It may be 40 years since Neil Armstrong raised his foot to become the first man to walk on the moon but it is also over 30 years since Roger Moore raised his eyebrow as 007 in Bond-epic, where all other Bonds end this one begins screamed the posters, Moonraker.
Now, Roger Moore always seems to get a bit of a bad rap but for a child of the 80s he was and always will be my James Bond. People may scoff at Moonraker, the 11th film in the series, as being just a Star Wars cash-in and was just too outlandish and over the top, and in some quarters they may hold some weight but I still love it.
Producer Cubby Broccoli decided to film Moonraker after the phenomenal success of one Luke Skywalker and co, but who can blame him riding the zeitgeist, indeed it hadn’t been the first time that Bond had followed trends as he had also repeated it earlier in the series with blaxploitation in Live and Let Die (1973) and with kung fu in the following years The Man With the Golden Gun.
The production was an expensive gamble, especially when you consider that other films tried to emulate the Star Wars effect with so-so results on the screen and at the box office, The Black Hole being a prime example. Moonraker cost more than all the previous Bond movies all put together, but it was well worth the expenditure as not only did Moonraker become the most successful Bond film ever, a title it would keep until 1995s Goldeneye, but was also nominated for an Oscar for its special effects. The special effects in the final epic space battle were all done in camera so each new element was added manually and the film rolled back each time, an astounding feat.
The story, basically a remake of The Spy Who Loved Me, which in turn was a remake of sorts of You Only Live Twice, involves Bond trying to stop a megalomaniac from destroying the earth and starting up his own Noah’s ark in space. Featuring Hugo Drax – one of the few elements to make it to screen from the original Fleming book – as a Hitler-esque villain, he is played with a menacing dryness by French actor, Michael Lonsdale, who for me has some of the best lines of the film, “Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”, and I have always found his unflappable performance to be one of the better villains, with a brilliant death to boot.
We’ll let director, Lewis Gilbert off from riffing from ‘Spy’ and ‘Twice’ though as he helmed them as well, with Moore two years previous and Connery back in 1967, the latter with a script by Roald Dahl no less! Still ‘Spy’ and Moonraker had an even more unlikely screenwriter in the shape of Christopher Wood, who had previously written some of the Robin Askwith ‘Confessions…’ series (think Carry On with a bit more carrying on for those not in the know) which at least stood him in good stead for the numerous double entendres!
Outlandish, it is all done in the realms of possibility and the important thing it is made feasible in the Bond universe, okay so perhaps not the gondola (echoing other Fleming creation Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang at times) or double-taking pigeon but they got away with it…just. And its made all the more believable by the Producers getting agreement from NASA to use the space shuttle, the first time it had ever featured in a film and ironic that the film ones made space before the real one ever did.
Contrary to popular belief, Moonraker isn’t all fun and games as does have its taut moments – with a pre-credits parachute jump stunt that has never bettered (over seen by second unit director and editor John Glen – the irony but no not the space man – it was little wonder that he directed Bond all the way through the 80s), a thrilling g-force simulator where you see Bond ruffled and the pre-requisite female victim, who is hunted down by dogs, made all the more harrowing by Barry’s score.
Any revisit to Moonraker also has to make mention of Jaws, and yes it was a shame that he switched sides but even he still has the power to scare, creating a thousand nightmares with that ruddy carnival costume in Rio with the near-neck biting incident, a scene that is brilliantly put together.
As I’ve already touched upon the film has a sublime score by John Barry that was also echoed in his work for The Black Hole and Raise the Titanic. For me it is probably his finest Bond score.
For many Moonraker will always be the runt of the litter but this Bond movie has everything and not only pushes Bond to the edge of space but also pushes him as far as he could go and if anyone was ever going to do that it was going to be Roger, who came back down to earth for the follow up with some amazingly gritty scenes in For Your Eyes Only.
Perhaps the poster for the film and its closing scene some it up best. One of the iconic movie posters for Moonraker featured Bond, in his usual arms folded with gun pose, in a space suit with tux underneath, says it all: brash, British and ballsy, but done with oh so much style – it even made the cover of the TV Times when movie premieres on television were something to get excited about.
Not bad for the man who would go on to direct Educating Rita and of course who could forget the final line from Q. Bond appears weightless on screen ‘in bed’ with Dr Holly Goodhead (how did that one make it through) and M asks “What’s 007 doing?” Q retorts, “I think he’s attempting re-entry sir.”