Editor Notes: The following review of The Spy Who Loved Me is apart of Dustin’s James Bond Retrospective entitled ‘Generations of Bond’.
Moonraker is both a product of its time and a movie tired of its franchise’s predilections. Gone is the previously intriguing and strong female character Agent XXX from The Spy Who Loved Me—although Jaws (Richard Kiel) returns from the very first to the very last scene. This time around Bond has Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), whose PhD work has taken far too much time away from any drama classes she might have once stopped into. The actors and actresses that surround Bond this time—save staples Moneypenny, Q, and M—are wooden, watching for their marks and there to keep the film moving along. Also gone are any attempts at witty dialogue. Admittedly, screenplays have never been the strongest part of Bond film, but for the first few installments in the Roger Moore canon, it felt like attempts had been made to round out 007 as more than a man of mystery.
There are still gadgets. One in particular improbably saves Bond’s life as he’s caught in a whirring centrifuge, but also levies the final, rather melodramatic deathblow to Moonraker’s resident villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a wealthy magnate, so wealthy that “what he doesn’t own, he doesn’t want”. He’s suspected of having a hand in the mid-air hijacking of Moonraker, a space vehicle that launches like a rocket but is capable of flying and landing like an airplane.
Also gone are any attempts at witty dialogue. Admittedly, screenplays have never been the strongest part of Bond film, but for the first few installments in the Roger Moore canon, it felt like attempts had been made to round out 007 as more than a man of mystery.
Throughout this retrospective, it’s become clear that James Bond films have never been lauded, praised, or sought for their fine acting, so there’s nothing more to be expected here. However, the primary departure for Moonraker is its seeming insouciance to the story. A space shuttle is hijacked, Bond and MI6 suspect Drax, and go. And this is what Moonraker does: it keeps going from one action scene to the next with little buffering between these moments other than Bond’s sexual conquests or Drax’s nefarious way of terminating his employees. With a simple snap of the fingers, his docile-seeming Dobermans (contradiction?) remove any treasonous secretary from the premise.
[Segue: There’s something interesting to be said for the ways in which the villains throughout have fired their employees. Certainly disloyalty has been a major impetus for this, but the use of Dobermans, piranhas, sharks, exploding chairs, and flumes that lead to fiery pits (presumably) offer a rather dark commentary on both the value of good, trustworthy employees, and the cutthroat nature of capitalism, no?]
When Moonraker begins, we are privy to the hijacking, then to Bond, Jaws, and some other folks in an impromptu skydive which—by 1979’s standards—includes some really solid visual effects. Then Bond is caught in the aforementioned centrifuge, in a high-speed Venetian gondola race, a secret-pop-up laboratory, in a fight with a ninja, caught in the throes of a Brazilian festival, in a battle atop a mountain spanning cable car, then in a fight with a fake EMT, and then there’s the shoot-out: a laser-filled shootout that points to the precise reason why Moonraker—whose source novel was published in 1955—was released in 1979, two short years after Star Wars stampeded through the box office and took grasp of a generation infatuated with space exploration. Given the similar sound effects surrounding the fired lasers and their guns, this is hardly coincidence. Nor is it coincidence that snippets of Moonraker’s score recall bits of John Williams’ own from Star Wars.
For younger viewers, the angle was undoubtedly to enthrall them with the genre of space exploration, one that plays off the popularity of Star Wars, but one that also continues to pique their interest in Bond.
Because of this, Moonraker is more advantageous than well done. Staying with tradition, the Bond franchise continues to adapt and draw in the next generation. Here, Moonraker continues to adapt Bond’s character, making him more of an action hero than he had been in the previous ten films. In part, this slakes the thirst of any adult viewer just looking to continue the Bond experience. For younger viewers, the angle was undoubtedly to enthrall them with the genre of space exploration, one that plays off the popularity of Star Wars, but one that also continues to pique their interest in Bond.
Underneath all the flash though, there are sardonic moments that criticize, or at least investigate, the motives of space travel. While this would have been more profound if released in 1955, the cynical subtext bears some exploration, even if it wasn’t fully explored in the film. The basis behind space travel is first to show that it can be done, second to possibly find life on other planets, but third—and most importantly—to see if there is a chance of survival outside of the bounds of our own Earth. George Carlin most likely had it right when he notes that Earth will eventually get tired of us and our Styrofoam and shake us off like a dog ridding himself of fleas.
But us fleas need somewhere to go, and this is what part of Moonraker is hinting at. Or rather, Moonraker wonders how the fleas will be chosen. Drax takes an extreme angle and selects those whom he deems to be perfect. A selection of various creeds and colors join him on his space station as he attempts to pelt the Earth with poisonous nerve gas. But how far is this from the truth? Certainly all of Earth’s denizens can’t be transported in the face of Doomsday, so how will those who are saved be chosen? And who will do the choosing?
[notification type=”star”]45/100 ~ BAD. SUMMARY[/notification]