• Year:  1979
  • Director:  Lewis Gilbert
  • Series Rank:  #18
  • Year Rank:  #54
  • Oscar Nominations:  Visual Effects
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects
  • Bond Girl:  Lois Chiles (Holly Goodhead), Corinne Cléry (Corinne Defour), Emily Bolton (Manuela)
  • Bond Villain:  Michael Lonsdale (Hugo Drax), Richard Kiel (Jaws), Toshiro Sugo (Chang)
  • Bond Support:  Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q)

This wasn’t supposed to be the next Bond film.  It was supposed to be For Your Eyes Only, which is interesting since Moonraker was the only original Fleming novel they hadn’t yet filmed (the rights to Casino Royale were owned by a different company and the rest of the pre-Brosnan films will take their titles (and sometimes a bit of their stories) from Fleming’s Bond short stories).  But, the success of Star Wars clearly had an impact.  There’s a reason that this James Bond film was nominated for Best Visual Effects.  The impact of Star Wars was wide-ranging; this was the only year between 1945 and 2010 that the category had five nominees and it’s for a reason.  That’s the only explanation for the fact that this film concludes with an outer-space battle complete with laser guns and then the space shuttle flying across the upper regions of the atmosphere, shooting down germ bombs.

moonraker-jawsYes, this is the silliest of all the James Bond films and that’s saying quite a bit.  We have James Bond in space, we have lasers shooting all over the place.  We even have Jaws returning.  In the previous film Jaws was an almost indestructible villain.  In this film that’s taken to new limits, as the film starts with him falling without a parachute, landing on a circus big top and walking away.  But aside from the increasingly ludicrousness of his ability to survive, he actually becomes a Bond ally by the end of the film and that just takes a fairly menacing villain and makes him rather silly.

The silliness of all of this (the plot is the death of the world’s population so it can be repopulated by good-looking impressive physical specimens) is countermanded a bit by the fact that there is some really impressive stuff in this film.  Look at the space shuttle.  In 2015, we can look at that and it seems like history.  But this film was released in 1979, two years before the U.S. started putting their space shuttles in flight.  This was actually really cutting edge stuff.

corinneAnd aside from the plot, we actually once again have a fairly good Bond girl.  Not the first one, Corinne, who goes for Bond for no apparent reason and then is chased down and eaten by dogs.  Not the little one, Manuela, who we think will be eaten by Jaws, but manages to survive.  lois-chiles-as-holly-goodhead-in-moonrakerI’m talking about Holly Goodhead.  Yes, she’s very unimpressive at first and she has one of the most ludicrous of the Bond Girl names.  But she’s a CIA officer, she uses Bond for her own means and she turns out to be incredibly useful in the fight on the space station.  Without her to pilot the shuttle, Bond would have died on the station and hundreds of millions of people would have died on Earth.  She’s the opposite of XXX, who was pretty awesome in the first half and just eye candy in the second half.  We don’t see much of Goodhead in the first half of this film, but she’s indispensable in the second half.

(Random digression:  The idea of a space shuttle, especially one piloted by a female, is not new.  In 1976, Jean Grey piloted the space shuttle down to save the X-Men and in the end was “transformed” into Phoenix, which eventually lead to the Dark Phoenix Saga, my all-time favorite comic book storyline, which I wrote about here and here).

Michael Lonsdale plays Sir Hugo Drax in "Moonraker" Original Filename: MR_Hugo_Drax.jpg

It’s good that Goodhead is so good because, in spite of being played by Michael Lonsdale, who is so good in films like The Day of the Jackal, Ronin and Munich, Hugo Drax is really just another boring megalomaniac.  His henchman Chang is more fun, as is Jaws until he gets ridiculous and changes his affiliation.

Moonraker is in the lower part of the middle of the Bond rankings.  Parts of it (the visuals, the Bond girl, the opening scene in freefall which, frankly, terrifies the hell out of me) are really good.  Parts of it (most of the ending, the incredibly dumb “hovercraft” scene in Venice, Q’s double entendre line “I think he’s attempting re-entry” which I correctly predicted would entice a very loud groan from Veronica) are just absurd.  It’s a lot better than the final two Moore films.  But, thankfully, before we get to those, we get to the best of Roger Moore as Bond.