Sunday, 27 February 2011

Discount Bin Film Club: Moonraker

Welcome to the show folks...

It's been a while since I've done one of my discount bin film club reviews, which is rather slack on my part.

In the shopping and sales crush before Christmas I came across a discount DVD rack selling the Ultimate Edition box sets of the James Bond movies for less than $20 CDN apiece. These editions deliver some of the best picture and sound quality these films have ever enjoyed, and watching them on a big screen really brings it home to the viewer.

Now I could talk about the 007 movies that I like, but I decided to do something different and talk about the James Bond movie that I have never really liked from the first moment I saw it as a kid.

I'm talking about

However, it wasn't until my recent viewing, part of my ongoing Bond Movie A Week program, that I realized why I disliked
Moonraker so much.

My dislike is rooted in disappointment.

I have been a Bond fan since I was a kid and was allowed to stay up late to watch
Dr. No on the ABC Movie Of The Week on a summer night when I was 10 years old. I liked the action, the sly sarcastic humor, the beautiful and exotic women, the beautiful and exotic locales, and even the super-sleek production design work of Ken Adam.

Yet from the moment I saw Moonraker on TV about 2-3 years after its theatrical run, I felt nothing but disappointment. That disappointment comes from the fact that it has some good elements that are crushed by the overwhelming power of the bad elements.

First, the good elements:

1. The Villain. French actor Michael Lonsdale does an excellent job as the villain Hugo Drax. He understands the role better than a lot of actors who had the job. He does more than just delivers his lines, he sells it. They give him some really hokey chestnuts in the dialogue and he does them with the sort of conviction you need when you're playing a Bond villain. The most common mistake among villain actors is that they play them evil. Lonsdale plays Drax as a sober and serious man who truly believes that he's doing the Earth a favor by wiping out civilization and with it the bulk of the human race.

2. The Action. Moonraker features some really well done action sequences. The stunt work is first rate, and the special effects, considering the primitive technology they were using, even by 70s standards, is for the most part pretty good for their time.

3. The Production Design. Ken Adam does his usual crackerjack work creating the sleek metallic HQs of Bond super-villains, creating unique sets that put the series in their own special little universe. My only little quibble is that a lot of death and injury could have been avoided if said super-villains invested in some railings for his stairs and mezzanine areas. Just a quibble.

Now I come to the bad parts, which are really small parts of a greater unpleasant whole otherwise known as THE SCRIPT.

1. The Plot. I assume the writing process for Moonraker went something like this: The writer took the basic plot of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is rich man steals government property in order to end humanity, then Bond stops him. Then the writer replaced nuclear submarines with space shuttles, and an undersea habitation with a space station. Of course the writer was limited by...

2. The Premise. Even when all they take from the original novels was a title there was usually some sort of organic idea behind the film's central premise. This isn't so with Moonraker. With Moonraker there's nothing organic about it, just an attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars by trying to turn 007 from a relatively Earth-bound spy to some sort of Han Solo rehash. Even why I was a kid and saw the ads declaring 007 was going into outer space I thought: "What a hack job."

3. The Jokiness. Despite the fate of the entire world lying in the balance the film is unrelentingly silly. It goes from really ridiculous visual gags like the gondola that turns into a hovercraft and runs through St. Marks Square in Venice, to some really hokey joke lines. Bond is expected to drop a fitting pun or double entendre on occasion, but they really go overboard here, and with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

They also bring back the metal toothed goon Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me, and transformed him from a scary unstoppable killing machine into a comical oaf, who switches sides and joins Bond to save his diminutive girlfriend who doesn't match Drax's image of perfection.

When I see Moonraker I can't help but think that they should have stopped before the camera's rolled, and took the time to find a better script, so that the good elements of the film could find the home they deserved.

It's a must for 007 completists, and the extra features show you a lot about the state of the franchise and film in the late 1970s, but that's pretty much the only reason to buy Moonraker.


  1. With the last few Moore 007 films, Bond was going the way of batman in the batman films. Bond went from a serious blood and guts secret agent to a campy comic book hero.

    This is why people accepted the Daniel Craig Bond even after the hype leading up the Casino Royale.
    Hoe can Bond be blond and stuff. He was not the tall dark and handsome 007 of Brosnan or Connery but acting wise he SOLD IT. I sold a Bond that was closer to the Ian Flemming novels, a well trained soldier who was physically and mentally capable of doing the job.

  2. Blast Hardcheese28/2/11 12:08 pm

    Seconded on the villain - Michael Lonsdale is a great actor, shame he doesn't do more roles outside of France. I loved him in "Day of the Jackal", which for me is still one of the best thrillers out there.