Moonraker (1979)
Moonraker (1979)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

Release Date: June 29th, 1979 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Lewis Gilbert Actors: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Toshiro Suga, Blanche Ravalec

 


 

F

or the eleventh Bond film, yet another multi-million-dollar apparatus has gone missing – this time, the Moonraker space shuttle has been hijacked midair off the back of a 747. The opening sequence to introduce Bond is again, thankfully, a purely action-oriented event, featuring a grandiose airplane stunt in which 007 and the returning villain Jaws (Richard Kiel) parachute out the side in a treacherous grapple and freefall. It’s curious why Jaws would still be in pursuit (perhaps a personal vendetta), but the character was so much fun in “The Spy Who Loved Me” that it’s fitting to bring him back. For the third time, Shirley Bassey sings the theme music, but it is wholly forgettable.

Traveling to California, MI6 Agent James Bond (Roger Moore) is tasked with collecting information on the Drax Corporation, headed by Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale, doing his best Orson Welles impression), who is obsessed with space travel and uses his boundless wealth to personally fund a private astronaut training program on his enormous estate. The Moonraker model was built and owned by Drax, relying on British forces to give it safe escort. Revisiting the extremely silly names from “Goldfinger,” Bond is given a tour by NASA Space Administration specialist Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), where 007 is almost killed in a centrifuge chamber rigged by ridiculous, sore-thumb henchman Chang (Toshiro Suga). From here, he investigates a glass manufacturer in Venice, then an import/export company in Rio de Janeiro (with sultry contact Manuela, played by Emily Bolton, confirming that all female operatives are required to be attractive), which draws him right back into the clutches of Drax (where the outlandish and futuristic plot to restart humanity among the stars at a cloaked space station is elaborated upon).

Drax is yet another sporting villain, more interested in behaving like a gentleman killer (devising amusingly farcical demises) and letting Bond escape multiple times (others are easier prey), than simply disposing of the man who is destined to be his undoing. Assassin Jaws is even less formidable now, allowing Bond to escape as he’s whisked away by dancing partygoers in an alley, and becoming preoccupied with a petite girl (Blanche Ravalec). Much of the second act of the film is devoted solely to Jaws attempting repeatedly to dispatch of the secret agent (and having no luck, with goofy shock, as if a certain coyote chasing a certain roadrunner). It’s not that Bond is resourceful – it’s that Jaws doesn’t have much of a plan.

The “conquest of space” theme is designed to capitalize on the recent successes of science-fiction extravaganzas (most notably “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), but feels out of place for the superspy, who works better on the ground, engaging in shootouts, initiating car chases, or wandering into women’s beds (and in the finale, effortlessly sneaking aboard a launching space shuttle). Fortunately, most of the film takes place on earth – though Q Branch’s brief use of a laser gun is quite unappealing (as is the flamethrower lipstick, which is apparently standard CIA equipment) – save for the preposterous climax in outer space (an all-out sci-fi battle replete with laser blasts and zero gravity). “For Your Eyes Only” was originally intended to follow “The Spy Who Loved Me” (as can be seen in the end credits), but “Moonraker” was pushed ahead because of the space theme. It feels, however, that this particular tale has no place in the Bond canon at all.

The action scenes are more contrived than usual, manifesting in Venice for a chance to use the canals (which utilize a musical shift in tone to demonstrate a comedic nuance more at home with someone like Indiana Jones), or erupting spontaneously into the hilariously choreographed fencing sequence in a glass museum, where priceless, historical artifacts are shattered with great decoration (like a bull in a china shop). Bond even wrestles a python. For the majority of the time, Bond and Goodhead seem quite pleased with their skills – and face very little serious adversity, even when regularly cornered by Jaws.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10