Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Moonraker

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of one of the many movies I own.  Darn those James Bond movies for being so cheap and plentiful!  I really went nuts buying them back in the spring.  So we're still in the world of 007 as we get to 1979's Moonraker.  This entry is dated in my notes at February 17, 2013.

Well, last time we did Skyfall, one of the grittiest and most realistic James Bond films. So what better way to follow it up than with one of the slickest and most fanciful, Moonraker?

The saga of how Moonraker came to be has been quite well documented. As previously blogged, The Spy Who Loved Me is generally considered the finest of the Roger Moore Bonds. When it came out in 1977, it brought Bond back in a big, beautiful way. But another movie came out in 1977 that forever changed the pop culture landscape...Star Wars. As history shows, the films of the late-1970s/early-1980s are filled with sci-fi films, as every studio in Hollywood tried to cash in on Star Wars. And not even the producers of the James Bond films were immune, as they thought, "We gotta get James Bond into space some how." So, the next planned Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, was placed on hold, while they decided to come up with something more sci-fi oriented. And the end result was Moonraker.

It still tried to be somewhat grounded in reality, though. The news at the time was filled with reports of NASA's latest experimental spacecraft, the Space Shuttle. So they decided to go with a plot revolving around space shuttles. And James Bond and space is not unprecedented. The first one, Dr. No, has Bond stopping Dr. No from messing up NASA launches in Florida. You Only Live Twice had Bond investigating the theft of spacecraft from orbit. So Bond and space was not too out there. But when you start having space dogfights and lasers and space marines...yeah, now we're starting to stretch things.

It's also notable in that it's the first James Bond film with a recurring henchman. Jaws, the giant with metal teeth from The Spy Who Loved Me, proved so popular that he was brought back for this film. And he even gets a love interest and his own little character arc that sees him switch sides from villain to hero. Even though many now regard this as one of the goofiest and silliest James Bond films, tossing in all the stuff that was popular at the time (like space and Jaws) paid off, as it was the highest-grossing Bond film of all time until GoldenEye came out.

As I've mentioned before, TBS's James Bond marathons throughout the 1990s are where I saw the majority of James Bond films. They must have continued their James Bond marathons into the early 00s, because I remember last seeing this during one of those marathons, and I was going to NAIT. I was doing homework in front of the TV and watching it. But I do remember watching it during another marathon, when I was going to high school. My mother caught a part of it, and summed it up pretty well. The end result is pretty much The Spy Who Loved Me in space.

The film opens with one of the USA's new space shuttles, Moonraker, being shipped to England, on loan to the British government for research purposes. But, there are 2 stowaways on Moonraker. The fire up the space shuttle's engines, destroying the 747 that was carrying it. Of course, 007 is recalled from his mission in Africa to investigate. And in our pre-credtis sequence, Jaws appears to try and kill 007 once again. After a spectacular skydive fight, Bond escapes unharmed and Jaws crashes into circus tent. Cue Shirley Bassey!

Shirley Bassey does the opening theme. Bassey is a legendary British singer, and she's done 3 Bond theme songs: this one, Diamonds are Forever, and the most famous one of all, Goldfinger.

Anyway, Bond shows up in M's office and gets his mission. After a careful analysis of the wreckage, our heroes have determined that the Moonraker shuttle went missing and is presumably stolen. Bond's mission is to find it. With no other solid leads, Bond decides to start his investigation with Hugo Drax, who's aerospace corporation is the manufacturer of the Moonraker shuttle. Bond shows up at Drax's sprawling estate in California, and is escorted around the complex by Dr. Holly Goodhead, an astronaut on loan from NASA. But, seeing as to how Drax tries to have Bond killed as soon Bond sets foot on his estate, Bond immediately thinks that Drax is up to something.

Gratuitous sci-fi reference #1: Drax tries to kill Bond by spinning him to death in a centrifuge, and Bond has a little trippy moment like the end of 2001 where he gets the idea of how to get out of it.

After seducing one of the many young, lovely ladies in Drax's employ, Bond learns that Drax has some kind of top secret project on the go, and his California facility is being shut down and all personnel moved elsewhere. Breaking into Drax's office, he finds some blueprints for some kind of special glass vials that are being made in Venice. Bond decides to take his leave of Drax and head off to Venice, and foils attempt to kill him #2. After Bond leaves, Drax kills the woman that Bond seduced. Let that be a lesson, ladies: never sleep with spies.

Bond heads to Venice and begins his investigation. He finds Drax has a secret lab in Venice, and decides to investigate further after darkness. But, not before Drax's goons try to kill Bond once again. This leads to a chase through the canals of Venice, which many agree has the silliest Bond gadget of all time: one of those classic Venetian gondolas...and it's motorized...and it turns into a hovercraft.

Also while out in Venice, Bond runs into the good Dr. Goodhead, ostensibly there to present a paper at some conference.  But after raiding her hotel room and finding a slew of spy gadgets similar to his own, Bond deduces that Dr. Goodhead is actually a CIA agent, keeping tabs on Drax as well. 

Anyway, Bond goes back to the lab to do some investigating.  Gratuitous sci-fi reference #2:  the pass code to the secret lab plays the tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Bond discovers that Drax is synthesizing a deadly nerve gas, that only kills humans, but leaves animals unaffected.  Taking a sample of the nerve gas, Bond has a run in with one of Drax's henchmen, and they have an epic duel inside a glass museum.  Reading up on this online, apparently this fight scene set a new world record for the most breakaway glass used in a single movie.  Trust me, there's lots of smashing and crashing. 

The next day, Bond heads back to the secret lab with M and the Minister of Defense to blow the lid of Drax's operation, but they find that Drax has cleared out the lab, and they're greeted by a smug Drax in an opulent office.  The Minister orders Bond off the case, but after Bond presents the sample of the nerve gas that he kept, M allows Bond to continue the case covertly.  While investigating the lab, Bond saw that Drax was shipping the nerve gas to Rio de Janeiro, so Bond is off to Brazil!  Meanwhile, Bond killed Drax's henchman in his battle in the glass museum, so Drax needs a new henchman.  Drax calls up some kind of henchman temp agency, and hires Jaws. 

There's an expanded universe thing I want to see...who runs a henchman temp agency? 

Bond arrives in Rio, but finds Drax's warehouses empty.  After evading an assassination attempt by Jaws, he once again runs into Goodhead, and they finally decide to work together.  They once again fight Jaws in a thrilling fight atop a cable car, and it ends with Jaws...finding love.  He crawls out of the wreckage and is greeted by a petite and busty pigtailed blonde, and it's love at first sight.  They're both mute, so we have to rely on the cheezy sampling of Romeo and Juliet on the soundtrack to hammer home the point.

Sadly, though, Bond and Goodhead are captured, and after a battle in the back of an ambulance, Bond escapes, but Goodhead is once again captured.  Bond, dressed very much like a cowboy (or his old TV character Beau Maverick) and with the Magnificent Seven theme playing in the background, rides into MI6's Brazilian HQ:  an old Catholic mission complete with Kung Fu monks, and the classic scene of Q testing out all his latest gadgets.  Q delivers  his analysis of the nerve gas, and discovers its made from a rare orchid that grows deep within in the Amazon.  Bond gets another gadget-outfitted boat, and he heads up the Amazon, has a spectacular boat chase, and finds Drax's hidden lair. 

And it's pure 1970s sci-fi.  Drax has a whole space complex deep in the heart of the rainforest, and he launches a half-a-dozen space shuttles into orbit.  Bond is reunited with Goodhead, whom Drax has imprisoned in the complex.  Bond and Goodhead escape from their death trap, and sneak aboard one of the other space shuttles.  They're launched into orbit, and they're soon docking with Drax's gigantic space station! 

Once on board, they find out Drax's master plan.  On the space station, he has filled it with what he deems to be perfect human specimens.  They'll release the nerve gas onto the Earth below, killing all life, but leaving the plants and animals unharmed.  After a few decades, once the gas has dissipated, they'll return to Earth and repopulate it with a new master race.  On the way up, Bond and Goodhead discovered that the space station has a radar jamming cloaking device that's keeping it hidden from all the space agencies on Earth.  Once they disable it, astronauts will no doubt be sent up to investigate and/or destroy it.  So, they disable the cloaking device, but in the process, they're captured by Jaws.  But, the deed is done, and when the space station shows up on American radar, they send up a space shuttle to investigate.

With Bond and Goodhead in custody, Drax begins monologuing instead of just killing them.  Bond points out that anyone not meeting Drax's ideals of perfection would be executed, and Jaws realizes this means himself and his diminutive love.  Jaws then switches sides, and helps Bond and Goodhead battle Drax.  The American space shuttle arrives, and before Drax can use the space stations super laser to destroy it, Bond turns off the artificial gravity, causing everyone to float away from their consoles. 

Apparently, this scene set a world record for the most people being simulated in 0g with wire work. 

Drax starts sending out laser gun-wielding astronauts to fight off the American shuttle.  But the American shuttle's cargo bay opens and unleashes...a platoon of laser-gun wielding space marines!  And we have an epic space battle that the best 1979 special effects technology can muster! 

Artificial gravity is restored on the space station, space marines begin fighting it out with Drax's men, and we have the classic Bond climax of the army storming the villain's stronghold.  In the battle, Bond kills Drax by shooting him with a poison-dart, and then shoving him out an airlock. 

With most of Drax's men dead, and the space station starting to break apart from the structural damage, the space marines pull out.  In the wreckage, Jaws and his love find each other.  They find a bottle of champagne, and as they drink, Jaws speaks his only line:  "Well, here's to us." 

However, in the commotion, Drax was able to launch three of his nerve-gas filled satellites.  While they won't destroy the entire Earth, they will still kill whole swaths of the population.  Bond and Goodhead escape the space station in Drax's personal shuttle, which is equipped with a laser.  They manage to destroy two of the satellites, but the other one proves problematic.  So Bond turns off the targeting computer, switches to manual, uses the Force, and destroys that third satellite. 

The mission is done!  So, as Bond and Goodhead chill out in orbit, the USA and UK brass turn on the cameras in the shuttle, as this amounts to the first joint space mission between the two.  And, of course, they catch Bond and Goodhead in mid-0g-coitus.  Leading to a classic cheezy line....

M>>  What is Bond doing?
Q>>  (focused on the tracking computers, not seeing what Bond is up to)  It appears he's attempting re-entry. 

And as the shuttle flies off into the sunset, we're treated to a disco version of Shirley Bassey's opening song.  1970s forever!

Did I ever mention why Drax stole the shuttle back from the Americans?  There was a production flaw in one of the shuttles he built for his evil plan, so he decided to just steal the Americans. 

Anyway, back to the music.  I remember the last time I saw this, it was shortly after I finally saw Disney's big entry into the late-1970s sci-fi-palooza, The Black Hole.  Both films featured music by John Barry, and in all the space scenes, it struck me right away how similar the music is in Moonraker and The Black Hole.  It could be the same score.

This also marks the final appearance of the tune 007.  Starting with From Russia With Love, Barry wrote a special "action theme" for James Bond called 007, and worked it into a lot of chase sequences.  It's used during the boat chase on the Amazon, and that marks its final appearance in the James Bond franchise. 

We should probably also talk about the special effects.  Most of the special effects for the James Bond films were done by a man named Derek Meddings.  He cut his teeth doing the effects for the classic TV series Thunderbirds, and went on to do most of the special effects for the Bond films throughout the 1970s and 1980s.  He also did effects for the first Superman and Tim Burton's Batman.  His work on Moonraker got him a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination.  While it's not as slick as the groundbreaking stuff that ILM did a few years before on Star Wars, it is pretty good.  They don't hold up too well, sadly, as their model-ness does show in some scenes.  But it's not bad.

And that's Moonraker.  It's silly, it's fun, it's goofy.  But sadly, because it was the highest grossing Bond film for some time, it probably marks the point where Moore's Bond start descending into camp and silliness. 

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