Friday, May 25, 2012

Film Review: Moonraker

Remember my last James Bond movie review, when I said the next one would be For Your Eyes Only?  I lied.  And I only did so because the movie itself did the same thing.  After wrapping up The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, the production crew had intended to make FYEO the next entry in the series.  Then, just before TSWLM came out... Star Wars happened.  George Lucas's little film that could caused a resurgence of science fiction like we've never seen.  The success of Star Wars was felt in America, where Star Trek began its own film series, in Japan, where anime series such as Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, and even in the United Kingdom, where James Bond himself got in on the action in...

Moonraker
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Lewis Gilbert
  • Producer: Albert R. Broccoli
  • Writer: Christopher Wood
  • Release: 26 June 1979 (UK), 29 June 1979 (USA)


The Girls: Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), a NASA scientist is just her cover story; she's really a CIA agent.  Given her secret role, it's a shame her potential as an action girl is wasted, but justifiably so: turns out Lois Chiles was pregnant during filming.  Also, I think there's a sexual entendre in her name.  I can't put my finger on it... but one thing's for sure, she's got a good head on her shoulders.  2 out of 5.  Corrine Dufour (Corrine Clery), Drax's helicopter pilot.  Killed for her complicity with Bond, thus marking her as a more sympathetic character.  By my call, she should've been the main Bond Girl.  And is she really illiterate, or was she just using that excuse as pillow-talk?  4 out of 5.

The Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).  Runs an aerospace company in California.  Intends to eradicate virtually all human life on earth and start over with a master race.  Shot by Bond and ejected to outer space.  Wicked rich, wicked cultured, and overall wicked beyond your wildest imaginations, he's what Stromberg should've been like. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Chang (Toshiro Suga), Drax's bodyguard and a kendo expert.  Thrown out of a window by Bond.  Moderately scary but othersie unremarkable.  3 out of 5.  Jaws (Richard Kiel), making a return appearance as Chang's replacement.  Falls in love with a short little woman and turns on Drax based on fears that his boss's evil plan may threaten his romance.  For all the terror he instills in most of his appearances, it's disappointing that his role here focuses on comic relief and characterisation.  3 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Bond has a dart gun under his watch, which can fire armour-piercing or poison-tipped darts.  Said watch also contains a coil of plastic explosive, which is used with no explanation to break open the air vent grate in the rocket exhaust bay2 out of 5.

The Locations: The United States (California), Italy, Brazil, and outer space.  I am not kidding about that last one.

The Theme Song: Performed by Shirley Bassey.  The version used for the opening credits is an unremarkable love-ballad; as a sign of the times, a disco arrangement is used over the end credits.  Fun Fact: The song was originally to be recorded by Johnny Mathis, but for whatever reason he ducked out of the project in the middle of recording, forcing the film crew to recruit Bassey for the third time with only weeks to go.  2 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Uses space and sky-themed backgrounds and some rather dodgy silhouette animation.  Tame, like the music used over it.  2 out of 5.

The Novel: The third James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1955.  In this original version of the story, the Moonraker is a ballistic missile and Hugo Drax was a former British soldier who founded a aerospace industrial plant near Dover after events in World War II.  He later reveals himself to be an ex-Nazi commander who seeks to restore the Third Reich by using the nuclear-equipped Moonraker on London.  The Bond Girl is his assistant Gala Brand, and notably, she doesn't shack up with Bond because she's engaged to someone else.

The Plot: The movie opens with the Moonraker, a prototype space shuttle, being hijacked off of a plane over Canada.  As the craft was en route to the UK, M calls 007 off from his current assignment, in which he gets knocked out of a plane without a parachute but steals one from the hapless pilot.  Also, Jaws.  Cue opening credits.  Back at MI6, M notices that no traces of the Moonraker were found in the plane wreckage, so he assigns Bond to investigate the California factory where it was built.  He meets Hugo Drax, Corrine Dufour, a helicopter pilot, and Dr. Holly Goodhead, an astronaut on loan from NASA.  Goodhead takes him on a tour of the facilities, ending with a test of the centrifuge trainer.  The ride gets sabotaged, so Bond shuts it down with his new dart gun.

Bond and Dufour spend the night together, and she helps him find some of Drax's blueprints.  In the morning, Drax invites him to a hunting party.  His snipers fail to kill Bond, but his attack dogs succeed in killing DufourThe blueprints refer to a glassmaker in Venice, Italy.  Bond does a night raid of the place and finds a secret lab, witnessing a couple of scientists die in a nerve gas accident.  Also he fights off and kills Chang, Drax's bodyguard.  The next morning, Bond invites M and company to investigate the lab, only to find it replaced by Drax's office.  This humiliates M, but Bond keeps the case afloat by giving him a sample of the nerve gas from the old lab.  Also he meets up with Goodhead again and discovers her to be a CIA agent.

From there, Bond investigates one of Drax's warehouses in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, catching up with Goodhead again.  The two fend off Jaws, since hired by Drax, on the Sugarloaf Mountain cable cars, but she gets abducted by Drax's men.  Bond then travels to a monastery-slash-MI6 field base in the Brazilian countryside, where M and Q tell him about the nerve gas sample, how it kills humans but not plants or animals, and its place of origin in the Amazon jungle.  From there, he take a ride in a Q-Branch-modified boat and ends up at Drax's base.  He fills in the holes of his plan for Bond and leaves him with Goodhead under one of the Moonraker rockets, to be burned up when it takes off.  But Bond and Goodhead escape through an air vent, masquerade as two technicians, and take off in another rocket.

The Moonraker rockets converge at a space station, from which Drax storyboards his plan: use the orchid nerve gas to kill all human life on Earth, and re-populate it with a master race of perfectly-fit people he brought up with him.  The space station is hidden from Earth by a radar jammer; Bond and Goodhead disable it but are caught by Jaws.  Before he can throw the spies out the airlock, Bond convinces him that the plan might jeopardise his new girlfriend, so Jaws turns on his master.  Meanwhile, the Americans have sent up a crew and raid the space station, disabling it but for three globes of nerve gas that have already been launched.  Bond and Goodhead take off in a Moonraker shuttle, use its onboard laser cannon to safely shoot down the globes during re-entry, and once again the day is saved.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

No doubt about it, Moonraker was made with pound-signs in the producers' eyes.  Not only was it chosen to capitalise on the success of Star Wars, but what they cranked out is essentially a retread of The Spy Who Loved Me on science-fiction steroids.  Think about it: a multi-millionaire industrialist seeks to re-start Earth's population the hard way.  Shame they couldn't copy any of the good aspects while they were at it, like the tension of a Bond Girl who intends to kill our hero when their work is done, or a henchmen who's not used for comic relief.  On the plus side, when you've just sent 007 into outer space to stop a man from killing everybody on Earth, there's no way to top that; you've got to get back down to reality.  Perhaps the 80s will give this franchise such an opportunity.  2 out of 5.

The Call: 35% (F)

IchigoRyu will return in
For Your Eyes Only (this time for real)

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