Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 4), published January 1st, 2007, is also available.
Look after Mister Bond. See that some harm comes to him.
The eleventh installment in the James Bond saga, Moonraker took advantage of the resurgent interest in sci-fi/fantasy thanks to Star Wars and made a bundle by taking 007 and his world-threatening nemesis into outer space. Though not one of the best Bond films, Moonraker remains pleasing movie fare and is presented in fine special edition fashion.
We begin with the usual pre-credits action sequence, though in Moonraker it is unusual in this case as it is two sequences in one. The first actually sets up the succeeding plot, where two nameless men pull off the feat of hijacking a shuttle (called a Moonraker in the film) while it is being transferred via a Boeing 747 piggy-back ride, resulting in the unfortunate destruction of the Boeing and its crew. The second introduces Bond (Roger Moore, Spice World, For Your Eyes Only, "The Saint" TV series), who is having a jolly good time feeling up a stewardess on the flight back from a mission in Africa, at least until the pilot and stewardess try to kill him, assisted with a timely push from Jaws (Richard Kiel, Happy Gilmore, Pale Rider, Silver Streak). This sequence features some impressive skydiving action, particularly when Bond must deal with both a hostile pilot, the metallic-jawed villain's helper, and the fact he exits the plane without a parachute!
Once Bond extricates himself from that problem, he finds his way to London. M gives him the task of investigating the apparent theft of the Moonraker, as it was the responsibility of the British government to provide security for the transfer. Just before Bond leaves, Q (Desmond Llewelyn—every Bond movie from From Russia With Love to The World Is Not Enough) equips 007 with a neatly concealed wrist-mounted dart launcher. In a flash, 007 is off to California, USA, where Hugo Drax, head of the corporation that builds the Moonraker shuttles, has his main manufacturing and testing facilities. His first contact is with the exquisitely gorgeous Corinne Dufor (Corinne Clery), a humble pilot in the service of the Drax Corporation, who gives him a ride, a luminous smile, and a quick air-tour of the facilities. He departs from her company to meet with the elegantly menacing Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale, Chariots of Fire, Jefferson in Paris, Ronin), who quickly picks up on the threat that Bond poses to his as yet unrevealed plans and begins to make designs upon Bond's continued existence.
Proceeding with his tour, Bond meets a chilly reception from Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles, Speed 2, Broadcast News, Sweet Liberty), on loan to the Drax Corporation from NASA, thanks to his clumsy male-chauvinist banter. The tour turns deadly during a demonstration of a G-force trainer when Dr. Goodhead is called away and Bond is left at the mercy of a Drax minion. He manages a last-minute escape and recovers quickly enough to seduce Corinne Dufor and prevail upon her to help him crack Drax's office safe. Some documents in the safe lead him to suspect that evil is afoot at a Drax Corporation supplier in Venice, Italy, and so he jets across the oceans to investigate.
The minions of Drax continue their attempts upon his life, this time as Bond moves among the canals and gondolas of Venice. Once the minions are neutralized, 007 breaks into the supplier's offices and finds a hidden laboratory where technicians are loading strange spheres with vials of extremely lethal compounds. Evading yet another attempt on his life, Bond escapes, only to find on his return that Drax has very neatly covered his tracks so that no incriminating traces remain. His only remaining clue points him to Rio de Janeiro in South America, so again he takes to the air.
Once in Rio, 007 continues to dig for clues and soon runs into Dr. Goodhead, who is working along similar lines as a secret agent for a friendly spy-service. Drax's minions, lead by the indestructible Jaws, soon make life miserable for both Bond and Dr. Goodhead, leaving Bond to again escape by the narrowest of margins (though Dr. Goodhead is unfortunately left in Drax's clutches). With matters getting quite sticky, Bond checks in at a nearby British spy-service hidden base. He confers with M, is further equipped by Q, and then sets off for a river expedition in search of the source of the ultra-lethal compound Drax is using. A boat chase, lots of gadgets and explosions, and a desperate fight with a nasty boa constrictor later, Bond drops into Drax's secret base only to be quickly captured. Drax, as Bond villains are contractually required to do, shows Bond the glories of his hidden base and tells Bond all about his grandiose plans to kill the Earth's population and then repopulate the planet with his own master race of men and women from his space city (which has implausibly been kept invisible from the powers-that-be on Earth).
Finally, Drax reunites 007 with Dr. Goodhead for the unnecessarily complicated certain-death sequence, but fails to ensure that his enemies actually are killed. Bond and Dr. Goodhead escape, of course, and unbelievably manage to slip aboard a Moonraker (at the controls, no less!) as a series of Moonraker shuttles are launched to carry Drax, the prototypes of his master race, and the lethal globes up to his hidden space city. Drax plans to unleash the globes and kill all human life on Earth in the first phase of his plan, but naturally 007 and Dr. Goodhead aim to thwart his scheme.
This dynamic duo is able to get word back to Earth in time to call in the United States space Marines (no, I'm not kidding!). The resulting man to man, laser-weapon space battle between the Marines and Drax's minions is quite fun (if outlandish), recalling the massive underwater battles of Thunderball. (Some may feel that this is a lazy rip-off, which may not be entirely wrong.) Drax is dispatched by Bond, with the requisite verbal banter, just before 007 and Dr. Goodhead hop into a conveniently laser-armed shuttle to race after the globes and destroy them before they can enter the Earth's atmosphere. In the end, Bond saves the day and gets the girl ("I think he's attempting re-entry!" quips Q).
As far as the acting is concerned, by now most people have some sort of an opinion about Roger Moore. Suffice it to say that his fans will appreciate his Moonraker performance and his detractors will find sufficient contrary ammunition. Lois Chiles does make for a credible feminine professional (unlike the recently horrible Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough), but her transition from ice queen to Bond babe is too abrupt. With some better writing and some lessons in sensuality from Corinne Clery, Lois Chiles could have been the complete package, so to speak. Michael Lonsdale has the gravitas and arrogant deportment of a good Bond villain, but his Drax seems to be walking around in a tranquil, medicated haze, lacking the spark of life and homicidal joy that animated such fine villains as Emil Largo or Auric Goldfinger.
The video is quite good, but not quite exceptional. This anamorphic transfer is decently sharp and clear, though there is a smattering of bits of dirt and small defects. Colors are adequately saturated (especially for a twenty year old film), blacks are properly solid, and shadow detail is commendable. I noticed only short, very isolated occurrences of digital enhancement artifacts and limited video noise.
The audio is an unspectacular 5.1 remix (contrary to the packaging which lists only Dolby Surround). The rear surround speakers are well-used for sound effect movement (and a little ambient fill), but the effect is not quite as convincing as more modern 5.1 mixes. Though as expected for a remix the soundstage is centered forward and the LFE channel is not quite as punchy as the action might require, it is still wide and rich enough to be pleasing. I did have to boost the center channel to catch some of the soft dialogue. (Drax in particular can mumble his witticisms into his beard).
The collection of extras is quite good, even though Moonraker suffers by comparison to some of its more fully-laden Bond cousins. The commentary track is a well-edited (if sometimes dry) compilation of comments from director Lewis Gilbert (as well as executive producer Michael Wilson, associate producer William P. Cartlidge, and screenwriter Christopher Wood), packed with all manner of production tidbits (and apparently made recently, given their references). The 42-minute "Inside Moonraker" documentary is worthy of its description and light-years more interesting than the usual PR-fluff featurette. The 20-minute "The Men Behind the Mayhem" special effects documentary is both an entertaining and a touching glimpse of the men who made Bond's gadgets and other special effects possible, particularly as Bond effects veterans Derek Meddings and John Stears are now deceased. The still gallery is a collection of grouped photographs and production notes, though I was annoyed that you have to go back to the gallery menu to move on to the next group. The package is rounded out by the original theatrical trailer, and the usual very nice multi-page booklet with Moonraker trivia of all sorts. However, the picture of Bond on the front of the booklet is very poor, looking as if it is a picture of a plastic dummy. Very odd!
The menus are pure cool, from the style of the graphics, the cool blue color theme, and the use of movie pictures and sounds. Kudos, as usual, to the folks at 1K Studios!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, the Roger Moore films are not at the top of my list for favorite Bond movies (For Your Eyes Only) excepted, but Moonraker seems to have more than its share of little flaws and annoyances which begin right from the opening pre-credit sequence. The sheer idiocy (and impossibility) of having a fully-fueled shuttle on the back of the Boeing during the trans-Atlantic crossing should be evident, and then Bond's chance to escape death is made possible only because of his choice of seating (and gross stupidity on the pilot's part). Furthermore, just where the heck was Drax hiding before he pushes Bond out of the plane? He's not in the cabin, and I can't see him hiding in the bathroom! Later in the film, the whole Jaws-falls-in-love and becomes a "good guy" routine leaves me rather cold, and provides far too much cheesy comedy moments, as does the gondola driving through the square scene. I will forgive Drax for leaving Bond the opportunity to escape a certain death, as this is a failing common to all Bond villains!
Finally, this plot of "Bond in Space" was a clear attempt to capitalize on the surging popularity of Star Wars, and while it does a reasonable job avoiding bad effects to detract from its ambitions, it does take Bond a bit too far into the realm of gadgets and technology. This flaw was implicitly admitted when the next film, For Your Eyes Only, returned to a much more firmly grounded, spycraft-oriented story.
Other than those snipes at the plot, there's not much else to criticize, as Moonraker is still decent entertainment and a fine disc.
If you are a Bond fanatic, or like your adventure flick with a taste of sci-fi, then you probably already have this disc (retail $35). For the rest of you, at least give it a rental, for the combination of light entertainment and package of extras are sure to please.
The disc and movie are acquitted with the speedy, welcome inevitability of a pleasing change in seasons. Cheers!
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