Posted by: dougery | June 27, 2011

Better Late Than Never: Moonraker (1979)

And we’re halfway there. Moonraker (1979) is the eleventh Bond film in the series, the first one released in my lifetime (I was less than a month old when it came out in the US), and without a doubt the silliest of the lot. At least I have to assume so even though I still have the back half of the franchise to go. It is a film that features steel cables getting bitten through by metal dentures, space shuttle hijackings, eugenics, a female spy named “Goodhead,” a man falling from a plane and surviving because a circus tent breaks his fall, a speed-boat chase through the Venetian canals, poison-gas, and lasers.

Now I know what you are saying and that word is, “Awesome!” How can a movie with all of these singularly ridiculous but great things be bad? Well, part of it is a truly terrible case of ‘give the audience everything it wants’-itis. The film was made to piggyback off the success of Star Wars (1977). You see outer-space sci-fi was just so in right then. Now the Bond franchise was never one to shy away from grafting itself onto other more hip genres. We’ve already discussed the relative ease Live and Let Die had in merging the spy thriller with the blaxsploitation film. So theoretically all we need to do is inflate the plot to out of this world dimensions.

The fate of Britain and/or the US isn’t dire enough. No, the entire world’s population is threatened with annihilation by a Strangelovian plot where a new master race will be created from several genetically perfect couples brought up to a space station and spared from toxic gas unleashed upon the planet. The poison gas is derived from a rare Amazonian orchid and only kills humans which I suppose is a big middle finger to treehuggers fighting to preserve the rainforest under the premise that some piece of vegetation there will hold the cure for cancer. So yeah, no super-medicine. Just mass extinction.

Needless to say a healthy dose of camp was going to be necessary to help all of this plot go down. And while camp humor is a staple of the series, it works best when restrained. Sexual innuendos and the preposterous situations that yield them are fine. Up until this point, with few exceptions, the Bond franchise has gone out of its way to make its rocket packs and submarine cars fully functional. Yet the Star Wars mythos didn’t just swallow up Reagan era strategic defense initiatives but also consumed Bond’s functionality. In other words, it’s all about those damn lasers.

In an early sequence in one of Q’s laboratories a laser is fired that slowly melts and then explodes a dummy as one might assume a laser beam to do. Yet later on the film is filled with henchman and their laser-guns that emit bluish-white storm trooper blasts that seem to stun and kill any extra unfortunate enough to get in their way. What happened to the melty explode-y? Why are people getting stunned by superheated rays of light and why does this kill them? Granted I realize it is silly to fret over a small plot point such as this, yet for some reason the authenticity of Bond’s gadgets is absolutely essential to the series holding together.

The other egregious ‘give everyone what they want’ plot point is the redemption of Jaws. I guess lots of kids were writing in about how much they loved the big oaf and the producers decided that his days of being indestructibly evil were over. This is of course a man that had several buildings collapse on him, fell over a waterfall, fell out of plane, fell through reinforced concrete walls after a cable car zoomed out of control. I suppose you couldn’t just kill him. So what are you going to do with a metal-toothed giant but give him a romantic sub-plot and pair him up with a ridiculously short yellow jump-suited blond girl? Oh, and she wears glasses which is important because Jaws and Glasses won’t be allowed to live in the eugenically pure future so they’ll have to turn on their employer and become good guys.

Which is not to say there weren’t really fun moments to be found. The skydiving sequence early in the movie is wonderful as Bond leaps out of a plane and robs a bad guy of his parachute. The gondolas being mowed in half by speed boats in Venice section is excellent as well. Yet the plot doesn’t quite know how to stick the landing with either as the former ends with Jaws ludicrous survival through the circus tent and the latter with Bond’s boat grotesquely transforming into a hovercraft and all of the vaudevillian reactions from the tourists of the Palazzo San Marco it engenders.

It will be interesting to see how Roger Moore comes back from all of this over-the-top space operatics in the next installment, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

Bond Grade: 001 (out of 007)


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