Sunday, 20 November 2011

Moonraker (1979)

M:  One of our shuttles is missing!
007:  A Moonraker Sir?
M:  Yes, they are constructed by Drax Industries. Start investigating immediately.
007:  Drax, he must be a baddie, the name proves it! I’ll start by visiting Drax in California; then I think I’ll swing past Venice for some shenanigans. Perhaps Rio next, and then on to the Amazon on the pretense of finding a plant, but actually so that I can use my boat again (perhaps my old pal JW Pepper will be there). Finally I’ll try and get aboard one of the Moonraker shuttles (shouldn’t be hard, I’ve heard that the security is none-existent) to find out what this Drax fella is really up to.
M:  No need to be sarcastic 007, that all sounds highly implausible.
007:  Well of course it does, but we’re eleven films into this franchise, let’s just see if we can get away with a real load of old shuttle!

So, enough with the exposition. The pre-title action is pretty dramatic, the sky diving is shot really well; unfortunately whatever drama is created is soon belittled by Jaws flapping his arms like wings as his parachute wont open! The title song sung by Shirley Bassey is not bad, but forgettable, and sounds rather You only Live Twice-ish.

What then follows is a case study of camp, over-the-top ludicrousness; though it is somehow not completely un-enjoyable. No doubt it’s all nonsense and there are not many redeeming features, but it’s not as insipid as Diamonds are Forever or as stodgy as Thunderball. You almost have to feel a bit sorry for Roger Moore; I think that he tries his best (cheesy one-liners aside), it’s not his fault that the story and set pieces are so ridunkulous!

For example: there’s a fairly unnecessary scene shooting grouse, followed by a beautifully shot scene where Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) is chased through woods by some big dogs; very atmospheric with a lovely score by John Barry. Brutal end to Dufour though! Then in Venice it all goes to shit: a knife thrower in a coffin; a speed-boat gondola; no, sorry, a hovercraft gondola, and a pigeon doing a double take! At this point the film makers are just taking the piss.

But it’s not over, there is also a security pad that only opens when the Close Encounters of the Third Kind tune is played. This kind of thing was almost expected in a post Star Wars world where everyone was jumping on the band spacewagon, so there was a painful inevitability to the laser gun battle in orbit around the space station. They really shouldn’t have. There is also a very undramatic cable car fight, more like a high school drama lesson on how not to act. Where Eagles Dare this is not. And to add insult to injury, Jaws then finds a blond pig-tailed mini-mate.

I’m sure Follow the Lemur will have a lot more to say about the science of Moonraker, but two quick points. Following analysis of the nerve gas 007 manages to swipe from the lab in Venice, Bond declares: “It’s the chemical formula of a plant”. WTF? How can he possibly say that? It looks like a couple of aromatic rings (I’m no chemist); but that’s just an organic molecule, not the structure for a plant; and it’s certainly not the genome for a plant! For comparison, this is one possible structure of lignin, a compound that is important in plant cell wall structure. Rather more complicated than the "structure for a plant" shown below. Oh, and the radioactivity sign in the Venetian lab is upside down.

However, there are a couple of redeeming features. Ken Adams again produces some great set designs. Even the room below the shuttle launch pad looks cool:

Drax is a pretty good villain as played by Michael Lonsdale. He never seems to be particularly out to get 007; to him Bond is just an irritation that needs to be gotten rid of. He clearly has his mind on other things. And I’m not surprised, his goal is none other than to replace God; to have “order in the heavens” in some sort of eugenic dream that will be started using extras from Logan’s Run; while encircling earth with a “necklace of death”! And all while being dressed as Chairman Mao. Exhausting! Well that’s Moonraker for you.

Order of Preference so far: