Friday, January 10, 2014

My Favorite Era: Moonraker (1979)

This is a re-working of an article I wrote for The Agony Booth. 

The 11th James Bond epic might be the first occurrence of the big, dumb, bloated action blockbuster in the post-Jaws era.  Essentially a remake of the previous film, The Spy who Loved Me, it follows 007 as he goes up against a lunatic millionaire named Drax (Michael Lonsdale) who wants to nerve gas the entire planet and repopulate it with his perfect race of supermen he's planning to create in space.  It's a wild, over the top epic and in spite of a few flaws here and there, I love it.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  I wrote (and rewrote) a piece on this for The Agony Booth some time ago.  It was the first thing I ever did for the site and happily, the revised version linked on this post is a hell of a lot better, funnier and truer to my feelings about the movie.  And this post is even more so.
  •  John Barry does the music once again and as always, it's a fine score.
  • The pre-title sequence is great with a fun intro for Bond (if more airlines offered free makeout sessions with the flight attendants I'd fly a hell of a lot more) and an amazing skydiving stunt sequence that is nearly as impressive as the ski jump at the opening of the previous film.
  • The sequence also brings Jaws (Richard Kiel) back into the film and for the most part, he's fine but it's really more of the same.  Still, he's suitably imposing and he doesn't do much to hurt the movie.
  •  Really, the only issue I have with the film is that while it is certainly played much lighter (as light as a movie about a guy who wants to exterminate the entire planet can be, at least) it's just not as funny as something this light should be.  A lot of the humor falls flat (this can be blamed on screenwriter Christopher Wood) and it falls into the same trap Die Another Day does by substituting spectacle for storytelling.  I love a good wall-to-wall action film as much as the next guy but it's nice to have a little seasoning on the steak.
  • To be fair, this movie is a hell of a lot better than Die Another Day and in terms of overall quality is no more worse than most other big dumb summer blockbusters.  One of these days I really have to revise my rankings of the series.  Hell, I plan on reviewing all the films anyway.  What the hell?
  • To the actual plot, Bond is sent to investigate the disappearance of a space shuttle owned by Drax Industries and of course, it turns out that Hugo Drax himself is behind it all and is essentially looking to create a new master race in space after he gasses the current population of the planet.  Michael Lonsdale is quite excellent as the bad guy.  He gets the juiciest lines of dialogue and like any true pro given a gift, he delivers every single syllable he is given with relish.  It's really a great bit of acting.
  • I really dig the wristwatch dart gun Bond is given.  Partially because it's just cool but also due to the chuckle I get whenever I imagine Bond getting a wrist cramp and accidentally killing the person in front of him with the thing.
  • Corrine Clery is honestly one of the few weak links in the cast as her character is just badly written.  It's fairly obvious she's just there to sleep with Bond, give him info and get killed though her death scene is one of the more horrifically poetic ones I've ever seen in a film.  Being mauled by dogs in a sylvan glen after your boss has fired you?  This is why we have unions, people.
  • The other weak link is, sadly, Lois Chiles as main Bond Girl Dr. Holly Goodhead.  Holly is an undercover CIA agent and while Chiles is charming enough in the role, far too often she comes across as quite wooden.  It's not the worst bit of casting in the series (oh brother, ain't that the truth) but it's also not that impressive.
  • One of the best sequences in the film is an attempt by Drax's first henchman Chang to kill Bond in a centrifuge machine Holly has convinced him to try out.  It's a really well done bit of suspense and Roger Moore plays the aftermath of it quite well.  After he escapes, he glowers at Chang as he leaves and gives Holly a suspicious look the likes of which I haven't seen since the last time I assured a customer her eggs were packed carefully.  Some people can be strange in the grocery store, I tell you.
  • Speaking of Moore, he's really at his best here.  Cool, confident and quite funny, it is one of his best outings as Bond from a performance standpoint.
  •  The stuff in Venice is a mixture of good and bad.  I love the bits with Bond lurking around the museum... And just about every single woman he passes practically eye humps him.  It's not an uncommon thing to see in the series but like everything else in this film, it's pushed to the absolute limit.  It's stuff like this that makes me love the movie.
  • I also get a laugh of Bond nosing around a work area without being noticed at all like he's the Predator.  About the only thing missing is him skinning Drax at the end and leaving his body hanging from a tree.
  • The gondola chase is actually not as bad as it seems, really.  Is it silly as all hell?  Yeah, it is.  Is the double-take from the pigeon one of the stupidest sights in the series?  Yeah.  Does it fit with the rest of the film?  Well, yeah.  It does.  I've gotten to the point where I embrace this film for what it does wrong as well as what is does right.  It's actually refreshing.
  • Really, the only aspect of it I don;t like the rather belabored reactions to the gondola turning into a hovercraft so Bond can escape.  It's just a little too predictable in terms of reaction shots... Pigeon excepted.  You can't really predict something like that.
  • Better is the great fight between Bond and Chang at the museum after Bond gets a vial of the nerve gas (at the expense of two scientists who die horribly in a scene that is more or less all Bond's fault).  Every possible piece of glass is broken, Moore looks cool as usual and it ends with the standard pun after Bond wins.  Good stuff.
  • The fight also serves as a way to get Jaws back into the film.  I always loved that Drax apparently calls Henchmen-R-Us to get the big guy's services.  Wonder if the other villains utilize this service.  If so, I'd imagine Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun must have really pissed off the receptionist given who he ended up with.
  • The following scene with Bond and Holly is okay but the two actors don;t have much in the way of chemistry with each other.  Still, the scene does move us along to Rio so there is that.
  • I love that Bond's contact in Rio is an attractive woman, Manuela (Emily Bolton), who exists mainly to up Bond's sexual conquest count, give him a little info, get menaced by Jaws before being saved and then vanishing entirely.  In spite of that, she's one of my favorite Bond Girls despite doing essentially nothing at all.  Sue me, I'm a sucker for a pretty face.
  • The Carnival sequence is pretty well done, Jaws in disguise is one of those things I always remembered from seeing it as a kid.
  • While most gripe about the rather blatant product placement, I absolutely love it.  7-Up is omnipresent for the cable car sequence (it's actually the best part of the whole thing since the fight with Jaws ends up falling a little flat) and later on we'll get a true work of beauty.
  • The end of the cable car stuff gives us the intro of one last character, Dolly, a young woman who ends up falling in love with Jaws.  It's a really silly subplot but honestly, if you;re with the film up until this scene you can go with it for the rest.
  • The work of beauty follows as Bond and Holly are captured and put in an ambulance.  They escape as the vehicles goes along a winding road that just so happens to have a bunch of billboards shilling various products.  I like to call it the Product Placement Gauntlet and it really has to be seen to be truly appreciated.  It's crass marketing at its most hilarious.  I swear the film earned back at least half its budget with that thirty second sequence.
  • Bond tracking Drax to The Amazon is a nice excuse for a really fun boat chase that sees Bond menaced by Jaws once more and has a really nice escape by hang glider.  I also like that the various women Bond has seen either with Drax or employed by him show up at the villain's base.  It's an interesting touch, though easy to miss given how frenetic the film is at times.
  • I also get a chuckle out of our hero, in a film from the late 70's mind you, fighting a rubber snake.  It's just hilariously old-fashioned.
  • The third act sees Drax do the usual speechifying (quite well, ind you) and Bond and Holly end up stealing a space shuttle to get keep up with him as he escapes in one of his own.  The space station is cool but there is far too much approaching the station footage.  It doesn't get quite to Star Trek: The Motion Picture levels but damn is it close!
  • The stuff once they get on the station is pretty good, if a little repetitive.  Bond and Holly are captured, they break free and cause some chaos and there is a huge fight between the Drax guys and a bunch of Marines who are sent up to help out.
  • Having Jaws switch sides is actually a fairly good twist, all things considered.  He was a very popular character in the last film and his appearance here came about thanks to that film's success.  He has a few good moments and while it;s pretty corny, it still works.
  • Equally good is Bond killing Drax.  It's quite well done and I love Bond casually dumping the guy out an airlock after shooting him with a dart.
  • After the race against time to escape the base and destroy a few nerve gas globes, we get the last scene which as usual, is Bond and the Bond Girl making out only to be interrupted by the bosses.  Like the rest of the film, it's funny and enjoyable enough.
Moonraker is a film I have come to really love after having seen it many times.  For some reason, it didn't use to grab me but I can honestly say I was wrong.  It's one of the most entertaining, good natured entries in the series with great action, a great villain and a great score by John Barry.  Shirley Bassey does a good theme song with an even better version for the end credits (the only time I will ever admit to liking disco) and the end result is a film that is, quite simply, lovable in spite of its flaws.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.