Moonraker (1979 United Artists)

For children in the late 70s Roger Moore was The Man. Suave, sophisticated and debonair. We didn’t care that he was as old as the hills. If you could fashion a man out of a bottle of Old Spice–Rog would be that man. You could smell his classiness from your cinema seat. I don’t think anybody walked out of a Timothy Dalton Bond feeling like they could conquer the world, but with Roger we did. No matter how many actors play the role, he’s the one I remember with most affection. This was 007’s eleventh adventure on the big screen. This was big. Huge! Biggest budget yet. Biggest box office profit. But Moonraker is strangely unloved. “Too unlike the novels, too much like Star Wars, too silly…” say the naysayers. I disagree.

James Bond doesn’t really fit into the 21st century. Or even the late 1990s. Yes, we’ve had Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, and they are fine actors, but all their efforts seem mechanical and lifeless. Why? Because there is more to Bond than special effects and violent spectacle. For starters, Ian Fleming’s creation stood out on the big screen when there was little competition. During the 1980s movies like The Terminator and Rambo II took the play away from the 007 franchise. If you wanted big budget, action-packed escapism with stunts galore there was an increasing amount to choose from that hardly existed a decade before. Throw in the science fiction epics like Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, the ongoing Star Wars franchise etc and suddenly Bond was looking less impressive in the SFX department as well. Anything a Bond film could offer in terms of action or special effects could be easily matched or bettered elsewhere. Moonraker was made at just the right time. It was an upgrade. A small window of opportunity before the market got glutted with escapist adventures in space.

Roger Moore really came into his own with Moonraker’s predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me in the summer of 1977. That renewed enthusiasm from a public that had been a bit jaded with Bond in the cynical early 70s. Profits soared after Spy and Bond had not been bigger since 1965. Moonraker would ride this appetite for more Roger Moore. (The public really wanted to get Rogered in the best possible way) It was a peak that has not been seen since. I don’t care what the financial figures are for the Timothy Dalton to Daniel Craig eras. When Roger Moore was Bond each film was still a major event, although his final three were increasingly empty. From Timothy Dalton onward, they diminished in excitement altogether.

No amount of $ or technical wizardry can impress a spoilt seen-it-all-before public. Bond films are supposed to amaze and charm the viewer. Putting aside that the public are a lot less innocent now than then, the other element in turning Bond humdrum is the casting. You have to have a man who oozes masculinity and charm. In other words: charisma. Moore had it. No actor who’s played the part since has had that X factor. Daniel Craig comes close. But his Bond outings are too serious. (Would it kill him to crack a smile or a joke?) And too violent. We need some whimsy. Even some chocolate box beauty in the natural locations.

OK, that was some rant. What are the highlights in Moonraker? The pre-credit sequence where Bond performs a free-fall without a parachute is one of the best in the franchise. Later, when Bond is strapped into the gravity simulator, he emerges looking pretty wiped out. The scene is the most realistic of any Roger Moore Bond. I felt dizzy seeing this the first time and had to look away. The return of Jaws, the clock fight in a Venice glass museum, jumping about on cable cars, sumptuous globe trotting locations–from the waterfalls and jungles of South America to the lush French countryside–cuddling an anaconda and the final half hour or so in space looks impressive. John Barry turns in another rousing musical score too.

Now the bad points: Jaws turning into a good guy, then falling in love with a girl who looks like she’s just been on parade with the Hitler Youth. That’s hardly appropriate in a Bond flick. The gondola scene is too self-conscious for its own good. Hardly any memorable dialogue or characters. In fact, the series downfall began here: it was becoming overly mechanical and stretching credulity too far. But it still had Roger Moore and the wow factor. And its still the biggest blockbusting money spinner of the whole series. Adjusting for inflation of course. Eon Productions should have made Moonraker their final Bond. They could have gone out on a high, leaving the public thirsting for more. Eleven was enough! The magic number. Alas…

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Comments

  1. An entertaining and hilarious review. Gotta agree with you on the Old Spice, Roger Moore is pure class baby! 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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