Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Moonraker (1979) * * *

(first lines)
Captain: How are we doing, Richard?
RAF Officer: We should pass over the English coast 15 minutes ahead of time, sir.
Captain: Wow! With this load on our back, that's good going.
RAF Officer: Just trust the RAF, sir.

James Bond (Roger Moore) is recalled from Africa to investigate the hijacking and destruction of a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle on loan to the UK. En route in a small jet, Bond is attacked by the pilot and crew and is pushed out of the plane by the mercenary assassin Jaws (Richard Kiel), whom he has met before. Bond survives by stealing a parachute from the pilot in mid-air, while Jaws lands on a circus tent. 007 reports to MI6 headquarters in London, and is briefed by M (Bernard Lee) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) about the hijacking. He begins his investigation at the Drax Industries shuttle-manufacturing complex in southern California.

Miss Moneypenny: Why are you so late, James?
James Bond: I fell out of an airplane without a parachute. Who's in there?
Miss Moneypenny: Q and the Minister of Defense.
James Bond: You don't believe me do you?
Miss Moneypenny: No.

At Drax Industries, Bond is greeted by the owner of the company, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), and henchman Chang (Toshirô Suga). At first Bond receives a warm welcome from Drax, and given the freedom to roam his magnificent chateau. Bond meets an astronaut, NASA scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), and survives an assassination attempt in a centrifuge chamber. 007 is later helped by Drax's personal pilot, Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery), when he finds blueprints for a glass vial made in Venice. While hunting game, Bond survives yet another attempt on his life when Drax has a man shoot him from a tree with a rifle. However, Bond notices this and uses his hunting shotgun to kill him. Dufour is fired by Drax because he found out that she helped Bond in his investigations, then she is gruesomely murdered by hunting dogs.

Hugo Drax: You missed, Mr. Bond.
(a sniper falls from a tree)
James Bond: Did I?

Bond again encounters Dr. Goodhead in Venice. He is chased through the canals by Drax's men but his gondola, with the ability to transform into a hovercraft, allows him to escape across the Piazza San Marco. Bond discovers a secret biological lab, accidentally poisons the scientists there, and learns that the glass vials are to hold a deadly nerve gas. Chang battles Bond and is killed. During the fight, Bond sees evidence that Drax is moving his operation to Rio de Janeiro. Rejoining Dr. Goodhead, he concludes that she is a CIA agent spying on Drax. They promise to work together and consummate their alliance, but quickly dispense with the truce. Bond has saved one of the vials he found earlier, gives it to M for analysis, then travels to Rio de Janeiro.

Q: It's activated by nerve impulses from the wrist muscles.
James Bond: Like this?
(dart pierces a painting on M's wall)
M: Oh, thank you, 007!
Q: Be careful, will you? Now, there's ten darts: five blue-tipped, armour-piercing; five red-tipped, cyanide coated, causing death in thirty seconds.
James Bond: Very novel, Q. Must get them in the stores for Christmas.

In Rio de Janeiro, Bond meets and seduces his Brazilian contact Manuela (Emily Bolton). Drax orders Jaws to finish Chang's job of killing Bond, who meets Dr. Goodhead at the top of Sugarloaf. They are attacked by Jaws on a cable car. After Jaws' car crashes he is rescued by Dolly (Blanche Ravalec) from the rubble, and the two fall in love. Bond and Dr. Goodhead are captured by Drax's henchmen, but Bond escapes.

Bond reports to an MI6 base in Brazil and learns that the toxin comes from a rare orchid found in the upper Amazon jungle. While deadly to humans, it is harmless to all other life. Bond travels the Amazon River looking for Drax's research facility, and soon encounters Jaws and other henchmen again. He escapes from his boat just before it hits the Iguacu Falls, and finds Drax's base. Captured by Jaws again, Bond is taken to Drax and witnesses four Moonraker space shuttles lifting off. Drax explains that he himself stole the Moonraker because another in the fleet had developed a fault during assembly. Bond is reunited with Dr. Goodhead, they escape and successfully pose as pilots on the sixth shuttle. The shuttles dock with Drax's hidden space station.

Dr. Goodhead: Have you broken something?
James Bond: Only my tailor's heart.
(she kisses him)
James Bond: What was that for?
Dr. Goodhead: For saving my life.
James Bond: Remind me to do it more often!
(Dr. Goodhead and Bond discuss how to destroy the death globes en route to Earth)
James Bond: Moonraker 5, that's the answer. Drax's shuttle is armed with a laser. We can track those globes and destroy them.

Drax plans to destroy all human life by launching 50 globes containing the toxin into the Earth's atmosphere. Before launching the globes, Drax also transported several dozen young men and women of varying races, which he regarded as genetically perfect, to the space station. They would live there until Earth was safe again for human life, and their descendants would be the seed for a "new master race." Bond persuades Jaws and Dolly to switch allegiance by getting Drax to admit that anyone not measuring up to his physical standards would be exterminated, including Dolly and Jaws, so Jaws fights Drax's men.

Hugo Drax: First there was the dream, now there is reality. Here in the untainted cradle of the heavens will be created a new super race, a race of perfect physical specimens. You have been selected as its progenitors. Like gods, your offspring will return to Earth and shape it in their image. You have all served in public capacities in my terrestrial empire. Your seed, like yourselves, will pay deference to the ultimate dynasty which I alone have created. From their first day on Earth they will be able to look up and know that there is law and order in the heavens.

Hugo Drax: Allow me to introduce you to the airlock chamber. Observe, Mr Bond, your route from this world to the next. (opens airlock door) And you, Dr Goodhead, your desire to become America's first woman in space will shortly be fulfilled.

Bond and Dr. Goodhead disable the radar jammer hiding the station from Earth. The U.S. sends a platoon of Marines in a military shuttle. A laser battle ensues in which Drax's guards as well as his new master race die. During the battle, Bond pushes Drax into an airlock and ejects him into space. The space station, heavily damaged in the battle, disintegrates. Jaws helps Bond and Dr. Goodhead escape in a space shuttle. In celebration, Jaws opens a champagne bottle and he and Dolly toast in his only spoken line: "Well, here's to us!" They also escape the space station as their module breaks away before the station explodes. Before the battle Drax launched three of the globes towards Earth, which Dr. Goodhead and Bond destroy from their shuttle. The two make love in space, prompting the line from Q: "I think he's attempting re-entry, Sir!"

(last lines)
Dr. Goodhead: James?
James Bond: I think it may be time to go home.
Dr. Goodhead: Take me 'round the world one more time.
James Bond: Why not?

MOONRAKER is the eleventh spy film in the James Bond series, and the fourth to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. It was released on June 26, 1979 in the UK and was released three days later in the USA, grossing $70,308,099 in the UK. It opened in 788 theaters, grossing a total of $210,308,099 worldwide. It was the highest grossing film of the 007 franchise until the Pierce Brosnan Bond film GOLDENEYE (1995). Much of the film was shot in the cities of London, Paris, Venice, Palmdale, and Rio de Janeiro. MOONRAKER was also noted for its high production cost for a 007 film, spending almost twice as much money as the preceding James Bond movie THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). It was intended by its creator Ian Fleming to be turned into a film even before he completed the novel in 1954, since he based the novel on a manuscript he had written even earlier than this.

One of the most overblown and lightweight additions to the 007 spy franchise, MOONRAKER is saved from mediocrity by decent effects and the hulking presence of Jaws. It's a very entertaining movie, but the narrative is mostly contrived, fragmented and disjointed. Instead of a coherent story, the movie tends to be a sequence of high-adrenaline danger situations. The film seems to miss the point of Bond movies. Its first mistake is to upset the balance between 007 and the technology around him. Previously these gadgets existed only to serve Bond, but here they dominate the film and make our favorite agent almost an afterthought. Secondly, Drax emasculates Bond further. In many ways MOONRAKER is actually impressive, especially the sets and effects. Moore is the only actor with significant screen time, and his performance determines the film's success. He is partially successful with an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek attitude. However, he generally lacks the seriousness necessary for Bond. There is a fanciful air about Moore, who often hardly seems to be trying. But some of the action scenes such as the opening free-fall brawl are superb, worth the price of admission. And for those who enjoy outer space movies MOONRAKER is a top favorite James Bond film.

The cast also includes: Geoffrey Keen (Sir Frederick Gray), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Irka Bochenko (Blonde Beauty), Mike Marshall (Col. Scott), Leila Shenna (Hostess Private Jet), Anne Lonnberg (Museum Guide), Jean-Pierre Castaldi (Pilot Private Jet), Walter Gotell (General Anatol Gogol), Douglas Lambert (Mission Control Director), Arthur Howard (Cavendish), Alfie Bass (Consumptive Italian), Brian Keith (U.S. Shuttle Captain), George Birt (Captain of Boeing 747), Kim Fortune (R.A.F. Officer), Lizzie Warville (Russian Girl), Johnny Traber's Troupe (Funambulists), Nicholas Arbez (Drax's Boy), Guy Di Rigo (Ambulanceman), Chris Dillinger (Drax's Technician), Claude Carliez (Gondolier), and many others. John Barry composed the incidental original music. Christopher Wood wrote the screenplay from Ian Fleming's novel. Lewis Gilbert directed.

Film critic Roger Ebert approved of the special effects and Ken Adam's production sets, but he criticized the pace in which the locations of the film evolved, writing that, "it's so jammed with faraway places and science fiction special effects that Bond has to move at a trot just to make it into all the scenes." Christopher Null wrote: "Most rational observers agree that Moonraker is without a doubt the most absurd James Bond movie, definitely of the Roger Moore era and possibly of all time", but approved of the remark "I think he's attempting re-entry!" by Q during Bond and Goodhead's orbiting of the earth which he described as "featuring what might be the best double entendre ever." Danny Peary wrote that "The worst James Bond film to date has Roger Moore walking through the paces for his hefty paycheck and giving way to his double for a series of unimaginative action scenes and "humorous" chases. There’s little suspense and the humor falls flat. Not only is Jaws so pacified by love that he becomes a good guy, but the filmmakers also have the gall to set the finale in outer space and stage a battle right out of Star Wars." James Berardinelli wrote: "The solid special effects, well-executed action sequences, and a strict reliance upon the 'Bond Formula' keep this film among Moore's better entries."

MOONRAKER was the third of the three Bond films with a theme song performed by Shirley Bassey, following GOLDFINGER (1964) and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). The soundtrack of Moonraker was composed by John Barry and recorded in Paris. Barry also made use of classical music passages in the film: Frédéric Chopin's Prelude no. 15 in D-flat major (op. 28), Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka by Johann Strauss II, Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Overture", and Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra (op. 30).

The exaggerated plot and space station sequence have been parodied in numerous movies. For example, the Austin Powers spoof film THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999) refers to MOONRAKER with Dr. Evil's lair in space. Also the scene in which Drax is shot by the cyanide dart and ousted into space is parodied by Power's ejection of Dr. Evil's clone Mini-Me into outer space in the same way.

MOONRAKER was one of the first James Bond movies released on DVD. In 1998 a barebones THX edition was released. It was released with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the MGM Special Edition in 2000, but it was re-released in 2006 as an Ultimate Edition with enhanced footage. The 42 minute documentary "Inside Moonraker" on the special effects and stuntwork was carried over from the original release, as was the 18 minute "The Men Behind the Mayhem" featuring director Lewis Gilbert, executive and associate producers Michael G. Wilson and William P. Cartlidge and writer Christopher Wood, relating memories of the production. The Ultimate Edition comes with several commentaries, one which features Roger Moore, which had been recently recorded for the release.

The second disc of the Ultimate Edition DVD opens with an 11 minute footage of set designer Ken Adam's productions, including home interviews with him and an exploration of Eon Productions locations and sets. Other features include Michael G. Wilson introducing interviews with the members of the cast and crew, and an archive 12 minute featurette "007 in Rio" which covers the production team in Rio de Janeiro and takes a more general analysis of behind the scenes in the overall film. There is also brief storyboard coverage including four short storyboard sequences and test footage, which includes coverage of the circus landing, the cable car scene and the skydiving scene. MOONRAKER was released on Blu-ray Disc in March 2009. It includes the same special features as the Ultimate Edition DVD, some of which are now presented in high definition.

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