“You See This Is A Prime Example Of The Greatest Compliment A Film Can Get.”
October 12th, 2011
To be honest, this is pretty much a rehash of the villain's plot from the predecessor, except instead of secluding themselves at the bottom of the sea, they hide in orbit. That and all the science fiction elements which were practically required a la "Star Wars" (1977) made for what seemed to be a hasty production that butchered the novel to meet the general movie going public's new fascination with outer space and everything sic-fi. What resulted was a highly criticized film which had so much camp and locations in it that one can't help but enjoy it more for how crazy the plot gets. While I didn't find it too insane until the climax, I sympathize with what most fans felt, but I must say that this film sort of grew on me as an example of just how well a Bond film can adapt to a new audience, and thus why the franchise will never die.
Ian Fleming wrote the book in 1954 already thinking of getting a movie deal out of it before it even hit the presses. When John Payne from the Rank Organization film company bought the rights paying $1,000 a month for nine months on an option, he abandoned the idea when he realized he couldn't afford all the film rights to the saga, and so he sold them back to Fleming whom in turn sold them to Harry Saltzman in spring 1959. As for the novel, it focused on a neo-nazi revenge scheme against England involving industrialist Hugo Drax and his 'Moonraker' missile, which is in reality the 'Blue Streak' missile. The novel also featured much Cold War phobias as England and Germany were prime locations. But when screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz got on board the project, he was to drastically alter the story, keeping only the name of Hugo Drax, the fact that he was an industrialist, and the name of the 'Moonraker' missile, except now it was a space shuttle; also a new vehicle for NASA which made its debut in 1977. So needless to say, this film adaptation was very akin to the adaptation for its predecessor in just how little was taken. Even a second novelization was written to avoid confusion between fans titled "James Bond and Moonraker." Once again, director Lewis Gilbert was contracted as he was familiar with filming on very large and extravagant sets, courtesy once again of production designer Ken Adam.
Famed actor James Mason was first offered the role of the icy leader of Drax Industries, Hugo Drax. Despite allegedly taking any role offered to him, he declined, and so French actor Michael Lonsdale was cast. A very cold character, he doesn't sport much range in his personality. Always the serious corporate type, you'd never expect him to be as insane as he is, as his plot involves certain homages to Nazi Germany's delusional goals & beliefs. This of course makes it all the more funny when he unveils the curtain if you will, especially when his mood still doesn't change. Imagine that. For his henchman, executive producer Michael G. Wilson contacted his martial arts instructor for the part. He accepted. And for the new bond girl, a notch down from suer spy was taken in the form of scientist Holly Goodhead--just when you thought the cute Connery puns were over with--whom was played by Lois Chiles who actually declined the role of Triple X in the predecessor for a "temporary retirement," but a chance meeting with Lewis Gilbert on an airline flight--or the more probable reason of realizing what a mistake she'd made--prompted her to take the role. Richard Kiel of course had no problem reprising his role as the menacing mercenary Jaws, though all the fanmail from children pleading for Jaws to be a hero instead of a villain prompted Mankiewicz to make Jaws' turn to justice gradual throughout the film.
In his eleventh adventure, super spy James Bond (Roger Moore) must investigate the mid-air hijacking of a Moonraker space shuttle on loan to the U.K. from Drax Industries. Rather than being simply mislead, the cold reception Bond receives from Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) and the numerous assassination attempts by his personal aide Chang (Toshiro Suga) leads him on the right track and into the arms of a scientist (Lois Chiles) with a nice secret. And did I mention that annoying thorn in their side known only as Jaws--no, not Jawas, they didn't mimic "Star Wars" THAT much--well he's back too. But why would an industrialist who has everything hijack his own space shuttle? It's unfortunately one of the many questions fans are left with after they've left the theater.
Production began on 14 August 1978 with France serving as the primary location over the newly built 007 Stage due to higher taxes in England. This also allotted the filmmakers more comfort from having the production more centralized, with main studio work done in France, along with many on location shoots such as Drax's chateau which the real Chateau de Vaux-le-Victomte stood in for. Further location shooting would take the crew to Rio de Janeiro where a stuntman nearly fell to his death when slipping during a cable car stunt. The Tikal Mayan ruins in Guatemala stood in for the Amazon rainforest and the exterior of Drax's secret hideout. But the real Iguazu falls in Brazil served as a thrilling action setting for another high speed boat chase in which an unintentional beaching of the boat on rocks along the edge became a life or death retrieval for a heroic shot of the boat going over the falls. Meanwhile, at Eponay Studios in France, 220 technicians, 100 tons of metal, 2 tons of nails, and 10,000' of wood were used to construct the interior of Drax's space station which took 220,000 man hours of labor to complete under the direction of Ken Adam. The set would be praised by critics, and to this day holds the record for the most zero gravity wirework employed in a film. Boulogne studios which was originally a Luftwaffe base during the Nazi occupation of France served as the bell tower set where a shattering duel is fought, while the real Venice made for an interesting and highly criticized gondola chase sequence. However, second unit director John Glen had the duty of filming the dangerous skydive involving Bond (Jake Lombard), Jaws (Ron Luginbill), and some unlucky bastard (B.J. Worth). Coordinated by Don Calvedt, the scene took weeks of planning and preparation, with 88 jumps to accomplish the scene which required a parachute pack just an inch thick for Bond and the unlucky bastard, as well as velcro suits. A Panavision attached to a helmet captured the dramatic skydives on film, and the whole thing was executed without accidents, injuries, or deaths. Derek Meddings meanwhile accomplished another feat, which was simulating the space shuttle launch without a frame of reference as NASA hadn't yet launched theirs. So in effect, Meddings' miniature unit were the first to send space shuttles into orbit, along with all of those spectacularly campy space fights.
While the movie may sound too corny for its own good, I enjoyed the inclusion of such factors as it made this a very different type of Bond film, though Moore seemed the least physically fit Bond for this one. Always the english gentleman, never the fighter. While the acting was nothing special, and the effects didn't seem nearly as great as those seen in "Star Wars," despite being considered as such, I haven't much to complain about here. Overall it was a decent film, but more of a popcorn flick than a Bond flick. However, it still performed its job of being an entertaining mesh of megalomaniacal plots akin to the Connery Era, and featured villains with weird quirks and bond girls who aren't nearly as helpful as they could be. So in short, many can criticize this, but it is in effect just as ridiculous as the predecessor, and a few films from the Connery Era. It also still maintains a mostly sound beginning, middle, and end, regardless of how ridiculous it seems to people. Only that it's sci-fi oriented seems to be why fans & critics alike gripe about this film--okay, and Jaws' girlfriend crossed the line--though I agree that totally rewriting the book was a shameless cash grab. However many other films followed suit to incredible box office receipts. So when reading this, regard it more as the memory of the kid watching these movies and being overwhelmed from the fantasy elements. This one really did that, and remained pretty sound up until the climax.
When released, the super sized $34,000,000 budget pulled in $210,000,000 in box office revenue, making it a grand slam for EON Productions, despite all the mixed to negative reviews. It seemed fans wanted a sci-fi Bond, and that's exactly what they got. Albeit, it wasn't received as well in the long run, nor in the short run for that matter as Cubby got to work on putting the most realistic film in the Moore Era into production. Shirley Bassey's theme song was poorly received as it wasn't promoted, and John Barry's music composed in France made for another turning point away from London to avoid tax hikes. In the end, the only work done in England was the space battle exterior and interior of the cable car duel within the 007 Stage. But given the enormous sets in France, that's not saying much for the Bond stage. So overall, it may be hated by the majority, but I count myself among the minority who could recognize that this was as corny as other Bond plots to the point where it was still 'B-' movie enjoyable for this stylized fantasy spy genre.