Friday, September 28, 2012

Moonraker [1979]

By 1979, the James Bond series was quite hale and hearty.  The smash that was The Spy Who Loved Me had re-established the brand as one that was capable of mass global success; now, how to maintain the high?

The answer: outer space.  Seemingly prompted by the unprecedented success of Star Wars, EON Productions decided to jettison the plans to make For Your Eyes Only the next film in the series, and turned their attentions instead to the science-fictionally-conducive Moonraker.

The producers, of course, said that this would be less a case of "James Bond does science-fiction" than of "James Bond does science fact," but if you believe that, you believe silly things.  Speaking of which, remind me to tell you sometime about the wild night Maryam d'Abo and I shared back in 1994...

In any case, Moonraker was a truly out-there film, and remains such to this day.  How will that translate in terms of our trusty Double-0 Rating?

Let's find out.






(1)  Bond ... James Bond

On the whole, this was probably Roger Moore's weakest performance as 007 to date.  I blame this almost entirely on the fact that Moore is called upon to do remarkably little acting in the film; mostly, he just walks around and smirks at people, and while Roger Moore was great at both walking and smirking, is that really all you want out of your James Bond?  Me neither.

I'll also say that this was the first movie in which Moore's age really seemed to become a factor.  We'll get into that element of the series more over the course of the next few posts, but this, I think, is where the line was crossed somewhat.  Moore was 52 when Moonraker was released, and the fact of the matter is that while some 52-year-olds can still manage to not seem gross when putting the snog to actresses half their age, Roger Moore was kinda not one of them.  At best, he seems like a creepy old man; at worst, he seems like a deviant uncle or grandfather.

But we shouldn't hold that against Roger Moore; let's instead blame the producers.



A few of my favorite R.M. moments from Moonraker:
  • Line delivered to Drax during the pheasant hunt: "I doubt if I'm in your class," says Bond, clearly making a backhanded non-reference to his superiority, whereas Drax wrongly assumes he is being modest.
  • Line delivered immediately upon using an explosive watch to blast his way through a wall: "Bang on-time!"
  • Toward the end, when he is confronting Drax near an airlock, the bad guy has a gun trained on him.  Bond raises his hands in surrender, and fires a poison dart with his concealed wrist-bracelet of doom.  What's great about this is the way Moore uses the raising of his hands to subtly remind the audience that he's got the dart-shooter on; many of us will have forgotten, but will have just enough of a chance to remember before Drax gets blown away for the moment to be supremely satisfying.
Moore's best moments, though, are unquestionably during the centrifuge scene.  For those of you who may not remember it, what happens is this: Bond agrees to submit to a demonstration of a centrifuge, and is nearly killed when Drax's henchman takes over the controls, and cranks them well past the point of lethality.  Bond uses his trusty dark-bracelet to get himself out of the jam, and when he disembarks from the contraption, he is visibly shaken to the point of collapse.









Moore is flat-out great in this scene, which is surely one of the most human moments in 007's entire filmic history.  He plays the distress, he plays the valiant efforts to regain his inner core of suaveness, he plays the anger of nearly being killed; it's a great scene, so great that it almost seems incongruous in a goofy movie like this one.

Points awarded: 005/007.  I initially went a point lower, but remembering the centrifuge scene has convinced me to step it upwards a peg.

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  Here, we get Michael Lonsdale as Sir Hugo Drax, who is cut from more or less the same mold as was Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me: he's a homicidal genius billionaire who is apparently using his vast wealth to fund a secret operation designed to reshape the world in his image.




Happily, Drax is a much more compelling villain than Stromberg.  He isn't perfect, by any means; Lonsdale's performance, though good, is a bit on the laconic side, very much in the same vein as Joseph Wiseman's Doctor No.  No and Drax share the same lack of personality, but Drax's aims are so concrete (goofily insane though they may be) and understandable that he comes off as a much more capable and threatening fellow.

Drax's whole deal is that he's basically a more open-minded sort of Hitler.  He wants -- for no apparent reason -- to decimate the Earth's population and use a squad of genetically superior (i.e., attractive) Adams and Eves to then repopulate from the heavens above.  It's about as weird as such plans get; you've kinda got to just tip your hat to it.

Drax gets scads of great dialogue courtesy of screenwriter Christopher Wood.  Some of my favorites:

  • To a henchman, literally only seconds after meeting Bond for the first time: "Look after Mr. Bond; see that some harm comes to him."
  • To Bond, who has shown up amidst Drax's plots yet again: "You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season."
  • Again, to Bond: "Mr. Bond ...  You defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you."
While Lonsdale's lack of emotion might in some ways seem like a deficiency, if he had shown much in the way of a wink at the audience while delivering great lines like these, it would have tipped the entire movie over into sheer parody.  As is, it teeters on the verge, but hangs on tenaciously until the last credit has rolled.  Lonsdale deserves no small part of the credit for that.



 
Points awarded (Main Villain):  005/007.
 
Henchmen:  There are two primary henchmen in this film.  The first, Chang, was played by Toshiro Suga.




He sucks.  Apparently, he was Michael Wilson's judo instructor, or some such nonsense.  Enough said.

The second prominent henchman is Jaws, who returns for his second straight 007 film.  Unless I'm badly mistaken, this makes him the only villain other than Blofeld to appear in more than one movie in the series.

Obviously, the character was popular, but I remain convinced that he sucked.  This was not Richard Kiel's fault; Kiel, in fact, was quite good in the role (in both movies), and remains to this day a terrific visual element of the 007 films.





And I'll give Moonraker this: it has a better sense of how to effectively portray Jaws than did The Spy Who Loved Me.  Here, he is handled with a delicate mix of satire and terror throughout the film, as opposed to the sharp left turn he takes in his first go-round.  And the scene in which he is hiding inside a giant-headed clown mascot during Carnaval in Rio remains genuinely unsettling.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  002/007, which seems high, given that Jaws earned a 000/007 in The Spy Who Loved Me.  The fact is, though, I think he works better here, despite -- or maybe because of -- the heights of ridiculousness to which he ascends.
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  003.50/007  

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  I suspect a lot of Bond fans would think I'm a little bit nuts for preferring Lois Chiles to Barbara Bach, but hey, I work with what I've got, people, and apparently that's just how I see things.

First things first: Lois Chiles does not give a particularly good performance in Moonraker.  To be frank, she kinda sucks.  As Drax, Michael Lonsdale is seemingly draining as much emotion out of his performance as possible; as Holly Goodhead, Chiles is doing much the same thing, except it seems to be more out of lack of ability than out of intent.

That said, I rather like Goodhead as a character.  She's tough, she's an undercover CIA agent (seemingly pulled out of NASA so that she could be plopped down into Drax's organization), she's sexy.  She's one of the more capable of all the Bond girls up to this point, and the film actually puts some effort into demonstrating that fact, rather than merely saying it is the case and failing to show rather than tell (a sin The Spy Who Loved Me committed in its portrayal of Barbara Bach's Agent Triple X).









Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  004/007.  Not by any means one of the highlights of the series, but I think the good outweighs the bad.

Secondary Bond Girls:  During the era in Bond films spanning roughly 1977-1985, there was seemingly a concerted effort to pack the film as full as possible of model-calibre beauties.  I complained about this fact a bit as regarding The Spy Who Loved Me, and yet here, I'll praise it a bit, because it is actually integrated into the story.  More on that in a minute.

First, let's deal with the film's most prominent secondary Bond girl: Corrine Dufour, as played by Corinne Clery.




She's not much of a character, but Clery gives a good performance, and my goodness ... she was bee-YOO-tifull.  She's also a key component in one of the film's best sequences, but more on that later, too.

Now, for the bevy of babes that Bond bumps into in seemingly every other scene.  Let's just toss in a set of photos of them all as they show up in a scene toward the end of the second act:


Irka Bochenko

Anne Lonnberg

Catherine Serre (l) and Francoise Gayat (r)

Christina Hui (l) and Nicaise Jean Louis (r)

Chichinou Kaeppler (l) and Beatrice Libert (r)

 
Several notes need to be made at this point:
  • These are great costumes, apparently designed with the express goal of making boys from age 13 to at least 38 (ahem) feel convinced that boobs are going to fall out of them at any second.
  • No point in not admitting it: my favorite out of this group is Francoise Gayat, by a mile.  Homina-homina-homina...
  • Is "Chichinou Kaeppler" on the short-list of greatest names in recorded history?  If not, it should be.  Also, she looks like Counselor Troi, which is fine by me.
  • Two of these women freak me out, for reasons I shall leave unstated.  Hint: it's not the ones you think.
If it seems like we have descended into Objectification Minute, allow me to defend myself by stating that the movie clearly wants us to do exactly that.  And it's worth pointing out that in terms of the story, the second we begin lusting after this passel of babes, we've entered the same territory where Hugo Drax obviously lives.  The fact that this is a somewhat natural response to this movie in particular and James Bond movies in general makes the whole thing somewhat complex in a way that Bond movies -- certainly ones of this era -- tend not to be.  I don't immediately have anything more to say on the subject than that, but it seemed to be worth noting.

Also worth noting: Manuela, played by Emily Bolton, who is seemingly destined to be killed by Jaws, then isn't, but sorta disappears anyways.




And what to make of Blanche Ravalec, who plays Dolly, Jaws's girlfriend?  Does she even count as a Bond girl?  Fuck, man, I dunno.




And then there are the seemingly hundreds of bikini-clad women dancing all over the place in Rio during the Carnaval sequences.  Do they count?  I don't know that, either, but they sure are jiggly, and because of the exotic -- and, from all accounts, highly accurate -- setting, they don't offend in the way they might have in a different context.

All in all, from a visual standpoint, this is a cornucopia for people who admire beautiful women.  I'm tempted to give the highest marks here, but I can't do it, because the movie fails to make any of the lovely lasses pop as individuated characters.  The only one who comes close is Corinne, and the illogic of her character's helping Bond invalidates that somewhat.  Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  004/007, somewhat reluctantly.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  004/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  First things first: the aerial stunts during the pre-credits sequence are easily among the most spectacular stunts ever filmed.  They were apparently filmed over the course of nearly ninety jumps, and while they are amazing in and of themselves, they are even more amazing when you consider the fact that the cinematography is great, AND that it matches the rest of the film!  How the hell do you light a sequence like that?  And how the hell do you maintain a continuity of lighting over the course of footage culled from that many different jumps?

This stuff is simply as good as stuntwork gets.






















Worth noting: check out how the stuntman playing Jaws is acting his fool ass off.  I love how nobody even bothered to ask him to put the metal teeth in, and yet this gentleman is acting as if they are in there, showing 'em off to the world!

This is madness of the highest variety, and as far as cinematic spectacle goes, what the hell else do you need?  Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 007/007.  Notice how I didn't even bother mentioning the rest of the movie.  There are other action scenes, some decent, some kinda not very good.  Doesn't matter; you pull some stuff like this off, you're perfect in my book.  So, hats off to Jake Lombard (James Bond), B.J. Worth (the pilot), and Ron Luginbill (Jaws): you fellas are badasses beyond belief.

Editing:  The editing in the movie comes courtesy of John Glen, and is mostly quite good.  I've got some serious issues with the way the pre-credits sequence comes to a conclusion: for one thing, it's about as silly as silly gets, so Glen was hampered right out of the gates as far as making it work goes.  But still, it feels as if the editing of it all lacks ... something.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say here; I think maybe some shots were needed to boost the thing a bit, and maybe Glen had no such shots to work with.  I dunno.  I'll shut up about it now.

A few additional notes about the editing:
  • The centrifuge scene works extremely well from an editing standpoint.  There are a couple of shots inserted into the scene that basically show Bond remembering the explosive-dart device on his wrist.  Unless I'm mistaken, this is perhaps the only time a Bond film has an editing moment like this one, in which shots are used to communicate to us what a character is thinking.
  • The edit from Corinne's murder to bells tolling in Venice is a bit heavy-handed, but it also works extremely well, especially within the confines of a comic-book-logic flick like this one.
  • The scene in which Bond is wrestling a python is ludicrous, and to the extent it works at all, the credit should go to Glen (and to composer John Barry).
  • The space battle sequences, and the sequence in which Bond and Goodhead race to destroy the death-carrying satellites, are edited crisply and efficiently, and make for good solid tension.

Points awarded (Editing): 005/007.  Solid, if mostly unspectacular, work.

Costumes/Makeup:  The only bad thing I would say about the costuming choices in this movie is that Dolly, Jaws's girlfriend, looks ridiculous, and that that weird padded headgear Drax's guards wear toward the end makes them look like refugees from a school for the developmentally challenged.  But the uniforms for teams of henchmen always look goofy; in one movie it might be yellow suits with padded headgear, in another it might be all Koreans wearing pajamas, in another it might be guys with orange gloves and orange hardhats.  In a way, you've got to admire it, and I kinda wish I had action figures for all of them.

Elsewhere, though, the costuming is (pardon me for repeating myself) of the solid-but-unspectacular variety.  Holly wears a lovely white nightgown in one scene, and Bond has a terrific white leisure suit when he arrives in Rio.




You've also got to love -- unless you don't -- the silly gaucho and gondolier outfits Moore wears at various points.  What a goober.





Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 005/007.

Locations:  I strongly considered basing my write-up for this category on the idea that I would try to fool you, the reader, into thinking that I, the blogger, was convinced that the outer-space scenes had been filmed in outer space.  I'd be basing this conviction upon the fact that in the credits, it specifies that the film was filmed in outer space.  Which it does.

It's a charming idea, and one that I'm going to hold onto for later use of some sort, but for today, let's let it be.  And the fact is, there's no need to resort to chicanery of that nature; the locations here are plenty stunning on their own merits, with no need for me to make shit up.

Among the stunning places visited:
  • The upper reaches of California, during the aerial-stunt sequnce.
  • Drax's chateau, which in actuality was the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte near Paris.  This contributed some stunning interiors, as well as the majestic exteriors.
  • Venice.  Ah, Venice!  It could be argued that it looks better years later in Casino Royale, and maybe even in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but if so, it's not by much.
  • Rio.  Ah, Rio!  Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand.  Speaking of dancing, there sure is a lot of it going on during that Carnaval sequence, which is even better than a similar sequence in Thunderball.  This place looks like Mardi Gras on ecstasy, which is saying something.  Here's where I'm tempted to say, "You can't fake spectacle of that nature," but in many shots, the filmmakers did fake it, and they did a convincing job of it, too.
  • The cable-car sequence at Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain offers some genuinely awesome vistas.  I'm putting that on my list of places I'd like to visit at some point in life.  As opposed to visiting it in death, I suppose.  (Not so much with the writing skills today, apparently...)
  • There is a massive waterfall, which is a special-effects recreation in many shots, but is the real deal in many others.  These are the Iguazu Falls, and they are stunning.
  • And, finally, a lovely Mayan pyramid, filmed in Guatemala.  It's silly to think that it could house a facility for launching rockets into outer space in service of a mad billionaire, but hey, it's also a charming notion.




















Points awarded (Locations):  007/007.  One of the highpoints of the series in that regard.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  006/007
 
(5)  Q Branch


Bond's Allies:  This was at the apex of that odd period in the series in which it was obvious that the whole of MI6 had nothing better to do than to travel the globe, assisting Bond on whatever mission he happened to be tackling.  I hate that conceit.  Does M do this for the other eight Double-0s?  Does Q have so large an operating budget that he can relocate his entire branch to, say, Brazil on a moment's notice, just because 007 is there and might need a pair of exploding bolos?

A better question: should I be worried about that particular conceit within the confines of a movie like Moonraker?

I don't have an easy answer for that.  Actually, I do: "no."  What I don't have is an easy justification for that answer.  Within these limited confines, here's the best I can do: it bothered me in The Spy Who Loved Me because the movie fails to engage me, whereas Moonraker -- silly though it may be -- engages me from start to finish.

It's no more complicated than that, really.  What that means, I think, is that Moonraker is more successful in its pulpy goals than The Spy Who Loved Me is, and therefore I am more inclined to accept its excesses, its oddities, its incoherencies.  Perhaps these are obscure biases of mine peeking through; perhaps I am being unfair to Spy, whereas I am giving Moonraker too much credit.

I don't know.  Maybe I'll figure it out someday; until then, I'm rolling with what I've got.

Speaking of Q Branch, Q himself gets off a couple of memorable lines:
  • During an early briefing in M's office, Q talks about how they've been searching for evidence of the wreckage of the Moonraker with "a fine tooth-comb."  Now, let's examine that.  He doesn't say with "a fine-tooth comb"; he says "a fine tooth-comb."  What, pray tell, is a tooth-comb?  This line reading fascinates me, not because Desmond Llewelyn got it wrong (though he certainly did), but because it makes me wonder how it is possible that nobody, in the entire course of post-production, caught the error.  How did it even originate?  Was it a typo in the screenplay?  A case of Christopher Wood simply typing the hyphen in the wrong spot, or not knowing where it went?  Or, perhaps, not putting a hyphen at all ("a fine tooth comb")?  Had Llewelyn never heard the phrase "a fine-tooth comb" before, and therefore had no idea what he was saying at all, so he just spouted the line out?  Did director Lewis Gilbert not notice?  Did Roger Moore, Bernard Lee, and the actor playing the defense minister ALL fail to notice?  Was it a case of Llewelyn saying it that way in only one take, and that take (for some reason) ending up as the only one John Glen thought he could use during the editing?  How, exactly, does a grammatical boo-boo of that nature find its way into a movie this expensive?  Swear to God, I could write a book about that one line delivery.
  • Better: Q's response to 007 during the bolo scene.  Bond looks down, pauses for just a moment, and then asks, "Balls, Q...?"  Llewelyn's look of pained patience is one of his best reactions ever.
  • Best: Q's bon mot at the end of the movie, "I think he's attempting re-entry!"  It's a groaner of a line, but allow me to take a moment and explain to you why it works.  It works because Llewelyn says it with no smirk on his face, no wink in his eye, no irony in his tone.  Q is looking at a computer, analyzing some obscure bit of data, and is making a coincidental comment.  He doesn't see what everyone else is seeing; it's not like he sees Bond screwing Holly and elbows M, and says the line with a chuckle.  Nope; it's a complete coincidence, completely in keeping with Q's character, and that's why it works.  Well done, team!  That one would have been easy to screw up, and you completely nailed it instead.
Mention ought to be made that this was Bernard Lee's final appearance as M.  He's got a few good moments, and the series did not fully recover from his absence until Judi Dench showed up sixteen years later.




Elsewhere, Bond's allies include a stupendously efficient American military (which is seemingly capable of launching a squad of space marines into orbit on literally a moment's notice), and the unexpectedly gratifying use of Jaws as a good-guy once the big lug figures out that a physical misfit like him would have no place in Drax's utopia of physical perfection.  Jaws is a deeply silly character, but I have to admit, I find him rather appealing in this particular role.  "Well," he says, cracking open a bottle of champagne to share with Dolly before they crash and burn, "here's to us."





Indeed.


a friend of mine dubbed this "Jawsus," and I salute him for it; I found it online, and would credit the original creator if only I knew who to credit...



Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  004/007.  Deeply silly stuff is happening here, but it feels so honest about it that I can't find the heart to be negative.

Direction:  Sometimes when doing these writeups, I struggle a bit in terms of quantifying the role of the director.  After all, Bond movies are not like other movies; in some ways, they function more like a television series, where the producer is the kind.  If I watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this Christmas and find myself annoyed with a specific character, or a plot development, or a scene that I feel didn't work, I can feel good about blaming director Peter Jackson, who ultimately controlled the entire production; same goes for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln or Ben Affleck's Argo or Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  It won't be the same case for Sam Mendes on Skyfall, because ultimately, he is a hired hand; he's not making the decisions, and while he can (and probably did) influence the production greatly, in this case the auteur theory goes out the window.

That's how it has always been on the Bond movies, for better or for worse.

So how to judge the contributions of Lewis Gilbert on Moonraker?  On The Spy Who Loved Me, I basically gave Gilbert credit for a strong visual sense, and for creating a sustained tone throughout the film.  I don't like that movie, but I think the problems come from a poor screenplay and from at least one genuinely awful bit of casting.  Some of that might be Gilbert's fault, but then again, it might not be.  I chose not to penalize him for it, at least not within the bounds of these doofus reviews.

Using the same standard, I think the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that Gilbert did even stronger work on Moonraker than he did on The Sky Who Loved Me (or You Only Live Twice, for that matter).  As I've indicated elsewhere, this is a deeply silly movie, but I think it does a better job at being escapist entertainment, and a lot of the credit for that should go to Lewis Gilbert.

And yet, he also brings enough seriousness to the table so as to allow us to have a sense of there being something at stake.  Two scenes stand out in that regard: the scene in which Corinne is killed by Drax's dogs, and the scene in which Manuela, at Carnaval in Rio, is stalked by a figure (eventually revealed to be Jaws) in a huge, creepy clown costume.









 
Both of these scenes are fairly nightmarish, and in some ways seem out of place, but both also share a key similarity: Bond is not in them to combat the evil that is at hand.  Is this a coincidence, or is something being said here about the need for a James Bond 007 to keep evil at bay, and his ability to make such evil seem cartoonish when he is present to do so?

Probably a coincidence, but then again, maybe not.  Either way, I think Lewis Gilbert did good work on this movie.  Points awarded (Direction): 005/007, but subtract one for the overly goofy way the character of Dolly is handled, so 004/007.

CinematographyMoonraker was lit by Jean Tourneir, a French cinematographer who seemingly worked almost exclusively on French productions.  Consequently, I really don't know much of anything as regards his reputation.  However, he did fine work on Moonraker; I can say that definitively.  From Corinne's death to the exteriors of Bond's arrival at Chateau Drax to Bond fight behind the clock face with Chang, this is a lovely movie.




Points awarded (Cinematography):  006/007.

Art Direction:  Is Moonraker Ken Adam's best work for a Bond movie?  I'd have to think about that for a while, but it just might be.

Either way, it's genuinely awesome work.  I mean, the guy built a working centrifuge...!  I'm sure it didn't actually have centrifuge-level speed capabilities, but do what?  It looked great, and for our purposes, that's all that really matters.

There's great work all over the rest of the film, too.  No point talking about it; may as well let the visuals speak for themselves.












Points awarded (Art Direction): 007/007.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Special Effects:  Let's get the negatives out of the way first: there are a few really bad rearscreen shots (I think they're rearscreens, at least), mostly involving the cable car fight and, later, Bond on the hang-glider.  There are also a few sketchy shots involving an obviously-rubber python.

Otherwise, though, there is top-notch effects work on display, ranging from shots of Drax's factory to a couple of excellent boat explosions to a highly convincing waterfall recreation.  Oh yeah, and a lot of outer-space stuff, too, including good shuttle launches and a lovely space station.












Example: I love the scene in which Bond and Goodhead see the station for the first time.  Not only is it an excellent model, it's filmed extremely well, emerging from shadows into a slow blossom of sunlight.

The weightlessness effects work pretty well, on the whole, although you can glimpse wires every once in a while.  The big laser battle is well-done, too, and while this movie might not measure up to some of the competition of its day (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman), that's less a reflection on Moonraker than it is on the genuinely incredible effects achievements of those films.

Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007, which I considered lowering to 005 on the basis of comparisons with those other movies listed above.  I elected not to do so, though.

Gadgets:  There are quite a lot of gadgets in this movie, and I like the vast majority of them.  The best one, probably, is Bond's dart-firing concealed bracelet, which gets him out of two extremely sticky situations, and is overall one of the better of the gadgets Bond ever employs.

There is also a nifty safecracking device (how safe cracking seems to have progressed since On Her Majesty's Secret Service!), a gondola that converts into a hovercraft, a speedboat that contains a hidden hang-glider, a watch that houses the components necessary to explode a wall, and the small arsenal of CIA gadgets Holly possesses (but, sadly, never seems to use).

Points awarded (Gadgets):  006/007.  Definitely one of the stronger movies in the series for gadgets.

Opening-Title Sequence:  I like this one a lot, partially because it's one of the title sequences that works in concert with the rest of the movie on a thematic level.  Sometimes, it seemed rather obvious that Maurice Binder's only aim was to get a bunch of beautiful women naked and have them leap about, possibly with some sort of body paint or skimpy costume supplementing the endeavor.  And hey, can you blame him?  That seems like fine work if you can get it.

There's some of that here, too, of course, but I also quite enjoy the way the title sequence serves as a bridge between the opening sequences aerial acrobatics and the weightlessness that comes later in the movie during the outer-space sequences.  Binder uses the circus conceit that is introduced courtesy of Jaws crash-landing into a big-top to transition, as well; he mixes these three modes of humans defying gravity, and the result is one of his better title sequences.














Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  006/007.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  005.57/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

How do you even begin to quantify the decision to take James Bond into outer space?  That, obviously, is what Moonraker is most notable for, and it was a truly out-there move on the part of Cubby Broccoli.  By all rights, it ought to have been the "jump the shark" moment for the Bond series, but in fact Moonraker was a huge hit, and its excesses did not seem to have any adverse impact on the box-office for the next film in the series, either.

In other words, evidence indicates that Moonraker was basically a vindication of a simple idea: that the Bond formula can go almost anywhere.

So, a few notes (bad and good alike) about the story and screenplay:
  • Bond's deduction that the place to begin his investigation into the disappearance of the shuttle is the place where the shuttles are manufactured seems ... illogical.  Look, I know expediency is the name of the game in a movie like this one, but even so, that's a BIG short-cut.
  • The scene in which Bond is attacked in Venice by an assassin inside a floating coffin is dumb.  Not funny, not clever; just plain dumb.
  • When I was younger, it used to annoy me quite badly that this movie had "stolen" (so I thought) the five-note communication theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This time, it finally occurred to me that it was possible to explain the whole thing away by theorizing that the scientists in charge of that lab were obviously fans of the movie, and had programmed their keypad as a way to keep themselves amused.  That's the sort of thing nerdy scientists would do.
  • In addition to that one obvious reference to a sci-fi movie, there are at least several others, including: the use of "Also Spake Zarathustra" (best known as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey) during Drax's pheasant hunt; another 2001 homage involving an astronaut who goes hurtling off into space; and a possible Star Wars reference when 007, like Luke Skywalker, switches to manual in order to shoot something from his spaceship.  There are also a couple of coincidental similarities to other 1979 sci-fi films: a modem-like sound effect appears in both Alien and Moonraker; and there are similar shots of death-carrying satellites in this movie and in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • During the fight scene between Bond and Chang, why is the museum full of priceless glass art pieces unlocked during the middle of the night so that these two assholes can run in and tear everything up?
  • In one scene, Drax decides to kill Bond and Holly by placing them in a room that lies directly beneath one of the shuttles, so that they will be vaporized when it blasts off.  That's all fine and good, but ... why does that room have a conference table inside it?  (I like to pretend that Drax was hoping he would be able to vaporize an entire group of people at some point when he called them in for a meeting.)
  • Does it seem even vaguely plausible that Bond and Holly would be able to get onboard one of the shuttles?  No.  It seems even less likely that they could do so by posing as the pilots!
  • How exactly was Drax able to construct the space station?  That implies a level of power that an entire nation could barely possess, much less one industrialist, no matter how wealthy.
  • You've got to hand it to 'em: they really commit to the idea of Jaws' indestructibility.  Bad enough that he survives plummeting to earth without a parachute unscathed, but then he is able to escape being burned to death upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.  PLUS he would have no way of piloting the remaining section of the space station!  I'm a little amazed that they didn't opt for something truly off-the-wall insane, like Jaws (a la Dark Star) surfing through space on a bit of leftover hull plating.  All of this is utterly indefensible, but it charms me for reasons I cannot quite figure out.





Points awarded: 00 ...  Is 00WTF a  number?  Let's settle on 003/007; it sucks, but with so much panache that I find it to be perversely admirable.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  I've always liked this song a hell of a lot, personally.  Shirley Bassey sings it well, and it's a lovely, lyrical tune, if also a bit aimless.  In some ways, I think the disco version that appears over the end credits is even better!

One question: do you suppose anybody still remembers that the word "moonraker" has an actual meaning apart from being a Bond title?  It's a nautical term referring to a type of sail, and it's also apparently a slang word for simpleton.  By the way, it's worth mentioning that "thunderball" also has a non-007 connotation, which helps to explain some of the lyrics to that movie's theme song.  A thunderball is a meteor, or something like that; there's a Doctor Who episode (can't remember the specific one, but it's one of Pertwee's first stories) that refers to something as a thunderball!

Points awarded (Title Song): 004/007.  Not one of the best Bond songs, but good.


Bassey in Jamaica, 1979 (image pilfered from http://diamondbassey.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/dsb-shirley-bassey-beach-mobay-1979.jpg)

The Score:  For my money, this is easily one of the best of all the Bond scores.  It's just one marvelously-scored scene after the next, from the aerial freefall to Corinne's death to the arrival in Rio to the flight into space to the laser battle.

Two scenes in particular stand out: the scene in which Bond follows one of Drax's ladies into the pyramid, only to discover that ALL of Drax's ladies are prfesent and accounted for, is just gorgeous.  Also, the flight into space (particularly the moment in which Bond points out the ark-like "two by two" arrangement of men and women in the passenger section, but also the moment in which the space station is revealed) has to rank not only among the best musical moments in the Bond series, but among the best moments in any movie scored by John Barry.

Which is saying something.

Moonraker also features the (so far) final appearance of Barry's "007" theme, which has always been a personal favorite.

Points awarded (The Score): 007/007.  Outstanding in every way (except maybe for the quotation of Elmer Bernstein's theme from The Magnificent Seven -- the magnificent 007? -- but we'll let that slide).



Total points awarded (The Music):  005.50/007

Double-0 Rating for Moonraker:  004.65/007




I have to admit, I'm a little surprised by how well this one fared.  And yet, I don't think I've shown it much in the way of unfair bias, except (perhaps) in not taking it more to task for some of its outlandish elements.  I can't easily justify why I am kind to this movie whereas I am not to similarly lightweight entries like You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, except to say simply: this movie entertains me, whereas those do not.

Going into this project, I fully expected Moonraker to duke it out with a small handful of other films for title of Worst Bond Movie; instead, it has scored well enough that it may end up contending for the title Best Moore Bond Movie.

Amazing.

Some will call bullshit on this, and I can't blame them; but watching the movie again, I was reminded of the many reasons why this was always one of my very favorite Bond movies when growing up.












The tally so far:

006.21 -- From Russia With Love
005.94 -- Goldfinger
004.69 -- Dr. No
004.65 -- Moonraker
004.24 -- Live and Let Die
003.68 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.49 -- You Only Live Twice 


You Only Blog Twice will return in ... For Your Eyes Only.

11 comments:

  1. Sorry for the delay in my response... been moving the Mrs. into our place all weekend. I kept saying, 'But the Moonraker blog...!' but she wasn't having it, haha.

    So first off, hat's off, sir - you are the author of the most comprehensive and well-put-together Moonraker review on the world wide web, at least that I've seen. No small accomplishment.

    I'll probably break this up into several comments - sorry to firebomb your comments thread, here.

    VERY good call on Moore's vulnerability/ anger after that centrifuge scene. That made a big impact on me as a kid. I actually got so pissed FOR him. If you picture an 8 year old me clenching his fists and shaking his head and saying, 'Oh, you're going to pay for that, you evil bastards...' that was me. All kudos possible to Moore's performance here. In general, he's still underrated. I'll put this scene (and the slapping the dude's tie away in TSWLM and straightening it after he checks to make sure the fall killed him) in a Bond time capsule.

    Also, more-personal-reverie: in the same way that hearing/ reading the term "the bends" instantly brings an image of the Choose Your Own Adventure "Journey Under the Sea" to mind, literally anytime I hear/read "G-Force," I think of this scene in Moonraker. Imprinting is a powerful thing. (It also made previews for the film "G-Force" personally entertaining to me. I actually wonder, given that film's plot's similarity to Moonraker's, how tongue-in-cheek some of that script was meant to be for Bond-philes. But, I've never really sat down with it with that in mind.)

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    1. In a large way, this project has allowed me to recapture my love for Roger Moore's version of James Bond; I consider it a worthy effort if only for that fact.

      Choose Your Own Adventure! Used to love those...

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  2. You've got to admire Drax's plan, here. He and Stromberg and Goldfinger and well, almost all Moore-era-Bond villains share that penchant for wack-a-doo secret lairs, bevies of beautiful-babe-henchmen, and these crazy plans that make L Ron Hubbard blush... God bless them!

    "He's a homicidal genius billionaire who is apparently using his vast wealth to fund a secret operation designed to reshape the world in his image..." Were they trying to tell us something, here, haha??? In the same way Hollywood filmmakers of the blacklist era tried to warn us about the extremities of anti-communism, perhaps Albert Broccoli et al. were trying to warn us about the Koch Brothers/ George Soros et al. (Probably not, but it's amusing to think of these films as smuggling subversive messages/ hitting the panic button rather than mere entertainment.)

    It was good to see Jaws get his redemption. (Fun point about the filmmakers' commitment to his invulnerability, as well.) I like to think of Richard Kiel's role in Happy Gilmore as the answer to the "Whatever happened t Jaws after Moonraker?" question that, well, no one ever really asked.

    One thing that's a lot of fun about being a fan of Bond as a child, as an adolescent, and as an adult is that I got to take in "Holly Goodhead" just as one of Bond's allies, then finally grokked what her name was all about, and then appreciating her as a capable woman/sidekick, here, as an adult. She and Pussy Galore share such ridiculous names, but, when you look closely, are pretty bad-ass, to boot.

    On an unrelated note (but I just got a flash of "John Steed," as sort of the male equivalent of this phenom) I'd love to see you break down The Avengers tv show. Like you don't have enough on your plate, I know, but hey! One for the "maybe one day" pile.

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    1. Well, whether Broccoli was trying to make any statement during this era or not is up for discussion, I suppose, but years later, in "Tomorrow Never Dies," a statement clearly WAS made. So I certainly don't think the series is immune to it.

      I've never seen a single episode of "The Avengers," believe it or not. I know, I know; put the tomatoes down...

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  3. Excellent calls, here, about the color and lighting continuity. I consider myself pretty attentive to technical details/ competence, but, I'm sorry to say, I never properly appreciated the technical mastery of that air-stunt scene, beyond, as you say, removing my cap to the bad-ass-ness of the stuntmen involved. But yeah, how the hell did they achieve such lighting and color continuity, especially pre-CGI?

    Ditto on the art direction and the costumes/ scenery. Really impressive stuff. (All the weirder that it accompanies such a bizarrely silly plot.)

    Along those lines, those two sequences you mention (the dogs overcoming Corinne, and Jaws menacing Manuela in the alley) freaked me out so much as a kid. I saw this in the theater with my Dad (this must have been 1982 or so; I don't know why it was in the theater, but this was in Germany, so we frequently got second-or-third-run movies in lieu of new releases; it was a whole different world, back then) and he took me into the lobby for some of the love scenes, but not for those. Damn! I'd rather have been exposed to the creepy images of Roger Moore's old-man-neck-and-fingers entwining with young female flesh than the frankly-terrifying images aforementioned.

    (Along the lines of Moore's age being a factor, nowhere is this grosser than the bathing scene in a View to a Kill. Come on, guys!)

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    1. That aerial sequence really is one of the best scenes ever put on film. It's unlikely we'll ever get anything quite THAT ambitious again, now that CGI makes such derring-do somewhat unnecessary.

      Which is maybe a good thing, in a way. A scene like that could have easily killed someone. Damn, is it glorious, though!

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  4. Two final thoughts:

    I didn't see Close Encounters until well into the 90s, and while I'd heard the theme song / knew it was a reference (in Moonraker), my first exposure to it - and hence, the first movie to come to mind whenever i hear it - was here. Funny to consider, now. I wonder if there's someone who mentally recalls One Crazy Summer (or any other film where the theme is homage-d) instead of Jaws when he/ she hears that theme?

    And excellent pic of Dame Shirley. Did you catch her belting out 'Diamonds are Forever' at the Queen's jubilee?

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    1. No, I haven't seen that! I didn't even know it had happened. I'll have to try to locate it; sounds cool.

      Speaking of Bassey, have you heard her song "No Good About Goodbye"? It was written by David Arnold, incorporating one of the themes he wrote for "Quantum of Solace," so it is retroactively a sort of (very unofficial) opening theme for that movie. Pretty sure Arnold did it on purpose as a bit of an eff-you. It's kinda great, too.

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  5. I have not, but thanks for the heads-up.

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  6. Enjoying your reviews very much. If you're going to pick on Q's fine tooth-comb, let me point out that I think it's actually bolas, not bolos. Also, do you use some type of grammar check for your posts? I come across a few errors that puzzle me a bit before I figure out the intended meaning. It's a minor thing.
    I love all the big pictures you've included for each movie. Great job overall!

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    1. Hmm...it IS "bolas," isn't it? Well, what can I say? I am a stupid American.

      As for my post containing grammatical errors . . . well, I wouldn't be surprised. I have to confess that I virtually never proofread these things, so it's bound to be riddled with all sorts of typos and whatnot.

      Sorry!

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