By Marc S. Sanders
Roger Moore’s fourth outing as James Bond was supposed to be For Your Eyes Only. However, producer Albert R. Broccoli made a last minute switch before production was to take place. Two little known films called Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind broke box office records and Broccoli went with “Moonraker” to piggy back on the science fiction trend. James Bond needed to launch into outer space. The effort proved profitable even if the story mostly fails.
A Moonraker shuttle is mysteriously hijacked from the Americans. After Bond survives being thrown out of an airplane with no parachute by the hulking assassin Jaws, he is assigned to determine what happened to the ship, and what purpose it is being used for.
Bond travels to California to introduce himself to Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) with his samurai henchman Chang, and to Dr. Holly Goodhead (yes you read that right) played by Lois Chiles.
The issue with Moonraker is it suffers from a number of boring elements including Lonsdale, Chiles and even Jaws is watered down as he falls in love with a nerdy, pigtailed, blonde. Eventually, Jaws becomes a good guy and that’s when your eyes roll. Lonsdale is hardly any fun in his villainy. Chiles is not any more interesting than her character’s last name. Action scenes are bland beyond the airplane drop in the title sequence which has outstanding camerawork accompanied by the staple Bond theme.
Broccoli and returning director Lewis Gilbert (The Spy Who Loved Me) focused more on the science fiction cinematic trend with laser guns and laughable lack of effective zero gravity.
Broccoli became guilty of going with what was trendy with Moore’s 007. Blaxploitation with Live And Let Die, martial arts with The Man With The Golden Gun, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, in The Spy Who Loved Me, and now science fiction in Moonraker. The sci fi doesn’t work so well for Bond or Drax’ diabolical scheme to destroy all human civilization and begin a new life in space.
Q provides Bond with a cool wrist band that shoots darts. That’s pretty fun.
As well, travel sites still hold up with destinations along the California coast, Italy with a gadget filled gondola and a glass shop fight, and Rio De Janeiro where Bond faces off against Jaws along the tops of two cable cars and engages in a boat chase. Then of course Bond eventually reaches Drax’ satellite base in space. None of it is unwatchable. It’s fun. It’s just not comparatively as exciting as prior Bond adventures before, and still to come.
Moonraker is just a little too weightless.
It should be noted as well that sadly, we also say goodbye to Bernard Lee as M, head of the Double O section for the last eleven films. He’s here to remind 007 that the British government can’t afford any slip ups. The whole series thus far was only better because of Lee to emit humorous aggravation in response to Bond’s relaxed and sarcastic response to the government risks at hand. Bernard Lee deserves recognition.