Moonraker Blu-ray review

Not 007's finest hour. So can Blu-ray redeem the perils of Moonraker?

One for the 007 completist?

I started with the Connery era Bond, but did enjoy the earlier Moore experience, right up to this movie.

In hindsight, its appearance and a host of other titles about this time (like Disney’s The Black Hole) was in direct response to the success of Star Wars. It says plenty about the simplistic minds of film executives who saw that ‘space’ was another branding option for their productions without thinking any more deeply about why Star Wars was so significant. I once wished I’d been at the meeting where it was decided to put Bond in space, and heard the reasoning offered for this direction. But I’ve seen the interview on this disc Cubbie Broccoli gives on the subject, and he sells the idea of space like it’s a new range of deodorant fragrances.

In the Moore collection it also represents a point where gadgets reached their zenith. Moonraker contains possibly the silliest collection yet, many being either entirely impractical or just plain impossible. When you consider that most of the Connery gadgetry worked almost as presented, the Moore era ones are mostly works of complete fantasy. The public reaction wasn’t good to this proliferation, which impacted on the next Bond, For Your Eyes Only, which almost has no gadgets at all.

Another difference with that both Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me that preceded it, is the lack of much relationship to the source material, as up to this point, while they did go away from Fleming’s narratives, they usually contained some scenes as per the novels. The 1955 book, Moonraker, contains almost nothing that’s in this movie, other than the name of the nemesis, Hugo Drax.

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For this review I watched this film once more, and it is quite diabolically bad in places. It’s so awful that it’s actually hard to know where to start ripping chunks off it first.

The opening scene reintroduces the seemingly indestructible Jaws, Richard Kiel reprising the role he made famous in The Spy Who Loved Me. It sets a slap-stick tone that the film never relinquishes, once. The musical theme, a third Bond for Shirley Bassey, is a limp and melacholly offering that should have been rejected long before it got recorded. It was originally going to be sung by Johnny Mathis, but he rather smartly exited stage right on this project.

I’d detail the plot of Moonraker but the chance of finding meaning there would be like reading the contents of a muesli bar and expecting it to work as lyrics to I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair, from South Pacific. Bond goes through a series of exotic locations, where people either try to kill him or shag him, occasionally both.

Eventually they reach space, where the film takes the silliness to new orbital levels, but not before it’s presented us with some of the most mind numbingly idiotic stunt sequences ever. There is one set in Venice with a gondola that turns into a hovercraft that’s so dumb it would have been rejected from an Austin Powers script meeting, yet it’s presented here as supposedly ‘funny’. It was also the first Bond film where I started to really notice the product placement; there is a shot held on a Seiko watch that seems interminable. Bond fights rubber snakes, henchmen undertakers, Jaws and the urge to utter some frightful dialogue. But then when you think it can’t get any dafter, they go into space!

Amazingly, effects genius Derek Meddings (Thunderbirds) was nominated for an Oscar for the visual effects in this film (Alien won). I’ve no idea why, because other than the lovely models, they’re not very good in places. The very worst being some obvious dolls in a boat that goes over a fake waterfall. What bothers me most about the space effects are that one moment he’s got all the actors on wires, because there is no gravity, and the next second objects are falling down in space. This is a space, presumably borrowed on loan from Star Wars, where everything makes a noise, irrespective of there being no air to hear it with.

The shuttle that is stolen from the jumbo jet at the start also takes off without a fuel tank to power its engines, incredibly. Did anybody care? I guess not. History hasn’t helped, really, because it also presents launching shuttle craft to be straightforward. So easy, in fact, that launching multiple vehicles is achieved in rapid succession. In Moonraker’s defence, the film actually pre-dated the first real launch by some two years, and at that point NASA did give this impression as they hadn’t killed lots of people trying to achieve these challenging goals.

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There is a traditional big fight, where the US Marines turn up in their own shuttle, armed with lasers. In the end, Drax goes for an unplanned space-walk, and Bond gets Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), possibly the blandest Bond girl ever.

I’m not sure if this is a personal prejudice surfacing, but the sixties Bonds all have a charm that makes them timeless, where Moonraker is firmly planted in the late seventies like it was deposited there with concrete boots on.

Like the other Moore era Blu-rays I’ve covered, the transfer is good but not exceptional. But it’s actually better than some of the Brosnan ones, which says something about film craft when this was made. What is impressive is the quality of the audio, which is crystal clear throughout. The only downside to this is that to anyone familiar with their application, stock sounds stick out like sore thumbs when they’re used, and they get plenty of application here.

In the extras there are two commentaries; one by Sir Roger and another by Director Lewis Gilbert and members of the cast and crew. There is also a series of featurettes mostly made at the time, mostly for the US market. The most interesting is one called Bond 79, a series of interviews shot in Rio on 16mm of the producer, director and lead actors. None of the quality here is up to even DVD standards, but they give an insight into the production. There is also some intriguing personal footage taken by Ken Adams during location work, accompanied by his voiceover.

Besides the movie, the only HD on here are two documentaries regenerated specially for the format. One is called ‘Inside Moonraker’ narrated by Patrick McNee, and the other is The Men Behind The Mayhem: a Special FX documentary.

Unfortunately, all this material has been previously seen on the Moonraker Ultimate Edition DVD, released in 2006, so for Bond fans there isn’t anything especially new.

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This is obviously the best quality that Moonraker has been seen since it was released at the cinema, and for that reason alone many might want to include it in their collection. It’s not my favourite, but its part of the story of this franchise, and therefore can’t easily be ignored.

Film:

2 stars
Disc:
3 stars

Rating:

2 out of 5