‘Moonraker’ is a Bond film of contrasts – it’s fast moving, packed full of stuff, and the outer space battle is really pretty cool. On the other hand, it takes the smug, smirky elements of the franchise to their logical extreme, and, at times, becomes totally ridiculous.
The story is pretty standard: a mad Frenchman operating from a space station wants to poison the Earth and everyone on it and then re-populate it with a hand-picked master race. Only James Bond and his glamorous CIA partner / shag can stop him. So, after a lot of messing about and about a dozen near death experiences, they stop him.
The 52 year old Roger Moore plays Bond, and seems so lethargic and weary it seems astonishing that he would appear in another three films, finally retiring when he was pushing sixty. Moore’s Bond was never really very physical, of course, certainly not the brawler that Connery was, or the blunt instrument of Fleming, but watching him go through the motions of having a really, really slow fight with Jaws on top of a fake cable car is almost excruciating, and has all the menace and dynamism of a mime festival at an old people’s home.
The nadir of this jokey, lazy attitude comes in a scene set in Venice where Bond pushes a button and his souped up gondola converts into a hovercraft, climbing out of the canal and traversing a busy St. Mark’s Square. It’s bad enough that one witness does ye olde ‘looking at a bottle of wine and shaking his head in amazement’ routine, or that a waiter pours a beer over a patrons head but, when a pigeon does a double take – a fucking pigeon – that’s too much, especially as the visual effect is so poorly done.
That said, the outer space sequences are good if you don’t try and be a spoilsport and calculate the impossible amount of money Drax would have needed to set it all up – and they look great, so there’s an inconsistency there that rankles. The franchise would get worse, of course, and, for the most part ‘Moonraker’ is really very entertaining. But it could have been brilliant – a bit like the theme tune, which has a beautiful melody but never really sparks into life, not even in the disco version that plays over the end credits.
For the record, this was a film that I couldn’t wait to see back in 1979 but, at the time it was first released, I was at Sea Scout camp, so my Mum brought me the novelisation to be going on with. I read it three or four times and got more and more excited. When I finally got to see the film on the screen instead of in my head, I was, of course, really disappointed. And, no, even at the age of eleven, I didn't laugh at the pigeon.
FINALLY -- this film cost £35m to make. In 1979. This is the stand-in they used for seven foot tall metal toothed Jaws. Difficult to find a lookalike, yes, but come on...the real thing first, then the double --