Review: 'Moonraker' (1979) Dir. Lewis Gilbert
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Taking stock of changing times and pop culture, Roger Moore and the production team created their own war in the stars for 007...
When a space shuttle is hijacked in mid-transit, MI6 orders agent James Bond (Moore) to investigate. The shuttle was a production of Drax Industries, run by Sir Hugo Drax (Lonsdale).
With his investigation taking him from California to Venice to Rio de Janeiro, Bond encounters astronaut Dr Holly Goodhead (Chiles) on numerous occasions and gradually forms an alliance with her when it’s revealed she is an undercover CIA agent.
But Drax isn’t willing to let his secret plan be foiled, and enlists the brute force of Jaws (Kiel). Bond discovers Drax has deadly weaponry to eradicate human life on Earth, all carried out from a top secret station location in outer-space…
For many this is a daft Bond film, not least because the adventure culminates in a massive laser battle above the Earth that is just a LITTLE too out there for a James Bond film, but is also features such insanity as Roger Moore driving round St Mark's Square in a gondola-turned-hovercraft, a double-taking pigeon (the stuff of legend) and silly uses of music from other films and franchises and shouldn’t have been used at all. Bond rides on horseback to the theme of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and the keypad to Drax’s secret laboratory plays the theme tune to ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’.
Bear in mind this film was shoe-horned in before the pre-planned ‘For Your Eyes Only’ in an effort to capitalise on the success of ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 and capture the worlds new-found love for science fiction. So why not have Bond do it? These quirky moments pop up a little too often during the film and it’s clear that riding on the success of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ with that winning Broccoli production, it seemed as if 007 could do no wrong.
But they WERE wrong thinking that, and the over-confidence starts to seep through a little in thinking Bond could be more comedic, more carefree in its theme and more outrageous with its story.
It's a bit ridiculous in places even for a grounded spy film like James Bond, and while we love Roger Moore and his tongue-in-cheek humour mixed with his deadly efficiency (“You missed, Mr.Bond.” “Did I?”), it’s hard to swallow when the music and action around Moore is also trying to be comedic and silly – it’s too much to take and not what we really want.
And with Moore giving another faultless portrayal, the tone of the film at times detracts from him which is a shame because there are a few darker moments to enjoy, and some real scenes evoking that dangerous espionage world Bond lives in - but it's always overlooked by a silly bit of comedy, music or facial gurning from a villain.
However, it’s not all bad. The production design is superb with Ken Adams back on form in set design that is both outlandish and memorable. Opening with a great freefall action sequence which tops most pre-title sequences, 'Moonraker' crams in as many stunts, gadgets, and exotic locations as possible. Even before setting foot in space, much is made of the film in California, Venice and Rio.
It certainly delivers what we demand from Bond; the late Michael Lonsdale as our twisted, evil villain. Richard Kiel back as Jaws, even if he falls in love (another slightly daft sub-plot), he still has a brilliant time on screen. We have a host of gorgeous Bond girls and shows a stronger leading lady in Lois Chiles who punches just as hard as Bond does, and also plenty of gadgets on show.
The scale of this film is equal to ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ - big, bold and ballsy. However it seemed to peak a little too soon, and so actually shot itself in the foot by being TOO big, TOO bold and TOO ballsy when audiences certainly enjoyed it, but on the whole wasn’t quite ready for 007 to go out of his depth and become something he wasn’t. A mistake repeated in 2002 with ‘Die Another Day’ with pretty much killed the franchise for a while. Thankfully ‘Moonraker’ doesn’t kill things, and paves the way for a return to form in ‘For Your Eyes Only’.
It’s daft, but fun, all held together by the inimitable Roger Moore and a passionate EON crew. In all, it’s literally a Bond movie out of this world!
'Moonraker' is an EON Productions production