Yeeaah, Moonraker. PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW. This one has perhaps the oddest reputation of the series, which is saying a lot, but it’s the late 70s, so it’s time to head out of this world.
The UK is borrowing an American space shuttle (let’s face it, they could never build one themselves), but it gets hijacked! Calamity. James Bond gets put onto the case, but on his flight back home he bumps into an old friend, and they both decide to leave the plane early.
At this point the Binder sequence is pretty much what you’d expect. Vaguely meaningful silhouettes, etc.
Shirley Bassey gets her third title song, but it doesn’t quite stack up to her previous renditions of “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever”. Not her fault, really, the song is a bit crap, especially in the wake of “Nobody Does It Better”.
John Barry returns as the composer after taking time out from The Spy Who Loved Me, but he’s continued the new direction Hamlisch took on that film. It’s a good thing, although we don’t really get into the disco until the reprise of the theme song in the credits.
Probably the most variety of all this time; Bond’s first port of call is Drax’s complex in California, then it’s off to Venice again, and in a first, we go to Rio. Eventually the action goes deep into the Amazon, and then of course “space”.
Actually, at least Bond gets to be an astronaut this time, remembering that in You Only Live Twice he missed his chance when Blofeld smelled a rat because Bond insisted on carrying his air-conditioner to the rocket him.
Thankfully, the idea of Bond’s love interest actually being capable in their own right has continued from the previous film, with CIA agent and astrophysicist Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) being his counterpart this time. While Bond has a lot of fun mansplaining her field of expertise to her, basically, she knows how to fly a space shuttle and he doesn’t, so maybe this time he should shut the hell up and just shoot the poison orbs.
(Yes, we know, the double-entendre name, ha ha.)
Along the way Bond is also assisted by the local help in Rio, who manages to escape being eaten by Jaws, and before that, one of Drax’s employees who takes the fall for Bond stealing Drax’s plans, and does get eaten.
Hugo Drax is pretty much Evil Elon Musk. OK, there are some of you who might say that Musk is evil anyway, but while he does have an advanced private space program, at least he isn’t intent on purging humanity of all but the most boring examples of the species.
So Drax is a proper supervillain – megalomaniac, intelligent, Nehru jacket, grandiose schemes, loves a portentous declamation. I think Michael Lonsdale pulls it off with aplomb – the fantastic beard helps – but at no stage does he make it look like fun. Even when he’s out on his estate shooting birds (the avian variety) for recreation he’s all business.
The eternal humourlessness is accentuated with a peevishness any time he discovers Bond has managed to escape death, whether it be by enormous rubber snake, rocket blast or centrifuge.
“Mister Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.”
In fact, Drax wishes to provide an amusing death for everyone who doesn’t conform with his body policing, by widely dispersing a nerve toxin extracted from a rare Amazonian orchid. The base of this final operation is a large space station twice the size of the ISS, which remarkably cannot be detected from Earth because of its radar jammer. (Never mind that anyone with a decent telescope could probably spot it and report it to the authorities.)
All up, I think Drax is one of the best Bond villains. But he needs to take more joy in his work like Scaramanga did.
And as for his staff…
At the start of the movie, Chang (Toshiro Suga) is Drax’s fixer, who is basically another martial arts fool. Amongst Chang’s core competencies are looking creepy, waving a wooden stick around (to be fair Suga is really good at aikido in real life), and turning centrifuge dials with malicious menace.
He comes a buster in Venice, though, so Drax has to call up a labour hire firm for a replacement. Drake or Skilled or whoever send him Jaws (Richard Kiel), who’s been at a loose end since the death of his last employer, and Youtube hasn’t come along yet so he can’t monetise videos of him crushing things with his teeth.
Anyway, Mr Jaws is happy to be back in action, and of course there’s a score to settle. Jaws catches up with Bond and Goodhead in Brazil, and after some shenanigans on cable cars on Sugarloaf Mountain where he uses a cable for dental floss, things go awry and he ends up in a pile of rubble. Where he finds love at first sight, as you do.
Although this might be a welcome development, he still has a job to do, being tasked with the defense of Drax’s grand plan aboard the space station
Although when Bond not too subtly has it dawn on Jaws that Drax’s grand plan doesn’t necessarily include him and his pigtailed friend, he pulls a face turn and starts fucking shit up. This turncoat behaviour not going to go down too well with Drake International.
Bond and Goodhead (actually, just Goodhead, Bond is the muscle in this case) manage to disable the space radar jammer, allowing Houston Control to finally “see” the massive space base they should have bloody spotted with their own eyes, NASA very quickly deploy a space shuttle full of space marines for a space battle using space lasers.
There’s no blood for the blood god though, since laser beams have a cauterising effect. Basically it’s *pew pew pew pew pew* for several minutes until Drax and all of his master race are dead.
A few of the death probes had been deployed, so after the fracas Bond and Goodhead have to use a spare shuttle to zap them before they decant their contents. This is achieved after a close call, and with some time up their sleeve they start some zero-g experiments. Unfortunately they left the webcam on so everyone 0n earth could have a good perve, leading Q to drop one of the best lines in the series.
Getting back to Q, at the start of all this nonsense he provides Bond with a wrist dart gun. This gets Bond out of trouble in the centrifuge, and is also used for the coup de grace on Drax.
In the wake of Star Wars, everyone wanted to do space movies to cash in, and so we got the Bond space movie. The space sequences are utterly ludicrous from a science point of view – could you imagine watching this on video night with Neil DeGrasse Tyson? He’d be utterly insufferable.
Nevertheless, I am still impressed by the zero-gravity effects work – as far as I know it was done with wires and other “movie magic” but I did think at time that they may have used a vomit comet – although of course they couldn’t have, the stage too vast for that.
I was less than impressed by the boat chase scene in Venice. At its end, Bond pulls his gondola up to the edge of the water, unfurls a hovercraft apron, and then scoots off across the plaza. That’s so bad in itself, but it’s the cuts to the bystanders including the fucking pigeon that pretty much sink the ship.
By this stage, you know that 007 had become kid-friendly movies. I mean, the idea of Jaws becoming a goodie was prompted by letters from children, and it was absolutely true. It certainly didn’t kill the series, but the camp tone for the series that didn’t really lift until Timothy Dalton’s introduction.
Sure, there’s innuendo, but if you’re a kid around the age of 10 or 11 you don’t even see that, and when the hormones kick in, it becomes apparent it’s prety lame anyway.
Also, it occurs to me that out of Moore’s movies so far, only The Spy Who Loved Me feels like it’s been allowed to be a Bond movie in its own right. Live and Let Die cribbed blaxploitation, The Man With The Golden Gun did chop-socky (badly), and of course in Moonraker we have the Obligatory Space Movie With James Bond. I think it gets away with it because Bond In Space isn’t a huge stretch from the high-tech world-in-peril schemes of past films.
But – it is stupid, over-the-top, ridiculous fun. At least some of the lessons learned from The Spy Who Loved Me about keeping the character and plot entertaining, it keeps a steady beat, and even if it is deathly corny and preposterous at times, it is never boring.
As a result, I think it deserves 16 individually crafted hexagonal glass vials out of 20.