MOONRAKER didn’t get a lot of love from critics or Bond purists when it launched in 1979, although the franchise took succor in a gross of $210,000,000 against a then-astronomical budget of $34,000,000, twice that of the previous already lavish epic The Spy Who Loved Me, and thirty-four times the price-tag of the original James Bond entry, Dr. No.
Like this one, that initial modest 007 adventure dealt with outer space, or at least the outer atmosphere, as the twisted Dr. Julius No was seeking to sabotage American rocket launches from Cape Canaveral (speaking of the old days). A stretch, but not totally beyond zany, and the three increasingly larger installments stayed within the realm of the possible. But by the time this 11th mission arrived, plots had gone so wild that producers and writers felt there was nothing left but to actually put the dapper secret agent into Outer Space itself, with a Star Wars arena mop-up battle at the finale that just had to push beyond the earlier wild destructo bonanzas. The amusing but absurd secondary villain ‘Jaws’ (Richard Kiel) makes another comic-relief appearance, and the 126-minute jaunt, directed by Lewis Gilbert, marked the ridiculous high (or low) point of the series, drawing so much flak that the next episodes toned JB back down to relative Earth.
Bond #3, Roger Moore, after a wobbly start, had reached his stride in The Spy Who Loved Me, but he’s clearly none too excited here, even if the clothes fit him well and he’s handsome enough. Anyway, by now the series was by now such a self-parody that you notice Bond less than the trappings. Rog’s indifference seems like an insulin cocktail next to the toneless reactions of Lois Chiles, our hero’s challenge to seduction as ‘Holly Goodhead’ (sure, why not? whatever?)—her boredom is state-of-the art.
This time, the condescending super-villain is ‘Drax’ (“Courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe, Mr. Bond.”), another from the create-your-own-world school of maniac, and he’s fun, as played by the urbane Michael Lonsdale—“May I press you to a cucumber sandwich?—although not really much of a threat (beyond his apparently boundless wealth and ability to hire a suicidal army of henchmen). Kiel enjoys himself as ‘Jaws’, and Geoffrey Keen gets to splutter “My God, what’s Bond doing!?”
Music, sound, sets, credits are all par for the course, and Shirley Bassey is enlisted for the third time to belt a title tune (alas, one of the weakest).
After this sourball moaning, I did enjoy this as the escapist splurge it was intended. Along with the corny puns and globe-trotting (California, France, Italy, Brazil, Guatemala, outer space, kitchen sink) it has action galore. There’s gondola homicide in Venice, a motorboat chase that highlights Iguassu Falls, a samurai sword free-for-all in a museum’s vase exhibit, a cable-car dukeout over Rio de Janiero, all following the opener, a free-fall parachute stunt that will gape the mouth of the most jaded viewer.
The Visual Effects were Oscar nominated (losing to the more convincing outer space of Alien). With Corinne Clery, Emily Bolton, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Toshio Suga, Irka Bochenko, Blache Ravelec. “Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.”