Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moonraker (1979)

"Take me around the world one more time?"

- Space... The final frontier. These are the voyages of James Bond 007 licensed to kill. His continuing mission: to explore strange new girls. To stop Drax from destroying Earth's life and start his own new civilization. To boldly go where no Bond has gone before.....

Wait a second! Hold the freaking phone! Bond in outer space saving the world? This can't be a James Bond film can it?! Well, yeah it is, and despite its goofy aspects and completely ridiculous space-based climax, Moonraker is one of the better films of the James Bond series.

Outside of its title and name of the main villain, very little connects this movie to Ian Fleming's original novel of the same name. Moonraker was not even supposed to happen when it did, the planned James Bond adventure for 1979 was actually For Your Eyes Only (which finally happened in 1981). 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me even promised at the end credits that “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” but the phenomenon that was 1977’s Star Wars changed the minds of Cubby Broccoli and those at EON. The box office had spoken (it worked too, Moonraker remains one of the highest-grossing Bond films): Bond would venture out into space.

Moonraker has a reputation of being way too silly and completely out there with the outer space component. A few too many Merry Melodies-type sequences are certainly sprinkled here and there throughout the film and, although they do not overwhelm the film for me, they certainly do not allow the viewer to take things 100% seriously. A few times throughout the film, there will be a great scene that features Bond doing something amazing and avoiding certain death that ends with something absurdly wacky. Also, because of extreme popularity among Bond fans, Jaws returns as one of Bond's enemies. But the problem with his return is that the filmmakers turned him into a cartoon character, nowhere near as threatening as he was in The Spy Who Loved Me (though he still does have his share of creepy moments in Moonraker). All that is missing from Jaws' scenes are some spinning wheels and "ah-oo-ga!" noises.

But where there are flashy gadgets, silly quips, and wacky sequences there is also violence, beauty and Bond lurking in the dark trying to unravel the mystery of a missing "Moonraker" shuttle-craft. The best example of the hidden darkness of Moonraker is the scene where Drax's the dogs chase the double-crossing henchwoman through the woods. The way that scene is lit, shot and set to music easily makes it quite dark and powerful; it is easily the best scene in the film for me. I believe people focus too much on the cheesy sequences and outer space aspects of the film and do not notice the other atmospheric elements that make up the entire film, the brilliant Ken Adam sets, luscious Jean Tournier cinematography, beautiful John Barry score, awesome Roger Moore 007 showing, and the overall clever film craftsmanship by director Lewis Gilbert.

The director of The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice, Lewis Gilbert returns to direct yet another huge Bond epic and, with cinematographer Jean Tournier, creates an absolutely terrific looking and fun action-filled Bond flick. The way that the film is colored is the film's biggest highlight: the bright colors of South America, the mellow nighttime tones and the darkness of space - Moonraker is a gorgeous film. Also returning to the Bond series is composer John Barry who writes a gorgeous Bond score that really enhances every scene. Barry also brought back Bond theme veteran Shirley Bassey (who also sang "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever") to the series as well, returning for a third and final time to sing the very underrated "Moonraker" song.

Although perhaps the most criticized piece of the film, I find that the outer space aspect of the film is actually handled very well. Outside of the dated way that the laser guns are portrayed, Moonraker sees Bond in space in a plausible fantasy sort of way. Also, the film was rightfully nominated for the Best Special Effects Oscar and the outer space section of the film is the best place to look for these effects: the space station, the outer space battle, and the shuttle crafts - all very impressive for late-1970s special effects. As one might expect with a James Bond film, Moonraker features many terrific action scenes. The very exciting pre-credits sequence is definitely a plus for the film and the fast-paced  chases through the waters of Venice and the jungles of South America would set the new standard for scenes with Bond in a boat (and there are many of those!).

The film's exciting action scenes, the amazing score and the lush photography certainly make Moonraker a worthwhile Bond film but at the center of it all is Roger Moore's Bond. After really finding his niche with the character in the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore gives a very strong performance as James Bond in Moonraker. Unfortunately the film's larger cast is hit-or-miss. Michael Lonsdale has a brilliant screen presence and is given many wonderful things to say throughout the film ("Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you....") but Bond Girl Lois Chiles is incredibly wooden in her role as the cheekily-named Dr. Holly Goodhead. No matter who Moore is playing off of, he is a splendid James Bond from beginning to end. Moore employs his own interpretation of the Bond character in the film with humor and charm but he is still not above brutally taking out bad guys and seducing women to get information. The entire film is underrated but Roger Moore's performance especially seems to not get enough credit.

Despite its overly silly components, Moonraker does not exactly live up to its apparent reputation as a poor Bond outing. Moonraker is not one of the great down-to-earth Bond thrillers but it certainly is one of the great fun and epic Bond adventures - looking great and being a very fun two hours.

CBC Rating: 8/10