May 22, 2014

Review: Moonraker (1979)

Moonraker, a generally reviled entry in the James Bond series probably doesn't deserve as much hate as it receives. It's utterly ridiculous but there's some charm in its ridiculousness that's hard not to appreciate. The reason why Bond takes a trip into space can be summed up to the fact that Star Wars had just come out two years ago and had changed cinema forever. Well the gamble paid off because Moonraker was the highest grossing Bond film until 1995's Goldeneye, so mad props to Broccoli for making such a calculated decision.

All the same, it's kind of sad that Albert R. Broccoli believed that Bond had to take a page out of whatever was popular at the time. It wasn't the first time this was done with James getting a taste of blaxploitation and martial arts films pretty recently. I think this is another Broccoli decision since he was trying to make up for losing Sean Connery. The Man with the Golden Gun had a take on martial arts which I had mentioned I disliked in my review of it and Live and Let Die can be said to be a blaxploitation film. There's actually another martial arts scene in Moonraker but it's far superior to what was done before.

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Genre: action, adventure, crime
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Produced by: Albert R. Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, William P. Cartlidge
Written by: Christopher Wood
Music by: John Barry
Running time: 126 minutes
Production company: Les Productions Artistes Associés, Eon Productions, Danjaq
Distributed by: United Artists Corporation, United Artists, Les Artistes Associés S.A.B., etc.
Country: United Kingdom, France
Language: English
Budget: $34,000,000
Box office: $210,308,099 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Cléry, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Toshirô Suga, Emily Bolton, Blanche Ravalec, Irka Bochenko, Mike Marshall, Leila Shenna, Anne Lonnberg, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Walter Gotell

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Synopsis


So what's Bond up to this time? Well he has to investigate the disappearance of an American space shuttle called Moonraker. It was built by Drax Industries in California so he goes there first to meet with its founder Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). It's not an especially original story since you could almost say that it's The Spy Who Loved Me but done in space instead of at sea. Due to TSPLM's success though, I can understand why Broccoli would want to replicate that and try to capitalize on the sci-fi craze of the late 70's.

Review


The most important part of James Bond are its action scenes. There are quite a few good ones that unfortunately always seem to end in some sort of comedic way. For example, there is a glorious opening action sequence as part of Bond tradition that is almost spoiled by the silly end of it. It's not quite as good as the opening from The Spy Who Loved Me but it's up there, despite how it ends.

Roger Moore seems to do a lot of boat chances and he's got two of them in Moonraker. The one in Venice is OK but falls into spoof territory. The second one is superior but does also stray a little too far on the funny side. There's a pretty good fight with an Asian henchman that's surprisingly good as well as some action on a cable car. Along with the action, there are just loads and loads of gadgets which are pretty fun if you ask me.

There's a return of the totally awesome Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me which was totally welcome by me. It's the only time a James Bond henchman has come back and Jaws was a good choice. Scenes where Roger Moore and Jaws flash smiles at each other crack me up, I can't help it. Unfortunately, Jaws is used too much as comedic relief and I feel that he deserves better. He's a 7'2 man giant with steel teeth, use him properly! (Spoiler) Probably one of the best scenes involving him was in Rio de Janeiro in a dark alleyway at night where he was dressed as a creepy clown. It's a shame that there couldn't be more scenes in the spirit of properly using Jaws. Instead we got a dumb romance subplot and worst of all his conversion to being good! I still can't get over that and I refuse to believe it. (End spoiler).

In terms of the acting, Roger Moore does pretty well at properly getting into the almost parody stage of James Bond. A few of his one-liners fall a bit flat though which is too bad. Who I thought didn't really do a good job was Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead. She's completely wooden in her delivery which is a shame because despite her unambiguous name, she's a great character. She challenges James right away, resulting in him trying to one-up her. James comes off as a bit of a fool but it makes for an interesting relationship. 

The budget for Moonraker is apparently larger than the first six James Bond movies put together which is crazy. Even the title sequence cost more than all of Dr. No. With such high costs for sets and stunts, there had to of course be some product placement. I have to criticize a sequence that featured four product placements in a span of about 15 seconds though. I'm fine with brands like 7UP, Seiko, Marlboro and British Airways making an appearance in a James Bond movie but space it out more please.

I'll finish off by saying that as ridiculous as Moonraker is, it's hard to totally dislike the movie. There are some really good parts that are hamstrung by some stupid decisions to make things light and funny but the effort isn't ruined. Hugo Drax is the perfect stereotypical villain, Jaws is awesome, the space scenes are fun in a cheesy way and there are some really amazing set designs. If we can all take a movie that features a female character called Pussy Galore seriously, I think we can all give Moonraker a second chance.

Rating


6/10