Moonraker (1979)

Synopsis:

The “Moonraker” is a spacecraft sold to the U.S. government by billionaire and entrepreneur Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale, The Track), who owns a California-based tech company. When the ship disappears, James Bond (Roger Moore, The Man Who Haunted Himself) is sent to America to investigate.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.”

George Lucas’s groundbreaking science-fiction opus Star Wars became a phenomenon that everybody in the film industry wanted to emulate. Bond whisperer and keeper of the flame, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, decided to take advantage of the sci-fi craze triggered by Lucas’s space opera. Cubby’s cunningness paid off — the futuristic Moonraker became the highest grossing Bond movie up to that point.

Moonraker was the first James Bond movie I ever saw. I was ten-years-old and I have great memories of watching it on the big screen. Moonraker made me an instant fan and at the time most people shared my enthusiasm. However, time has not been kind to the movie. People’s sensibilities have changed and today’s jaded viewers tend to place the over-the-top Moonraker at the very bottom of the franchise.

I was prepared to have my childhood memories shattered, but to my surprise I found myself enjoying the film. There are some segments that are indeed very silly, even cartoonish, but for the most part, I thought Wood’s script was solid and the film’s excesses didn’t bother me — Moonraker is a sparkling delight. I even found the product placements — British Airways, Marlboro, 7-Up, etc. — extremely amusing.

Moonraker is divided into two sections. The first half is a straightforward espionage thriller. I liked how Bond travels the world following clues. We get to see Bond do actual spy work, connecting the dots in a logical manner. Minus a few jokes, this section is pretty serious. The second half is much goofier — the whole thing climaxes with a laser showdown aboard a space station. What can I say? I enjoyed it.

Acclaimed French actor Michael Lonsdale is just fine as villain Hugo Darx, a wealthy space enthusiast ala Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Lonsdale is a bit too cold, though. Broccoli’s first choice, James Mason (North by Northwest), would have been great — Mason’s suave charm could have added an extra layer to the character. I did like Darx’s henchman, Chang, played by famed Aikido instructor Toshiro Suga. The indestructible “Jaws” (Richard Kiel, Pale Rider), from The Spy Who Loved Me, returns.

The beautiful and talented Lois Chiles (Death on the Nile) is great as Dr. Holly Goodhead (what a name!). The regulars are back: Desmond Llewelyn as Q, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M (this is Lee’s final appearance as Bond’s boss). By the way, Llewelyn probably has the funniest line in the entire series!

Maurice Binder’s (Barbarella) opening title credits are splendid. Ken Adam’s (Dr. Strangelove) sets are fantastic. John Barry’s (Born Free and Out of Africa) score is, as always, on point. The title tune is sung by Shirley Bassey. It’s not one of the best Bond songs, but I loved its urbane tonality. Aside from a few visible cables here and there, the Oscar-nominated visual effects are excellent.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Moonraker has been wearing the ugly duckling label for years, but I don’t think it deserves its bad reputation. Yes, this is one of the most unrealistic movies in the Bond series, but it’s very, very entertaining, especially if you grew up during the ’70s and/or ’80s — Moonraker appeals to the kid in me. Color, 126 minutes, Rated PG.

James Bond will return
in
For Your Eyes Only (1981)

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