Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 11: Moonraker

I hate to make such a strong statement, but I, like a lot of other folks, think this is the worst James Bond movie. That being said, it's certainly an entertaining piece of grade B entertainment, especially if you're in the mood for something light you don't have to pay all that much attention to. Moonraker may not be the best but it does have its moments. Let's get right down to business, and I'll see if I can't actually keep my promise (made for the last three posts) to be more brief.

Synopsis: Bond investigates the theft of a space shuttle, which leads him to the shuttle's builder, Hugo Drax. Drax has a dastardly scheme to take a bunch of beautiful people into space, poison the world and kill everyone in it, and then return to create a Utopian society with the descendants of his Master Race. Guess what? Bond foils him.

The Villain: Hugo Drax. He's got a good name. Otherwise, French actor Michael Lonsdale sort of sleep-walks his way through this. Perhaps he's just being subtle. But if he is, he's doing it in the wrong movie, one full of over-the-top gags. Drax is a big thinker, though (see Synopsis). The toxin he uses is culled from a rare orchid native to the Amazon, so he has his secret base there. Presumably, it's also a good place to launch a full-scale space program superior to most nations. Drax is refined and cultured as far as villains go (actually pretty normal for Bond movies), and I enjoy a scene where he is bird-hunting and lets loose his dogs to kill one of his minions (his personal pilot) who'd helped Bond.

The Henchman: It starts off as Chang, a fairly typical ninja-type assassin who does Drax's dirty work. But Bond defeats Chang fairly early in the film, killing him. This means Drax has to get a replacement. There's a great scene with Drax on the phone, talking about needing a replacement for Chang. After pausing to hear what the person on the other end has to say, Drax replies, "Oh, well if you can get him..." Turns out "Him" is our favorite henchman Jaws, from The Spy Who Loved Me (the previous Bond film). Actor Richard Kiel made the Jaws character so popular that fan mail prompted his return in Moonraker. Even more fan mail, according to legend, came from little kids asking why Jaws couldn't be a good guy. In Moonraker, the producers deliver. Jaws - who discovers a girlfriend after a tiny woman named Dolly rescues him from the ruins of a fallen cable car - is perhaps softened by love. Toward the climax of the movie, Bond tricks Drax into admitting that anyone who doesn't fit his idea of physical perfection will be killed, and not part of the new world order he's plotting. Once Jaws realizes this means him and his diminutive girlfriend, he attacks Drax's guards, giving Bond the chance he needs to save the day. Later, Jaws and Dolly are mentioned as having been rescued from Drax's space station. Presumably, they live happily ever after. Dolly, played by French actress Blanche Ravalec, is portrayed as nerdy and unattractive, but in actuality she is pretty hot. This is the last we see of Jaws in the franchise, so let's hope he retired somewhere to marry Dolly and have lots of large children.

The Bond Girl: OK, are you ready for the most ridiculous name of any Bond girl? Holly Goodhead. Dr. Holly Goodhead, no less. Played by Lois Chiles, who had gained some attention from her part in The Way We Were, got the part after sitting next to one of the producers on an airplane ride. But the Bond folks were already familiar with her - they offered her the part of Agent Triple X in The Spy Who Loved Me, but she turned it down. Dr. Goodhead is seen at first working for Drax, but it turns out she's a CIA agent working the same case Bond is. Inevitably, they decide to join forces, but Goodhead plays it cool, resisting Bond's charms for a long time (for a Bond girl, that is). Holly also acts as the Sidekick for most of the movie, and goes with Bond to Drax's space station and helps save the day at the end. Perhaps inevitably, she succumbs to Bond's animal magnetism and the movie ends with a zero-G sexual dalliance. This is, of course, noticed by Bond's superiors, prompting Q to quip, "I think he's attempting re-entry!"

The Sidekick: Again, it's mostly Holly Goodhead. But Drax's pilot Corinne (played by actress Corinne Clery, of The Story of O and Yor: Hunter of the Future) helps Bond investigate Drax and ends up getting eaten by dogs for it. Google her name and you will find about eight billion nude photos of her.

Gadgets: The silliest one is a miniature camera. That wouldn't be so silly if it didn't have a "007" logo right on the front of it. Subtle! Holly Goodhead has a pen that extrudes a poison dart (Bond later uses this to kill a giant snake). Bond also has a watch that has some high explosives hidden in it. Bond uses this to good effect when he blows out a wall of a flame-pit that is about to be filled with rocket exhaust.

Music: Moonraker is the third theme song for a Bond movie to be performed by Shirley Bassey (and the last...she also did Goldfinger, one of my favorite themes, and Diamonds Are Forever). Johnny Mathis was supposed to record it, but dropped out very late in the game. Wikipedia says such diverse artists as Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra were considered. John Barry wrote it. It's actually not a bad song at all, and sounds to me like nothing so much as a big Broadway musical number. But I kinda prefer the disco version they played over the closing credits. The movie also features snippets of some well-known movie music. The distinctive five-note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is used for a key-code on a door; Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) is played on a hunting horn while Drax is hunting birds, and when Bond shows up to MI6 headquarters in Brazil with a poncho and hat ala Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns, the theme from The Magnificent Seven is heard.

The Director: Lewis Gilbert, who was reluctantly persuaded to direct You Only Live Twice, and who returned for The Spy Who Loved Me, finished off his Bond career with this one. After this, he went back to the dramas he was best known for.

Fun Facts: Melinda Maxwell, the 22-year-old daughter of Lois Maxwell, who played Moneypenny, was one of Drax's "master race" girls. The space station set still holds the world record of having the most "zero-G" guide wires of any movie. It's also interesting to note that this movie cost more than any Bond film to produce so far - but, oddly, it held the record of being the highest-grossing Bond film until GoldenEye was released.

Favorite Lines: There's the line Q spouts at the end of the movie (see The Bond Girl, above); Drax has a good one when, seeing Bond pop up again after several attempts to kill him, says "James Bond...you appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season." I liked that one. Also, after the first encounter with Jaws, Holly Goodhead asks Bond "Do you know him?" and Bond replies, "Not socially." It's not ha-ha funny but it cracked me up.

Other Stuff: Bond films had a tradition of, during the closing credits, saying what the next movie would be. In the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, it was announced that the next movie would be For Your Eyes Only. But, after the global phenomenon of Star Wars, the producers decided they needed to cash in on the space craze. So we got Moonraker.

Next up, the Bond films get "back to Earth," with a relatively low-key outing, For Your Eyes Only...my favorite of the Roger Moore films and the very first Bond movie I knowingly watched.

2 comments:

  1. The novelisation had one of the best descriptions of Bond init. When he looks through a window into the zero-G gym on Drax's space-station, just for a moment he is transfixed by the sight of one of the beautiful girls performing graceful acrobatics. The novel says, "For a moment, Bond forgot he was a man who smoked too much and drank too much and lived on borrowed time."

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