Lewis Gilbert, 1979
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel
“Bollinger? If it’s ’69 you were expecting me.”
Though Moonraker is frequently lambasted and is listed as one of the worst in the Bond series, I absolutely adore it. This frivolous, cartoonish film is a prime example of Bond at his most entertaining, so it should only be avoided by people who hate fun. The ridiculous plot is almost an exact copy of The Spy Who Loved Me, except to cash in on the recent success of Star Wars, Bond moves from under the sea to outer space, where another megalomaniacal villain wants to destroy the earth and begin his own civilization.
After surviving a high-altitude assassination attempt by Jaws, Bond is sent to California to investigate the hijacking of a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle. He meets Drax Industries owner Hugo Drax, his henchman Chang, his personal pilot, Corinne Dufour, and astronaut Dr. Holly Goodhead. Bond survives several more assassination attempts and steals blueprints from Drax’s personal safe with Corinne’s aid. Drax later has her attacked and killed by his hunting dogs. Bond travels to Venice, escapes Drax’s henchmen yet again, and discovers a hidden lab with glass tubes full of toxic nerve gas. He discovers that Drax is relocating to Brazil and follows him there, where he also reunites with Dr. Goodhead, who is actually a CIA agent. They agree to team up, but are soon captured by Jaws and witness Drax’s Moonraker shuttles taking off. They follow Drax into space and hope to stop his diabolical plan to wipeout humanity on Earth and begin his own Nazi-eqsue civilization on a secret space station.
Director Lewis Gilbert is in good form during his final Bond outing. Though this lags in the overly long second act, Gilbert and set designer Ken Adams went all out for scenes that range from mountain tops, airplanes, space, a shuttle assembly plant, the jungle, and the canals of Venice. The ridiculous, non-stop action set pieces are the real reason to watch this film. Beginning with a tremendous opening scene, one of my favorites in the film, Bond is pushed out of a plane by Jaws, but Bond gets the parachute (not a Union Jack design) and Jaws inexplicably lands on a circus tent, transitioning into a nice credits sequence with an unfortunately lackluster song by the returning Shirley Bassey. There are a litany of absurd gadgets and a number of unbelievable action sequences including a fight to the death in a glass museum, a gondola chase in the Venice canals and Bond’s near strangulation by the biggest, most fake looking python seen until Anaconda. All this is, of course, topped by Bond’s nonsensical mission to space and the destruction of Drax’s space station.
Moore is clearly a little past his prime here, but is not afraid to have fun with the role and dishes out one-liners at every opportunity. Lois Chiles is icy, lovely and somewhat believable as the astronaut-turned-CIA-agent Dr. Goodhead, though her transition to willing love interest in the second half is a bit too abrupt. Like Barbara Bach’s XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me, she is (almost) a match for Bond and fortunately more than just eye candy. It’s a shame Denise Richards’s abominable physicist character in The World is Not Enough didn’t take more cues from her. The lovely Corinne Cléry gives a satisfying, though brief performance as Drax’s pilot and Bond’s first conquest. Her death is one of the few dark, suspenseful moments in the film. Unfortunately Michael Lonsdale is wasted as a very boring Hugo Drax and his random Japanese henchman Chang (given a Chinese/Korean name for no apparent reason) is given no characterization whatsoever.
The real star of this film is Richard Kiel as Jaws, returning after a menacing performance in The Spy Who Loved Me. Here Jaws becomes absolutely cartoonish, the coyote to Bond’s roadrunner. In a baffling, though enjoyable move, the studio has him side with Bond at the end of the film, presumably because he has fallen in love with a tiny, blonde pigtailed woman. He also has a great, terrifying scene during Carnival where he appears in an ally and nearly chomps the head off of Bond’s sultry ally (Emily Bolton).
Though there are some difficult, plodding moments in the second hour of the film, the pace is generally nonstop. As one of the most fun Bond films ever made, I can’t help but recommend Moonraker, which anyone with a well-developed sense of whimsy will surely enjoy. Moonraker is available on a variety of DVDs, including the double-disc Ultimate Edition, also part of the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4. There are a lot of extras, including two commentaries, one from Roger Moore and the second from Lewis Gilbert and various cast and crew members. Also included are two documentaries, “Inside Moonraker,” narrated by Patrick McNee, and “The Men Behind the Mayhem,” which focuses on special effects. Most of these extras are also included on the Blu-ray.