Thursday Night Movie Club
Moonraker
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Release Date: 29 June 1979

Director: Lewis Gilbert
ACTORS:
Roger Moore
Lois Chiles
Michael Lonsdale
Richard Kiel
Corinne Cléry
Bernard Lee
Geoffrey Keen
Desmond Llewelyn
Lois Maxwell
Toshirô Suga
Emily Bolton
Blanche Ravalec
Irka Bochenko
Mike Marshall
Leila Shenna
CHARACTERS:
James Bond
Dr. Holly Goodhead
Hugo Drax
Jaws
Corinne Dufour
M
Sir Frederick Gray
Q
Miss Moneypenny
Chang
Manuela
Dolly
Blonde Beauty
Col. Scott
Hostess Private Jet
Moonraker movie poster Moonraker movie poster Moonraker movie poster
Lois Chiles and Roger MooreHow could things have gone so bad so quickly? James Bond is back in his lousiest mission yet. After the amazingly wonderful The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker is a mess! What went wrong?

Screenwriter Christopher Wood returns. Does he come up with an original story? Does he borrow anything from Ian Fleming's novel? No! Wood takes the exact same story from The Spy Who Loved Me and changes the characters and locations but keeps the main story exactly the same.

Moonraker starts with a lot of promise. A Moonraker space shuttle is being lent the the British government. While inflight, the shuttle is hijacked. The special effects in this scene are spectacular.

Richar Kiel as JawsWith this becoming an international incident, 007 is called in. James Bond (Roger Moore) has his own problems. While returning from a mission, the stewardess (Leila Shenna) pulls a gun. She dons a parachute and jumps from the plane. The pilot destroys the controls and jumps. Bond is left on the plane without a parachute. Jaws (Richard Kiel) pops up out of nowhere and pushes the defenseless 007 out the jet door. Right about now, the audience is probably going "What the...?" The stunt work and cinematography are fantastic as Bond, sans parachute, tries desperately to catch the pilot and steal his parachute. The scene is wild and quite suspenseful. The whole scene is ruined as Jaws attacks Bond. The ever indestructible Bond escapes. Jaws pulls his ripcord and his chute fails. He is saved from certain death by landing on a big-top circus tent! The rest is all downhill.

Not all of the rest is downhill. There is a brief respite for the title song sung by Shirley Bassey and the music written by John Barry. Once more, Maurice Binder's title sequence is memorable. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't end there.

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo DraxBond is sent to California where he can learn more about The Moonraker shuttle where it is assembled. Billionaire Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) has built his own fleet of shuttles and loans them to NASA. How lucky for the Americans that a private citizen is better at building space shuttles than they are.

Michael Lonsdale either cannot act or returning director Lewis Gilbert specifically had Lonsdale act with such a dry, deadpan delivery. Maybe Drax is supposed to be cool, calm, calculating and very precise in his vocalizations. He has the emotional range of a teaspoon. For no reason whatsoevery, he orders his henchman Chang (Toshirô Suga) to "see that some harm comes to Bond."

Bond meets NASA scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). "Goodhead", really? Lois Chiles can't act her way out of any kind of bag. How far can Moonraker go when the two lead actors cannot act?

The best scene in Moonraker comes when Dr. Goodhead asks Bond if he would like to try the cyclotron which simulates the gravity astronauts experience during lift-off. Bond agrees but Chang deactivates the safety switch. Bond spins faster and faster! The G-force continues to build! Bond is seconds away from fainting and certain death! How will he get out of this? Easily! Bond simply uses a gadget from Q-Branch... a small missle launcher, containing armour-piercing tips, strapped to his wrist. Roger Moore gets the scene perfect. A weakened, stunned Bond stumbles from the capsule. Moore does not utter a customary stupid quip. Instead, he brusquely pushes Goodhead away looking as pissed as Bond has ever looked.

Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel and Roger MooreMoonraker rapidly goes downhill. Drax has absoulutely no reason to harm Bond. Drax is not a suspect. Still, Drax invites Bond to shoot some quail. An assassin with a rifle climbs a nearby tree to shoot Bond. Bond aims his shotgun and fires. Drax comments, "You missed." Bond replies, "Did I?" as the assassin tumbles from the tree right in front of Drax. Why didn't Drax just shoot Bond himself? Why didn't the assassin just walk up and shoot Bond?

Things get worse as Bond follows the trail to Venice. Bond is taking a leisurely gondola ride when a funeral boat approaches. The coffin opens revealing several throwing knives. A man sits up, grabs a knife, and throws it at Bond. Of course he misses. Bond grabs the knife and kills the man, his corpse now appropriately falling back into the coffin.

But there are even more surprises, with the flip of a switch, the gondola converts into a speedboat to the surprise of Bond's gondola punter who falls into the drink. To make his final escape, Bond converts the gondola into a hovercraft and drives it through a crowded plaza where a pigeon does a double-take in surprise. Yes, a pigeon does a double-take!

James Bond's Glaston boatMoonraker gets worse still. Bond sneaks into a secret chemical weapons laboratory. The code to enter the lab plays the theme chime from the Stephen Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg should be paying homage to all of the Bond films and not the other way around. Topping of the list of bad scenes is the ambulance fight scene in Rio de Janero. The scene is nothing more than extremely obvious product placement billboard signs. How low can you go?

Getting back to The Spy Who Loved Me, villain Hugo Drax's goal is to start a new race of humans, not below the oceans waves but in outer space aboard a space station that was built without the U.S. or Soviets aware of it's presence. Drax has found a chemical that only kills humans. He is going to surround the globe with capsules that will kill the human race. Sound familiar? This was Karl Stromberg's plan also. Christopher Wood went for the "full originality tour" on this one!

A Moonraker shuttle readies for launchThe only saving element in Moonraker are the Oscar-calibre special effects. The opening shuttle hijack, the Moonrakers launching into space and Drax's hidden fortress in space are spectacular. Rumor had it that NASA was immensely impressed in the effects as they could not make their own graphics look as realistic as in Moonraker.

Great special effects do not a great movie make. Jaws is helped out of a collapsed cable car station by a "Swiss Miss" in Rio and promptly falls in love. "Here's looking at you, kid." Yes, Jaws actually says that making everyone's eyeballs roll into their sockets for the umpteenth time in Moonraker. James Bond Will Return! I hope NOT! What? Did I just say that?