23. Moonraker

For more on my process of rating the James Bond movies, read this.

Moonraker isn’t a bad movie. Released in 1979, two years after Star Wars, the filmmakers attempted to ride its coattails to box office success. Apparently in that respect it was a success. No, Moonraker suffers from being sort of boring, which I realize is a weird thing to say about a movie that has both a zero-gravity laser fight between astronauts floating hundreds of miles above Earth and a love story involving two mutes who infiltrate a project to breed a new super species of people to replace the soon-to-be destroyed human race. 

Take that, Star Wars special effects!

I cannot imagine Sean Connery’s 007 stumbling his way into this film. Gone are subtle spying techniques or meeting Felix to share covert intelligence. Instead we’re jumping from airplanes without parachutes (and surviving) and having laser fights with astro-marines in space. In just 15 years (and 9 movies) we’ve gone from Bond escaping a slow moving laser using his watch to literal laser fights in space. We’ve replaced henchmen falling over rails a few stories inside of an army base with henchmen exploding in space and plummeting hundreds of miles to earth. Special effects and extraterrestrial settings replace small scenes and fist fights inside an elevator. Bigger and bloated.

In the world of Moonraker, a watch with only a GPS seems barbaric. 

Speaking of barbaric, Jaws returns for his third Bond movie and in addition to a love interest he has a line! Jaws himself perhaps embodies this film series’s tonal shift more than anything else. He reaches full super-villain status in Moonraker, where he should have died no fewer than three times by my count:

  • In the opening scene, Jaws has jumped from an airplane in pursuit of Bond only to find that his parachute doesn’t work … so he flaps his arms to move above a circus tent, which he lands in after falling tens of thousands of feet. (What is it about James Bond and circuses?)
  • His cable car crashes into a building, which promptly falls on top of him. He has to wipe some dirt and dust off his shoulders.
  • He falls from a space station to Earth. I repeat: he falls from an exploding space station which does not have non-exploded space vehicles hundreds of miles to Earth. 
The love story everyone was craving

In other words, this is the movie where Bond filmmakers abandon any grounding in reality and jump with two feet into the world of sci-fi. It’s not all bad, but, to its detriment, it’s certainly not a typical Bond movie.

On to the ratings!

Bond (1)

Bond … in a boat!

Roger Moore is at his Roger Mooreiest in Moonraker with some terrific one-liners:

  • Drax: Why did you break up the encounter with my pet python? Bond: I discovered it had a crush on me.
  • Bond (to Drax, who is about to be ejected into space): Take a giant step back for mankind.

Moore is of course suave as he seduces several women, only some of whom die as a result. My biggest laugh came when Bond sees Goodhead through a public telescope, smiles, lets go of the telescope, and the thing goes full vertical. 

I cannot find fault with Moore’s performance. It’s not his fault the story, script, and much else doesn’t rise to his level.

Bond girl (0)

She even stands boring

Lois Chiles plays Dr. Holly Goodhead, an astronaut working for Drax Industries who is actually a CIA agent. Before we go any further: How lazy is this name? Couldn’t they even it make Güdhëd or some other German-sounding name? At any rate, the performance Ghiles provides is wooden and uninteresting, made all the worse by dialogue that doesn’t help her:

Bond: “I’m looking for Dr. Goodhead.”
Goodhead:“You’ve found her.”
Bond: “A woman?”
Goodhead: “Your powers of observation do you credit.”

There are even times when her voice sounds dubbed over in sequences where other actors are not. It’s all just weird. I’m going to call it: the worst non-Denise Richards Bond girl performance in 60 years. But, you know, congrats on the telescope gag.

Bond villain(s) (0)

Yes, I designed the uniforms. Why do you ask?

The big bad here is Hugo Drax, an uber-rich industrialist with his own space program. His plan … well I’ll let him explain it as he did to his team of astronauts: 

“First there was the dream, now there is reality. Here in the untainted cradle of the heavens will be created a new super race, a race of perfect physical specimens. You have been selected as its progenitors. Like gods, your offspring will return to Earth and shape it in their image. You have all served in public capacities in my terrestrial empire. Your side, like yourselves, will pay deference to the ultimate dynasty which I alone have created. From their first day on Earth, they will be able to look up and know that there is law and order in the heavens.”

Cicero he is not. He’s bland and forgettable, but is responsible for one of the hardest to watch sequences in classic Bond movies. Bond has seduced one of Drax’s female employees so he could snoop around his house, which Drax has discovered. Upon returning from a hunting trip with Bond, the villain fires the young woman and asks her to pack her things. And then almost immediately — as she is walking towards the woods that will take her back to the house — Drax releases his hunting dogs, who chase her down sink their teeth into her flesh. It was interminably long and pointless. We already know Drax is a bad guy. This whole thing is redundant. 

Song (0.5)

Shirley Bassey also returns for the third time for the theme to Moonraker. She sounds great! The lyrics do not. “Just like the Moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold /
I search for love, for someone to have and hold.” Uninspiring.

Plot (0.5) 

After a US space shuttle being transported on Earth is hijacked and presumed destroyed, 007 is assigned to the case, where he meets Hugo Drax, founder of Drax Industries. There he meets Dr. Holly Goodhead, a terribly boring astronaut who lets Bond take a ride in a centrifuge. Drax’s henchman Chang turns the thing up to 11 (or something) and nearly kills 007, piquing his interest in the millionaire.

My face looked like this after 90 minutes without anyone entering space.

Bond goes to Venice where he bumps into Goodhead, who is also tracking Drax because she is actually a CIA agent. Because they are in Venice, they have a boat chase in which Bond kills Chang. The two spies team up and discover Drax’s poison plans. Bond reports his findings to M, but when MI6 comes to the site of Drax’s project, they find an empty laboratory.

Embarrassed, M is forced to put Bond on leave, so the spy goes to Rio de Janeiro “on vacation” to continue his investigation. During the Carnival, Jaws, now working for Drax, tracks down Bond and Goodhead on a cable car. Bond escapes and Jaws is rescued from his crashed cable car by a young mute, pigtailed blonde named Dolly.

Jaws eventually finds Bond again — because the plot deemed it necessary — and takes him to Drax. Finally, at the 1:32:00 mark of a film called Moonraker, our hero sneaks aboard a shuttle and finds himself on the Drax space station. 

Cool spaceship, bro!

After Bond learns the extent of Drax’s evil plan (see above), he convinces Jaws that he and Dolly don’t have a future in the evil genius’s plans for paradise and so he helps Bond escape. Meanwhile, US Marines have followed Moonraker 6 into space and engage in an “epic” battle where men in spacesuits shoot lasers at each other. Bond ejects Drax — not wearing a space suit — into space, and he and Goodhead climb into an escape pod which won’t undock so Jaws — who seems to realize he and Dolly will die on the exploding space station — helps release it and pops some champaign to drink with his love. (“Well, here’s to us,” Jaws says in his only line in any Bond film.) Mere minutes later we learn that the Army has “… reported picking up two survivors from the space station. A tall man and a short blonde woman.” 

The allied forces celebrate saving humanity by opening a video feed with 007’s escape pod only to see the two spies engaged in adult activities.

Miscellaneous (0.5)

“Dear God, what’s Bond doing?” 
“I think he’s attempting re-entry., sir”

That line from Q alone is worth extra points. What a classic.

Final rating

Extra abs

  • 0% of this movie takes place on the moon.
  • “They’ll make it. It’s only a hundred miles to earth.” 
  • I mentioned that Jaws jumps out of a plane but the full scene is cool: bad guys throw 007 out of a plane without a parachute so he finds his way to one of the bad guys with a parachute and takes it off his back. This is how he lands on the guy:

Published by Phillip Knight Scott

My name is Phillip. I am a Tar Heel born and bred and watch every Yankees game I can. I'm still searching for my own TARDIS. My first novel, "The Alien in the Backseat," is available now! https://amzn.to/3oVCG77

3 thoughts on “23. Moonraker

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