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Moonraker

MOONRAKER (1955)

Written by: Ian Fleming

In Fleming’s first non-SMERSH book, he sends Bond to the moon.

Ok, maybe not. The Moonraker is actually a missile built by a man named Sir Hugo Drax. He is an English hero because he is building the first defense system that England has ever had. It’s meant to shoot down enemy missiles…or something like that. The exact use isn’t all that clear. It’s somewhere within all of the techno-babble that I can only guess is actually right.

M actually brings Bond onto the case as a personal favor. He belongs to the same card club as Drax and believes that he is cheating. Why would the richest man in England cheat at cards? And, Bond being a better card player than M, he is the one to catch him and save everyone some embarrassment.

Of course, Bond saves the day. But the mystery remains: Why would Drax cheat? Certainly not for the money.

When a murder happens on Drax’s crew (all Germans with moustaches), Bond is sent in as a security man. It’s a strange job for him because it’s on home soil. MI6 usually only works out of the country. But Bond goes and meets Gala Brand, a Scotland Yard spy sent to keep an eye on Drax’s operation. She has been Drax’s secretary for a year and has been doing calculations for the launch, which is now four days away. But Drax and his second in command, Walter, always take the calculations into his office and redo them. Why would they do that? Do they not trust her?

And so it goes for most of the book. There’s a little bit of action when Bond catches Krebs, one of Drax’s other men, snooping in his room and a bit when a mountain falls on Bond and Gala. Other than that, all of the action takes place on the last day and a half…which takes up about 40 pages.

Fleming kept me interested, though, which is a credit to his writing. I mean, 130 pages of Bond playing cards and walking around Dover shouldn’t be this interesting. The whole thing kind of reminded me of This Island Earth. (All you MST3K fans should remember how exciting THAT one was.) A man and woman trying to figure out if their hosts are good or bad, all wrapped up in a slightly sci-fi storyline.

And, of course, Bond constantly called Gala, “You silly little fool,” or something along those lines. Gala, while a smart young lady, is never treated as much more than window dressing…again. She’s no Solitaire, but she’s still nearly inessential to the plot. Bond will come up with a plan and she will say something like, “Dammit, why don’t you ever listen to me?! Do you think that I’m a woman and I don’t count?” He never says yes, but you know it’s what he’s thinking. (Although, towards the end he does start to treat her as slightly more of an equal, so that’s good.) And she figures out quite a bit of Drax’s evil plot long before Bond does. (You knew there was one, right? Why else would all of his men be German?)

(Don’t read on if you want to be surprised by the end. Some spoilers are lurking.)

The last 40 pages are where the real action is, though. The book suddenly turns into a real pot-boiler. Bond chasing (in his prized Bentley) Drax and Krebs in a brand new Mercedes sports car with Gala in the back. Bond and Gala tied up in the blast area of the missile trying desperately to figure out a way to live. Bond getting the living shit beat/burned out of him. And…then it kind of peters out in completely unlikely events. Sure, they might survive…but would Drax really a) put the controls in a place where they would be destroyed (destroying evidence maybe?) or b) put Bond and Gala in a place where, if they escaped, they could very easily get to said controls? Really? It seems a bit convenient. And was it just hubris that sent Drax (on a Russian sub, no less, because they’re always involved somehow) to the exact spot where he had told everyone that the Moonraker was going to go? Or was it purely chance? (The whole of England thought that it was going into the North Atlantic, but he was sending it, with a nuclear bomb attached, into the center of London.)

This has to be the beginning of The Talking Villain. Drax talks and talks and talks to Bond and Gala when he has them tied up. He tells them is whole story, from birth to right at that moment. It’s interesting, but unlikely.

And does Bond seriously have to fall in love with every woman he meets? The end was a bit melodramatic even by 1950’s standards. No, there were no histrionics or anything like that, but Bond was a tiny bit brooding over the fact that he would never have Gala. “But….I expected that we would go off together.” “Well, there is this engagement ring and all.”

Sigh.

(End spoilers.)

Overall, though, I really liked the book. Of the three I’ve read so far, it may actually be my favorite. It may be a strange choice, but there it is. We’ll see how it stacks up after reading later books, but Moonraker was certainly worth it.

Now, if only the movie had been worth it. But I’ll get to that.

GLOBE HOPPING: Does England count?

CONQUESTS: none

MOONRAKER (1956 South African radio play)

Ok, I didn’t actually hear this one to review it. In fact, most likely no one has heard this since it was originally broadcast in 1956. Bond was played by Bob Holness and…well, that’s all I really know. If you know more, alert someone because this is the Holy Grail of Bond-lore.

Now, if you ever hear about another film version of the Moonraker story that was filmed in 1956 with Dirk Bogarde as Bond, Orson Welles as Drax and Peter Lorre as a henchman…it’s a joke. It was an April Fool’s joke in 2004. Why? Who? Not a clue.

MOONRAKER (1979)

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

Book? What book?

The British government is borrowing a new space shuttle, Moonraker, from NASA. (Er…what?) But someone has stolen it! Who could it be? Maybe Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale from Munich), the eccentric millionaire who built the shuttle and is financing the astronaut program? But why would he steal it if he was basically running the show anyway?

Bond (Roger Moore) is on the case. There’s another spy in the midst here, too. But her name isn’t Gala Brand, it’s Holly Goodhead. Yeah. Holly…Fucking…Goodhead. As played by Lois Chiles, she may as well be a piece of cardboard. Sure, she’s a CIA agent, but she doesn’t actually do very much.

Jaws (Richard Kiel) is back to join the fun, too. (He first appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, which I haven’t gotten to yet.)

Drax’s men here aren’t all German, but they are working on something very sinister. A nerve gas that only kills humans. The flowers that it comes from are on top of a mountain, of course. And that mountain is topped by beautiful women. Lots of them. More than even Bond can count. Oh, and a snake. Big one.

Then Drax comes out in his Dr. No costume and we learn all. And Bond and Holly get trapped under the shuttle just before it lifts off. (Of course, it’s easier for them to escape than it was for Bond and Gala. There’s still half an hour to go in the movie. And we still have to get Bond in space.)

Once he’s in space, we get some great dialogue like, “And entire space city. And yet still nothing on the radar. Drax must have some kind of radar jammer.” No shit, Holly.

Drax also has six Moonrakers and a bunch of pods with the nerve gas on them. He has pulled all of the “perfect physical specimens” (and Jaws) that he thinks he needs to start a new society. Then he’s going to kill everyone on Earth.

But first A LASER FIGHT!!!! Complete with loud noises (in the noiseless vacuum of space) and people getting their face plates blown off. Not to mention dozens of NASA dudes in space suits pouring out of the cargo bay of one space shuttle. What’s not to love?

Well, the story, first of all. And the acting. And the fact that Drax is one of the most boring bad guys in Bond history. Ok, ok. He wants to kill the whole world. Fine, fine. But I never really felt like he was ever going to be able to do it. Especially after he decided to put Jaws on his team.

Anytime you can put the words “In Space” in a title, it usually means that the series is on its last legs. And, basically, this series was. They had one more good Moore Bond in them (although, he made three more after this one) and one decent Timothy Dalton flick. Then they wouldn’t have another one until they revamped the series with Pierce Brosnan.

All of the space opera stuff here was just to make a Star Wars “wake movie.” And as a wake movie…well, it kind of sucks. It’s arguably the worst Bond movie ever made. It’s just fucking silly. (Seriously, making Jaws “not such a bad guy after all” just should never have been in the cards. His girlfriend had some pretty nice boobs, though. “Well, here’s to us.”)

The opening stunt was ok, but not all that thrilling. (And how the fuck did Jaws survive?) It does have some pretty amazing freefall photography, though. There’s a special feature on the new discs that covers it with some of the test footage. Shirley Bassey sings her third (and last) Bond theme song. It’s not bad, but not great, either. It’s very slow and not nearly as brash as “Goldfinger” or “Diamonds Are Forever.” Or even her unused “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” for that matter. (Which, I guess puts this as her fourth Bond song, kind of.) And what was with the disco remix at the end? Fuck that noise.

The gondola chase was kind of cool…but the pigeon doing a double take was a bit much. Ok, it’s a gondola driving through St. Mark’s Square. A pigeon doesn’t fucking care. That’s some Looney Tunes bullshit right there. Actually, no. Fuck that. That’s an insult to Looney Tunes.

Once he gets to Rio, though, there’s an alright fight with Jaws on a couple of aircars and then Roger Moore in a poncho! Yup. That’s how he rolls. (Nice Magnificent Seven-esque score, though.)

Overall, definitely not one that I would start people off with. It bears very little resemblance to the book it was based on and, while it has more action, it’s less involving.

The special features start with a 1979 making of doc, “007 In Rio,” that is about as unenlightening as they come. Apparently, you really do have to “keep a cool head” when filming dangerous stunts. Thanks, Cubby. Thanks.

There are some pretty cool interviews with Cubby Broccoli, Moore, Lois and director Lewis Gilbert from 1979 and some great footage from production designer Ken Adam’s scouting trips. He talks over the footage and reminisces about the trip and the shoot. I also really like how young Bond looks in some of the storyboards. That ain’t no Roger Moore.

The new doc, Inside Moonraker, is probably the best special feature. Although it makes a bit much of the film itself, it goes pretty in depth into how they actually made it. It’s amazing what you can do with a model of a space shuttle and some salt. (The effects were pretty damn good, actually. Nominated for an Oscar.) And the outtakes over the closing credits are pretty funny.

The Men Behind The Mayhem is a really cool overview of the entire series’ special effects. It’s only 20 minutes long, so some movies are short-shrifted, but it’s still pretty informative and they interview everyone involved.

This was, sadly, Bernard Lee’s last film as M. He died before he was able to be in the next film, For Your Eyes Only. Too bad he didn’t make it to that one. He could have gone out on a much higher note. (Speaking of M, he does make a reference to playing cards with Drax…but there’s no actual cardplaying in the film.)

I leave you with this thought from Q (his first appearance if you watch in order of the books): “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.”

GLOBE HOPPING: Africa, Venice, Rio, Guatemala

CONQUESTS: Holly Goodhead, Manuela