Sunday, July 31, 2011

Moonraker (1979)

Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Moonraker. The Moonraker Space Shuttle has apparently been hijacked en route to the US. Get on the case 007. The best place to start is with the shuttle's manufacturer, Hugo Drax, whose compound is in California.
The Beginning:
The film begins this time with a little aerial action. First, the Moonraker shuttle is hijacked off of a 747 that is transporting it to America. What is of note here is the lame special effects models and the unknown hijacker who fail to reappear ever again in the film. Then, after a catchy one liner from Monypenny in regards to 007s whereabouts, we are taken to a plane ride gone awry where Bond is held up by his woman (where did that gun come from) and then the pilot takes his exit stage sky. Then, out of nowhere, the return of Jaws to push Bond out of the plane without a parachute. Then comes a really lame aerial fight scene over the parachute and of course Bond wins, but then Jaws, who jumped out of a plane and didn't have a chute in the end, survives the corny fall into a trapeze artist net at the local circus. Enter title sequence where in Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever) delivers an extremely middling and mediocre theme song. Disappointing considering her other efforts in the series, which are two of the best.

Location: 
California, Venice, Rio (Carnivale) and Space

Allies: 
M: 
Once again Bond is given limited ally help, at least that isn't of the female variety who are better categorized as "Bond Girls". So again I place MI6 head "M" under this section as he has a little bigger role than he has in the last few films. In fact, we even see him outside of his office. But what is of note here is that, even after Bond embarrasses the Defense Minister, M gives Bond free reign to do what is necessary to find out who is behind the hijacking, which indicates the fact that, despite Bond's antics sometimes, he trusts him with the most important issues of national security and he is the agency's best agent.

Enemies:
Hugo Drax:
Hugo Drax is a very well known, very rich French businessman whose compound in California was imported entirely from France. Similar to Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me in that he is a successful business man, who is also somewhat of a renaissance man. He loves classical music and lush estates. But instead of living at a recluse haven like Atlantis, an underwater estate, Drax lives a very visible lifestyle as the world's leading producer of space shuttles, most notably the Moonraker. But behind that is his desire to rule the world, like any other respectable millionaire Bond has ever encountered. So don't expect anything less from this controlling and calculated bad guy. 
Jaws: 
Once again Jaws appears after his role in The Spy Who Loved Me, which was one that will live forever in the Bond series, so you can't blame the producers for bringing him back for this film. Even more than his first role however, Jaws seems indestructible, surviving the most ridiculous crashes. And again his loyalty is somewhat of a mystery. At this point it is assumed he is a hired "gun", but there seems to be no connection to Drax, though it can only be assumed. And what is even more interesting is the fact that the screenwriters give Jaws a love interest, with which they do nothing it seems, other than turning him good at the end of the film, helping Bond and Goodhead.

Q Branch:
If anything else this movie is great for its gadgetry and it all comes from the great Q Branch. He develops the wonderful wrist dart gun, which Bond remarks should be ready for stores by Christmas. But Bond also whips out the nifty x-ray cigarette case and lighter camera. Later we are treated to the classic Q Branch run through, where we see the latest and greatest in Q Branch development which includes exploding balls, and perhaps the greatest Bond invention of the series to this point (not counting the amphibious car because that is basically unmatched), the Moonraker laser gun, which was unstoppable in the GoldenEye video game, and in fact unstoppable here.

The Girls:

Holly Goodhead:
Dr. Holly Goodhead, apart from her remarkable name, is fairly unremarkable. She is a NASA scientist who is working for the Dra corporation, or so we thought, until it is revealed that she is in fact a CIA agent on the same case as Bond. In many ways Goodhead is a mirror image of Agent XXX from The Spy Who Loved Me: she is a capable opposite of Bond, who underestimates her, but what is sad is that she gives in to Bond once it is learned she works for the CIA and not Drax, which I don't quite understand. Not since Teresa in OHMSS has a Bond girl truly equaled Bond and been able to resist him the way he deserves to be resisted. And although pretty, Lois Chiles does not deliver a very good performance at all.


Corinne Dufour: 
Corinne Dufour is a minor character. She is the personal pilot for Drax, who picks Bond up in California to show him around the Drax Co. Played by the very sexy Corinne Clery, Corinne is weak to Bond's suave moves and easily gives in to him, giving him everything he wants, both in the bed, and in terms of snooping around in Drax's office. And once she is found out by Drax, she is quickly disposed of, albeit in a fairly ridiculous manner.
Manuela:
If Corinne was a minor character, so too was Manuela, who is Bond's contact in Rio. She is a sexy little thing who only serves to please Bond and lead him to Drax's warehouse where he encounters Jaws once again. But honestly, I really don't have much to say about her. She is a rather bland character.

The Car & the Chase:
This time there is no car chase, but rather two more boat chases, and they were both pretty lame really. The first takes place in Venice where Bond reveals that he has a motorized gondola and proceeds to lead his enemies on a fairly uneventful chase which includes, once again (The Man With the Golden Gun), the unimaginative split boat schtick, wherein Bond runs through another boat an splits it in half, much to the demise of its passengers. The next is, well, honestly I have a tough time remembering, even when looking at my notes. But I do know one thing, Bond's enemies were trying to get him by firing mortars at him. Really? Mortars? Please. Bring back the cool cars and slick chases.

Mission Debriefing:
When I watch this movie in the context of this marathon it becomes abundantly clear to me that this is a piggyback movie. And when I say piggyback I mean that the producers are merely trying to cash in on the success of the last installment, The Spy Who Loved Me. There are far too many similarities for it not to be, at least in my mind. In addition, the end of the last film proclaimed, "James Bond will return in 'For Your Eyes Only'", not 'Moonraker. And since For Your Eyes Only is indeed the next in the series after this one, I am only to assume that this one was rushed into production, which is exactly what the finished product feels like, rushed.

What is more is the striking similarities to another success from the time period, a little film called Star Wars. I must applaud the Bond producers for jumping on the chance of producing a film set in space that is so similar to their last film as well. Now, the connections here are sparse, but they certainly exist. I mean the ending, with the manual override shot to end the evil of the enemy. There is even a city in space, city in the clouds anyone? I know that didn't come out until the next year, but I just can't help but notice these things. And for that reason I cannot look at Moonraker as being a film that is all that original. And on top of that, it is filled with tons of cheesy dialogue and awkward choices when it comes to the evil of Drax.

For instance, when Corinne is disposed of for succumbing to Bond, she is killed by Drax's two rottweilers. Given, the sequence is filmed really well, which is reminiscent of director Lewis Gilbert's good camerawork on The Spy Who Loved Me, but still the scene fails because of its dumb premise. The dogs get sicked on her, Oooooo. And then the goofiness that comes with sticking Bond, and ultimately Jaws, in the middle of Carnivale in Rio. Carnivale is a great setting, but they don't utilize it and in fact make Jaws wear a ridiculous clown suit. And there is one more choice I have to comment on and that is having Drax's minions be Asian. Why does this make sense? My only guess is that the producers can have Bond fight a ninja. Seriously.

Now I have been ripping on this film, and honestly the first 1 hour and 30 minutes really does deserve it, but then there is the last 30 minutes of the film, which occur in space, and which seem to work so much better than what came before it. Not until space does Jon Barry's score go from bland and unnoticable to something that compliments the images quite well. Not until space does the production design by the great Ken Adam really do the film justice. Okay, well the scenes leading up to space are great production design-wise, but I stand by it not really clicking until much too late in the film. Even Drax seems quite bland until space gives him a new aura that becomes much more threatening. And I do want to give Michael Lonsdale credit for doing what he did with what he was given, which wasn't much.

I am starting to grow tired of Roger Moore as Bond however. His delivery of the one liners has become stale and unfunny and he is definitely starting to show his age. The first thing I noticed was how Monypenny was starting to age herself, and I thought to myself, well she is a secretary, so that's okay, especially with the awesome Lois Maxwell. But then I saw Moore and I said to myself that he was getting noticeably older and I thought to myself, that is unacceptable. Bond is supposed to be the best secret agent in the world. A first class womanizer and physically fit to complete any mission. So when he endures 12 Gs worth of speed, I was impressed , clearly showing that Bond is a man's man. But it was too unbelievable to be worth it for me.

At the end of the day, Moonraker was disabled all the way from the start, doomed to failure. Drax is never given a chance, it is always assumed he is the bad guy. Why? And all of the locations! Completely unnecessary. Bond goes globe trekking and for no good reason. They never utilize their location and all it becomes is one big meandering film. The cool stuff was much too fleeting to ever get that interested in this installment. Mark it up as a major disappointment and a misstep by the franchise. I can't wait to wash the taste of this one out of my mouth and move forward into somewhat unknown territory, as the next five Bond films are ones that I have only seen once.


James Bond will return in...

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