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Movie Review: Moonraker

Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Written by Christopher Wood based on the novel by Ian Fleming
United Artists, 1979

Once you know film history, it doesn’t take long leaps of logic to figure out that Moonraker was made based on the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Science fiction was not only big business, it was colossal business, after 1977’s twin blockbusters. And Moonraker turned out to be, at the time, one of the most successful of the series. This is based on Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel, but the original story involved a missile destroying London, and that’s it. This adventure would have to raise the stakes.

Returning for his third and final time, Lewis Gilbert directed this picture once again with production designer Ken Adam, who would be making his seventh and final 007 adventure. Even Shirley Bassey came back with a third Bond theme song. In this film, Ken Adam is the star, along with the special effects team. Everything else is pretty much disappointing.

This time, we have another megalomanical villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who has stolen his own space shuttle, the Moonraker, from the Americans to whom he sold it. Why? Well, that’s the job of James Bond (Roger Moore, in his fourth turn) and beautiful CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). Bond films had sort of steered away from the double entendre names unless Guy Hamilton was directing (whether that’s his doing or not, I can’t say); this was the brainchild of writer Christopher Wood.

This time, the plan is very much like the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, only this time the utopian society will take place in space. The suckers on the ground will be poisoned from space from seeds of a special kind of flower. Then the perfect society, complete with children born from genetically superior parents, will rule Earth once the dust settles.

This might have been another classic, but it goes all over the place to finally get to that basic synopsis. It’s in California, Brazil, and Italy, before making the jump to space. Jaws (Richard Kiel), a terrifying villain in The Spy Who Loved Me, becomes absolute total comic relief in this film, and he’s likable, but his antagonism serves no point after awhile, leading to an inevitable Darth Vader-ian character change.

This is also where killing Bond became a dunderheaded spectacle. In the previous adventures, the elaborate traps meant to kill Bond only to provide easy escape seemed justified under the rule of Blofeld, even though it was still pretty ridiculous. But now, as the movies are about to enter the eighties, the antiquated death traps are a groaner, when guns are all over the place. Let me put it this way: I think one try at an elaborate death is okay, but when Bond escapes, the villain who is supposed to be so smart should do away with the pomp and circumstance. This is the basis for Seth Green’s rant in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me when he asks his dad Dr. Evil if he can just get a gun and kill Powers.

But, yes, special effects and Ken Adam save this from being a complete failure, although it is a failure all the same. When action scenes seem like busy work, a movie loses steam, and this one is a tiring film to watch.

Follows: The Spy Who Loved Me

Next: For Your Eyes Only


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Time: March 9, 2007, 6:48 am

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