After 33 years, what is honestly left to be said about Moonraker that hasn’t already been touched upon? I certainly can’t go and say “Well, it’s bad!” for fear of repeating what many people have already most definitely established without the aid of a run-of-the-mill film critic such as myself. I cannot even go with what my immediate gut feeling tells me to say — “Well, it’s enjoyably bad!” — because I know there are many individuals out there that have also figured that one out for themselves. However, in lieu of anything wholly original to say, I’ll just go ahead and carry that torch from hereon in.
If it shan’t be remembered for anything else in the annals of film history, 1979’s Moonraker is definite proof that even the most established film franchise can bow to the pressure put upon it by a new cinematic trend. In this instance, EON Productions felt the weight of the Force being pressed upon filmmakers worldwide once George Lucas’ Star Wars hit screens two years prior — the same year as the James Bond series’ previous entry, The Spy Who Loved Me: a film that is oh-so-superior to this one in almost every respect, though the similarities between the two are stupidly stupefying.
For the eleventh Bond outing, our hero (Roger Moore, in his fourth appearance as the iconic spy) uncovers a nefarious conspiracy by a wealthy villain named Drax (a very bored-looking Michel Lonsdale). The eccentric owner of a manufacturing company responsible for constructing space shuttles, Drax is stealing his own space-worthy creations as part of is grand master plan to wipe out the world’s population via a deadly virus — after which he shall re-populate the planet with his own, personally selected, superior-in-every-way human beings.
Sound familiar? It should! Essentially, Moonraker has the same damn story as The Spy Who Loved Me, only with a great deal of that familiarly capricious outer space-ness goodness brought on by the release of the still-alive-and-well Star Wars tossed in for full effect in order to appease both the newfound and established science-fiction lovers around the universe. Everything else is basically the same here. Lonsdale has a secret space station in the Amazon instead of the submergible domed city present in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Instead of Egypt and Austria, we get the equally-exotic locales of Venice and Rio de Janeiro. However, there’s one name that hasn’t changed whatsoever: Richard Kiel — star of Eegah! — who returns the lumbering, deadly, metal-toothed monster of a man who goes by the handle o’ Jaws (a fictional creation who was also spawned from the popularity of another hit movie). Kiel’s Jaws first appears in the now legendary pre-credit action sequence (think skydiving without parachutes), only to return later as Lonsdale’s hired hitman who eventually turns on his master and helps Bond out (the kids loved his character so much, they made him a softy!).
While the box-office receipts definitely showed the public did indeed have an interest in seeing a 007 flick with a higher-than-average sci-fi twist (the movie grossed over six times its budget), it — sadly — also took the franchise into a realm of silliness previously unheard of. One merely has to witness the final battle between good and evil in the vast vastness of vast space as men and women in jet-propelled spacesuits shoot it out with laser guns in order to see the proof. The film also roots the Moore-era exposition in stone, as Roger once again walks into M’s office, is asked about the plot of the film, and reveals everything there is to know in order to get any pesky, unnecessary story development out of the way.
And yet, somehow it’s still fun to watch — especially when you compare it to the latter-day Pierce Brosnan disaster, Die Another Day; a film even Roger Moore thought was silly, comparing it to Moonraker himself, and famously remarking “I thought it just went too far — and that’s from me, the first Bond in space!”. The film is about as routine as a Bond film can be, emerging as nothing more than just a cheap cash grab bearing more product placement than you might expect from a British-made title. It’s a true popcorn movie; a summer blockbuster made only to compete with the recently-beget summer blockbuster fad replete with cheesy dialogue, unbelievable action sequences (even by Bond standards), and an extremely hammy Roger Moore showing us just how truly overboard he is capable of going.
Oh, well, at least it has a plus side. No, not Lois Chiles as CIA agent Holly Goodhead (doh). It isn’t Corinne Clery as a doomed Drax employee, either. And it sure as blazes is not the forgettable Asian henchman Chang (Toshiro Suga). The true highlight here, kids, is the theme song: a rushed recording of a little ditty (called “Moonraker” — go figure!) by the great Shirley Bassey — etched her name even higher than before in the land of Bond by performing her third theme song for the franchise. It’s a haunting piece, long ignored by many (including Bassey, who never really claimed it as her own since she never hand time to add her personal touch to it, but who has since embraced it owing to surging popularity).
Interestingly enough, three other famous singers were considered and/or asked to perform the tortured love ballad: Kate Bush, Johnny Mathis, and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Now, I don’t know about you, but that could have very well made Moonraker a good film by itself! Instead, we have to accept it for being the extreme guilty pleasure it really, truly is.
At least it’s better than The Man with the Golden Gun, right?
Operation: BOND will return in For Your Eyes Only.