Sunday, 19 February 2012


I suppose there's a widely held notion that Bond films are either grim and gritty or high camp but that's not true. The best Bonds blend the two, the fantastic and the real world, and if we each have our own idea about where they meet, all we're doing is marking the point on the scale where we think the balance should be. But surely to goodness there can't be too many people who think that Moonraker is anything other than batshit crazy. It's so preposterous, it makes YOLT look like Cathy Come Home. It's odd because this is the same writing/directing team that nailed TSWLM two years before. Perhaps they were over-confident? Or maybe, after Star Wars and Superman, they felt they had to push Bond further to compete. Well, whatever the reason, this just doesn't work.

It follows the model from TSWLM fairly carefully, but somewhere along the way things fall through the Looking Glass into an insane version of the Bond universe. Take an example. In TSWLM, Bond has a streamlined sports car that converts into a submarine during a helicopter attack. It's very silly and it stretches our credulity but we knew it was going to do something as soon as Q pushed the keys into 007's hand. In the equivalent sequence from Moonraker Bond hails a seemingly random gondola and, having been attacked by a man hiding in a coffin on a Venetian canal, converts it first into a motor boat and then into a hovercraft in order to escape. For an encore, he drives the craft around a tourist-packed Piazza San Marco, and even the pigeons give him double-takes. It's beyond silly, it's ludicrous, a carelessly thrown away joke for which we are given no explanation, no context, no reasoning. In short, the credulity gap is unbridgable.

It's the same with the villains. Stromberg's plan had been to kill a few hundred million with stolen conventional nuclear weapons whilst hiding in his underwater sea base: silly but merely very unlikely. Here Hugo Drax's completely bananas scheme is to retire to an orbital space station before killing EVERYONE on the planet below with a nerve toxin derived from a rare Amazonian orchid that will leave all other forms of life untouched. Villainous schemes should teeter on the very edge of plausibility. Drax's is just stupid, and so far removed from feasibility as to render it dramatically worthless.

Throughout the script is littered with inconsistencies, improbable coincidences and stupid nonsense. It creates the impression that nobody really cared how everything was fitting together or whether it was making any sense. As I mentioned last time, Jaws was an effective villain in TSWLM because Bond was required to use his brain. Here nobody is using their brain and so Jaws is defeated in Rio by having some Mardi Gras revellers brush against him, sweeping him away into the carnival. Just a small example but typical of the carelessness with which this film has been plotted. It's depressing, but see the Eh? section anyway for a summary of as much of the madness as I could bear to remark upon.

Is there anything grounded about this film? Anything worth shouting about? It's Ken Adam's last Bond film and he leaves us with a magnificent control room for the Moonraker launch headquarters. It's angled and pointy and full of screens so it looks a little like a modernist chapel full of abstract stained-glass. (It's Bernard Lee's last film too, having played M since DRNO. He died just as filming began on FYEO.) Michel Lonsdale is rather good as Drax, displaying all the frosty and languid hauteur of a Himalayan glacier. And the centrifuge sequence is effective even if it is a rip-off of the traction machine from Thunderball. Houstonian Lois Chiles is nicely brusque and professional as NASA/CIA operative Goodhead, but weirdly turns to simpering jelly once Bond has got her into zero G. It's a shame because the corresponding character from the novel, policewoman Gala Brand, wonderfully does the opposite: appearing to be falling for 007 before telling him she's not interested and walking away on the last page. And if there was ever a Bond film where he deserved to be left standing dejected and chastened at the end, it was this one.
* * *

Pre-Credits Sequence:
It's a good stunt for the time, especially as it was done for real (if you want to see it done with CGI then watch third-rate Schwarzenegger flick Eraser which totally rips this off). But all too soon it all turns into a big unfunny joke when Jaws turns up and flails about in mid air like Wile E. Coyote.

A soporific combination of music and visuals. Drear and dull from Dame Shirley and John Barry; Maurice Binder feels compelled to dig out the trampoline again so it's all unnecessarily reminiscent of TSWLM.    

55 - way down on TSWLM but still quite hefty and comparable to the death tolls of the mid-Sixties.   

Memorable Deaths:
Corinne is chased down and savaged by Drax's evil big dogs.   

Licence to Kill: 15. Again it's small beer after TSWLM but it's really rather high even so. As of Moonraker, Moore's average kills per film is 31.25 and the average for Bond across all 11 films so far is only 17.

Exploding Helicopters: 0. But a jumbo does get exploderised by a shuttle's exhaust.

Shags: 3. This is now seemingly an unbreakable limit, a natural law of the Bond universe: no more than three sexual partners per film! 

Crimes Against Women: The soul-crushingly awful sexism and male insecurity of the Moore era is exemplified by Bond's smug, patronising and faintly bemused response to meeting NASA scientist and CIA operative Doctor (Holly) Goodhead: "A woman!" The man is a twunt. Dr Goodhead becomes the fourth woman in as many films to shag Bond within seconds of rejecting his advances. Remember boys, no means no.

Casual Racism: Hardly any. But then South America and Venice (and Space) aren't presented as real places full of indigenous cultures but as sandpits for Brits and Americans to play in. 

Out of Time: The US Space Marines all wear silver-foil spacesuits as if it were the Sixties. 

Fashion Disasters: Bond's back in a safari shirt. The yellow space suit with skullcap does him no favours either. And why does he dress up like a gaucho?

Eh?: I am going to get shouty here, sorry. Deep breath then and off we go! >> Drax, a government contractor responsible for building the space shuttle (and therefore, you know, probably vetted at least, if not kept under constant surveillance) has built his own launch complex in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. It is capable of launching multiple shuttles simultaneously (with all that implies for staff numbers and resources). To do this he has presumably procured himself the technical expertise of many individuals from astronautical engineering, one of the smallest and closely monitored industries on the planet. He has also built a space station in Earth orbit capable of docking all these shuttles - in other words it is vast - without anyone noticing. Hell, you can see the ISS with the naked eye but nobody in the world has noticed this space station? It's the most stupid thing in the series and makes SPECTRE's volcano lair look like a loft conversion. >> The nerve toxin kills only human life. Wow! Sounds impossible to me. And it's derived from a plant that made people infertile? Yes, of course! Because infertility and death are the same thing! Even more stupid is the fact that Bond is now a genius biochemist who can recognise a chemical formula instantly and knows the botanical history of the rainforest. FFS. >> Okay, let's say Britain really really needs one of these Moonraker shuttles (WHAT FOR?); why would you transport it fully fuelled? Or even a little bit fuelled? >> There's NOBODY aboard the space station until the Moonrakers dock. All the people who secretly built it in space just left it there? Why leave it unmanned? The first chap aboard has to go and switch on the gravity, like coming home from holiday and putting the heating on the instant you get back. >> And of course, there's the corridor labelled 'NORMAL GRAVITY ZONE', because gravity can be fenced in by airlocks. >> If the Moonrakers steer themselves, why have pilots at all? >> The gondola. >> Why have a top secret nerve toxin laboratory in the middle of a densely populated city? Sorry I mean why have a top secret nerve toxin laboratory in the middle of an ornate 18th century ballroom in the middle of a densely populated city? Because the glass is handy? >> Bond puts a glass phial of the DEADLY TOXIN in his shirt pocket and then has a massive and protracted fist fight in which a load of glass gets smashed. Reckless at all? >> And having discovered the top secret nerve toxin laboratory in the middle of an ornate 18th century ballroom in the middle of a densely populated city, Bond... waits overnight for M and the Minister of Defence to arrive from London before securing the building or having the lab investigated! What? And then send them in to the DEADLY LAB first? Is there no one more expendable than the MINISTER OF DEFENCE? Argh! >> If it's Summer in Venice (and it is) how come it is February in Rio? Are the laws of Time in abeyance now as well? >> Well, yes they are: within half an hour of spotting Drax's space station, the US have launched a militarised shuttle full of space-trained Marines from Vandenberg, CA. That's nifty. But even more amazing is the fact that M, Q and the goddam Minister of Defence are able to hot-foot it from London to the control room in California in the time it takes for that shuttle to reach the space station. I say from London, but it's just possible that the UK government keeps its top-ranking intelligence officers permanently travelling around the world, just to be on the safe side. >> In Rio, Bond desires to check out the airport... so he goes up a nearby mountain and looks at it through a tourist's telescope. Why not just go to the airport and look through the fence? During the (Californian) pheasant shoot, how does Bond know there's a sniper in the tree? >> Bond and Goodhead just happen to bump into the pilots of the remaining shuttle exactly when they need to. >> The tiny Venini glass shop - right on the Piazza San Marco, no less - Tardisly contains a showroom, a museum, a vast factory and warehouse, a palazzo interior (with deadly nerve toxin lab) and St Mark's Clocktower. >> Oh there's more too... but you get the general idea.      

Worst Line: See Crimes Against Women above. There are others too, but I'm losing the will to live just thinking about them. 

Best Line: Quite a few, surprisingly. The pick of them are from Drax: "Take care of Mr Bond. Make sure some harm comes to him." And my favourite: "Mr Bond, you appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season."  

Worst Bond Moment: The gondola? The Magnificent Seven rip-off? The rubber snake fight? Plenty to choose from.

Best Bond Moment: I'm afraid it can only be the three second shot during the PCS where he streamlines his body into a free-fall dive and the Bond theme starts up. That's it.     

Overall: Careless, thoughtless, bombastic and ridiculous. Just as with YOLT, the series has become bloated and stupid and badly needs to return to Earth.

James Bond Will Return: ... in, for the second time in a row, For Your Eyes Only.

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