Cinemalphabet: M is for Moonraker (1979)
As the glorious Skyfall arrives in theaters stateside and with all the 50th anniversary celebrations, I saw it fitting to revisit what is arguably the cheesiest canonical Bond film ever made. I am pretty certain my older brother took me to see Moonraker when he was probably supposed to take me to see something else. It was my very first Bond experience and I can’t imagine what I must have thought of it. I was six years old. I’m sure my attention was rapt, despite every single reference going completely over my afro puffs.
After the usual unrelated cold open, Moonraker‘s stirring title credits awash the viewer with Dame Shirley Bassey’s lush theme. Goldfinger might be her most memorable, Diamonds are Forever her most playful, but Moonraker is her most stunning vocal performance. Despite its haunting beauty, the theme is at odds with the tone – ridiculously silly camp – of the film.
Moonraker finds Bond doing battle with an industrialist – so you know he’s a bad guy – by the name of Sir Hugo Drax (played with aplomb by the fabulous Michael Lonsdale). Drax is easily my favorite Bond villain, because he’s so incredibly mannered, but also quite bananas. He just up and decides one day he’s going to create a master race and force them to wear impossibly tight and skimpy blinding white tennis outfits, which honestly seems like the cruelest part of his plan. Drax retains almost nothing from his characterization in Fleming’s novel; Moonraker retains almost nothing (except title) from Fleming’s novel. Instead, the title is used to cover a litany of sci-fi sins in what can only be described as a cynical cash grab attempt at the sci-fi/space excitement created by the success of Star Wars.
Lois Chiles stars as the main Bond girl, Dr. Goodhead, which is quite possibly the worst Bond girl name ever. Chiles is great as the freeze dried lady scientist working for Drax. An air of elegance permeates her every scene, which is hard to do saddled with such a prOnny name. Anyway, Dr. Goodhead and Bond join forces (as is often the case with Bond and his ladies) in order to thwart Drax’s plans for world domination via perky youths in tight, white booty shorts. In addition to Bond and Dr. Goodhead, Bond’s old nemesis Jaws inexplicably turns up, but Moonraker‘s much better for it.
While the performances are capable and the stunts thrilling, none of this compensates for the farce otherwise known as the third act, which takes place in outer space. Well on spaceships. It’s just too ridiculous, even at the time it was panned by critics. Sure it’s fun and funny, but it also goes a long way of explaining why so many Bond fans remain sharply divided over both the film and Moore’s tenure as Bond. For me, however, Moonraker remains my favorite Bond film. I can’t exactly explain why. It’s a mixture of nostalgia, dubious taste and a soft spot for the underdog.