Films

007 at zero gravity

MOONRAKER Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Lawrence O’Toole July 16 1979
Films

007 at zero gravity

MOONRAKER Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Lawrence O’Toole July 16 1979

007 at zero gravity

Films

MOONRAKER Directed by Lewis Gilbert

The only reason to be disappointed in Moonraker is not having stock in United Artists. Number 11 in the 007 series, its predecessors seen already by more than a billion people, it’s the most expensive yetand,duringitslast half hour, the most inspired and poetic.

The James Bond movies have always been a happy regression: you feel like a kid while you’re watching them—and you don’t want them to finish. Of all the summer movies (compare it to the gross and inept Meatballs for size), Moonraker is the most satisfying entertainment around. The Bonds are textbooks on how to make movies; they’re as

reassuring as watching the sun rise.

By now the formula has become an impregnable fortress against failureluxe sets and settings, fantastic schemes and plots, wildly energetic comic-strip violence (killing is never very real), truly gorgeous specimens of the female persuasion, witty dialogue and that smiling sybarite himself, James Bond. This time out Bond (Roger Moore, who has picked up Sean Connery’s sly old grace) is up against one of the world’s richest men, an eloquent fascist named Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

In the tradition of Bond villains, he wants to take over the world with a plan (not to give anything away) that requires setting up a city in outer space. Sexy women pull guns, fast ones and their clothes off and Bond leaves them all dozing like lambs. As always, there’s a special girl, this time Lois Chiles’ Holly Goodhead (yes, that’s the name)—a CIA agent posing as a NASA scientist. “Where did you learn to fight like that?” he asks her after she has rearranged someone’s jaw with her fists. “NASA?” “No,” she answers, “Vassar.” And, as always, the sex is swift and silky, with a few entendres thrown in for good measure: “If it’s ’69, you were expecting me,” he says to her, referring to a bottle of champagne. The Bond films are as sexist as telling someone she looks terrific, and the women, brainy and beautiful, always enjoy his favors. Both genders seem to be having a ball.

Those who turn up their snouts at the Bond series might consider the Wildean wit of Christopher Wood’s screenplay: “Look after Mr. Bond—see that some harm comes to him,” says Drax; later, “At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery.”

For those who’ve looked up at the screen in awe before, Moonraker nearly stall-feeds the senses. Besides the wickedly clever gadgetry, there are: (1) a free-fall fight in the air after Bond falls, without a parachute, from an airplane; (2) a jumbo jet blown up in midair; (3) a chase through the canals of Venice; (4) the world’s most expensive glass, Venini, totally demolished, in a scene that’s the last word on the bull in the china shop; (5) a fight atop a sabotaged trolley car above Rio; (6) another boat chase, this time up the Amazon; (7) an underwater battle with a giant snake; and (8) the final confrontation in space.

The series is pure plot. It keeps you thinking, fascinated: how will he get out of this one? How will he escape Jaws (the giant with the steel teeth played playfully by Richard Kiel) this time? The classy locations—Venice, Rio during carnival, the Amazon—are enough to knock you out.

But the classiest location of all is outer space. With John Barry’s brass and woodwind score, the ride there is breathtaking and Moonraker turns into a ballet in the skies. The effects are dazzling—tiny yellow and white figures blasting lasers at each other, the explosion of the space city, Bond and Holly making love at zero-gravity; make-believe has seldom been so magical. And all the while, you know that Bond’s safe and, in a way, that you are too. Moonraker is an example of why some people love movies instead of liking them.

Lawrence O’Toole