Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: MOONRAKER (1979, Lewis Gilbert)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 126 minutes.
Tag-line: "From the most exotic locations on Earth, MOONRAKER will take you out of this world!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Roger Moore (THE QUEST, LIVE AND LET DIE), Michael Lonsdale (MUNICH, THE NAME OF THE ROSE), Lois Chiles (THE WAY WE WERE, BROADCAST NEWS), Richard Kiel (EEGAH, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), Corinne Clery (YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE, THE STORY OF O), Bernard Lee (DR. NO, THE THIRD MAN), Geoffrey Keen (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Desmond Llewelyn (THUNDERBALL, GOLDENEYE), and Lois Maxwell (LOLITA, GOLDFINGER).
Best One-liner:  "Take a giant step back for mankind."

 A few James Bond films (like, say, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or SKYFALL) attempt a stern and serious atmosphere, a kind of no-nonsense-thriller vibe striving for a degree of class that's slightly more "John le Carré" than "Ian Fleming."  MOONRAKER is not one of these films.

It shares more in common with the delightfully insane DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER or the funhouse loopiness of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN than your typical higher-tier Bond film.  And that is why I love it.
So, without further ado– my six favorite head-scratching, spit-take worthy moments in MOONRAKER: they're what make life worth living.

#6.  Bond hurls a henchman through a priceless clock-tower window, whereupon the unfortunate lackey plummets to his doom...

 and completely penetrates a grand piano

 
 in a live-action Looney Tunes tableau that achieves near-Joe Dante levels of comic grotesqueness.
 Go ahead, James.  Care to lay the cherry atop this sundae of slapstick savagery?  I know you've got something good up your sleeve.

There you go!  A-plus!


#5.  Spielberg ouroboros.
In addition to having a returning character named "Jaws," MOONRAKER uses the famous, five-note theme from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND as the electronic combination to a door in a high-security area.  Little did the makers of MOONRAKER know that Spielberg would soon begin his own James Bond-ian series (INDIANA JONES) which would eventually include in its third installment a Venice speedboat chase sequence, just like in MOONRAKER!  The mind reels.


#4.  Lasers, Lasers, Lasers!
 
I mean, the movie is called MOONRAKER.  Obviously, you wouldn't rake the moon with anything less than a laser.  What else are you supposed to use... a rake?  

Now here are some pictures of an undercover MI6 agent dressed as a monk zapping the hell out of a goopy dummy, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-melting-Nazis-style:

Carry on, then.


#3.  Roger Moore as Clint Eastwood.
Set to the raucous strains of Elmer Bernstein's MAGNIFICENT SEVEN soundtrack, Moore makes an entrance while dressed in a near-facsimile Man With No Name costume.  This feels like a gag better suited for THE PIRATE MOVIE or a NATIONAL LAMPOON'S flick, but I'm more than okay with it.


#2.  Jaws' Love Interest.

Fan-favorite, metal-mouthed behemoth Jaws (Richard Kiel) returns from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME with appropriate grandeur and succeeds in stealing a second James Bond movie away from James Bond himself.  In a mind-blowing setpiece scored by the love theme from Tchaikovsky's ROMEO AND JULIET, Jaws is swept up off his feet by the Heidi-esque "Dolly," a super-strong woman with pigtails.  I'm going to stop you right there, tell you to lower your arched eyebrow, and ask you to just go with it.



This culminates in a crowd-pleasing plot-line of Jaws becoming something of a good guy, which leads to Jaws tossin' Mr. Bond a hearty outer space thumbs-up
and celebrating his new life choices by gnawing the cork off of a bottle of champagne and enjoying it with his lady friend.
Clearly, I wish that Jaws could be in every James Bond movie.  Alas.


#1.  I have to give the number one spot to the moment that inspired an actual, non-theoretical spit-take:

James Bond blasts his motorized gondola out of the Venetian canals and onto a main thoroughfare, rapidly inflating a bottom panel that transforms the vessel into a hovercraft.
He then gallivants about the streets of Venice, wearing a "I say, what are you looking at, good sir?" expression upon his smug face.

 
 This prompts a pigeon to do a show-stopping double-take, achieved through a forward-reverse-forward motion effect.
 
This is one of the ballsiest, most wonderfully inane gags to appear in any movie, James Bond or otherwise.  Its sheer lameness is such that it goes through the rabbit hole and back again, trampling your logic centers until you have no choice but to admit its brilliance. 

Four stars.

–Sean Gill

8 comments:

GuyR said...

Thanks for the good laugh, I forgot all about that pigeon!

That being said, I have no shame in admitting that Moonraker has always been one of my favorite Bonds.
To hell with the unfunny bastards!
Roger Moore forever!

Mario A. said...

Oh, I always loved this movie!

Mike B. said...

Indeed a delight! And, I agree with the folks above. It's funny, I think that perhaps many of us go through the same arc with Bond films. We start out thinking that Connery alone is the best, accepting no substitutes, rolling our eyes at the goofier Moore films, maybe offering a few compliments to the more classic-esque Dalton and Brosnan, but then, a strange thing happens. By the time we get to Craig, we are at first excited by this rough, tough, back-to-basics Bond, but the more we watch, the more we start to feel nostalgic for Moore's brand of goofball hijinx and genuine whimsy, and the next thing you know, here it is a year later and I still haven't gotten around to watching Skyfall. I'm sure it's great and all, but I'd rather go spend some more time with folks like Scaramanga, Knick Knack, and Jaws. Or maybe Chris Walken or Grace Jones will drop by. It's gonna be a hoot! At least, that's been my particular Bond journey. Basically, I'm saying that there was a time when I pretended Moonraker never happened, but now I'm so very glad it did. Thanks for revisiting this and I hope we get some more of these somewhere down the line!

Sean Gill said...

Guy,

Glad I could remind you about that flabbergasted pigeon! Watching and rewatching through all the Moores has certainly bolstered my opinion of the man.


Mario,

Indeed it is fantastic. Thanks for stoppin' by!


Mike,

A great comment– and they should have continued to bring Jaws back, and Knick Knack, too- what the hell, why not? They could have been like a wrestling tag-team, sometimes the heroes, sometimes the villains.
And Moore really knew how to deliver a goofy one-liner. Ah,well- we'll always have THE QUEST!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Man, honestly, sometimes finding time to write is not easy even if it's leaving a single comment.

Glorious entry Sean.

Thrilled to see this often under appreciated even derided film receive this kind of love. Thrilled! Nicely done my friend.

The points you make are great and that pigeon sequence is off the hook!

Moore forever indeed.

He's always been my favorite Bond and the more serious Bond gets the more I appreciate these films as an antidote to them all.

There was no better period in film than the blasted 7os and this is more proof of that fact!

Cheers!
sff

Sean Gill said...

SFF,

Knowing you're such a MOONRAKER fan, I hoped you'd enjoy this, and I'm quite glad you did!

J.D. Lafrance said...

Loved this film as a kid, but I probably haven't seen it since then. Your review has certainly inspired me to revisit this one if only for the pigeon double-take! Holy crap, did they really do that? The chutzpah of the Bond folks knows no bounds, esp. at that time when it was an uber successful franchise (still is, obviously).

Fantastic look at this one, as always.

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Thank you– and I'm very happy to inspire your renewed interest in double-taking pigeons. The Moore years really were grand, from the loop-de-loo bridge jump in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN to the LIVE AND LET DIE blaxploitation madness. Completely nuts!