R0BTRAIN\'s Badass Cinema: Total Bond-age, Part 6: The Moore The Merrier

After the success of The Spy Who Loved Me a new era in the Bond franchise had begun. The inventiveness of the picture had breathed new life into the series. Suddenly what a Bond picture could be was redefined. The size and scope for 007 had reached a new high and Bond producers were ready to take Bond as high as it could go. Plans for the next Bond were already underway with For Your Eyes Only, but then producers had to make major changes due to a shift in popular culture.

Two new science fiction films came out in 1977 that changed the landscape of American cinema; George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Both films had become immensely popular, with Star Wars becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Bond producer “Cubby” Broccoli decided to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. Instead of being grounded for his next adventure, Bond would go into the stratosphere for Moonraker.

Moonraker Starring Roger Moore and Richard Kiel. Directed by Lewis Gilbert.

A convincing special effects sequence begins Bond’s 11th adventure. While being transported by the British government to the U.S., the Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked and in the ensuing theft, destroys the plane carrying the spacecraft. Bond is called in to investigate billionaire Hugo Drax, the man responsible for building the shuttle. Going from California, to Rio de Janeiro, to Venice, to the most remote areas of South America, Bond finally learns of Drax’s evil plans. Drax has constructed a huge space station. He has populated the station with some of the most perfect examples of humanity on earth. Drax plans on destroy the population of the Earth and repopulate it with his new master race. Bond stows away on one of the shuttles to infiltrate Drax’s station. Will Bond be in time to stop Drax or will the Earth’s population be obliterated?

Moonraker went on to become the most popular Bond film ever until the release of Goldeneye in 1995. Film makers took the successful components of The Spy Who Loved Me and made the film even bigger, much like Bond producers had done the previous decade with Goldfinger and Thunderball.

In terms of stunts, Moonraker contains a pre-credits sequence in which Bond is thrown out a plane at 40, 000 feet with no parachute. Bond must battle two foes, including Richard Kiel’s Jaws, and then steal a parachute. The airborne fight is absolutely spectacular. Using footage from 88 different jumps, the stunt men make the sequence look absolutely believable.

In the action department, the film features an exciting South American river boat chase that ends with Bond escaping in a glider while his and enemy boats go down a waterfall. In Venice, Drax’s villains are no match for Bond’s motorized gondola which then becomes a hovercraft. The sequence is completely ridiculous, much like the rest of the film. The film has fist fights aplenty with Bond doing battle with a Kendo Master in a glass factory, and several throw downs with Jaws, the highlight being a fight on top of a cable car high above ground. For a finale, Bond teams up with Jaws to take on scores of Drax’s minions while a platoon of space marines has a laser battle with the villain’s forces outside the orbiting fortress.

The special effects of Moonraker are some of the best of the entire series. The shuttle sequences of the picture amazingly predate the launch of the actual space shuttle by NASA. Miniature expert Derek Meddings’ model work in the picture is exceptional. The shuttles as well Drax’s station looks as good as any work on any of the Bond pictures. As on the previous film, Set Designer Ken Adam’s work on this film is an absolute highlight of the movie. Each of Drax’s compounds from his South American launching area to the space station sets are a banquet of visual feasts.

Michael Lonsdale is appropriately imposing as Hugo Drax. Drax’s does not have the flamboyance of a Goldfinger or Scaramanga to make him a truly memorable villain, but his sophistication and charm put him a step above of Curt Jurgens’ Stromberg. Richard Kiel’s Jaws once again takes title for the film’s best villain. Jaws is nearly indestructible in this film, which is handy considering that the slapstick quotient in the picture when he is on screen is pushed to the limit. Lois Chiles’ Dr. Holly Goodhead is a pretty run of the mill “Bond Girl”, she is neither offensively bad like Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight nor is she the siren that Barbara Bach’s xXx is in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Lastly Roger Moore seems to be having a blast playing 007 in this feature. Moonraker is such a ridiculous film at times that only an incarnation of Bond that could have the ability to laugh at himself could make the film work. Roger Moore is such a Bond. In comparison, Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan would look absolutely preposterous in a motorized gondola, but Moore’s cool sense of humor about himself carries the film to a point of real creditability. While certainly not one of the best of the series, Moonraker ranks high in the fun category.

Some viewers who relish the more conservative 007 spy adventures such as From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service may be turned off by the film’s eagerness to be over the top. Luckily, Moonraker was able to pull in so much box office that it gave film makers enough clout to bring Bond back to its roots without backlash from fans wanting more fantasy. For the next trip into M’s office, Bond had to get back to basics.

For Your Eyes Only starring Roger Moore and Julian Glover. Directed by John Glen

Bond becomes a real Cold Warrior in his next screen adventure. The British have lost the ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator), and a Greek double agent, Aristotle Kristastos plans to sell the ATAC to the Soviets. With the ATAC, the Soviet government would be able to make British nuclear submarines fire their missiles at their own sites. Bond must re-acquire the ATAC and save England from nuclear destruction. Helping Bond is Melina Havelock, a young woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. While trying to recover the ATAC on behalf of Great Britain, the Havelocks were gunned down by an assassin working for Kristastos. Also working with Bond is a Greek smuggler named Milos Columbo, whom Kristastos had set up to take the fall for his crimes. In the end Bond and his Allies must infiltrate the Villain’s mountain hideout, “Navarone” style and recover the ATAC before the world goes into nuclear war.

With the mammoth special effects of Moonraker, many had thought that film makers strayed too far from Ian Fleming’s original vision. For Your Eyes Only was the answer to those critics. Using On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a template for the style of the film, this was Bond back to his roots. Stripped of his big gadgets, Bond must survive on his wits and his physical stamina. Instead of relying on huge special effects sequences, the action of For Your Eyes Only consists of ski chases, a bobsled chase, an underwater sequence and the inevitable assault on Kristastos’ impregnable fortress.

The influence from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in this film is quite evident throughout the film. The pre-credits sequence even shows Bond in his final showdown with his arch-villain Blofeld. From there, all of the skiing and bobsledding sequences are very reminiscent of Bond’s fifth adventure, even using champion skier Willy Bogner, who had doubled for George Lazenby’s Bond previously. Lastly, the homage is completed with the villain having an impregnable Mountain hideout, but instead of the Swiss Alps, the fortress is a Greek monastery atop Trinity Rock in the country’s Meteora region.

The mountaintop was used because it has no roads leading up it and is noted for its seclusion. The film’s climax is a suspenseful masterwork as Bond must use very limited mountain climbing gear to reach the top of Trinity Rock, fighting off henchmen, conquering the mountain, and then lowering an elevator to bring up his reinforcements for the final Battle with Kristastos.

Going away from the spectacle of the previous two Bond efforts, even the villains are much more down to earth in this entry. Kristastos, played by Julian Glover is not the gaudy megalomaniac of previous Bond villains. He is simply a man trying to benefit from the deaths of others and is ruthless enough to do what is necessary to be successful. Kristastos is actually very similar to Glover’s portrayal of Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This seems to both help and hurt his portrayal, as Glover is a credible villain, but at the same time as a Bond villain, he is less memorable due to his performance being very subdued.

Henchmen in the film are also not very memorable in the film as none can measure up to Jaws or Oddjob in terms of menace. Most henchmen in this film just seem to be blond Europeans. If audience members find the nihilists from The Big Lebowski scary, then these henchmen are very effective, if not, then they’ll not seem very impressive. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock is not among The “Bond Girl” elite, but her performance is very serviceable in the role and she doesn’t embarrass herself like the aforementioned Miss Ekland.

Very notable is Moore’s Bond in this film. Moore brings grittiness to the role of 007 that had not been there in any of his previous pictures. For example, after a failed attempt to run Bond over, henchman Emile Locque runs his car off the road and nearly goes over a cliff. A deliberate decision was made to have Moore kick the car the rest of the way off the cliff. Film makers and Moore himself wanted to make a statement that this was a new Bond that would take the films from the easy going seventies into the more hard-edged eighties. The attempt was very successful.

The period between The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only represents Moore’s best stretch as 007. The Bond character was constantly evolving to a point where audiences could see no one else as the secret agent in these films. With his easy going style and wry sense of humor Moore carried Bond into the 1980’s with these tremendously successful films. But on the horizon was a challenge from an adversary that had haunted Bond since Moore had taken the role. This adversary was not Blofeld or Goldfinger back from the dead. This adversary was Sean Connery.