Sunday, September 04, 2016


After the spectacular grosses earned by the epic THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, not to mention the success of STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, producer Albert R. Broccoli couldn’t resist the urge to make James Bond even bigger. And that meant taking 007 to outer space.

With more puerile humor than the previous Roger Moore Bond films combined, MOONRAKER is a spectacularly silly movie that often crosses the line to embarrassing. Still, while not making excuses for it, MOONRAKER does deliver thrills through its outrageous gadgets, expertly staged stunts, lovely John Barry score, and colorful finale involving Bond and CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) leaping around a space station firing deadly laser pistols at henchmen in jumpsuits. The visual effects were nominated for an Oscar, but lost to ALIEN in a tough field.

The villain is Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), whose master plan is nothing less than the complete destruction of human life on Earth. He plans to use nerve gas to wipe out humanity, then repopulate years later with a master race of genetically engineered people raised about his space station. Not a bad movie plot, but in the hands of screenwriter Christopher Wood, the story is lost among the senseless parodies (of CE3K and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN), childish humor (oh, heavens, the pigeon with the double take), and implausible situations. Jaws, the steel-toothed assassin played with menace in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME by Richard Kiel (THE HUMANOID), has regressed to a Chuck Jones character in MOONRAKER, surviving a two-mile fall from an airplane with no parachute and no injuries.

Wood, who co-wrote THE SPY WHO LOVED ME with Richard Maibaum, seems to have needed a polished collaborator to keep his story grounded in something resembling the real world. All Bond films are fantasies, of course, but MOONRAKER is the first one for which disbelief cannot be suspended. The film does have its stronger moments, however. The murder of Drax’s secretary, Corinne (Corinne Clery), by Dobermans is MOONRAKER’s most sobering scene and indicates director Lewis Gilbert (making his third Bond movie after YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) could have made a more grounded film if Wood and (presumably) Broccoli had wanted one. Likewise, Bond’s fight with a samurai (Toshiro Suga) is played straight with a sense of danger.

Though MOONRAKER was a massive hit — nearly forty years later, it was still the fifth most successful Bond film at the box office, when adjusted for inflation — the consensus was that sending James Bond into orbit was a bridge too far. Roger Moore returned for FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, but Wood and Gilbert did not with Broccoli opting for a grittier, more realistic approach.

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