Bond movies are a part of Bank holiday tradition. They show one, like clockwork, on ITV in the UK. Today it was Moonraker to usher you all into a happy Easter. But IS it such a random choice?
THE DAY #MOONRAKER TRENDED ON TWITTER..
MOONRAKER (1979) is a very easy Bond film to deride, dismiss, disapprove of..etc. And yet?
It’s NOT a bad 007 movie. Heck it’s not even a bad film per se, even in a camp way. Indeed, one could argue that this little gem is the key to much of the modern cinematic zeitgeist and how dear old James Bond can maintain a relevant presence therein. Honestly. Stay with me. Don’t float into space. I will show you..
- MADE AGAINST THE ODDS
Bond is at his best with back to the wall. And, whilst THE SPY WHO LOVED ME had been a great success in 1977, cinema changed overnight, that same year, c/o a little film called STAR WARS. Bond and indeed, to an extent, every media series had to respond in kind. The fact that 007 was able to even play in that kind of special effects world? Whilst staying relevant and afloat and then coming back to earth in For Your Eyes Only (1981) shows how adaptable the brand can be. Indeed, it’s why we still have these movies!
Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli also had to work very hard to manage the monies, teaming with French studios due to a then harsher taxation incentive rate in the UK, whilst preserving the essential British as much as global sheen to the piece.
Relevance. Survival. Adaptation. Fusing influences and incorporating market forces whilst retaining a coherent whole, enhancing and adapting Bond without ever truly losing his essence, decade to decade; zeitgeist by trend. THAT is how Bond survives as a series (hence the rumoured script polish from Phoebe Waller Bridge on BOND 25: less a reinvention, more a nod to certain structural tropes of which that lady is now de facto mistress c/o Fleabag?).
- JAMES BOND IN SPACE! WITH LASERS!
James Bond goes to actual outer space in MOONRAKER. It’s the elephant in the room, as is the hovercraft gondola scene (though I actually love the double taking pigeon shot). Ridiculous! And yet? It feels RIGHT. It WORKS. Because the tones are merged, blended, seged, correctly. The extreme sci-fi schtick acts as punctuation to what is otherwise a credible spy thriller of the Boys in Brazil mode? Notice that this is a film whereby a seemingly civilised villain, has a female employee torn to death by dogs (off camera and subtle yet impacts, nonetheless).
Bond films that fail to mix tone correctly are far less beloved in retrospect. People cannot forgive the invisible cars and para-surfing from Die Another Day (2002) because it’s too forced and intrusive in a film that begins and ends with trying to say things about North Korea AND give us a 40th anniversary fun-fest. Equally, SPECTRE (2015) TRIES to say important stuff about a surveillance state, whilst also bouncing along in a consequence free fairly muted, verging on camp fashion, culminating in THAT silly twist about ret-cons and family ties.
But with Bond in space? You just lap it up as a punctuation to an actually rather tense spy thriller which features some of Roger Moore’s best acting (THAT scene after he is tortured in the centrifuge /simulator and just looks to camera: bruised, vulnerable yet aching for payback!). VERISIMILITUDE.
- This was Back when Bond just had a Mission..Nothing Personal..yet he kinda DOES..Go Rogue?
MOONRAKER is not just a title but a literal mission statement on film. James Bond must find out how the UK lost a space shuttle. That requires some actual detective work. He must then take down the bad guy, Hugo Drax. Michael Lonsdale brings Drax to life: excellent, taking a role James Mason and Louis Jordan turned down. Mason incidentally was once offered the 007 part, too. Jordan would play against Roger’s Bond in 1983’s OCTOPUSSY).
You NEED a good dragon for Bond to slay. A threat to extinguish. Tart it up with fantasy and colonial class throwbacks; but that element of menace and the clock ticking MUST be there. Bond, Britain and Business as usual! Another day at the office that just so happens to sometimes segue into saving the world.
No clunkily delivered sub-plots along lines of ‘this might be connected to your childhood‘. No ‘secret personal agenda’. No ‘MI6 is being merged/closed/under investigation’. No lost love to brood about. Bond is still relevant in a Detente era (bizarrely they reference that here in a scene with 007’s American counterpart when it should be a Russian relevance, but no film is perfect..).
And YET..there IS a split second sequence in which James Bond DOES get semi-fired. The baddies are ahead of him and make it look as though he is following a dead end. M (Bernard Lee’s last turn in the role: excellent here) expresses his disapproval yet, in a shared moment of secret trust, lets 007 continue the mission with ‘leave’ as a cover. He notes they are both in trouble if wrong.
So there is a personal stake in this and some core character development. You just have to go looking for it a bit more subtly /carefully.
- LEGACY? RELEVANCE TODAY?
Remember: this title could still be remade? They might not CALL it ‘Moonraker’; but there is plenty of stuff in the novel ripe for modern translation. Drax could be an Elon Musk / Zuckerberg type? They have gone there before, but held back. Sean Bean (happy 60th btw!) plays a kind of Drax of the books in GoldenEye (1995): a film that even re-uses one of Derek Meddings’ classic miniature effects shots from 1979!. Sean’s baddie (spoiler: sorry..but it is 25 years later so..) has a plan involving a space based weapon system; and his motivation is vengeance with a hint of Nazi.
In Die Another Day (2002), Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens; who’d have been a great 007 himself and who narrates Moonraker brilliantly on radio) has a shifting identity, mid movie, all the while posing as the perfect English gentleman.
But those are just hints and elements. It might now be time to adapt the whole novel, just as they did with Casino Royale in 2006.
To flesh out the book on film? Throw in some additional Bond references from other stories /novels of course. Maybe hint at certain current world concerns as a grounding but not to the extent that one compromises the fun or dates the film horribly within months of release. You could certainly, easily craft an old yet new, substantial, credible yet escapist thriller.
The novel has a bloody GREAT gambling scene that, once filmed/updated, would beat Casino Royale, no question.
I’d also love to see the character of Gala Brand done justice onscreen. With Gala, there is an aborted romance, awkwardly. It’s just begging to be FILMED: Bond assumes it’s a proper affair / love, even?
Gala breaks his heart; not through her death or being a secret baddie or anything like that..but via the bathos of simply being spoken for and therefore disinterested in 007, whilst never compromising the essential masculine romance fantasy at the story’s heart. Beautiful.
The fact that the 1979 iteration was a tad camp and silly feeds into that foundation rather than compromising it? As in..you know the title / general idea..here it is again.,.done..right but enhanced rather than compromised on either side in IP terms etc. And there is precedent and appetite in recent and current media franchise counterparts in terms of theme, visual scope and so on to make the piece feel more natural.
Notice that the Nolan DARK KNIGHT series seems to take a few images that could be at home in a MOONRAKER, despite the attempts to make Batman ‘grounded’. When Bruce Wayne first drives that TUMBLER tank, indoors? It could be Roger Moore in a centrifuge.
You may also notice that our current climate, politically, is at once charged and tense yet strangely, evil outbursts aside from terror etc, ‘at peace’. We are certainly, it seems, safer in feeling than just post 9/11? Yet we ARE asking the BIG questions: population control, multi-cultural integration, sexual politics, medical ethics and so on. And those can become bases for entertainment in any genre; either to exaggerate a threat for thrills or to provide genuine forum for debate through the safety of fantastical characters.
KINGSMAN. MARVEL. And many more. They ALL seem to be looking at questions such as whether it is the work of a villain to take note of our common threats from global climate change etc / A N Other threat and then take a fascistic, psychotic yet nonetheless clinical line of pre-emptive strike. It’s not QUITE as painful as having to resurrect the ghost of eugenics and Nazism. But the core questions and tools of addressing it are ‘there’. Social media. Journalism. Politics. And of course: onscreen.
The concerns and climate have not changed in 40 years and neither has the pressure to craft franchises that can at once evolve with the times and keep giving you what made you fall for their charms in the first place. V apt as we now face the passing of a torch in AVENGERS: ENDGAME..c/o, perhaps, whichever interactions the heroes now have with the baddie, Thanos (snapping half the universe at the end of the last film: do we beat him in round 2?)..
In any event, James Bond remains our most consistent bet in providing solid action adventure escapism that harnesses boys’ own tools of war in service of timely reminders to never be complacent regarding the value of peace. As Pierce Brosnan’s 007 says in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): ‘this is about stopping a war’. Blunt instrument: fine. But in service of a refined civility. Always.
MOONRAKER is just a RUDDY, RUDDY GOOD TIME! (As Alan Partridge might say?).
This is indeed the Bond of your Dad/Grandad.
So you can watch it together, over the Bank Holiday beverages /Easter eggs? It’s like a 2 hour holiday from reality, with stunning locations to match. You can lie back and feel like you have visited impossibly gorgeous places, including outer space.
There are ridiculous elements but enough good thrills to compensate (notably the free-fall without parachute pre title stunt).
Is it awkward in places: sure! Roger Moore’s Bond gets a little bit too much time in the ‘Rogering’ department in Moonraker? Fair point, pre or post #met007. This is a priapic Bond with something to prove? Well, the end of the world is at stake I suppose. But it does get tired, quickly. Lacks any class to it, despite this being a nominally more gentlemanly 007: to the extent that when he is greeted with a rather inescapably camp Maitre D in his Hotel Room, one wonders whether he is irresistible to both sexes, as that eyebrow raises? One can even picture Roger’s Bond saying ‘why not? That’s why the zero’s double’. But on the other hand: 007 is in great shape here and arguably Moore never looked this good in the role before /after?
Lois Chiles is a very sexy Bond girl: challenging male counterparts without making it a ‘thing’. The lady also once said I looked a bit like Pierce Brosnan when we met at a few years back (George Lazenby looked on; very baffled and shrugged /clucked..gotta love that memory!). I don’t look like Pierce, btw. But nice, anyway 😉
Corrine DuFour also adorable, as played by Corinne Cléry; so one gets a semi Emmanuelle /Story of O style visual aesthetic whilst retaining the innocence of a family friendly Bond film. This whole film has a French-ness to it in aesthetic, sensibility, sensuality. It arguably heralded the kind of Vaseline smeared lens lifestyle porn that would define aspirational big business soap opera of the 1980s (Dallas, Dynasty).
Notice, too, some hints of the surreal / gothic; a kind of implicit acknowledgment for fans of Hammer Horror and even the Grindhouse sub-genre? Certainly the Brazil carnival sequence has moments of genuine menace, verging on the supernatural?
The recent MACHETE spoof movies kind of spell out those connections: ‘MACHETE IN SPACE’ etc.
So, Bond movie Director Lewis Gilbert is far more subtle here than one might expect whilst playing on a canvas of pure camp AND giving something for everyone. I suspect Ian Fleming would have approved. Because, above all: with or without the space lasers at the end, and any tonal shifts within the script to get there, this is just impossibly good FUN! And we all know that Fleming loved..fun and something for everyone. Grown up friendly panto; adolescent to adult fairy tales etc.
With that in mind, one can even allow for unapologetic embrace of the Jaws scenes (Richard Kiel: comedy gold and still a threatening adversary in an action scene). I actually like Jaws’ rather endearingly romantic turn to the good side at the film’s close (he could always have faced Bond again in his assassin mode for a future mission and that option was indeed mooted at one stage).
The film also showcases some of Production Designer Ken Adam’s finest visual designs and John Barry’s most haunting and rousing score. Some great second unit work from John Glen, too, just before he would become full director on the next five films in the series.
Plus THE best double entendre..ever as credits roll..
Oh and..no MOONRAKER? Arguably no AUSTIN POWERS and ‘sharks with frickin lasers’. Imagine a world without that? Hardly worth thinking about. 😉
HAPPY EASTER, BOND FANS. ‘Can I press you to a cucumber sandwich? ‘Nah. Make it an Easter Egg! 🙂
JAMES MURPHY WILL RETURN. FROM SPACE..