Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Moonraker (1979) *½

PG, 126 min.
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writer: Christopher Wood, Ian Fleming (book/characters)
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Cléry, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Toshiro Suga, Emily Bolton

“Moonraker” is often thought of as the worst of all the Bond films. Perhaps it is. Its existence is certainly the result of the flimsiest inspiration for a James Bond film ever. In 1977, a little film called “Star Wars” was released. Calling “Star Wars” a “little film” now might seem absurd, but it was at the time. The studio didn’t put much money or faith into it. Lucas took what was then thought to be a ridiculous pay deal from the studio, which ended up making him rich and costing the studio fairly little. Sci-fi wasn’t popular at the time. Nobody wanted another “2001: A Space Odessey”, but after it was released, everybody wanted another “Star Wars”, and so every studio in Hollywood went green light crazy on space adventures.

United Artists owned the Bond franchise at that time and looked in the entire cannon of their properties to find a sci-fi property. Lo and behold, Ian Fleming had written a James Bond adventure called “Moonraker” as his third novel starring the international superspy. The book had nothing to do with space, but since the word “moon” was in the title, the studio figured they could shape it into a space adventure. And so, they did.

The film franchise had long since abandoned the plots of the books from which it took its titles and characters. The 70s had been a good decade for the series, despite the fact that they had abandoned the long running threat against Bond in the form of SPECTRE and its leader Blofeld. By including a couple of characters that would show up in multiple films, the filmmakers had built a mythology unique to the films. Jaws had been the popular henchman played by Richard Kiel in the previous film “The Spy Who Loved Me”, and the producers brought him back for a second outing in this movie.

The series had also started leaning more toward kitsch with its Bond, Roger Moore, who had a knack for making it work for the character. “Moonraker” is like a convergence of all the trends of the decade in one huge mess of a movie. Critically, and I believe box office wise, it was a disaster of the proportions of a Bond villain’s dreams. It deserves to be thought of as the one of the worst, if not the very worst of the series. Not only does its kitsch factor run out of control, but also it’s poorly made. Bond’s investigation of the villain Drax’s plans makes little logical sense. Bond is bounced around the world to exotic locations in true Bond tradition, but the locations make little sense, have no relation to each other, and aren’t clearly introduced.

It’s a shame that the great French actor Michael Lonsdale is saddled with this villain’s ridiculous plan to destroy the world. He could’ve made one of the best Bond villains of all time, but he ended up in this stinker. Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit “Moonraker” is a Bond film that is best left forgotten, but when you’re dealing with the second most popular movie franchise of all time—and really, Harry Potter is over while Bond is forever; he’ll regain the top spot soon enough—you have to take the bad with the good.

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