April 27, 2011

∴ Moonraker

This week’s #5byBond watch-along covers Moonraker, the eleventh film in the Bond franchise. Summary: Bond In Space.

Moonraker was to have been the twelfth Bond film, but the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind two years before prompted EON to postpone For Your Eyes Only, and hurry this movie into production. You can still see the erroneous assertion “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” at the end of the credits for The Spy Who Love Me (the previous film). Space was the happnin’ place.

My notes:

  • thugs in leather jackets steal a space shuttle off the back of a 747. These guys look like they’re better suited to stealing cars.
  • Jaws returns to help Bond off an airplane. His chute fails, he flaps his arms and lands on a circus tent. Awesome comedy. Jaws’ part will grow in the second half of the film, but I kinda wish they had left him in the last movie. Gags like this turn what could be a thriller into a farce. Interestingly, Richard Kiel (who plays Jaws) received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this film, from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA. He lost to Arte Johnson in Love at First Bite. Ahem.
  • Bond registers surprise that Drax’s scientist is a woman. I haven’t read the Ian Fleming novels, maybe the chauvinism comes from them.
  • the centrifuge scene was pretty cool. Looks real, Roger Moore’s face had ripples in it. The thug’s crestfallen look after he failed to kill Bond was a nice touch.
  • Bond shoots the sniper in the tree. If the sniper had succeeded, how would they have explained that to the authorities? Drax knew who Bond was, so he had to know someone would come looking.
  • touchtones on the security lock to Drax’s Venice lab sound like the theme music to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another blockbuster from 1977. EON was really squeezing the space theme in this film.
  • Drax’s poison gas only affects humans. Apparently he wants to de-populate Earth. This theme repeats from the previous film, where Stromberg wanted to use nuclear weapons to annihilate Earth’s human population.
  • apparently the guy painting in St. Mark’s Square, Venice, is also an airport security guard. Re-using minor actors-that’s tops in efficiency!
  • Bond flies the Concorde to Rio de Janeiro. Late seventies, the early days of supersonic civilian travel. The flight is called BA128 (British Airways) but the aircraft wears Air France livery. Hmm.
  • what, Bond didn’t notice the woman fixing a drink at the in-room bar when he walked into the Presidential suite?
  • vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, but served in a tumbler. No class.
  • great location atop the mountain in Rio. I’d like to spend about a week up there.
  • great line: “His name’s Jaws. He kills people.”
  • Love at first sight for Jaws and his girlfriend. Nice assets.
  • The movie begins its slide into silliness when Drax and Company fly off into space.
  • The movie goes completely off the rails when space troops are deployed from Drax’s space station to do battle in the vacuum of space. Pew-pew! Pew! Ah, well.

Bond in Space! Goofy crap. Shame. Some space theater holds up well, though dated. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), is a good example. This movie, not so much.

The plot is improbable from the start and goes downhill from there. It’s the over-used gimmickry and half-witty slapstick that made Bond films as much farce as thriller (after Connery left the role) that does this one in. Even the first two of Moore’s turns as Bond were better than this.

Don’t despair, though. Bond films are not equally bad. The first five were pretty darn good, and Connery’s return in the seventh was also enjoyable. But the lead actor isn’t the only key to these movies.

A common theme among Bond films, grouped by how enjoyable they were, is the director. In particular, and after Connery left for good, the first three (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Man With the Golden Gun) were directed by Guy Hamilton. They are the most enjoyable of Moore’s work as Bond.

Lewis Gilbert directed the next two films (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). These two were more farcical and began the tradition of bad old Bond films. The next three (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill), Moore’s last, were helmed by John Glen, as were the two that followed, starring Timothy Dalton. We’ll see how they turned out beginning next week. In the mean time, here’s a handy list of the EON Bond films, in order.

Up next, For Your Eyes Only.