If it was going to happen it had to happen now. ‘Star Wars’ had exploded, science fiction was hot and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977) had made a tonne of money. The vision was there, the appetite was there and the finance was there. There would never be a better moment in living history to send James Bond into outer-space.
Think about it — when else could it (and it was inevitably going to) have happened? Connery’s era was limited by budget and the era’s effects; Dalton was super serious; Brosnan… well, maybe; Daniel Craig? No fucking way. Can you imagine Craig’s faux-gritty, emotionally over-wrought Bond attending M’s funeral after ‘Skyfall’ then announcing after “Later fuckers! I’m off into space!” Craig’s is a Bond hemmed in by pseudo-realism and the constraints can be suffocating — he’d die of lack of oxygen before he even put his helmet on and left the planet.
Cards on the table — I ADORE ‘Moonraker’ (1979) and I mean I really love it. It’s one of my favourite Bond films and everything wonderful about it is contained in the amazing pre-credit sequence where Bond is pushed out of a plane without a parachute.
I still remember the precise moment I saw this as a kid, my breath catching in my throat with a snap as Jaws shoves Bond out the plane, no music cue to give the surprise away. “How is he going to get out of that?!” I screamed inside my infant head, “He’s dead!!!” When you do realise how Bond is going to get out of it it’s gloriously satisfying. It’s an incredibly ballsy way to open a movie combining impeccable stunt-work whilst tying the entire film together thematically (‘Moonraker’ both starts and ends with Bond falling to Earth. Not a bad piece of circular structure for a “silly movie” and if Thomas Pynchon can be praised for doing that sort of shit in ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ then so should ‘Moonraker’ too).
The other striking aspect about this sequence, and the entire film, is the cinematography by Jean Tournier (‘The Train’ — 1966, ‘The Day of The Jackal’ — 1973) which might be the best cinematography in the entire Bond franchise because ‘Moonraker’ looks absolutely gorgeous. It blows Deakins’ stylised (pretentious) and artful (irritating) work out the water by shooting with clarity and colour and, like a lot of French cinematographers, Tournier seems to have a knack for capturing the light and air of the surroundings. Nothing feels masked behind visual noise or from having been colour-graded to high-buggery; it’s an exceptionally clean and clear image and it is pretty as hell.
‘Moonraker’s other technical elements are functioning at full capacity too, some of which we’ll sadly see, and hear, for the last time. This is Bernard Lee’s last role as M and Ken Adam provides the production design for his final work on a Bond film and, for me, Bond films were never quite the same again after; something vitally important was always missing once Adam was gone. Likewise John Barry contributes one of his best scores ever (some of the highlights being ‘Bond Lured To The Pyramid’, ‘Flight Into Space’ and ‘Bond Arrives in Rio’) although it’s also the last time we’ll hear the much missed ‘007 Theme’ (can you imagine how much goodwill would ignite inside Bond fans if they brought this theme back?).
The other technical elements here are of a very high standard yet all that wouldn’t count for much if the movie wasn’t enjoyable. Fortunately it could be on this front that ‘Moonraker’ is as it’s most successful. In fact, this is easily one of the most entertaining Bond films ever made being very nicely paced indeed. Yes, Jaws is now a comedy character, but he’s a very funny comedy character. Sure, the plot is ridiculous but it’s wonderfully so and (and this is something many Bond snobs forget) it has a consistent internal logic that’s far superior than most of the recent Bond films (Drax’s plan is crazy but it makes sense in this world. Silva’s plan in ‘Skyfall’ makes no sense in ANY universe). And sure, the amphibious gondola and the double-take pigeon are stupid but nowhere near as stupid as making Blofeld James Bond’s foster brother. Now that’s stupid AND offensive.
Besides, it’s not all silliness and space-battles in ‘Moonraker’: Jaws ominously walking down the alley dressed in carnival gear in Rio is seriously scary; the fight in the Venetian glass museum is loud and smashy, exciting and funny and, again, with a point (all this glass is breaking except the little glass vial of poison in Bond’s pocket that we’d maybe forgotten about until he pulls it out to remind us at just the right moment of what was actually at stake); the execution of Corrine by hounds is simultaneously frightening and beautifully shot (again, notice the light and air). Lewis Gilbert balances all this along with the comedy, spy stuff and space nonsense with total skill, handling it all with a steady, but light, touch. Can you name me another recent Bond director who could do all that? Certainly not Mendes; his version of ‘Moonraker’ would be utterly unwatchable let alone fun.
Some people judge others by if they like dogs or not. I judge people by how they feel about ‘Moonraker’. If you like the film you’re more than likely a decent person with a big heart, a large imagination and the ability to enjoy life. If you hate it you’re more than likely a psychopathic idiot struggling with superiority issues, low self-esteem, rampant snobbery and basically nothing more than a posturing moron who’s failed to understand that James Bond has ALWAYS been silly and have seen an easy target to take your frustration out on.
I love ‘Moonraker’. I love the camera-work, the directing, the set design, the music. I love Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax and his growing exasperation with Bond. I love Roger Moore as Bond and the fact he looks like he is genuinely having a good time. And, like the Adam West version of ‘Batman’, it is the silliest entry in a franchise that has the best script — name me a single line from a single Bond film from the last thirty years with dialogue as inspired as “May I press you to a cucumber sandwich?” and I’ll happily delete this “review” right now. And I made it easy because I could’ve chosen Q’s final line in ‘Moonraker’ which is not just one of the best Bond lines but also one of the greatest (almost) closing lines in cinema.
Whether we liked it or not it was inevitable that James Bond was going to end up in space at some point and, considering the circumstances, 1979 was the perfect, and only possible, time. Cubby Broccoli made the right decision and god bless him for doing so.