The trickery of one person’s memory may be considered unfortunate, two people’s smacks of conspiracy. “Why did I waste two hours on that piece of shit?” my wife enquired as the end credits rolled. I could offer no answer. It may be of some cold comfort that at least she doesn’t have to write this fucking review; one, moreover, that forces me to reappraise my earlier opinion of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ as the series’ nadir. Although perhaps ‘TMwtGG’ is more bitterly disappointing because of the flashes of potential it displays – ‘Moonraker’ simply starts bad and stays bad.
How bad? Even allowing for the extravagancies and unsubtleties that are emblematic of the Roger Moore opuses, ‘Moonraker’ is god-awful. The pacing is leaden, the action scenes perfunctory, the humour sub-juvenile, the plot meaningless, the gadgets dull, the Bond girls duller and the villain dullest of all, Michel Lonsdale not even attempting to act but delivering a series of monotone line readings with all the conviction of an automaton.
‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ ended with the promise “James Bond will return in ‘For Your Eyes Only’”, however producer Albert Broccoli – his antennae, as always, attuned to what was bringing in the biggest box office bucks at any given moment – realised that audiences were responding to sci-fi spectaculars. ‘Star Wars’, released the same year as ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, had left 007 standing in terms of ticket sales (and ‘TSWLM’ was no flop either, earning its budget back at least ten times over). ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was put on hold and ‘Moonraker’ was rushed into production.
The biggest rush job was arguably the script. If Christopher Wood took more than a weekend over it, I’d be amazed. Wood was the chap Lewis Gilbert brought on board to add a dash of humour to Richard Maibaum’s script for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. Earning himself a solo writing credit for ‘Moonraker’, Wood basically rewrote ‘TSWLM’ substituting “up in space” for “under the sea”. Hence we have reclusive billionaire Stromberg who wants to destroy earth and rule a new master race under the sea reimagined as reclusive billionaire Sir Hugo Drax who wants to destroy earth and rule a new master race in the stars; sexy helicopter pilot Naomi replaced by sexy helicopter pilot Corinne; the plot kickstarter of a stolen submarine rehashed as a stolen spacecraft (deepening levels of self-plagiarism here, with ‘Moonraker’ essentially ripping off ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ which essentially ripped off ‘You Only Live Twice’); Bond’s emergence from the sea in a car/submarine occasioning a nearby drinker to glance at the bottle and shake his head in disbelief restaged as Bond’s transition from canal to piazza in gondola/hovercraft occasioning a nearby drinker to … well, you get the picture.
Jaws (Richard Kiel) returns, ostensibly in Drax’s employ but helping Bond during the mind-numbingly horrible space station battle at the end. His reversal of sympathies was due to Broccoli receiving tons of mail from kids whose imagination had been captured by the steel-toothed giant in the previous and had written to ask, in so many words, “Please mister, we think Jaws is dead cool, can’t he be a goodie this time and help Bond?” And so their requests were fulfilled; ergo a little more kerr-chinggg at the box office. Also, the big dude gets a girlfriend [insert “Jaws scores” pun here] and is allowed to deliver his only line of dialogue (“Here’s to us”).
Still, columns of figures are not the yardstick for this Bond-a-thon; these are tentpole movies whose mainstream appeal should be based on how entertaining they are; how much fun to watch. And ‘Moonraker’ delivers very little in the entertainment stakes. Everyone involved seems to be going through the motions: Gilbert’s direction is pedestrian, Moore’s performance is perhaps his most wooden turn in the franchise, Corine Cleary and Lois Chiles – saddled with underwritten characters – just phone in it, Lonsdale as mentioned earlier merely reads his lines and leaves it at that; the action scenes lack any frisson, with a potentially exciting speed boat chase reduced to a yawn-inducing a few minutes of padding and the explosive finale managing by some weird reverse alchemy to be as OTT as it is boring.
There’s not much else to say about the whole fiasco – at least not without getting into an overlong diatribe on how little sense the plot makes, even by the logic-starved standards of your average Bond movie, and I really don’t want to waste any more time or words on ‘Moonraker’ – except that it marks Bernard Lee’s final appearance as M. Which is a bloody shame. He deserved a better swansong.