Space Balls Up: Revisiting Moonraker

Richard blasts into the cosmos for a Bond film unlike any other. Thankfully. 

There are some Bond films which are excellent, i.e. Goldfinger, GoldenEye, From Russia With Love, and Casino Royale. Others which are just okay, such as Thunderball, Tomorrow Never Dies and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And others which are just plain forgettable, such as Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy. You may notice that the films I’ve listed as forgettable were all Bond movies starring Roger Moore, because to me, out of all the actors who have ever played The World’s Greatest Secret Agent, he is the most expendable. I know Moore has his fans, but for me, he simply wasn’t James Bond. And, to be completely honest with you, I’m not sure which category Moonraker falls under, because it certainly isn’t forgettable but it isn’t necessarily good either.

I suppose I can’t blame Roger for the way his films turned out, since the fault for this very strange entry in the long-running franchise definitely lies with the late Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. You see, Star Wars is responsible for many things, such as nerds fighting over who shot first, Han or Greedo, people excusing the Ewoks whilst still moaning about Jar Jar Binks, and endless yet pointless re-edits to the original films. But perhaps the worst sin that film is responsible for is the influence it had on the Bond producers’ decision to send James into space. The sci-fi boom really was a huge thing at the time, and I guess after doing just about everything else with 007 in prior films, the only thing left to do was to quite literally send him to the stars.

As far as I’m aware, Bond doesn’t go into space in any of the original Ian Fleming novels, but the filmmakers didn’t give a damn about the source material by this point. The excellent films of the early Sean Connery era felt like a distant and sad memory when I watched this film. Gone was the grounded, dark brooding assassin who was hard-edged and yet effortlessly suave, and in his place was a man who made terrible cringeworthy jokes. Moore’s idea of making Bond interesting was to slightly raise his eyebrows. I don’t mean to keep ragging on Moore, but he just simply wasn’t Bond; would you think of the former Saint as the type of cold-blooded killer 007 is meant to be portrayed as? Well, of course you wouldn’t. He was just Roger Moore in a tuxedo, and his insistence on not taking it seriously makes his portrayal more eye-rolling to watch. Bond is, like I said, a cold-hearted spy who kills people for a living. He also often feels regret over what he does and prefers to work alone. The reason why he sleeps with loads of women, gambles, drives fast cars, smokes tobacco constantly, and drinks all those Vodka Martinis is because he knows his life could be extinguished at any moment and he needs his senses fulfilled at all times. He also doesn’t smile that often. If Moore didn’t like the character, then he shouldn’t have played him.

As for the rest of the film, well, what can I tell you? For one thing, the plot isn’t that interesting… or coherent. It has something to do with a stolen space shuttle, but the movie seems to know the audience isn’t going to see these flicks for the great stories anymore and just wanted to see some expensive special effects and Moore raising his eyebrows. From Russia with Love or Goldfinger this ain’t. But because this lacklustre approach to telling the story is prevalent throughout, it makes the experience feel hollow.

The action isn’t much good, as it’s all pretty standard and by-the-numbers. I definitely couldn’t explain to you why Bond has a gondola which has the ability to go on land as well as water. This is during a bizarre boat chase sequence in Venice where an assassin tries to kill 007 by sneaking up on him whilst hiding in a coffin. Yeah, it’s about as ridiculous as it sounds! There’s also a fight scene between Bond and one of the villain’s henchmen in a clock tower, but it’s so dull and poorly-choreographed due to Moore’s inability to fight convincingly that it’s not that exciting. And when the henchman falls to his death and lands face first in a grand piano, we see his bare legs and his underwear. You can almost hear the producers saying, “This series is now a joke and we won’t be taking things back to the way they should be for another eight years.” And by that, I mean Moonraker was made in 1979 and by 1987 we got a much better and believable James in the form of Timothy Dalton.

Bond’s enemy in this adventure is, as you have probably guessed, a villain who has a mad scheme to take over the world. But the plan set in motion by Drax (Michael Lonsdale) is so nonsensical that I was wondering how he pulled it all off without anyone noticing. If you’re a rich industrialist and you want to wipe out the world and build a master race in space (or something along those lines), and you construct a giant station like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey to house said master race, then someone is bound to notice. Then again, maybe the world’s authorities didn’t peg what Drax was up to because they were just plain dumb and 007 was the only one clever enough to notice? Oh wait…

Fan-favourite Jaws (Richard Kiel), the hulking henchman with metal teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me, returns in this outing, although I have no idea why. Jaws was one of the best things about Spy, and you would think he would be as chilling and threatening as he was before. But here, he’s been turned into a child-friendly parody of himself. Why Jaws smiles more often, suddenly has a crush on some random girl, and switches sides to help Bond during the climax all comes out of nowhere. I wish I was watching The Spy Who Loved Me again right now; that film felt the closest to a genuine Bond movie from the Roger Moore era and Jaws is quite rightly remembered as a great side villain.

But perhaps the biggest insult comes during the denouement. Let’s say for a minute that building a space station on the scale Drax has without anyone noticing is possible. And then the Russians and Americans suddenly detect it. Do you think there’s even the slightest possibility that NASA would be able to plan a space shuttle flight and send up a unit of marines armed with lasers to help Bond in a matter of minutes? Well, no, but then the battle between the space marines and Drax’s space army happens and… yeah, what else is there to say? It’s a fucking space battle in a James Bond movie. Oh, god, let’s just move on shall we?

To sum-up, I would say Moonraker has a very underdeveloped plot, a villain who isn’t very intimidating, and action scenes which feel routine and dull, which is saying something when you consider the fact there’s a huge space skirmish at the end. There’s also a Bond girl called Holly Goodhead… nuff said really. There’s just the overall feeling that the filmmakers weren’t trying anymore. I know Moore can’t be fully blamed for this, but I get the feeling Connery wouldn’t have agreed to go into space when he was playing the character. A lot of things in this film belong in a campy space opera which were made in abundance during the 1970s, but they certainly don’t belong in a 007 adventure. Ah, well, the franchise could only get better from here, right? Oh no it didn’t, because Moore would star in three more films well into his late-fifties! And to think some people say the Bond series lost all of its dignity during this period. I wonder whatever gave them that idea…

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • The budget for Moonraker was more than the combined budget total of the first six EON James Bond movies put together. Albert R. Broccoli complained that Maurice Binder’s title sequence cost more than the entire budget of Dr. No (1962).
  • The cable that Jaws bites was actually made of licorice.
  • The scene in which the gondola converts into a hovercraft and elevates out of the water succeeded with the fifth attempt. During the first four takes, the vehicle was so unstable that Roger Moore fell into the water and needed to have his silk suit replaced for each take. It was fortunate that the stunt worked during the fifth take because he was wearing the last available silk suit.
  • During the scenes set in Venice, Pope John Paul I died. Filming was then suspended for the day, partly because the bells ringing in Venice mourning his death were so loud it made it impossible to work.
  • Bernard Lee’s final appearance as M. The actor died when For Your Eyes Only (1981) was in pre-production.

Richard Bal

My name is Richard, I like beer, heavy metal and movies, but maybe not necessarily in that order.

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