Sunday, July 24, 2016

MOONRAKER (1979) - **

Rated PG
Running time: 126 min.
Release date: June 29, 1979

Moonraker is the 11th installment of the James Bond series and the third directed by Lewis Gilbert. It jumps in on the sci-fi craze that Star Wars ignited. The ideas behind Sir Ian Fleming's novel have mostly been discarded, save for the name of the villain, Hugo Drax. This link in the long chain that is the Bond franchise goes where no other Bond has gone before it or since, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

A space shuttle is being hauled to England on the back of an airliner, on loan from the U.S. government for some reason not fully explored. It gets hijacked in mid-air and in the process the airliner is destroyed. Of course, MI6 gets involved in the investigation and assigns James Bond (Roger Moore) to the case. Meanwhile, Moore is occupied with a mid-air conundrum of his own, as the crew of his flight attack him. The villainous Jaws (Richard Kiel) is aboard and we get a scene of Bond fighting for his life in mid-air for a parachute. This is a pretty thrilling scene to open the film. However, the opening credits theme song as performed by Shirley Bassey is one of the film's worst attempts.

We learn that the creator of the shuttle is Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) as Bond pays him a visit as part of his investigation. We are also introduced to NASA scientist, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), who has been loaned to Drax to assist with his work. Drax immediately lets the audience know his intentions by instructing his right-hand man, Chang (Toshiro Suga), to "make sure some harm comes to him", leading to Bond having a near-death experience strapped inside a centrifuge chamber. Bond gets the obligatory scene with him sneaking around Drax's mansion and finding some secret plans. These plans have him going from California to Venice, as one of the things this movie does is fit in so many different locations. This makes keeping track of the plot difficult. The movie then moves to Rio de Janeiro, down the Amazon River and then into outer space without stopping to give the audience much detail as to why the change in scenery.

The plot is apparently supposed to be moved by such discoveries as a glass vial made in Venice and a rare orchid discovered in the Amazon. Meanwhile, Bond is chased everywhere he goes by Jaws and other henchmen. The chase scenes and stunt work are the usual above-average Bond fare, but this film turns up the outlandish. For instance, the villain Jaws meets a young lady named Dolly and they immediately fall in love, making for some ridiculous musical and tonal shifts in the film.

Michael Lonsdale as Drax is probably the lamest Bond villain in the series at this point. Oh, his schemes are grand in scale, but Lonsdale hardly does anything himself to be remotely evil except utter some evil lines of dialogue. As for the Bond women, Lois Chiles is one of the worst actresses to play a Bond girl. She hardly emotes at any of the life-threatening situations she finds her character in. This is definitely an example of collecting a paycheck and phoning it in. Roger Moore as Bond appears to have settled into the role, however. In this film, he has finally attained the right balance of suave and daring.

Director Lewis Gilbert, who has directed three Bond films total, has framed all of these locations nicely, even if we are bombarded with the scenery change like no other Bond film previously. There is a battle in outer space involving lasers that is totally off-the-wall but at the same time is well-crafted by the visual effects team. The screenplay by Christopher Wood is filled with the usual Bond double-entendres, but the story crafted is just not believable, not even for a Bond film.

Moonraker looks good on-screen, with locations and sets and art direction that are all great to look at, but they don't mean anything when the plot is so disengaging and most of the cast are sleepwalking through the production. It all feels bloated and definitely could have been scaled back. The casting choices could have been better. For once, Roger Moore is not the worst thing about a Bond film.

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