Reviewed April 8th, 2001 by Brian White
Is there a more reviled Bond flick than Moonraker? Certainly it makes many Bond enthusiasts flinch a little. It seems to represent everything that is wrong with the series. Bond, played by Roger Moore, is cast in a sometimes silly, mostly over-the-top spectacle. Bond films, by their nature, are unbelievable; but how are we supposed to believe that he's a spaceman, for Chrisssssakes? This seems like the worst possible move: cash in on the science fiction boom that Star Wars created by taking Flemming's character into space. In Ian Flemming's novel, the evil Drax tries to use a satellite to blow up London. To the filmmakers, this seemed like too small a situation to command Bond's attention. This little idea worked quite well in Goldeneye, and to lesser effect in Diamonds are Forever. No, Bond would go into space for this 1979 film. Bragging about the very large success of The Spy Who Loved Me, Cubby Broccoli, in the included documentary, says that this would be the biggest Bond yet; and he was right. Moonraker would have the second largest budget to date: 31 Million dollars. Only Star Trek The Motion Picture would surpass it, but that money was tied up in contracts. Moonraker put its budget on the screen.
How is Bond in space? Good and Bad. The effects are quite impressive for their day, and technique: after deciding that the newly formed special effects studios were too expensive, Eon productions decided to do the visuals in-house. They filmed one element of a scene, like a shuttle, then wound back the film, and filmed another element, like stars. The technique was precarious because any overlaps would betray the secret, and the more the film was passed through the camera, the more likely it was to be damaged. The scene with all the astronaught firing at each other (Thunderball in space) required ninety-six passes through the camera. Shocking.
... And don't even get me started on Bond in space: “Let's take Drax's shuttle. It has a laser.” Ultimately, Bond has no business in space. This film sums up the seventies quite well. It's all too big and splashy. I'm surprised Bond doesn't do a musical number at some point.
Having laid out all the negative, at least from this reviewer's perspective, it is only fair to discuss the positives. Perhaps the Bond series required a moment of utter excess to rid itself of the temptation to be too overblown or silly. Maybe after Moonraker, they saw the lines that they couldn't cross. Moonraker's excesses lead to the down-to-earth, more serious (and MUCH better) For Your Eyes Only. Added to what Moonraker might have done to the future of the series, one cannot ignore what was accomplished in the movie itself. Seeing it in widescreen, cleaned up and with a great soundtrack this reviewer must concede that this is a great Bond adventure up until the point where they go to space. The gondola is a little dumb, but everything else is pure Bond.
There are two things about this film that cannot be forgotten: the amazing opening sequence with great skydiving and even better camera work; and the unfortunate fact that this would be the last turn for Bernard Lee as M. The actor, who had given Bond guff since Dr. NO, would die two years after the film was released.
And how has MGM done with the DVD? Quite well, actually. The anamorphic, 2.35:1 transfer really shows off what is done right in the film. The restored transfer really shines. From the outdoor photography, to the special effects, to Ken Adams' brilliant sets, this is a nice looking movie. Its budget is certainly evident, when one considers the time of its release. There's plenty of eyecandy (seen through blurry seventies filters), and this DVD presents it all very well. Color and detail are good, and much better than the transfers seen on television.
As for the audio, a smashing 5.1 soundtrack has been put together for the film. For the most part, it merely exceeds what you'd expect from this type of effort: the mix here is much better than the 5.1 mix attempted for Spy Who Loved Me. The track is quite realistic, and often quite contemporary sounding. What sets this audio mix apart is the scene with Bond in the centrifuge. When the pod flies around the room on the screen, it flies around the room at your place. There is some pretty cool panning through the surrounds.
The extras on Moonraker's special edition are in keeping with the great stuff that MGM has been serving up on the Bond collection. There is the always great behind-the-scenes movie that shows the magic behind all the stuntwork, and the special effects. The movie also shows the very happy Cubby Broccoli discussing his new, large Bond film. The screen-specific commentary is quite nice as well. Director Lewis Gilbert, Producer Michael Write, and members of the crew give a very informative, and conversational commentary track. Also included are the standard promotional materials, and a documentary on Bond special effects.
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