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Moonraker (1979)



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Financially, Moonraker was a box office smash. Why, is something of a mystery. Moonraker is frequently cited by critics and Bond purists as the bane of the series, and even many casual viewers shun it. Its space theme must have made it popular, coming so closely on the heels of Star Wars. It was certainly the intent of the producers to cash in on the space film craze. The end of The Spy Who Loved Me said that James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. But Star Wars changed their minds, and it was decided to adapt the Moonraker novel and make it a space plot. (In the original novel, Moonraker was just a rocket bomb aimed at London.) This time out, the producers and script writers went way overboard with goofy humor. Bond became a cartoon where anything could and would be done for humor. Gone was any substantial relationship with the strong spy stories of the early sixties, like From Russia With Love. Stupid slapstick killed everything, right from the very promising pre-credits sequence. The return of Jaws, from the previous film, was a good idea, but doing what they did with the character was not. As a whole, Moonraker has almost no redeeming qualities. Until the final half hour, there is virtually no plot at all, and during the final half hour, cheesy action and insipid situations make the bad movie worse. On the other hand, some individual scenes in Moonraker are quite good, making it a constant source of frustration that none of them fit together to make a halfway decent story. The pre-credits sequence is great, setting a new standard for aerial special effects, but ruthlessly killed once goofy circus music intrudes on the suspense. Later on, the centrifuge scene finds Bond in a rare moment of weakness that humanizes the character. More than one scene with the villain has some excellent dialogue, and the brutal murder of a woman is as hauntingly effective as that of Helen Kimble in the opening moments of 1993's The Fugitive. But the strong scenes just don't work together, any more than peanut butter, scallops, watermelon, and butterscotch make a satisyfing meal. The sludge that glues the good parts together doesn't help either. But fortunately for the sake of the series, audiences of the day didn't seem to care how utterly putrid Lois Chiles' acting was, or how little tension there was, or how insidious, stupid, and juvenile the humor was (such as a pigeon doing a double-take as Bond's gadget boat spurts wheels and drives away on land). Moonraker made enough to keep the series going, and for the next entry, the producers made a decision rarely made in Hollywood, namely art over money. Moonraker's goofiness was judged artistically wrong, and however much money it had made, the next film would be more like Bond's more serious roots. Three cheers for the crew!

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