Having enjoyed The Spy Who Loved Me, it was somewhat galling to have to sit down and watch it again … but worse … in space.
You see, in the summer of 1977 a weird little flick about a princess, a pair of gay robots, a cowboy, his pet carpet, a hermit, a farmhand, and a man with a coal bucket on his head, was released in theatres, and blockbusters changed forever. Thanks to the phenomenal success of Star Wars, ‘Space Opera’ became the new default for sci-fi, and producers began ordering copies of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey in bulk.
There are many reasons why A New Hope (as it was later known) is a good film, but very little of that has to do with it being set in outer space. In fact, the majority of it takes place in Tunisia, so if anything Maghreb should have been Bond’s next Exotic Location. Nevertheless, EON took one look at the box office returns of Star Wars and thought: “Hey, if we add some lasers and Death Stars to our next Bond movie, the kids’ll lap it up!”
I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that ‘Bond in Space’ is a shite idea. It’s a terrible thing to say out loud, let alone to spend $34 million on. I will admit that some of the special effects are quite good, but that’s about it. Indeed, only the last third of the film is set in space, with the rest of the movie spent racing around the world, like a supercut of a Michael Palin documentary running at 200% speed.
The plot is exactly the same as TSWLM, only with Hugo Drax wanting to destroy the world by stealing spaceships to form a utopian space society, instead of Karl Stromberg wanting to destroy the world by stealing subs to form a utopian underwater one. Bond goes to Drax’s space-engineering headquarters, and is almost killed in a g-force simulator, in a scene with gurning nearly as ridiculous as the stuff we saw when Sean was fucked by that damn machine.
Bond bones Drax’s girlfriend and learns about a glass vial from Venice that’s somehow vital to his nefarious plot. There, Bond takes a gondola ride, and another barge bearing a coffin drifts past. A vampire dude pops out, as well as an armoury of knives, and he throws a chib at Bond’s bargeman, killing him. Then he throws one at Bond and misses, so Bond throws it back and kills him, then Bond presses a button, and it turns out the gondola has a motor at the back, and it shoots off down the canal, while the coffin hits a bridge and topples into the drink, and then Bond inflates the bottom and it turns into a hovercraft, and then he slides onto the Plaza San Marco, in his ridiculous boat, in front of hundreds of witnesses, knocking over tables and bumping into waiters, and this man is meant to have covert skills, and then a pigeon does a double take. I’ll say that again: a pigeon does double take.
If you found that exhausting to read, then just imagine what an ordeal it was to watch.
To be fair to Moonraker, the opening stunt is pretty amazing, with Bond fighting Jaws and a number of other goons while skydiving. Just knowing this was filmed with stuntmen diving over 70 times to get the sequence just right makes Bond skiing off a cliff look lame by comparison. But then all that tension evaporates when Jaws survives a fall from 20,000 feet by landing on a circus tent and emerging from its folds completely unscathed. I didn’t realise Chuck Jones directed this. I was seriously surprised Bond didn’t trick him into taking the bag with the giant anvil inside, instead of the parachute.
So we have to talk about Jaws. I mentioned previously that I thought that Jaws was one of the coolest James Bond Henchmen, so it’s quite dispiriting to see Moonraker turn him into a complete joke. I don’t think anyone watching The Spy Who Loved Me ever thought: “You know what would enhance this character? A love interest!” Yet that’s exactly what the movie gives him for no reason at all.
Halfway through the film, Jaws meets an equally-mute blonde lassie with pigtails, who looks like a 25-year-old masquerading as an 8-year-old in a Christmas panto. There are hints that this woman might be a bit slow, mostly due to the fact that she first meets Jaws when he stumbles out of the wreckage of a cable car and instantly falls in love with him. She isn’t put off by his metal teeth, criminal record, or giantism either. Ah well; when ya know, ya know, ya know?
The movie later has Jaws switch allegiances when he realises that The Mastermind’s plan is to destroy the world and restart society with a bunch of beauty queens/kings means that him and his new squeeze are for the chop. So Mr Jaws and Mrs Jaws-To-Be earn a redemptive moment by saving Bond and Holly Greatsuck, and wave goodbye to them through a little spaceship porthole while astronauts fire lasers at each other.
I don’t know what I was drinking when this happened, but all I remember is that suddenly needed a lot more of it.
There was a point during this mess where I zoned out completely. Bond saved the day, slept with his bird, and I was only jolted awake by the stomach-churning ‘attempting re-entry’ pun at the end, which was just a rehash of the end of the last film anyway.
It’s weird when you feel nostalgic for something you’ve never lived through or experienced first-hand. But halfway through this fever dream I started really pining for the Dr No days, when this franchise was all about a dangerous man in a suit foiling communists, and not about anything the producers thought would sell a ticket.
The only good thing about Moonraker is that it’s the irrevocable point where the classic Bond movies realised they went too far, and every movie hence, no matter how flawed, is a conscious attempt to step back from its excesses.