Published Dec 08, 2012Following the success of Star Wars in 1977, an abundance of throwaway, unremarkable imitators were released throughout the late '70s and early '80s, focusing on the presumably limitless potential of the final frontier. And since the Roger Moore era of Bond was particularly conscious of cultural climate, previously reiterating the populist status quo through blaxploitation in Live and Let Die and Kung-Fu in The Man with the Golden Gun, the pseudo-Science Fiction angle of Moonraker was an inevitability.
In fact, the production of this eleventh Bond film was pushed up to cash in on the Science Fiction craze at the time. At the end of the tenth Bond film, The Spy who Loved Me, a title card read, "James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only," which, of course, didn't happen, with that title being filmed later, hitting theatres in 1981.
Perhaps this push to hop on the bandwagon of a pop culture craze, mixed with an inflated record budget that was double that of Spy, is why Moonraker is such a ridiculous mess. Finding Bond tracking down a missing space shuttle, only to wind up in the middle of a nefarious Nazi-like plot to wipe out the entire human population and replace them with genetically specific magazine archetypes, this mission literally sends 007 to space, where he and undercover CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up with notorious Bond villain Jaws (Richard Kiel) to save the world.
Even before Bond winds up in space, where a literal laser gun battle between American astronauts—of which there are hundreds that are inexplicably prepared for space travel and battle—and Aryan ciphers unfolds in the middle of the void of space, this outing was doomed. Amidst the cable car battles and motorboat chases, there is a sequence where a gondola turns into a hovercraft, causing pigeons and a large percentage of Italians to do goofy double-takes.
These awkward stabs at camp comedy, which often involve the wooden and clumsy Jaws and his mid-film romantic dalliance with a pigtail-endowed milkmaid, merely exacerbate the badness of the absurdist plot. And while taking a goofball route to the Bond franchise was nothing new, the strange juxtaposition to legitimate horror—such as a Bond girl being ripped apart by Rottweiler's—added an element of distaste that light-hearted death by piano couldn't compensate for.
Though it is a remarkable example of marketing focus group badness there is very little about the eleventh Bond film that makes it redeemable. If it didn't have the gravitas of the franchise to hold it up through time, this title likely wouldn't even be available on modern digital formats like DVD and Blu-ray, regardless of the exaggerated and bloated budget and spectacle of it all.
Moonraker screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Shaken, Not Stirred: Bond on Film retrospective at 9:15pm on December 13th, 2012 and at 3:30pm on December 31st, 2012. (MGM/UA)