“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review
Well, I just watched “MOONRAKER”
. Today, it is considered to be one of the worst Bond movies of all times. It has been accused by fans and critics alike of taking the Bond franchise into a realm of tasteless excess and fantasy. I will not deny there are aspects of “MOONRAKER” that turned me off – including Bond’s final confrontation with the villain aboard the latter’s space station. But after watching it . . . I cannot honestly list “MOONRAKER” as one of my least favorite Bond films, let alone as one of the worst. Trust me, I have seen a lot worst.
Despite some similarities, the movie did not heavily adapt the 1955 novel. The movie kept the same villain – Hugo Drax. And it did involve rockets and space travel. Also, the villain’s intent did involve the destruction of a place – in the novel, the villain wanted to destroy London and in the movie, the human race on Earth. But . . . there were differences. Instead of a British policewoman named Gala Brand, the movie features an American CIA agent/NASA-trained astronaut named Dr. Holly Goodhead.
There were several aspects of “MOONRAKER” that made me want to wince. Now, I did not mind the boat/gondola chase in the Venetian canals, but watching Bond’s gondola turned into a land vehicle . . . yeah, it made me want to wince. Along with a few of Roger Moore’s lines. The fact that Jaws’ villainy (last seen in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”) came across as less menacing and more comic in this movie did not help. The double-take pigeon? I had barely noticed it. But the final battle between American astronauts and Drax’s men turned me off considerably. I felt as if I was watching a second-rate version of “STAR WARS” – blasters and all.
But “MOONRAKER” had its virtues. The movie’s production quality seemed to be among the best in the franchise, thanks to director Lewis Gilbert, and cinematographer, Jean Tournier. The movie took the audience from California to Venice, Brazil and finally outer space. Aside from the latter, the film’s photograph captured these setting beautifully. I especially enjoyed John Barry’s score, along with the movie’s theme song written by both Barry and lyricist Hal David, and sung by Shirley Bassey. Aside from a few cliché lines, I found nothing wrong with Roger Moore’s performance. He seemed to be at the top of his game. I was especially impressed by his take on Bond’s reaction to being nearly killed by Drax’s Astronaut Training Centrifuge. Michel Londsdale seemed smooth and villainous as the space-obsessed billionaire Hugo Drax. However, I was a little put off by having to deal with another megalomaniac out to destroy the world in order to rule the survivors. I find such storylines rather tiresome. But the rest of the cast seemed adequate.
I do have a few complaints about four cast members. Lois Chiles was in her early 30s and already a veteran of a few movies (“THE GREAT GATSBY” and “DEATH ON THE NILE” included) by the time she did “MOONRAKER”. As Dr. Holly Goodhead, she managed to physically project the image of a memorable Bond leading lady that happens to be a competent CIA agent and astronaut. But despite her experience, she did come off as slightly wooden. Actually, I could say the same for Corinne Clery as the doomed Corinne and Emily Bolton as the Brazilian agent, Manuela. “MOONRAKER” seemed to be filled with beautiful leading ladies with limited acting skills. I also had a problem with Richard Kiel. As I had stated before, he seemed less menacing and more comic than he did in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. However, I was impressed by Kiel’s acting in one particular scene – when Bond convinces Jaws that Drax plans to exterminate him for his imperfections. Kiel had wonderfully captured Jaws’ confusion and growing realization that he might be betrayed and killed by his employer.
I had started watching “MOONRAKER” with the belief that I was about to experience one of the worst Bond movies in the franchise’s history. As it turned out, I was wrong. I think that Roger Moore had put it best when he said that “MOONRAKER” was not a bad movie . . . until it shifted to outer space and became a second-rate “STAR WARS”, which only occurred during the movie’s last half hour. This unfortunate shift of setting seemed to have influenced many of the franchise’s fans about the movie. Many seemed so focused upon the movie’s last half hour and other flaws that they seemed to have forgotten its virtues.