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Moonraker (1979)

Monday 10th September 2012 Leave a comment

(Rewatched 11 August 2012)

Sometimes I wish Roger Moore would come back
With an underwater car or some kind of jetpack
Or a hover-gondola and a Union Jack

Joe Cornish, “The Something of Boris” (an Adam and Joe’s Song Wars entry)

As Cinebro’s review illustrates, “silly” is the operative word when you’re talking about this film. But there’s nothing wrong with silliness; silliness can be very funny, if it’s done well. So although I remembered Moonraker as being by far the worst Bond movie, this time, I went into it hoping to be able to judge it more generously – approaching it with some optimism that it would succeed as a daft spy comedy rather than fail as a spy adventure.

Unfortunately, I think very little of the comedy in this is done well. Forget comparing it to The Naked Gun – this isn’t even Spy Hard.

I’ll start with some positives. The cable car action sequence is good (even if at first, the camera positions in the wheel house set confusingly make it look like Jaws is following Bond and Goodhead down from the top, rather than coming up from the bottom on the opposite car). And I like the look of Drax’s construction facility as Bond flies over it at the start of the film. In fact, Ken Adam’s sets are consistently one of the best things about this film – although I may just be saying that because twenty years later they inspired the brilliant Aztec mission in the GoldenEye videogame!

The movie’s pre-title sequence is based around a fantastic parachute stunt sequence – which, unfortunately, is undermined when it concludes with a wacky bit involving a circus big top, and a bizarre transition into the film’s opening credits (falling umbrellas WTF!). Jaws’ appearance in this opening also undermines the later scene in which he’s introduced by walking through a metal detector, which is genuinely fun (an example of the film succeeding in the tone it aims for), and would have made a much better introductory scene for the character. Speaking of Jaws, I have to admit I’m quite fond of the two moments in the film where Bond and Jaws meet and acknowledge each other with a smile before they begin fighting.

What surprised me on this viewing is just how little talking there is over the course of the film. There are large sections of the movie that play out in silence. Surely this must be the Bond film with the fewest lines of dialogue? What dialogue is there gives us some of the comedy that does work, in a few brief but memorable lines:

– “His name is Jaws, he kills people.”
– “Look after Mr Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”
– “Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.”
– “At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery.”
– “You missed.” “Did I?”

Note that most of the above examples are spoken by the film’s villain, Hugo Drax – but apart from a few lines like those, he’s played very flatly as Bond-villain-by-the-numbers, and isn’t very memorable.

I remember the Moonraker novel being one of my favourites of Fleming’s books, but the film bears almost no resemblance to the book (unless you count the Minister of Defence’s very brief reference to playing Drax at bridge). Bond’s following of clues throughout the film is not at all interesting and not particularly logical, and Drax’s initial attempts to kill 007 seem to be motivated not out of any concern that Bond might discover his plans, but simply because he’s a Bond villain and trying to kill Bond is what Bond villains are required to do. That centrifuge sequence is OK, but comes across rather like a repeat of the rack exercise scene from Thunderball.

I’ve always enjoyed the posts on each of the Bond movies on the “I Expect You to Die!” blog, and that site’s writeup of Moonraker lays out the movie’s flaws particularly well. I like its summary of the similarities between Moonraker and its predecessor The Spy Who Loved Me:

TSWLM: Teaser involves ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute stunt.
MR: Teaser starts with a ship being mysteriously stolen, the girl Bond is macking with tries to have him killed, and the teaser climaxes with a Bond parachute jump.

TSWLM: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his undersea base.
MR: The plot involves an insane billionaire who believes humanity has become corrupt; he wants to eliminate all humans and start over from his satellite base.

TSWLM: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws.
MR: The main henchmen is a mute giant named Jaws (with added bonus: a mostly mute Japanese henchmen!!)

TSWLM: The Bond girl is a Russian spy!
MR: The Bond girl is an American spy!

TSWLM: A special Bond vehicle comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes.
MR: A special Bond vehicle comes out of the water onto dry land, as tourists and animals do double takes. Except in this one, we get lots more double-takes and reaction shots. Lots more.

Add another example: The Spy Who Loved Me contained a musical clip from Lawrence of Arabia; this one quotes the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (heard THREE TIMES, just in case you didn’t notice!) and also contains the theme from The Magnificent Seven. Not to mention the Romantic Meadow Run that Jaws and his girlfriend get to do…

Oh, didn’t I mention? Jaws gets a girlfriend in this movie. Also, Bond wrestles a terribly fake-looking python (but it’s played straight, as if it’s meant to be genuinely threatening), and pigeons do double-takes, and the movie’s climax takes place IN SPAAAAACE.

“Bond goes into space” is usually cited as the biggest, most memorable thing that went wrong with Moonraker. But strangely, in principle I don’t have a problem with the idea of Bond (at least Roger Moore’s Bond) in space. Just as The Matrix Reloaded has more fundamental problems than the fact it concludes with that speech by the Architect, just as The Phantom Menace has more fundamental problems than the presence of Jar Jar Binks, I’m less annoyed by Moonraker‘s overblown space station climax than with most of the other problems earlier on in the movie. I wouldn’t have been bothered by a comic relief CGI Star Wars character if it had actually been amusing; similarly, I would have no objection to a wacky, campy, over the top, tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore Bond movie if only it had been funnier. 😦

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