1.5 of 5 stars
Number of women Bond has slept with: 54
Number of times Bond has gone to space: 1
Thanks to Star Wars and Close Encounter of the Third Kind sci-fi and space films were all the rage in the late ‘70s, and not even James Bond 007 could resist the allure of the final frontier. Released in 1979, Moonraker is an inexplicable Star Wars knockoff that launches America’s favorite British secret agent to where no Bond has gone before.
In Moonraker, screenwriter Christopher Wood dug his first draft of The Spy Who Loved Me out of the garbage, changed the name of the villain, replaced the word “underwater” with “outer space,” and didn’t bother coming up with another henchman. (Seriously. In The Spy Who Loved Me, a madman wants to wipe out humanity to build a new civilization under the sea. In Moonraker, a madman wants to wipe out humanity to build a new civilization in space. And in both films, the villains hire Jaws as their muscle.)
The movie begins with a Moonraker shuttle being hijacked en route from the U.K. to the U.S. Bond’s boss, M, assigns him to investigate. M asks his secretary, Moneypenny, where Bond is at the moment, and she responds he’s on the last leg of his journey back from a mission in Africa. Cut to Bond’s hand roaming up the leg of a stewardess on his plane ride home. Get it? The pilot abandons the controls in an attempt to kill Bond, and then Jaws throws Bond from the plane. In the best sequence of the film, Bond glides toward the pilot, wrestles his parachute from him midair, puts it on, then fights Jaws midair, pulls the chord to his ‘chute and lands to safety. What makes this sequence so great is this stunt was performed for real, on film. (The stuntmen wore parachutes under their jackets just in case something went wrong.) Amazing stunts like this are what distinguish a Bond film from other action schlock.
Bond is joined in his mission by NASA astronaut Dr. Goodhead. Upon meeting her, he seems utterly surprised Dr. Goodhead is both a doctor and a female! ‘A woman!’ he exclaims in a line that might as well have been delivered by Ron Burgundy. Later, in Goodhead’s room, Bond discovers she’s a CIA officer. Examining her belongings, he finds a pen with a poison-tipped needle, a rocket-launching day planner, a flame thrower disguised as a bottle of perfume, and a purse/radio transmitter. ‘Standard CIA equipment,’ he declares. I think it was at this point I realized Roger Moore was to 007 what Adam West was to Batman.
On the case, Bond goes through the motions to uncover the Moonraker’s disappearance. His first suspect is Hugo Drax (a bored performance by Michael Lonsdale, who plays the father of another terrible Bond villain, Quantum of Solace’s Mathieu Amalric, in Munich, a wonderful film also featuring future Bond Daniel Craig). Drax is the owner of the corporation that manufactures the Moonrakers. This is no red herring. Bond believes Drax is to blame, and just needs to stay ahead of his killers, the Chinese henchman Chang (played by Japanese actor Toshiro Suga) and the giant brute Jaws (Richard Kiel, Happy Gilmore), while he proves Drax’s guilt.
Bond’s investigation takes him from California to Venice to Brazil. At an antique glass shop in Venice, a tour guide tells her group if a certain glass vase were to go on the market, it would fetch $1 million. Of course it’ll get broken before the movie is over. At one point, Bond drives a gondola/hovercraft through Piazza San Marco, causing a pigeon to do a triple take! (The pigeon didn’t literally do a triple take—this was suggested by some half-assed editing.) There is a boat chase on the Amazon River while not holding a candle to the chase in Live and Let Die is still fairly good. This all feels perfunctory as the viewer knows it’s all in service of sending Bond to space in the final act.
Bond finally confronts Drax in an ancient Amerindian pyramid in the Amazon reminiscent of the Rebel base in Star Wars. The Moonrakers are launched into orbit to rendezvous at a space station where Drax’s handpicked astronauts, perfect specimens of the human race, will sit out the villain’s slaughter of humanity before returning to repopulate the earth.
The space effects are beyond cheesy. The illusion of weightlessness is attempted by slow motion. It looks terrible and isn’t believable for a second. Jaws has a somewhat convincing change of heart and sacrifices himself to help Bond get off the space station as the space marines are coming to do battle with Drax’s henchman. Bond and Goodhead then fly one of the Moonrakers to shoot down Drax’s pods racing to earth carrying poisonous gas. The targeting computer fails, and Bond literally uses the Force to blast the last of the pods.
The space station then blows up Death Star style, but Jaws somehow survives and makes it back to earth, making his selfless sacrifice meaningless. Bond and Dr. Goodhead remain in orbit, making love for the curtain shot. Video feed from inside the space ship playing to Bond’s bosses shows 007 and Goodhead in zero-gravity missionary position. ‘My God! What’s Bond doing?’ M says. Q responds, ‘I think he’s attempting reentry, sir.’ That was a reference to his penis, just in case you thought it was some kind of space thing.
Another area in which this film goes too far is the product placements. Bond films are notorious for product placement, but Moonraker makes no attempt at subtlety. There’s no doubt 7-Up and Marlboro both paid handsomely for product placement. At an outdoor café in Brazil, we see a 7-Up sign displayed above the entrance, and all the 7-Up cups are turned to face the camera.
We see a Marlboro pack early on in Goodhead’s drawer. Later, the camera lingers on a Marlboro billboard for about 45 seconds.
At one point the movie literally stops for a Marlboro commercial.
This shameless product placement made this cheesy movie even more annoying.
Moonraker is easily the low-point of the Bond series. However, it often strays into the so-bad-it’s-good territory. I recommend getting a group of friends together with a case of beer to laugh at this movie if you want to thoroughly enjoy it.