License to Review #11: Moonraker (1979)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise (shaken) and which ones aren’t (stirred).

Despite my enthusiastic response to The Spy Who Loved Me, I was still dreading Moonraker. Just the idea of a James Bond crossover with science fiction seemed like a terrible idea. I saw the reactions to the film from my mutuals and it did not look promising at all. But, I gave myself some hope. I thought “maybe this will turn out good.” What I was hoping for, honestly, was it being enjoyably terrible. A film so silly and so preposterous that only Roger Moore could pull it off. But I was sorely disappointed. Not only was it not silly or entertainingly terrible enough, it was just terrible, and Moore couldn’t pull it off because frankly I don’t think he cared too much. But we’ll get to that later.

Moonraker takes its title from one of Ian Fleming’s books yet is virtually not the plot (except for the villain) and sees James Bond venture into space. Yup, you read that right, James Bond goes to space. Ok, the real story is that a space shuttle named Moonraker is hijacked midair. The titular Moonraker was loaned to the British government by millionaire (or zillionaire more like it) Hugo Drax. James Bond is approached by the British government to investigate the theft, and uncovers a plot by Drax to annihilate all life on earth and replace them with his own master race. Is it just me or does that last part sound familiar to you?

Ok let’s get this out of the way; Moonraker fucking sucks. It’s just plain awful, and I can honestly think of any redeeming features whatsoever. But what makes it so damn awful in the first place? Although I have no way of proving this, I suspect a general lack of interest in the project on part of the cast and crew. I suspect that For Your Eyes Only was gearing up for production right after The Spy Who Loved Me, but that same year the latter film opened, another little-known sci-fi film premiered called Star Wars, and Hollywood started to scream for anything sci-fi. And I suspect Albert Broccoli forced writer Christopher Wood and director Lewis Gilbert to switch gear and quickly put together a producible script ready for production as quickly as possible, and Moore was probably under contract so he had no choice but to go along with the change in plans. That’s really the only explanation I can think of as to why this film is as bad as it is.

That’s really my main criticism for the film, that it just feels lazy and put together without any passion whatsoever. With exception to a few moments, Moore looks completely disinterested and as if he’d rather be anywhere but on this particular film set. Such a shame because I’ve grown to like him as Bond. But I can’t really blame him because the script is so piss-poor. It’s basically as if they took the Goldfinger template and just stuck with that, as the film doesn’t bring any ingenuity or twists to the Bond formula. It’s the classic story: thing happens, opening title sequence, Bond goes to M’s office, goes to a bunch of exotic locations, meets a millionaire megalomaniac villain, sleeps with countless women, receives a scolding from Q, some action scenes (there are not one but TWO boat chases, as if the Moore films needed additional boat chases) and then a climax (both literally and figuratively). It’s so bare bones it’s almost unbelievable, and that’s what I mean when I say the script is incredibly lazy. And all that bled over into the direction as I don’t think Lewis Gilbert cared much either, as all the action scenes are filmed in a completely matter-of-fact way and never convey a sense of excitement or fun.

What’s almost worse is that they don’t even use the good stuff from the source material they’re pulling inspiration from. Sure the Bond filmd aren’t exactly by the book in terms of their adaptations, but in this case there’s stuff in the book that would’ve made much more sense and could’ve had the potential to be interesting. Hugo Drax, for instance, is a literal ex-Nazi in the book so therefore his plan for mass genocide so he can build his own master race makes perfect sense from a character point of view. But in the film he simply gets turned into the most boring and uninspired Bond villain of all time. He’s just rich, speaking with a non-specific foreign accent and is merely evil for evil’s sake. I know some people don’t like their blockbusters to be politicized, but is it really that much of politication if the villain is an actual Nazi? Isn’t that something we all can get behind?

Generally, I find it relatively easy to enjoy a film if I can tell at least some care and attention, or perhaps even passion, was put into a project. That’s how I feel about a lot of my favorite films, and even if a film doesn’t click with me 100%, I can give the filmmakers a pass if I can tell they at least tried. That’s why even a film like Samurai Cop, a catastrophe on every conceivable level, manages to be so entertaining and fun to watch. But Moonraker simply isn’t that film. It’s frustrating, boring, forgettable and just so bad in so many ways, and in my opinion it dethrones Diamonds Are Forever as my least favorite Bond film so far. So yeah you probably guessed it, but Moonraker is as stirred as a vodka martini can get.

Also, just to further give you an idea of how utterly unengaging the film is: I was more engaged in Jaws’ subplot throughout than Bond’s schemes. And also, the theme song? Completely forgettable.

James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only, for real this time!


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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