Monday, February 25, 2013

Double Oh...11: Moonraker

Moonraker preamble: if you will recall (or even if you won't), at the end of the credits to The Spy Who Loved Me it read "James Bond will return in... For Your Eyes Only".  What wasn't foreseen at the time was the outrageous success of Star Wars, leading to a mad scramble to assemble something more sci-fi/space related to try and shamelessly exploit the burgeoning SF geek market.  It worked, on me at least.  Moonraker still stands out to me as my favourite Bond movie as a kid, almost entirely because of its exploitation of sci-fi.  Some Bond watchers loathe this film (*ahem* my wife) and generally rank it towards the back end of Bond features, and I wondered if my childhood fondness would hold up in adulthood (because, as I've been discovering over the past few years, it rarely does).

Villains: Oh, look who's back in the opening sequence... it's Jaws!  Hooray!  I honestly love the big lug, primarily because I know well his redemptive arc in this one.  He's a monster, a monolithic man mountain whose feats of strength and durability obviously triggered my youthful fascination with him.  In the opening sequence, Jaws and Bond wrestle in the sky in a fabulous skydiving sequence.  Jaws loses his parachute and crash lands in a circus big top ("SPOON!").  Later Jaws is hired by megalomaniac space pioneer Hugo Drax to keep Bond off his tail.
   Their repeat encounter takes place in a Rio back-alley during Carnival.  Jaws, in a very creepy (to a 10-year-old me, anyway) carnival costume, slowly stalks Bond's Brazilian station agent, Manuela, in the alley, before he reveals himself, picking her up, and getting ready to take a bite out of her jugular with those big silver chompers.  When Bond shows, they exchange a charming set of smiles in recognition before they get on with it.  Later Bond and Dr. Goodhead tussle with Jaws on top of a stranded cable car (after Jaws bit clean through one of the cables).  They're seriously outmatched.
    At the end of that sequence, Jaws has a meet-cute with a busty blonde in lederhosen and braided pigtails, and they literally fall in love at first site.  It's adorable and sweet and I can understand why people hate it but I just find it charmingly campy.  Finally, Jaws turns up again in the space station as Drax's right-hand thug, but Bond wisely convinces him that he won't be included in his little space eugenics project and he turns hero, protecting his adorable special lady.  They're the last survivors on the station, as it explodes, but the main capsule detaches and survives the landing to earth, we learn in a goofy bit of exposition at Mission Control.  Jaws is really a star player in this film, and while I understand that more appearances by him would be too much, I'm also kind of sad this is the last we see of him.
    Hugo Drax has a thug, Chang, a trained kendo fighter, who is his right-hand prior to Jaws, but Bond squares off with him in a glass objects shop (naturally destroying everything possible) before winding up in a beautifully lit and decorated stained glass clocktower set (that seems to me to be what Sam Mendes was riffing off of in the wonderful skyscraper sequence in Skyfall).  Naturally Chang is sent flying out through the stained glass into the throngs of evening diners below.
    Finally there's Drax himself, seemingly yet another Blofeld substitute.  He's hits all the right notes as a full-on destroy-the-world-and-rebuild-it madman, much like Stromburg in the last film.  Michael Lonsdale plays him as a no-nonsense, powerful man with little conscience and massive ambition.  He's not a cunning adversary for Bond, but rather sees Bond as little more than a pesky nuisance, and never feels like his plan is in any danger of being derailed.  He dies with a dart in the chest before being sucked into the vacuum of space.

Bond Girls: We start with Corrine Dufour (the lovely Corrine Clery), Drax's personal pilot.  Bond literally pumps her for information.  Once he gets it, she's pretty much expendable.  I swear Bond has a death-dick which leads to a 50/50 chance of you being dead after he beds you.  Corrine is good with the one-liners, but she winds up as dog meat for Drax's dobermans.  Sad, I liked her.
   Next is Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles).  She's a CIA agent who has infiltrated Drax's organization to expose his dirty deeds and bring it down from within.  She's exceptionally smart, so naturally Bond's charm takes a lot longer to work its way into her pant.  She first sees him as a patronizing smart-ass know-it-all, but has a grudging respect for him when he survives the centrifuge.  As well, she's a trained astronaut, and a lot better at a lot of things than James, except perhaps fighting, which she doesn't get to show off a lot.  Overall, she's a pretty great character.
   There's Manuela (Emily Bolton), Bond's Rio station agent.  He spends all of about 40 seconds getting to know her before he's sexed her up, and I was certain Jaws was going to kill her in that alley afterwards (Bond's death-dick strikes again).  Manuela doesn't have much fight in her, and after the Jaws incident we don't see her again.
    Finally, there's Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), Jaws' girlfriend.  She seems absolutely sweet and adorable and seems to have the biggest heart, falling for Jaws like she did.  I couldn't really tell though, was she supposed to have braces?

Title/Theme: Shirley Bassey's back to sing yet another batch of awkward and awful lyrics.  Bassey's a hell of a singer but she's never given anything good to work with.  It's orchestrated well by John Barry and sung well by Bassey, but it's dull, dull, dull.  And then there's a disco version over the end credits... ouch.
     The visual sequence is supposed to represent flying, and I was wondering if it was in response to Superman, but it's terribly cheesy (and even more obviously trampoline-ing than in the previous film's title sequence).



Bond: Moore's over 50 at this point, still very handsome, but starting to encroach upon his age.  He still has the vigor of youth though, and seems more up to physically fighting in this one than in any of his preceding pictures.  Bond is back to being more interested in sex than super-spying, but thankfully Dr. Goodhead is actually more invested in the case than he, so she keeps him on the right path.  Bond actually achieves a successful infiltration into one of Drax's laboratories, however his sneaking around makes a bit of a neurotoxic mess.  Oh and he also delivers this wonderful bit of sexism to the CIA Doctor Lady:
"But then again I keep forgetting that you're more than just a beautiful Woman"

Movie: The initials sequence, in which a pair of Drax's men steal a space shuttle off the back of its airplane ferry mid-flight was conceptually sound, but executed poorly visually.  It bode ill for the rest of the film, but I was pleased to find that it actually recovered quite well from there.  Through to the final act, this is very much your garden variety Bond movie, with women and mystery and henchment and not one, but two boat chases, one in Venice, the other down the Amazon (oh yeah, Jaws falls over a very nasty waterfall and survives that too).  After the waterfall sequence (in which Bond escapes certain death with an emergency paraglider, crashing down near a Mayan(?) temple which Drax has stocked with beautiful people and a massive network of space shuttle launch bays (and a snake grotto).  As far as evil hideouts go, it's not the best, but also not too shabby.
    Of course, this all makes way for their launch into space, at which point Bond and Dr. Goodhead have stolen away in one of the many shuttles routing towards Drax's cloaked space station.  There, with all the pretty people gathered, Drax unloads his masterplan of wiping the earth clean of humanity and restocking it with only the best looking people (I don't recall if he considered their intelligence as well, but they all seem capable of working in a space station so I guess that's good).  Bond disables the cloaking device and the US government rapidly deploys a shuttle full of space-lazer troops to combat Drax's space-lazer troops.  It's frightfully silly, but it's so reminiscent of the great underwater battle in Thunderball that I still manage to appreciate it.
    The effects and models throughout the space sequences are quite good (which can't always be said throughout the film).  The fuck city in space (because, really, that's what it is) is a creaky looking thing but so apt for its time.  Lewis Gilbert's third directorial effort is perhaps the best of the series so far, capturing some wonderful vistas and applying most of the effects well, increasing in skill with each outing.

Q-gadgetswrist dart gun, cigarette case /safe Cracker, 007 embossed mini cam, explosive bolas, lazer guns, a tricked out speedboat (Mines, torpedoes, emergency paraglider) to cruise the Amazon and C4 hidden in a watch.  It all, naturally, comes in very handy.

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.7