More noise than signal


When our civilisation is called to account for itself by some deity or other, or perhaps a sufficiently advanced alien civilisation, somewhere on the list we will eventually get around to Moonraker, the fourth outing for Roger Moore’s iteration of Bond. It will, of course, be fairly low on the list of crimes Humankind has committed, but there’s at least one definite chargeable offence committed here. Sure, Diamonds Are Forever had its excesses, but at least it could say that it stopped short of having a HoverGondola.

Bafflingly, that’s not even the silliest element of this film. It’s the reactions to the HoverGondola. I’ll accept the bemused denizens of Venice taking a double take at this breathtakingly stupid mode of transport. I have a somewhat lower tolerance for the very obvious looping a short section of film to suggest that a pigeon is also giving a double take.

It’s a minor thing to get hung up on, I suppose, although it does seem to be the point at which any hope of returning to anything approaching an espionage drama was extinguished forever. How, exactly, am I going to taking anything that happens to this ludicrous clown of a spy seriously in any future endeavour? Is this now a comedy franchise?

So, we’ve mentioned before the tendency of Bond to unashamedly lift any elements of popular culture that are kicking around at the time, such as Live and Let Die‘s Blaxploitationisms. There wasn’t much more popular a slice of culture at the time of Moonraker’s creation than Star Wars, which unexpectedly took the world by storm and prompted a slew of me-too cash-ins, and it seems that Bond wasn’t above attempting to hitch a ride on the gravy train. Eagle eyed viewers of the credits of The Spy Who Loved Me will have perhaps been expecting the scheduled For Your Eyes Only, which was swiftly sidelined in favour of this… thing.

I claim no insider knowledge of the genesis of Moonraker, but if this wasn’t hastily assembled from the scripting equivalent of scraps and leftovers I’ll eat my hat. Essentially, this lifts the plot almost wholesale from The Spy Who Loved Me, itself an expedition in mining Bond films past, and swaps out Stromberg’s undersea utopia for Hugo Drax’s spacestation utopia. So much so, I’m not altogether sure what to say about this film, other than it manages to avoid lifting any of the worthwhile elements from its predecessor, and mixes it with copious buckets o’stupid.

Called in to investigate a hijacked space shuttle, Bond quickly tracks it back to the multi-billionaire Hugo Drax, builder of said shuttle under sub-contract to NASA. He’s also secretly built a few for himself, along with a space station, and a toxin designed to wipe out humanity. You might have thought some of these activities, like, say, shuttle launches or constructing an orbital death platform would have come to the attention of someone before now, but apparently not. Jimmy’s poking around is the first anyone’s heard of it. I think the CIA and MI6 ought to hire a few forensic accountants.

Also returning from The Spy Who Loved Me is Jaws, for whatever reason, which I suppose is understandable from a certain point of view. Returning, recurrent villains, even if they are henchmen rather than the Big Bad, aren’t a bad idea. In a film that wasn’t so identically structured, this would be a plus point, but here it feels even more like someone reprinted the previous script, scratching out “Stromberg” and “ocean” for “Drax” and “space”.

Hugo Drax himself is rather too understated and forgettable, especially for a supposed megalomaniac trying to reshape humanity in his own image. He seems more like David Brent from The Office rather than a proper nutter. If I’m going to have someone attempt to wipe out mankind, there ought to be a little more emotion and snarling, otherwise I feel like I’m getting my annual performance review rather than watching a drama-laden Bond film. In common with Stromberg, I’d have appreciated even the vaguest, handwaving-laden explanation as to why Drax has embarked on this course of planetary genocide, but none is given. This might matter more, were it in a film that had any hope whatsoever of being enjoyable.

In theory, this ought to be a reasonable enough film, if massively familiar. After all, I did rather enjoy The Spy Who Loved Me. Sadly, Moonraker has dated abominably. The effects, even for the time, are massively shonky and look embarrassing in hindsight, in a way that’s not afflicted the other Moore Bonds. The story, admittedly rarely the strong suite of any Bond film, is a thinly veiled rehash of the last film which feels at best lazy, and at worst downright insulting.

I’m going to give this a pass on the science or lack thereof, as it’s pretty much the least of this film’s problems, but suffice to say that accuracy is not a friend to this script. There’s no chemistry between any of the characters, with performances that are perfunctory even by the franchise’s occasionally lax standards. There’s very little in here that would pass muster back in ’79, and nothing that does in Space Year 2011. Skipping this entry in the series is recommended for all but the most masochistic of fans.

That pigeon. Christ.