“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

 

“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

Well, I just watched “MOONRAKER”. Today, it is considered to be one of the worst Bond movies of all times. It has been accused by fans and critics alike of taking the Bond franchise into a realm of tasteless excess and fantasy. I will not deny there are aspects of “MOONRAKER” that turned me off – including Bond’s final confrontation with the villain aboard the latter’s space station. But after watching it . . . I cannot honestly list “MOONRAKER” as one of my least favorite Bond films, let alone as one of the worst. Trust me, I have seen a lot worst.

Despite some similarities, the movie did not heavily adapt the 1955 novel. The movie kept the same villain – Hugo Drax. And it did involve rockets and space travel. Also, the villain’s intent did involve the destruction of a place – in the novel, the villain wanted to destroy London and in the movie, the human race on Earth. But . . . there were differences. Instead of a British policewoman named Gala Brand, the movie features an American CIA agent/NASA-trained astronaut named Dr. Holly Goodhead.

There were several aspects of “MOONRAKER” that made me want to wince. Now, I did not mind the boat/gondola chase in the Venetian canals, but watching Bond’s gondola turned into a land vehicle . . . yeah, it made me want to wince. Along with a few of Roger Moore’s lines. The fact that Jaws’ villainy (last seen in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”) came across as less menacing and more comic in this movie did not help. The double-take pigeon? I had barely noticed it. But the final battle between American astronauts and Drax’s men turned me off considerably. I felt as if I was watching a second-rate version of “STAR WARS” – blasters and all.

But “MOONRAKER” had its virtues. The movie’s production quality seemed to be among the best in the franchise, thanks to director Lewis Gilbert, and cinematographer, Jean Tournier. The movie took the audience from California to Venice, Brazil and finally outer space. Aside from the latter, the film’s photograph captured these setting beautifully. I especially enjoyed John Barry’s score, along with the movie’s theme song written by both Barry and lyricist Hal David, and sung by Shirley Bassey. Aside from a few cliché lines, I found nothing wrong with Roger Moore’s performance. He seemed to be at the top of his game. I was especially impressed by his take on Bond’s reaction to being nearly killed by Drax’s Astronaut Training Centrifuge. Michel Londsdale seemed smooth and villainous as the space-obsessed billionaire Hugo Drax. However, I was a little put off by having to deal with another megalomaniac out to destroy the world in order to rule the survivors. I find such storylines rather tiresome. But the rest of the cast seemed adequate.

I do have a few complaints about four cast members. Lois Chiles was in her early 30s and already a veteran of a few movies (“THE GREAT GATSBY” and “DEATH ON THE NILE” included) by the time she did “MOONRAKER”. As Dr. Holly Goodhead, she managed to physically project the image of a memorable Bond leading lady that happens to be a competent CIA agent and astronaut. But despite her experience, she did come off as slightly wooden. Actually, I could say the same for Corinne Clery as the doomed Corinne and Emily Bolton as the Brazilian agent, Manuela. “MOONRAKER” seemed to be filled with beautiful leading ladies with limited acting skills. I also had a problem with Richard Kiel. As I had stated before, he seemed less menacing and more comic than he did in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. However, I was impressed by Kiel’s acting in one particular scene – when Bond convinces Jaws that Drax plans to exterminate him for his imperfections. Kiel had wonderfully captured Jaws’ confusion and growing realization that he might be betrayed and killed by his employer.

I had started watching “MOONRAKER” with the belief that I was about to experience one of the worst Bond movies in the franchise’s history. As it turned out, I was wrong. I think that Roger Moore had put it best when he said that “MOONRAKER” was not a bad movie . . . until it shifted to outer space and became a second-rate “STAR WARS”, which only occurred during the movie’s last half hour. This unfortunate shift of setting seemed to have influenced many of the franchise’s fans about the movie. Many seemed so focused upon the movie’s last half hour and other flaws that they seemed to have forgotten its virtues.

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5 Responses

  1. Always interesting to read different perspectives on the Bond films. For me, “Moonraker” is easily the worst film, due to its consistent need to push everything into the realm of slapstick comedy. The precredits sequences is a prime example of this. It begins as an eye-popping stunt and then the filmmakers can’t resist ruining it by having Jaws flap his arms and fall (conveniently) into a circus tent. This kind of thing is evident throughout the film, not just in the last half hour. Glad you got some entertainment value out of it though.

  2. Slapstick comedy eh? I guess you must have erased your memories of movies like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (easily the worst Bond movie I have ever seen).

  3. Nope, not at all. In fact I’ve argued in the past that the Moore era of “James Bond Comedies” began with Connery’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and can even be traced back to “Goldfinger.” My point regarding “Moonraker” is that it pushes into slapstick comedy far more (or far Moore) than other Bond films of its era. It was a general trend though from DAF onwards through the Moore films. And it was only with Dalton’s two films that the trend was finally corrected.

  4. You think that MOONRAKER is the worst. I disagree. Let’s end it at that. And please try to refrain from stating your opinions as facts.

    One more thing. I also disagree that the trend toward slapstick and fantasy began with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I believe it began with GOLDFINGER.

  5. Stating my opinion as facts? I was merely stating my opinion, as are you. These are movies we’re talking about, and I simply thought to have a discussion with a fellow movie fan about the Bond films. My mistake if you’re not interested in discussion.

    And if you read my previous comment, I agree that the slapstick comedy trend began with “Goldfinger”, or at least there are the seeds of it in that film.

    Sorry to bother you. I won’t leave any more comments.

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