“Moonraker” (1979) | Film Review

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert

Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles and Michael Lonsdale

Running Time: 126 mins.

J’s Verdict – ☆☆

It’s the year 1979 and what better way to cap off the end of the decade and of the 70’s Bond era than with MOONRAKER, Roger Moore’s fourth outing and his most out-of-this-world adventure yet.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY was next in line to be filmed but all that got postponed in the wake of the success of space films like STAR WARS. So in comes Moonraker, loosely adapted from the Ian Fleming novel and redesigned to feature science fiction themes for the current times.

This time around – I’ll probably write that one a lot the further I review Bond films – James Bond heads off on the trail of a missing space craft, which puts him in the sights of Hugo Drax, a soft-spoken mysterious fellow with plenty of classic lines of villainy to throw around.

Along the way, he enlists the help of Holly GoodHead (a charming Lois Chiles), an astronaut with a hidden agenda, and comes back into contact with Jaws, the gigantic henchmen with metal teeth from the previous film.

Camp. Live and Let Die had it, The Man with the Golden Gun tried to blend it and Moonraker dials it up to 11. It is, as far as I can see as I journey through the series, Roger Moore’s Diamonds are Forever. Where DAF had Blofeld in drag, Moonraker goes to SPAAAAACE. All in an attempt to capitalise on the, sweet, sweet space adventure film interest of the going public at the time.

And how does this camp, all-in science fiction themed adventure go?

Visually, I think the film looks fantastic – the sets, the locations, the effects all look smashing. I particularly enjoyed the chase scene through the Venice Canals or the ultimate evil lair in the Amazons, with the python wrestling and such.

There’s a lot to enjoy visually with the film, particularly the stunts – the opening parachute wrestle is exhilarating, as is the concept and work on the sky lifts behind the scenes.

Roger Moore is clearly in his element, clearly having fun playing this Bond that moves further away from the serious Sean Connery iteration that The Man With The Golden Gun was attempting. Here Bond is the laidback, light and humorous secret agent from The Spy Who Loved Me. I can dig it.

I love Lois Chiles, I think she’s quite charming in the role and I like that Holly herself gets in on the action and physical fights. I only wish there was more to her character background in the story – but at 126 minutes, I understand that would be pushing it.

Michael Lonsdale, I think, is suitably icy to the role of Drax. By this point in the Bond realm, I think the villains being reduced to standing straight and delivering classy villainous lines with such villainy is such a classic Bond trope and Lonsdale has some of the best ice-cold lines. So I can put aside the fact that we don’t really see much of him outside of that when he does it so well.

Richard Kiel’s back as Jaws too. His appearance here is much more comedic than in TSWLM. He’s clearly having a lot of fun – I hear the cable from the sky carriage sequence was made of licorice, which I’m low-key jealous of – so that’s nice to see, even if his appearance this time around does away with his menace and goes into one of the movies more bizarre plot elements.

The thing here with Moonraker is that between its camp or gags or story beats like Jaws’ new squeeze – it gets to the point where it feels like a farce, like a parody of the very movie it is trying to make and before you know it, people are shooting at each other with frickin’ lasers in space. Even in the fantastical cinematic universe that is 60s-70s Bond, where George Lazenby references Sean Connery in the beginning of OHMSS or the doppelgänger-like opening of From Russia With Love.

I think that even beyond it’s sillier elements, which – let’s face it, can be fun in a so-bad-it’s-good way (Side Note; I don’t mind silliness, Live and Let Die is one of my favourites and look how that movie’s villain went out) – even beyond its absurdity and farcical elements, I think there’s a few problems with the screenplay – I think it’s a bit unwieldy, a bit messy when it comes to connecting scenes or filler scenes or wavering tones, from slapstick to the more dramatic moments. Adding to that farcical element, you can watch it and digest it and see its lack of sense. And then the third act comes and it’s drab and flat and sleepy.

From the least effective title sequence and song yet to an odd final act, Moonraker is a space oddity – light entertainment where everyone seems to be having fun. It has dazzling sets and stunts, it’s cinematography is lavish and vibrant and it’s cast is charming but I found I was a bit underwhelmed with it, all the while laughing at it more than with it.

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