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Moonraker (1979)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

One of the most overblown and lightweight additions to the James Bond canon, Moonraker is saved from ignominy by decent effects and the hulking presence of Jaws. The film kicks off to such a promising start too, with the curious sight of a Boeing 747 giving a piggyback ride - to a shuttle! On loan from the US to the UK, the Moonraker does a neat disappearing act by being hijacked. Since the British Government can, understandably, find no trace of this precious cargo in the wreckage strewn across the Yukon, "M" (Bernard Lee) gets a call. For such a sensitive mission he enlists James Bond (Roger Moore), veteran of many a face saving operation. As a first step Bond hops off to California, where Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) constructs these space-going vehicles.

At first Bond receives a warm welcome from Drax, being given the freedom to roam his magnificent and genuine chateau. To assuage any concern, the intellectual Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) is assigned as Bond's guide. The perfect foil, since she ignores his loaded comments, Goodhead first lets Bond test his mettle in their high-g apparatus. Unfortunately for him Drax has decided to move quickly, assigning an impassive Chang (Toshirô Suga) to the task of disposal. With a twist of the wrist, Bond battles looming unconsciousness; only the inventiveness of "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn) can save him now. Luckily for Bond, a timely escape will facilitate his first conquest of the film; not such a great career move for Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery) but an invaluable one for information-parched Bond.

Designed to chime with the second coming of the Space Age, Moonraker is forever missing the point of Bond movies. Its first mistake is to upset the delicate balance which stands between 007 and the technology around him. Previously these gadgets existed only to serve Bond; here they dominate the film, making our favourite agent an occasional afterthought. It's understandable that Lewis Gilbert would want to get his money's worth from the special effects, yet that's hardly a credible excuse. Then, as if this wasn't enough, Drax, an uninspiring nemesis, emasculates Bond further. Since, like any action hero, Bond relies on an invincible opponent to make himself look good, this is a fatal weakness. Now, in some areas Moonraker is actually impressive; namely the feature-rich sets and effects. Sadly these fail to sustain ones interest throughout Moonraker's bloated running time.

The core figure of Moonraker is, without any doubt, Moore. As the only character with significant screen time, his performance effectively determines the film's longevity. On this score he is partially successful; Moore has plentiful supplies of an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek attitude. However, on the flip side, he plainly lacks the gravitas necessary for Bond. There is a fanciful air about Moore that simply cannot be ignored, especially when he hardly seems to be trying (as is the case here). Lonsdale, with a performance of equal weight, also disappoints. Then again he isn't even given the usual chance to spell his plan out to Bond; a part this underwritten would surely scupper anybody. Much more fun is Jaws (Richard Kiel), especially so since Moonraker allows him to fall in love. In a scene clearly intended for laughs, the mutual joy apparent is surprisingly refreshing.

In line with this general lack of attention, the narrative of Moonraker is contrived, fragmented and disjointed. Instead of weaving a coherent story, the film is more a sequence of high-adrenaline danger situations. All Bond has to do is escape the latest trap, bed the nearest female and, without explanation, leap to the next exotic locale - repeatedly. It's as if someone sieved the obvious bits from every other Bond movie and carelessly slung them together; the lack of quiet moments and subtlety that this entails is quite wearying. Sadly it may well be the mindless entertainment of Moonraker (huge explosions and easy women) which reaped close to the highest box-office of any entry in the series. Fortunately there is at least one unconditional piece of praise possible - the opening free-fall brawl is superb!


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