pull their weight equally. Holly delivers most of her lines in the exact same tone with mo modulation. It works at the beginning, when she dryly rebuffs Bond, but once we get to know her, she never really demonstrates much personality. She’s just kind of a cardboard cutout that speaks. On the other end of the balance, Hugo Drax isn’t a bad villain, but he’s not really that threatening. He just seems like a spoiled rich kid who grew up to be a spoiled rich guy. We see him take out people he doesn’t like, but it doesn’t have the same weight as when Stromberg did it. I do like the idea of a mentally unstable, socially awkward nerd who grows up to be a billionaire supervillain, but since this is a Bond film, we don’t get enough villain character development to really make him interesting. I do give him mad props for building a massive space station without anyone noticing, though.

For all the other films, I’ve mentioned the opening theme, so I don’t want to leave this one out. But, to be honest, there’s not much to say. Shirley Bassey came back at the last minute to jump in and perform the title song. And while she does a great job singing it–I love the more reserved, lyrical tone she uses–it’s clear that this was thrown together at the last minute. Bassey herself has been quoted as saying that this song never felt like hers, so she didn’t put much effort into promoting it. But it’s a decent song, regardless. I don’t know what to say about the title animation, though, which features more bouncing women. It’s…um…well, bouncy?

Alright, I’m going to wrap this one up, so we can all carry on with our lives.

Random Observations
-Holly Goodhead may be almost as cringeworthy a name as Pussy Galore
-The velocity simulator scene is like the spinal traction machine scene from Thunderball except waaaaay sillier.
-hovercraft gondola…

I’ll just leave this here. It will apply to quite a lot of stuff.

-the destruction of the glass museum physically hurts me.
-the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme plays when Bond types the code to get into Drax’s secret lab. Groan.
-“His name is Jaws. He kills people.” Well, thank you for clearing that up.
-Jaws is basically Wile E. Coyote and Bond is the Road Runner in this, complete with surviving falls from vast heights. Though I don’t know if Jaws ever had to resort to painting a tunnel on a wall…
-Everyone has to move veeeeeeery slowly in space when the gravity is off because apparently low gravity makes the air very viscous… Science!
-I love how the American shuttle just happens to come loaded with a battalion of EVA-suited, laser-wielding commandos. The space battle is pretty cool, though, I guess.
-“My god. What’s Bond doing?”
“I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.” Har har *eye twitch* *cringe*
-Bond doesn’t end this movie on a boat. He ends it…in space!

Alright, alright, get out of here, you all. But join me next week when a new director is brought in to pick up the mess and bring this franchise away from the edge of insanity. It’s For Your Eyes Only! Fun fact, with that movie, we are officially in the 80’s! Whoo! Yay the 80’s!


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