This 1979 fantasy-action film is the eleventh entry in the James Bond series, directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Roger Moore (his fourth entry), Michael Lonsdale, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel, Corrine Cléry and Bernard Lee.
When a space shuttle, Moonraker, is hijacked in mid-transit and destroys the 747 plane it was riding on, MI6 orders agent James Bond (Moore) to investigate. The shuttle was a production of Drax Industries, run by Sir Hugo Drax (Lonsdale). Bond has a lead to follow straight away.
With his investigation taking him from California to Venice to Rio de Janeiro, Bond encounters astronaut Dr Holly Goodhead (Chiles) on numerous occasions and forms an alliance with her when it’s revealed she is an undercover CIA agent investigating Drax.
Drax has a deadly virus that he wants to use to eradicate human life on Earth, all carried out from a top secret station location in outer-space. But Drax isn’t willing to let his plans be foiled, and so enlists the brute force of Jaws (Kiel) to kill Bond and Goodhead as they close in on him…
For many, this is a daft James Bond film, not least because the adventure culminates in a massive laser battle above the Earth that is just a little TOO out there for a James Bond film. However, little did they know what awaited them in 2002.
From the grounded adventure of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ in 1977, this took everything audiences loved about 007 and took it out of this world. Literally. It features such memorable insanity as the late, great Sir Roger Moore driving around St Mark’s Square in a gondola-turned-hovercraft (the Bondola), a double-taking pigeon and soundtracks from other films: Bond rides on horseback to the theme of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and the keypad to Drax’s secret laboratory plays the theme tune to ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’. It’s questioned that these elements shouldn’t have been used at all if we’re trying to retain some sense of reality about things.
Bear in mind this film was shoe-horned in before the pre-planned ‘For Your Eyes Only’ in an effort to capitalise on the success of ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 and capture the worlds new-found love for science fiction. So why not have Bond do it? These quirky moments pop up a little too often during the film, and it’s clear that riding on the success of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ with that winning Broccoli production. It seemed as if 007 could do no wrong. But they WERE wrong thinking that, and the over-confidence starts to seep through a little in thinking Bond could be more comedic, more carefree in its theme and more daring with its story. Portions of this work, others don’t. With that, you have a film that you either hate or love. It’s a divisive film in the Bond canon, but nevertheless, totally memorable.
While audiences universally love Sir Roger for his tongue-in-cheek humour, mixed with deadly efficiency (“You missed, Mr.Bond.” “Did I?”), he often gets lost when some of the silliness begins. And with Moore giving another faultless portrayal, the tone of the film at times detracts from him which is a shame because there are a few darker moments to enjoy, and some real scenes evoking that dangerous world of espionage Bond lives in – but it’s always overlooked by a silly bit of comedy, music or facial gurning from a villain.
However, it’s not all bad.
The production design is superb with Ken Adams back on form in set design that is both outlandish and evokes the great 007 super-villain with an Amazon lair and a space station. Opening with a great freefall action sequence which tops most pre-title sequences, ‘Moonraker’ crams in as many stunts, gadgets and exotic locations as possible. Even before setting foot in space, much is made of the film in California, Venice and Rio. It certainly delivers what we demand from Bond; Michael Lonsdale as our debonair, evil villain who delivers his lines with honey-laced menace and doesn’t need to use a gun to be a threat. Richard Kiel is back as Jaws, even if he falls in love (another slightly daft sub-plot), he still has a brilliant time on screen getting more screen time than ‘TSWLM’. We have a host of gorgeous Bond girls and a stronger leading lady in Lois Chiles, who punches just as hard as Bond does as a CIA agent who saves the world in tandem with 007, not just as a sidekick.
The scale of this film is equal to ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ – big, bold and ballsy. However, it seemed to peak a little too soon and so actually shot itself in the foot by being TOO big, TOO bold and TOO ballsy.
Audiences certainly enjoyed it, but on the whole weren’t quite ready for 007 to go out of his depth and become something he wasn’t; a spy in space. Thankfully ‘Moonraker’ doesn’t come close to putting the franchise in danger. If anything, it grossed over $200m and is considered a hit. Die-hard Bond fans weren’t ready for such an escapist adventure, but they certainly were ready for more world-threatening evil, sun-baked locations and thrills a-plenty. It also paved the way for a return to form in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ which many consider being a standout Bond film and the most Fleming-esque of the Moore era.
It’s daft, but fun. It’s all held together by the inimitable Roger Moore and a passionate EON crew.
In all, it’s literally a Bond movie out of this world!