Starring-Roger Moore, Lois Chiles
Scott’s Review #770
Reviewed June 8, 2018
Moonraker (1979) is an installment of the James Bond film franchise not usually well regarded and rarely appearing on critics top ten lists. Perhaps a reason for this is the timing of the film, hot on the heels of the late 1970’s Star Wars craze. Plans for a different Bond film were scrapped in favor of an outer space story. Regardless, I adore most of Moonraker, save for the final thirty minutes when the plot gets way too far-fetched for anyone’s good. The rest of the film is a superior entry and holds up quite well in the modern age of all things Bond.
Many of the familiar elements remain intact following the successful and lavish The Spy Who Loved Me (1975). An even heftier budget featuring gorgeous locales like Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rain forest are featured as well as a capable, intelligently written “Bond girl”. The villains, compelling and suave, including the return appearance of Jaws (Richard Kiel), and handy, dandy gadgets make Moonraker a treat for fans. Therefore, I find the non-love for the film rather mystifying.
The action starts off as a jumbo airplane carrying a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked in midair causing the plane to crash and the shuttle to disappear. Since the space shuttle was on loan to the United Kingdom from the wealthy and powerful Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), 007 (Roger Moore) is tasked with finding its whereabouts. He visits the grand shuttle-manufacturing plant in California where he learns that Drax and his bodyguard Chang are sinister and plotting global destruction.
Bond befriends the gorgeous and highly intelligent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), an astronaut who works at the facility, and Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery), the beautiful personal pilot of Drax. As events roll along Jaws returns to the story seeking revenge on Bond and subsequently serving as Drax’s new bodyguard. Of course, treasured favorites like M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), return to the fold.
To explain the weakest portion of the film first, producers were clearly attempting to capitalize on the tremendous success of 1977’s Star Wars by featuring a space exploration theme. Interestingly, only the final half hour does this come into play as Bond and Goodhead, and nearly all the cast, don bright yellow space suits. Drax’s evil plan is to eradicate all human kind and begin a new world with only beautiful people existing and reproducing.
The inevitable final battle scenes take place in a sprawling space station amid laser guns shooting bright beams- a direct rip off from Star Wars. In fact, the entire sequence is too long and quite reminiscent of my criticism of the tedious finale from the otherwise brilliant The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker’s predecessor.
Otherwise, the film is top notch. Fantastic sequences involves Bond’s mid-air fight with a bad guy and a dangerous struggle for a parachute, a fight scene high atop a Cable Car during Rio Carnival, a vicious sparring in a Venice museum, and a female character chased and torn to bits by Drax’s carnivorous dogs, all make for great action sequences. The highlight though, may very well be Bond’s harrowing ordeal inside an out of control centrifuge chamber.
The return of Jaws is certainly a highlight to Moonraker especially as the popular villain turns “good” and finds a love interest! When he sees the cute blonde girl with pig tails and glasses, both characters eyes light up in a “love at first site” moment. As Jaws realizes Drax plans to both of them exterminated his alliances suddenly switch resulting in a touching scene between the two over champagne.
Moore and Chiles have tremendous chemistry as the MI-6 agent teams with the capable female CIA agent. In fact, Holly Goodhead is portrayed exceptionally well: female, intelligent, gorgeous, and savvy. Impressive (and progressive) is how Goodhead takes charge as she and 007 make a harrowing journey back to planet Earth and then work nicely together to destroy Drax’s deadly missiles. Sure the romance is there, but also the mutual respect between the two.
Fondly recalling childhood memories watching this film numerous times, Moonraker (1979) holds good memories for me. More importantly, it possesses wonderful Bond qualities that will enchant many Bond fans seeking fun and entertainment. The film admittedly contains a ludicrous plot attempting to fit the times, but thanks to lavish sets and a competent main Bond girl, the film is quite memorable.
Oscar Nominations: Best Visual Effects