Review: Moonraker

moonraker_cov.jpgYear: 1979
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 58

James Bond attempts to foil an evil villain’s plot to exterminate the world’s population from outer space.

Quick Review

The special effects, final battle, and overall action in Moonraker are often highly entertaining, but the lack of attention to premise and the lifeless acting by Lois Chiles and Michael Lonsdale hinder this film considerably. Moonraker is overall worth viewing, but you’ve got to turn off your brain completely in order to enjoy the action.

Full Review
At times Moonraker makes you cringe. More so than that of any James Bond film that I’ve reviewed to date, the action in this film makes no sense. Sure, it’s greatly entertaining. We’ve got an above average dose of creative James Bond violence: fights atop moonraker_4.jpgBrazilian sky-high gondolas, chases in Venetian gondolas, and an ambitious space station battle that easily sets a world record for actors hanging on wires. For the most part this action is well executed, crisp, and makes impressive use of special effects for a 29-year-old movie. But at the same time, the action often makes no sense. If we need a fistfight on top of an airborne gondola, for example, a CIA agent and James Bond conveniently aren’t carrying any firearms with them. And Bond forgets to use his handy-dandy wrist blaster here as well. Of course, Jaws the assassin isn’t armed either for this scene. Two scenes later, however, our villains are armed to the teeth as they try to kill Bond. At one point in the movie a martial artist expert ambushes Bond, and uses—get this—a wooden kendo staff as his sole weapon. Again, conveniently, Bond is unarmed for this fight.

And I’m not sure how they do it, but our villains can anticipate Bond’s every move with amazing ease. Every step of the way, they lay traps and ambushes for Bond. Bond is navigating a river in the wilds of the Amazon? No problem, we’ve got him in our sights. Bond heads to a Rio de Janeiro festival? No problem. Jaws is there, waiting. It’s all too convenient and orchestrated, and while I can easily suspend my sense of disbelief with a Bond film, Moonraker asks me to stretch it too much. After a while, things are haphazard to the point that it dumbs down the meaning and force of the story.
Moonraker also has a lot more of the supposedly humorous comic relief scenes than a typical Bond movie, and most of them aren’t funny. Our villains are just too dopey at moments, even to the point of falling out of speedboats on their own accord. It’s one thing to toss us some occasional escapist humor, it’s another thing to drop these moments in the film every fifteen minutes. After a while, the struggles between Bond and Jaws—a main focus of the comic relief—remind me of the comic, good natured struggles of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. Again, as with the attention to premise, it’s a matter of balance, and Moonraker misses this balance point badly.

But the film still gets some major things right. We’ve got some solid stunts, including and impressively shot airborne scene that opens the movie. There is plenty of action, and the climactic battle in the space station is a remarkable piece of work that earned the film an Academy Award nomination for Visual Effects. In these last thirty minutes, the action picks up, the special effects hold up surprisingly well, and to a certain degree the action makes sense. In many ways this one sequence carries the entire film and overcomes the film’s flaws. Moonraker was also the first film to feature the Space Shuttle in it, nearly two years before the official moonraker_3.jpgfirst launch of the craft. Having said that, some of the fights do come across wooden, and the previously mentioned goofiness with the action does drag down its impact.

It’s also a plus that Moonraker features perhaps the most stunningly beautiful Bond woman in the series to date. Lois Chiles is an instant 10, and ranks up there with Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi from Thunderball as top Bond women. Unlike Auger and Paluzzi, however—and this is where we come to another problem with Moonraker—Chiles can’t act. She has the life of a corpse, and only seems to get worse as things go along. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but she reaches a peak in the final ten minutes of the film. How someone can deliver lines in such a flat, deadpan manner with all humankind at stake is truly remarkable. Her dull, somnolent performance is so bad that it puts her in the same class as Cindy Crawford from Fair Game and Eva Mendes from Ghost Rider as worst leading female actors who are incredibly beautiful.

moonraker_1.jpgMichael Lonsdale, as arch villain Drax, is nearly as weak as Chiles. He tries to strike some sort of intelligent, aloof, sinister vibe, but whatever he was aiming for, he misses completely. Beside these two actors, even the usually consistent and handsome Roger Moore seems to lose a step, although in comparison his performance shines. It doesn’t help that the script for Moonraker is unremarkable and dry. In particular, Bond’s one-liners have little zip and force.

It might sound like I hated Moonraker, but when I add everything up, I have to say that I enjoyed this film. Moonraker misses the mark in so many of the critical details. We’ve got too much silliness, a lack of reason to much of the action, and some dead acting performances. But the entertainment value of the action is solid, the overall story is coherent and logical, and the final 30 minutes of the film are excellently constructed. Ultimately these elements manage to just overcome the film’s glaring problems. Worth watching once.

Fun Fact
The parachuting sequence that opens the movie took 88 jumps and 5 weeks to film.

Pace: 72
Plot: 58
Action: 56
Consistent Premise: 15
Script/Quotes: 41
Characters: 63
Acting: 48
Villain: 48
Body Count: 73
Time to First Dead Body: Not sure
Babes: 83
Hunks: 83
Explosions: 81
Special Effects: 84
Stunts: 65
Ending: 74

Overall: 58 (Entertaining, but turn off your brain beforehand)

[tags]Moonraker, James Bond, movie review, action, Lewis Gilbert, Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel[/tags]

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