Monday, December 30, 2013

Science Fiction Bond: Moonraker Is An Unfortunate Departure!

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of plot
The Bad: Overall ridiculous plot, No real character development, Odd script issues.
The Basics: The James Bond franchise takes a flying leap into space with Moonraker, wherein Bond must defeat a billionaire’s plan to kill everyone on Earth and repopulate it with his select bimbos and beefcakes.

As the 1970s drew to a close, the obsession with outer space and science fiction reached one of its peaks in the United States. Following the success of Star Wars (reviewed here!), 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, it was clear to the major movie studios that science fiction films were important for retaining audiences and developing film franchises. The James Bond franchise was not immune to the effect of the influence of the blockbusters; seeking to keep its audience, Moonraker was produced and the fantastic nature of the film sets it apart from the rest of the films in the James Bond franchise.

Moonraker puts James Bond in space under circumstances that are even more preposterous than the usual James Bond plotline. Bond villains, for those not familiar with the franchise, tend to be bent on world domination and/or profiting from the mass destruction of nations or industries. Moonraker takes it a step farther with a Bond villain bent on wiping out life on Earth and repopulating with his concept of what represents the best traits of humanity (all of whom are pretty thin, stereotypically beautiful, and supposedly smart - though genetic diversity does seem to be a priority, which is realistic). In order to sell the larger than life plot of the villain, Hugo Drax, the viewer is forced to accept premises such as a standing U.S. military space army, laser guns, a secretly-constructed space station, artificial gravity technology and a weaponized toxin made from one of the rarest flowers on Earth mass produced to a level that it could actually wipe out humanity. For the viewers who enjoyed any sense of realism in the spy thriller genre, Moonraker breaks with all conventions of the familiar and real and comes across as unfortunately absurd.

Opening with the Space Shuttle Moonraker being piggybacked on a 747, two men enter the shuttle and ignite its fuel, stealing the shuttle and destroying the plane. The theft prompts M to recall James Bond, who narrowly escapes an attempt on his life while in a small plane on his way home from his last mission. Bond is told the truth about the hijacking by M and given a dart gun by Q before being sent to California to visit Drax Industries, the manufacturer of the Moonraker shuttle. Drax, who is obsessed with the conquest of space, is insanely wealthy; his residence in California is a transplanted French castle and he immediately sets to making sure Bond fails in his mission to find the Moonraker. Drax’s assistant, Chang, attempts to kill Bond using the g-force centrifuge, though Bond survives with the help of his dart gun and the NASA scientist, Dr. Holly Goodhead.

Bond inadvertently follows Goodhead to Venice where he is investigating a subcontractor to Drax and where she is giving a speech. After surviving gondola chase, infiltrating a secret Drax laboratory and finally dispatching Chang, Bond discovers that Goodhead is a CIA agent tasked with the same mission as him. While trying to expose Drax’s secret lab, Bond is discredited and has to follow the trail of Drax Industries subcontractors to Rio De Janeiro on his own. When Q determines that a compound snuck out of Drax’s secret lab is a poison made from an ultra-rare orchid, Bond is vindicated and he and Goodhead infiltrate Drax’s secret shuttle fleet and space station, pursued by the assassin Jaws, to try to save the world from being poisoned and humanity killed.

Even more than a “more preposterous than usual” plotline, Moonraker is plagued by odd and obvious script problems. For example, when Bond reports in, his dialogue with Moneypenny is unusually fragmented. He tells Moneypenny about how he jumped out of a plane without a parachute, she tells him something else and they have a back and forth before he incredulously observes that she does not believe him about the plane jump. Sadly, that is not the only place in the movie where the dialogue seems stilted.

Moonraker features the return n The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike the Louisiana sheriff being used in two James Bond movies, the reuse of Richard Kiel as the giant Jaws is far less annoying and helps tie the otherwise far-flung Moonraker back to the rest of the Bond franchise. Kiel is hired for his brawn and he is an exceptional match for Roger Moore.

The distinct guest star in Moonraker, though, is Lois Chiles as Dr. Goodhead. While the name might be absurd, the character is one of the more interesting Bond women. Goodhead spends the first half of the film clearly the equal of James Bond with a moral uncertainty that makes watching her character’s direction fun and interesting. While Michael Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax is instantly portrayed as evil and the actor is not given much in the way of range to play the role, Chiles excels because she gets through the excessive technobabble of Goodhead flawlessly – credibly establishing Goodhead as a smart enough woman to plausibly be both a NASA astronaut and a CIA agent. As well, she matches Roger Moore’s James Bond line for line with the wit and snappy comebacks one expects of James Bond. Her performance is more than just that of sex object (the objectified women – and, for a change, men – in Moonraker are relegated to Drax’s menagerie of repopulating personnel at the film’s climax).

Roger Moore does a fine job as James Bond, though Moonraker does not push his character forward in any meaningful or noteworthy ways to give him much new to do, save playing thoroughly exhausted following the centrifuge scene.

In all, Moonraker is preposterous – details like closing an airlock door differentiating between an area without gravity and one with is just silly – but it is pretty harmless entertainment that has the added benefit of being well-acted, if not superlative in any other way.

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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