The general opinion of Roger Moore’s fourth outing as James Bond is quite mixed. Either you hate it, or you find it very entertaining despite its … oddities. There doesn’t seem to be too many people in-between those vastly different points of view. Instead of focusing on this movie’s massive use of camp humour and self-parody, I’m going to try and look at this movie from a quality standpoint apart from those things. There are filmmaking aspects of this movie that are worth looking at beyond this movie’s very strange tone.
As I mentioned in my The Spy Who Loved Me post, For Your Eyes Only was originally intended to be the next Bond movie, yet 1977 saw the release of Star Wars. Seeing how each of the previous Roger Moore Bond movies latched onto some sort of craze (Live and Let Die is Blaxploitation with Bond, Man With The Golden Gun heavily features martial arts, and TSWLM has disco themes in its music), it doesn’t take much thought to figure out where they decided to go with this one. The film’s climax takes place in space, with laser guns, simulated gravity going on and off, a large battle, and villain Hugo Drax’s plot to destroy the world.
While the title is based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name, the movie’s got almost nothing in common with it. The novel included themes like the re-emergence of the Nazis, a rocket attack that threatened nuclear war between Russia and the Western powers, and interestingly enough, took place entirely in Britain. Most other books visited other locations, much like the movies. One of the few aspects taken from the movie is the main villain’s name, and that Jaws is loosely based on a different character. Fleming always wanted Moonraker to be a movie, and judging by how it’s generally the best received novel in hindsight, I’d like to see a straight adaptation.
Moonraker the movie’s plot is very similar to The Spy Who Loved Me. In fact substitute underwater for space, and nuclear war for a nerve gas that magically only works on humans, and you’ve got the same plot. Drax wants to wipe out humanity and start fresh, with his selection of very good looking people to repopulate the planet.
Filming for the movie began in 1978, mostly in France instead of England because of high tax rates at the time. Of the scenes shot in England, they took place in the 007 stage built for The Spy Who Loved Me. Some of the notable film locations included the Boulogne Studios, which is in a building once used as a German aircraft factory while they occupied France in WW2. They also filmed in a Venice, including one scene in a museum that still holds the record for most fake glass broken in a single scene. On that note, Moonraker also still holds the record for the most cables used to simulate no gravity in a single movie. They filmed parts of the movie in Rio de Janeiro during the Carnival festival, Florida and California as well. In one scene shot on a cable car in Rio, stuntman Richard Graydon slipped and almost fell to his death. There’s also a moment where Jaws bits on the cable of the cable car with his metal teeth. Although he still wore his metal dentures, the cable was made of liquorice.
Moonraker’s theme song is the third sung by Shirley Bassey (following Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever). After the previously hired singers had to cancel for various reasons, they offered her the job mere weeks before the movie premiered. Because she recorded the song at such short notice, Bassey never felt the song was “her own”, and she never got the chance to perform it in full or promote it before the movie’s release. She didn’t even perform the song on-stage until 2005, as part of a medley with her other two Bond title songs. It’s not a bad song, but it feels kind of slow, and Bassey’s previous two songs are definitely better.
Moonraker released on June 26 in 1979 to mixed reviews, with a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics agreed that the movie featured very impressive visual effects – in fact it received an Academy Award nomination for its effects. Some critics praised the movie. The New York Times called it “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all”, and Canada’s The Globe and Mail said “In the first few minutes – before the credits – it offers more thrills than most escapist movies provide in two hours.” Roger Ebert on the other hand, while praising the visuals, said “Most rational observers agree that Moonraker is without a doubt the most absurd James Bond movie.” He did admit that he enjoyed the movie regardless of the stupidity, but he gave it a mixed overall score.
Despite the mixed reception, Moonraker earned $210 million on a $34 million budget. Not only is that a huge success, but it actually held the record as the highest grossing Bond movie for 16 years, until GoldenEye passed it.
As for my own thoughts on the movie, I enjoy it ironically. I can’t help but laugh at times because of how off the wall this movie is. And yes, some of Moonraker’s practical effects still stand up pretty well. There are also a few moments that can be taken seriously, like Bond infiltrating one of Drax’s labs and learning about the nerve gas. It’s a tense moment, especially after one such gas container breaks. Some of the humour is genuinely funny, like the final moment in the movie where Bond and Goodhead accidentally broadcast themselves, uh … under the floating bedsheets together.
Watching an information panel instead of the screen, Q replies, “I think they’re attempting re-entry sir.”
That really is the best kind of double entendre – one that’s completely unintentional from the speaking character.
Things I don’t like – they turned the very intimidating Jaws villain into little more than a punchline. In fact they go so far as to make him turn into Bond’s ally, just because the giant fell in love with a diminutive girl. Not only does the story rip of The Spy Who Loved Me, but it feels rushed. It also feels repetitive when most of the action scenes can be summed up with “Drax’s assassins try to kill Bond.” Holly Goodhead, the main Bond girl in the movie, is just boring. She’s not necessarily bad, but she shows no real passion or energy in her performance.
A lot of the editing in this movie is also weird. To name a few specific cases, there’s a boat chase that ends with Bond hang gliding over a waterfall. One shot shows him clearly over the trees, then there’s a very quick close-up of a tree, and suddenly Bond is crashing into them. It’s a moment of visual whiplash. For a movie that’s mostly fast paced, the scene where Bond and Goodhead are approaching Drax’s space station is very slow and dull. There’s also a moment during a separate boat chase in Venice, where Bond transforms his gondola into a strange parade float and drives on land. Some of the reaction cuts are straight up bizarre, with footage of a bird turning its head going back and forth to simulate a double take.
(That gif is pretty much what the bird double take looks like)
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 12
Other’s kills – 69
Total kill count – 81
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s running kill count – 52
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
I’m not entirely sure what to think of this movie. It’s terrible, yes, but it’s terrible in a way that’s often entertaining. A lot of the intentional jokes fail, but there are some genuinely funny lines, and some jokes are so stupid that they somehow become funny again anyway. It’s kind of hard to explain, but you need to be in a certain kind of mood to enjoy this one. You need to be in the mood where you can enjoy an intentional self-parody that’s simultaneously well-made and poorly made. I can’t help but wonder how much better this could have been if it took itself more seriously, but with the general direction the Roger Moore era took, not to mention how rushed this movie felt as a whole, we all know there wasn’t a chance of that happening.