Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Moonraker (1979) | Story

Plot Summary

A space shuttle disappears and its creator pretty much raises his hand and says, "I did it!" so that Bond can catch him while hoping to evoke Star Wars and copy everything about The Spy Who Loved Me.


The end of The Spy Who Loved Me announced For Your Eyes Only as the next movie, but Cubby Broccoli had made that decision before he knew about Star Wars. After 1977, everyone was trying to cash in on Star Wars' popularity and the Bond movies were no exception. Moonraker, the only Bond novel that hadn't yet been adapted, had the perfect title for a scifi film. Or at least Bond's version of one.

By 1979, everyone was buzzing about NASA's new space shuttle program. The first test flight wouldn't be until 1981, so the program was still a huge source of excitement and speculation when Moonraker was being developed. That made it a perfect science fiction plot element for Bond and the bad guys to fight over.

The space stuff doesn't really come into play until the final half hour, but the movie reminds viewers of where it's headed by throwing in references to other scifi movies from around that time. Drax's gamekeeper signals the end of the pheasant hunt by sounding the first three notes of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," made popular in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And a Drax laboratory is protected by a keypad that opens the door when the five-note tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is entered.

But it's in that last half-hour that everything goes nuts with laser gun battles on a space station. The biggest homage to Star Wars is when Bond is in a space ship trying to blow up a planet-destroying globe (and even has to switch to manual at the last minute to do it).

But for all the scifi references, Moonraker is just as inspired by the huge success of The Spy Who Loved Me.

How Is the Book Different?

In the novel, Hugo Drax is trying to destroy London, but that's not enough for a movie following Karl Stromberg's plot to wipe out all life on Earth. Moonraker lifts several plot points right out of The Spy Who Loved Me, including Bond's relationship with a rival agent from another country. In the novel, Bond doesn't end up with the girl, which makes that story unique and cool, but we certainly couldn't have that in the movies. I'll point out other similarities to Spy as we go.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Holly Goodhead is very different from Gala Brand in terms of personality, but the idea of Bond's working with a female agent while dealing with some mutually adversarial feelings is right out of the book.

There are a couple of other nods to the novel, too. One is the Minister of Defense's reference to playing bridge with Drax (though it's M in the book). The other is the scene where Drax leaves Bond and Goodhead in an office that's going to be destroyed by rocket flames. In the movie, they escape through the exhaust vents, which is also a reference to a scene from the novel. The movie's just putting them closer together.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

Like with The Spy Who Loved Me, it's all the gags. The Bond films have always put a light, humorous spin on the stories, but now we're getting into over-the-top, goofy territory like the couple who won't stop kissing after their gondola is destroyed by the villains' speedboat. Or a smoker with a hacking cough who throws away his cigarette when he sees a coffin floating by.

There are also a couple of recurring gags from The Spy Who Loved Me that I'll mention in the Continuity section below.

Cold Open

Moonraker's teaser doesn't quite top The Spy Who Loved Me's, but it's in the same ballpark. The focus is on another big stunt and Moonraker has a good one.

The teaser begins with the theft of a space shuttle off the back of a plane that's transporting it. It's a cool idea, but not all that exciting to watch in execution. Still, it's weird and raises questions about what we're dealing with.

Since the shuttle was on loan to Britain from the US, cut to M who's trying to get a hold of Bond to give him the assignment of solving the mystery. Bond is still in transit home from his last mission though and in some trouble since everyone on his plane are actually bad guys out to kill him. We don't know anything about his mission, but it seems to be one of those situations where Bond has succeeded and some of the henchmen (including Jaws, another Spy Who Loved Me element) are trying to get revenge.

The evil pilot bails and then Jaws shoves Bond out without a parachute. In one of the coolest things Bond's ever done, he catches up to the pilot, fights the guy, then steals his parachute. It's more thrilling than the Spy parachute trick, but I give Spy the edge for leading into it with an awesome ski chase and a ski pole rocket.

Also, Moonraker loses points by having Jaws' parachute not open, then showing Jaws flapping his arms ridiculously as if he's trying to fly. The music turns goofy and Jaws crashes into a circus tent, but of course he'll be okay later on. Ludicrous.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. Moonraker
3. Thunderball
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. Goldfinger
6. The Man with the Golden Gun
7. From Russia With Love
8. Diamonds Are Forever
9. You Only Live Twice
10. Live and Let Die

Movie Series Continuity

Again ripping off The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker opens the same way after the credits with agency leaders (M, Q, and the Minister of Defense this time instead of Gogol) looking very serious and waiting for their agent to arrive. This is the Minister of Defense's second appearance and it's not immediately clear why he's there. Bernard Lee (M) is getting older, but he's in the movie quite a bit and doesn't appear to be slowing down. He doesn't need the extra help running MI6, so I don't know what's up with the MoD's micromanaging. I'll see if I can figure this out in the next post.

Meanwhile, we still have lots of field action by M as he shows up in Venice with the MoD and then South America with Q and Moneypenny. This continues to make no sense to me, but it's a standard part of Bond films by now.

Bond continues to be an international celebrity even among those who aren't in the intelligence community. Drax knows who Bond is and what he does and tells him, "Your reputation precedes you."

Bond acts like a know it all about the way a space shuttle works, which is pretty lame. In 1979, everyone knew that the cool thing about space shuttles was their ability to be reused. Bond talks about it like he's just broken the DaVinci Code. He makes up for it later though when he's not only able to recognize a chemical formula from memory, but identify the specific orchid that produces it and discuss the history of the missionary who discovered it. Nicely done, you irritating bastard, you.

The crowd reactions to the surfacing Lotus were so "hilarious" in The Spy Who Loved Me that Moonraker makes sure to throw some in, too. When Bond's weirdo hovercraft gondola takes its lap around the Piazza San Marco, the same wine guy from Spy is there to look strangely at his bottle. And am I mistaken or is that the same dog in the crowd looking very "been there done that" this time? His nonchalance is more than made up for though by the single dumbest thing to happen in any Bond movie ever: the pigeon double-take.

Finally, Bond's hat rack trick makes a strange return when he tosses his gondolier hat onto the boat's fórcola. Too bad Moneypenny (or anyone else) isn't around to see it.

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