Saturday, June 20, 2015
Moonraker (1979) | Music
Like everything else about Moonraker, Maurice Binder largely repeats what he did in The Spy Who Loved Me. It's still a lot of acrobatic silhouettes tumbling in front of moody colors and lighting. But he does do some cool things to tie the ridiculous circus gag at the end of the teaser into the space theme of the rest of the movie. As the credits open, Binder gives us a net that's catching silhouettes of falling circus people and props, evoking the chaos of Jaws' crashing into their performance. Those silhouettes are then joined and replaced by naked women that fly and tumble as if they were in zero gravity.
Binder uses more backgrounds than he did in The Spy Who Loved Me and they're all space-related: a cloud-covered moon, Earth from orbit, and stars in space, for instance. One of my favorite things isn't a background, but a flying woman whose silhouette fills with blue and red neon lines like an airline logo. A puzzling moment though is when a woman balances on a faceted, glass ball. I assume that's meant to represent the glass globes that Drax uses to try to destroy the world, but it looks totally different from those.
Over the credits is one of my least favorite Bond theme songs. John Barry was back for Moonraker and hired Hal Davis (the lyricist behind "We Have All the Time in the World") to help write the song. The words fall into my preferred category for Bond themes - a love song based around the title of the movie - but don't work all that well. "Moonraker" is used as a symbol for someone reaching for their dreams, but the singer refers to the dreamer as a third person, so it's just a simile when a metaphor - the singer is the Moonraker - would have been stronger.
The tune is no great shakes either. It succeeds in creating a soaring, weightless feeling, but by definition, that leaves it ungrounded. It's too ethereal. And sadly, even Shirley Bassey's voice can't rescue it. She's okay in it, but the song doesn't play to her strength, possibly because she was brought in at the last minute and didn't have time to make it her own. They'd wanted Johnny Mathis to record it, which would have been amazing, but he apparently didn't like the song and turned them down. There's a disco version over the end credits that I like a little more (because disco), but not even neon and spinning lights can make "Moonraker" a good song.
The rest of the music for Moonraker tends to be as goofy as the movie itself. I feel like a traitor for saying this, but I miss Marvin Hamlisch already with his generous use of the Bond theme. Barry goes for silly circus music as Jaws tries to fly and crashes into the big top, polka music while Bond's taking the hovercraft gondola for a tour around the Piazza San Marco, Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" when Jaws meets Dolly, and the theme from The Magnificent Seven for Bond on horseback. For that last one, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly would have been more appropriate since Bond's costume is clearly copying Clint Eastwood, but I'm never going to complain about having to hear the Magnificent Seven theme. It's dopey for a Bond movie, but sadly, that's where the series is headed.
All this novelty music doesn't leave much time for the Bond Theme, which only gets played a couple of times. It's in the teaser as Bond goes into a parachuteless dive after the pilot (probably my favorite moment in the whole movie) and again during the gondola/speedboat chase (before it gets ruined by the hovercraft). The From Russia with Love 007 Theme also comes up again during the Amazon River chase, but I think I enjoy spotting that nostalgic throwback more than I enjoy the music itself.
Top Ten Theme Songs
1. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Diamonds Are Forever
4. You Only Live Twice
5. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
6. Live and Let Die
7. Dr No
10. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
Top Ten Title Sequences
1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
5. From Russia with Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
10. The Man with the Golden Gun