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Moonraker (1979)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

MOONRAKER (1979)

Starring: Roger Moore, Michael Lonsdale, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel, Corrine Clery, Toshiro Suga

Written By: Christopher Wood Directed By: Lewis Gilbert

The Short Version

Moonraker represents the over-the-top pinnacle of the 007 franchise.

Four words: James Bond in space!

References to non-Bond movies abound if you pay attention.

No matter how silly or outrageous it gets, it’s still fun.

I can’t help it: Moonraker is one of my favorite Bond movies.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

OLD AMSTERDAM AGED GOUDA.

A Dutch astronaut was allowed to take this cheese aboard the International Space Station in 2011.  That’s worthy of some recognition.


Pairs Well With...

BOLLINGER.

“If it’s ’69, you were expecting me.”

“Look after Mr. Bond.  See that some harm comes to him.”


Though Eon Productions had promised For Your Eyes Only as its final James Bond film of the 1970s, the extreme popularity of science fiction movies following the release of Star Wars along with the development of the Space Shuttle program prompted them to change their minds and go with Moonraker instead.  Combining a precious few elements of Ian Fleming’s third published James Bond novel about an ex-Nazi with a plot that bears a whole lot of resemblance to the film that had come immediately before – The Spy Who Loved Me and a dash of Space Shuttle goodness, Moonraker represents the absolute pinnacle of the over-the-top phase of the 007 franchise.  (But then again, how could it not?  It’s pretty hard to take things further over the top than outer space, don’t you think?)

And you know what, folks?  I love it.

Though it’s far from being the best entry in the series – indeed, it’s undeniably silly at times – I can’t help but count Moonraker as one of my favorites.  Whenever I have occasion to say “I want to watch a Bond movie,” Moonraker is always on the short list, and more often than any other, it’s the one I pick.  Why?  Simply put: because it’s fun.

What makes it fun?  Here’s a short list, in no particular order:


James Bond in Space.  Seriously, folks, how can that not be fun?  As the poster art points out, he’d already bested villains everywhere else, and given the tongue-in-cheek tone that defines the first half of the Roger Moore era, this actually makes for a logical culminating act.  It also makes sense given the status of the James Bond franchise as a pop culture icon, for putting James Bond in space was the ultimate real time reaction to the popular culture of the times.  But even more than that, it combines two varieties of vicariously lived motion picture fantasies in a manner akin to peanut butter and chocolate: two great tastes that taste great together.

ZOMG Lazerz!  There’s just something inherently amusing about a late-1970s laser beam fight, and the climactic battle of Moonraker is no exception.  Pew-pew!

Spot the Allusion.  Speaking of pop culture, Moonraker refers to other, non-Bond fims in a way that no other entry in the series does, playing musical cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Magnificent Seven (double entendre for the win).  In a more serious film, references such as these would be a disaster, but here, they fit right in as part of the entertainment.  (And don’t look now, but I’d say that a certain circular conference table looks like it belongs on the Death Star…)

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax.  If you could reach into the cookie jar of Central Casting and pull out a sinister, no-nonsense, dry-humored Bond villain, you’d come up with Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax.  The story surrounding him may be over the top and silly, but one of the main reasons that it works so well is that the villain at the heart of it all takes it seriously.  He never smiles, but his tongue is sharp and his sense of humor is devastatingly wicked, a trait that is only amplified by his deadpan delivery.  Without question, Lonsdale’s Drax stands as one of the best, most memorable villains of the entire 007 franchise.

Richard Kiel as Jaws.  As a Bond villain henchman, Jaws stands second only to Odd Job, and even at that, he’s one of the most memorable bullyboys of not just this franchise, but in all of motion pictures.  If anything, he’s even more fun in this, his second performance, than he was the first time around, and the way the script handles his character is pure genius.  For the six people who haven’t seen Moonraker yet, I won’t spoil the surprises, but if Jaws doesn’t make you grin by the end, check your pulse.

The Absolutely Insane Plot.  It’s the common cliché joke when talking about the plans of evil masterminds, but in this case, it’s absolutely true: Drax really wants to exterminate nearly all human life on Earth.  It’s so ridiculously crazy that it’s brilliant.

Roger Moore as James Bond.  Yeah, I know.  He’s not Connery.  But you know what?  Connery could not have made this movie.  Moonraker is a movie for the James Bond with the jokes, and Roger Moore has gotten very comfortable with his incarnation of 007 by this point: a Sexual Revolution-era chauvinist who manages to be likable even to audiences from a world that likes to think it’s outgrown that sort of thing, and whose delivery of one-liners and wisecracks is almost more natural for him than when he says “hello.”  It’s also his swan song as the semi-comedic Bond; his next go-round would involve a minor reinvention of the character, so enjoy this version while it lasts.

The Bond Girls.  Let’s not mince words: they’re both gorgeous, and in this era, that’s about all that the producers tended to ask of a Bond girl.  And yet, though Corrine Clery’s Miss DuFour gets off the train at that point, Lois Chiles’ Dr. Goodhead (ah, those names) does something surprising: for a while, at least, she gives 007 a run for his money, and the expression she has whenever she does is just priceless.  You know she’ll succumb in the end, but still, as far as Bond girls go, she’s in the top third.

The Excellent Art Direction and Cinematography.  One of the other reasons that James Bond in Space happens to work is that the film’s art department makes outer space look good.  The space station set was one of the largest ever built at the time, and the scenes there are shot beautifully.  That same attention to detail goes into the next two items as well, not to mention every other part of the movie.

The Gondola Chase.  The gondola chase through the canals of Venice stands as one of the all-time classic James Bond pursuit scenes as measured by pure amusement value.  The final conversion of the gondola to a land-driving parade float is priceless, especially when the pigeon does a triple take.

The Glass Shop.  Speaking of Venice, when Bond walks through a glass shop and a guide explains to tourists how many thousands and millions of dollars everything inside is worth, you just know what’s going to happen later… and it does, courtesy of a dude dressed in full Kendo gear.  The Venetian glass shop encounter stands as one of Roger Moore’s all time great one-on-one fight scenes.

"I Think He's Attempting Re-entry, Sir." Desmond Llewellyn as Q gets to deliver the movie's dirtiest joke. Wow; that's classic.

John Barry’s Score.  Without question, John Barry is the definitive James Bond composer, and Moonraker represents yet another superb effort on his part.  The film’s second boat chase is set to Barry’s secondary James Bond theme, which makes it especially enjoyable to watch.

Shirley Bassey.  The only artist ever to record more than one James Bond theme song, Bassey is back for a third time to sing “Moonraker,” and though it’s not quite Top 40 material, it is unquestionably a James Bond song, and the fact that the end credits play behind a disco version somehow makes for the most appropriate ending this movie could have possibly had.


Is the above list complete?  Hardly, but I think you get the idea.  Moonraker is, as most of the best James Bond films are, a movie that definitively reflects its age.  Yes, it’s absurd.  Yes, it’s over the top.  But looking back on the era – whether one chooses that to mean the era for the world as a whole or the era or Roger Moore Bond movies up to that point; either way works – that’s exactly what Moonraker needed to be, and because it fits the world from which it sprang so well, it works in a way that evades classification and simply is.

That, and it’s a whole lot of ridiculous fun, especially for sci fi geeks.  Maybe that’s why it ended up being the most successful Bond movie ever until Goldeneye came along.

Bottom line, Moonraker may not be the best James Bond film by a longshot from a standard critical perspective, but for sheer entertainment value, it’s hard to beat.  For that reason, it stands as one of my all-time favorite 007 films, and the one I reach for the most often when I decide that it’s time to watch a Bond movie.  Should you own this one?  Hell, yes.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2012


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