Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Moonraker" (1979)

Starring Roger Moore, Richard Kiel and Michael Lonsdale
Written by Christopher Wood
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Rated PG - Violence, language, sex
Running Time: 126 Minutes

When an experimental space shuttle is stolen while being transported across the ocean, MI6 agent 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to the United States to investigate the manufacturer, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).  There, he meets Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), a beautiful scientist and undercover CIA agent.

Bond suspects that Drax is involved the theft of the shuttle, but can't prove it.  He begins to dig deeper into Drax's massive multinational corporation, and finds evidence that Drax may be manufacturing some kind of nerve gas.  He heads to Italy, where he finds Goodhead once more, and after surviving an encounter with the assassin known as Jaws (Richard Kiel), the two decide to team up and figure out exactly what Drax is up to.

Eventually, they find that Drax is creating a secret society in space and plans to wipe out all of humanity using his deadly nerve gas, and the survivors will be only those of his choosing to form a master race.  Bond and Goodhead must race against time, assassins, and Drax's henchmen to stop the gas from raining death upon the Earth.

Uh... Where to start.

"Moonraker" is a pretty awful movie.  Produced to take advantage of the craze of science fiction films in the wake of "Star Wars," it places 007 where he has no business being: outer space.  Make no mistake, this is one of the dumbest, silliest Bond movies there is.  The idea behind it isn't so bad - that the villain wants to use nerve gas to destroy humanity and start over with his own hand-picked master race is a fine enough premise.  But in execution, "Moonraker" falls apart.

Every action sequence starts off well enough, but then ends up going completely off the rails.  A boat chase through the Venice canals, for example, ends with Bond's boat turning into a hovercraft and traveling up out of the water with everyone around staring in shock - including a poorly edited shot of a bird doing a double-take.  It's a groan-worthy moment in a film filled with them.

Other failures include the popular Jaws character, who starts out as a villain but is given a love interest late in the film and even ends up helping Bond escape from Drax's disintegrating space station.  It takes the silent, hulking and impervious assassin from "The Spy Who Loved Me" and completely eviscerates the strength of the character, turning him more and more into a joke as the film goes on.  Each time Bond escapes from him, he thinks Jaws has met his end, in which Kiel is called upon to make ridiculous, frightened and exaggerated facial expressions... only to go through the whole thing again when Jaws shows up again and again throughout the film.

Drax himself gets a few good one-liners, but like everything else ends up going too far.  Lonsdale plays him with a total monotone, not wavering his line delivery at all until one scene late in the game when he shouts at Jaws in frustration.  Ultimately what this does is make Drax a pretty boring character, since he just kind of delivers his lines without much energy or intensity, regardless of what he's saying.  The same problem goes for Goodhead - Lois Chiles is a lovely woman, and she even handles the action sequences well enough, but her line deliveries are boring as hell.

"Moonraker" meanders about getting more and more absurd as it goes, until it reaches its headshakingly ridiculous climax in which the US military sends troops into space to fight Drax's men, and the two forces engage in a space-suited laser battle in orbit while Bond and Goodhead attempt to sabotage the space station and stop the nerve gas.  It is easily the most ridiculous thing to happen in a Bond movie, and to be honest, I'm including the glacier surfing in "Die Another Day."

Thankfully, the producers would recognize their error with "Moonraker" and take the series back to more grounded territory with "For Your Eyes Only."  Now, "Moonraker" certainly has camp value, but taking it seriously will only ruin the experience.

See Also
James Bond