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Friday, July 14, 2017

Moonraker

After the credits of The Spy Who Loved Me, we are told that James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. Not so. Because of the release of Star Wars, and the excitement about space movies, Moonraker would be the next Ian Fleming novel filmed, and the fourth to star Roger Moore. It was released in 1979, and is one of the sillier Bond movies ever made.

In this film Bond is investigating a missing space shuttle. He meets with the head of the company that makes them, Drax (Michael Lonsdale, who makes for one of the better Bond villains). Drax immediately tries to have Bond killed, which is kind of stupid--why have a British secret service agent turn up dead on your property? They try putting him in a high-speed accelerator, shooting him during a pheasant hunt, then later send an assassin armed only with a wooden sword, chase him through the canals of Venice, and later a boat chase on the Amazon. Never to they think of just putting a bullet in his head.

So Moonraker is basically about the incompetence of Bond's foes and Bond's pure luck. Consider that he escapes the boat chase in the Amazon in hang-glider, and lands precisely in the spot that he is looking for. If only Percy Fawcett had been so lucky.

Anyway, what Drax is up to is building a space station (it jams radar, so nobody knows it's there) where he will populate it with beautiful people and build a master race. He will poison the earth with a gas made of orchids, killing everyone, and then repopulate with his beautiful people.

As with most Bond villians, Drax is absurdly rich, and some of the pleasures of Bond films is observing these guys. Drax lives in California, but in an estate that is completely French, even the stones. Even though the movie is stupid, Lonsdale gives the role the kind of arrogance one would expect of a rich guy who would do something like that. Every time he thinks Bond is dead and then sees him again, he says something really droll. But it's his own fault--just kill him!

What really drags this movie down is the Bond girl, Lois Chiles. She plays Holly Goodhead, a CIA agent going undercover in Drax's operation. She's a lovely lady but gives one of the most wooden performances in the history of acting. I don't think there's any inflection in any line she delivers. And after watching a few of these movies close together Bond's promiscuity becomes more distasteful. In this film he just moves in and kisses women, whether they give him a signal to or not. It's just icky.

There's also an amusing if disheartening use of product placements. After an escape on a cable car in Rio, Bond is led on chase and goes past billboards for 7UP, Marlboro, British Airways, and Seiko. All of them are thanked in the closing credits.

On the plus side, Richard Kiel returns as Jaws, the very tall hit man with metal teeth. In this film, though, he is given a love interest, gets to be the good guy, and even says a line. All this due to popular demand. There is also some cleverness from the music supervisor. A pass code into a secret laboratory are the five key notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the theme from The Magnificent Seven is heard as Bond rides across the pampas.

I wouldn't say this is the worst Bond film ever made--I haven't seen all of the Pierce Brosnan ones--but it's not a good one. Even the theme song is unremarkable.

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