Tuesday, 4 December 2012

MOST SECRET-MOONRAKER



1979
The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.
Phnom Penh falls, Pol Pot's brutal regime is overthrown.
The Ayatollah Khomenei returns to Iran to take power.
And Brighton, England opens it's first nudist beach...

Yes, quite a year - apart from the previous earth-shattering events, the year also saw Saddam Hussein's rise to power in Iraq, the Sino-Vietnamese war (No, me neither) raged for 28 days and, chillingly, a certain grocer's daughter took possession of the keys to Number 10...
Even as a kid of twelve, I was dimly aware of whirled events – especially the vicious and brutal violence of Irish terror groups; the INLA killed Airey Neave MP – blowing his car to pieces on the ramp to the House of Commons car park. The war hero and close friend to Mrs.Thatcher was not the only casualty; Earl Mountbatten of Burma was murdered by the Provisional IRA. Eighteen soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were killed by two massive bombs at Warrenpoint, a day that stands as a testament to savagery and waste...
More; American Airlines flight 191 crashed at Chicago O'Hare. Two hundred and seventy three dead in America's worst aviation accident. Still More:Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania was the site of America's worst nuclear accident, while at Bantry in Ireland, fifty people were killed in a terrible explosion on board the French oil tanker Betelgeuse...
Bizarre story of the year?; you'd have to look deep to beat poor Andreas Mihavecz'. The eighteen-year old from Bregenz, Austria was locked up by the Police for being a passenger in a crashed vehicle. For seventeen days – without food or even water. Locked in a basement cell, the Police officers involved managed to forget about Mihavecz – he survived his ordeal by licking the walls for moisture.

Births that year; Bam Margera (RIP), Flo Rida and Die Another Day actress Rosamund Pike were among those born in 1979, but it wasn't a great year for showbusiness. Jazz great Charlie Mingus, actress Mary Pickford, producer Darryl F.Zanuck and the Duke himself, John Wayne all died. Sid Vicious, the Bassist for the Sex Pistols died from a heroin overdose, but at least Josef Mengele was out of our misery too...
Speaking of music – Pink Floyd released Another Brick In The Wall, Blondie had a Heart of Glass, The Bee Gees had a Tragedy and the Village People checked in at the Y.M.C.A.

Technololology?; well, Philips showcased their Compact Disc system for the first time, while Sony sold their first Walkman in Japan. The Voyager space probe flew past Jupiter and Pioneer 11 said hello to Saturn.

Why all this?. Well, I try to give the film I review some relevance – even Bond films (perhaps especially) have relevance if seen in the context of the times. Just as, say Doctor No underlined the unease of the time regarding Atomic Power, so too with Moonraker's plot of Space Stations and Shuttles. The very year of the film's release saw the delivery to the JFK Space Center of Columbia, NASA's first operational space shuttle. How fitting – the late President's love of the Bond novels is well documented. Due to various issues and technical issues, the real shuttle went into space in 1981. Bond beat NASA into orbit!.

MOONRAKER was Ian Fleming's third James Bond novel. Set largely in Kent, where Fleming was living at the time, the story features a Nazi fugitive called Drax who plans to set an atomic rocket loose at London. There's a fair bit going on in the book, but not exactly the stuff of the seventies Bond. Clearly, a different approach was called for. Roger Moore returned for his fourth, the eleventh film of the series.
Italy, Brazil, Guatamala and the USA all feature, but the film was primarily shot in France. The then Labour government were at work taxing everything and everyone, ultimately driving both Bond star Moore and the production to France – Moore permanently. Despite a principled stand, Moore was forced to concede defeat – if you can call life in the South of France a concession.
THE MUSIC: Shirley Bassey sang Moonraker's title song, composed by 007 Legend John Barry with lyrics by Hal David.
Below - Roger Moore as James Bond and Bernard Lee as 'M'
Above; James Bond investigates Drax Industries - what is the secret of the glass phials? 

THERE'S A PLOT, RIGHT?: (SPOILER ALERT) (WITH BOND VILLAIN KLAXON NOISES) (YOU KNOW, THE ONE OFF GERMAN SUBMARINES IN U-BOAT FILMS)
A plane is piggy-backing a Moonraker space shuttle when the shuttle engines start, killing the crew. When no trace of the shuttle is found amidst the wreckage, Britain sends Agent 007 to investigate-after an unrelated attempt to knock Bond off by Jaws (Richard Kiel reprising his role from The Spy Who Loved Me).The shuttle was made in the US by Drax Industries, owned by the enigmatic and perhaps sinister Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Drax's henchman Chang tries to kill Bond in a centrifuge used for training astronauts for the not at all dodgy and entirely above board Drax Space Program(me), which is definitely not a master-race selection scheme. Not at all...
James meets Holly Goodhead, a space expert on loan from NASA. Perhaps Polly Blowjob wasn't available...
Hugo the Boss lives in a big ole' French Chateueax, Chatoh... he lives in this great big house, imported stone by brick from la France just to show us what a colossal cock-end he really is. What a plum; anyway it's clearly just shot at an actual French Chateau with a bit of optical trickery to fool us all...
Bond uses his manly charms to knock off – I mean, seduce Corinne Dufour, Drax's personal pilot. (A Woman pilot! - oh, that was Goldfinger...) He finds the blueprints for some mysterious glassware and survives another assassination attempt – Drax has a sniper in the trees as he clearly can't be bothered to just blow 007 away with his own bang-stick, handing Bond a loaded shotgun to make sure his hit-man won't be picking up his pension. Poor Corinne is Dufour-it though, Drax's well-trained Dobermans are set loose on her in the woods. Om-nom-nom.

Ahhh Venice; that glassware must be a clue, so Bond checks out the town by Gondola, is chased by baddies and bumps into Holly Goodhead. What a co-incidence!. The glass phials Drax has made turn out to be glassy phials of death; in a secret lab (Accessed by a musical key-pad entry system; you play the 'Close Encounters' tune to get in. Very nice...) Bond accidentally causes the death of the scientists, revealing a nerve gas. Chang shows up and has a pop, ending up in a piano. Bond presses the panic button and the Defence Minister and M himself turn up to check out the lab.

O.K. - You are a British Secret Squirrel and there's a lab full of doom gas and dead guys. Do you; A; Call in the haz-mat teams and have the place thoroughly hosed down with bleach or do you B; Phone up the head of Britain's Ministry of Defence as well as the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service and invite them to take a stroll round the gas chamber?. Yes, well... oh, it's o.k., there's Drax sat at a large desk and there's no trace of any lab!. Silly old Bond, tsk-tsk. Exit the indignant MOD, Bond on the carpet – or he would be if not for the phial of evil he swiped from the lab.

007 goes to Rio De to continue his enquiries, Drax phones up Henchmen For Hire and asks if they have any seven foot butlers, possibly ones with steel teeth...
While Bond meets up with first Manuela, his contact and then the ubiquitous Dr.Goodhead – this girl gets around, even for an astronaut. We find out she is actually a CIA agent, sent to infiltrate Drax's outfit – and Jaws tries to kill Bond and Holly on the Sugar Loaf cable car. It goes wrong – Jaws is trapped under a ton of rubble, but is saved by a tiny blonde with pigtails. Dolly smiles and Jaws finds himself in love!.

 After a quick stop at the monastery – no!, it's really a secret British base (For some reason), full of weapons being tested by Q – who has identified the toxin used in Drax's gas, it comes from a rare orchid found only up the Swanee river. Or was it the Amazon?... anyway, off goes Bond in his Q-boat – the indestructable Jaws in pursuit.

Bond escapes from his pursuants – being a Q-boat it's got a hang-glider built in, while Jaws goes over the edge, our man in the jungle glides down to safety. Did I say safety? - sorry, I meant a Mayan temple full of sexy girls with a giant anaconda as a pet. Bond kills the snake, but Jaws captures him and takes him to his leader...

Above - Michael Lonsdale as Drax.

As several Moonraker space shuttles blast off from their various secret launch bases, Drax reveals the plot; he plans to use the gas made from the orchids to establish a super-race-from-space. Instead of laughing at Drax, Bond takes him seriously – the bearded villain explaining that one of his Moonrakers developed a fault, so he had to steal his own shuttle back...
Leaving two spies alone in a chamber beneath his own Moonraker, Drax is off into orbit – what could go wrong?. Well, Bond has a watch on – so no prizes for guessing. After escaping, he and Holly pose as pilots and fly the last of the shuttles into space.

That's no moon...that's a space station! - yep, not at all surfing the Star Wars wave – Drax has been sneakily building a dirty great Death St-erm, Space Station- and it's clear why he needed all those super-fit astro-types. Launching a series of globes into an orbit around the Earth, Drax will kill all human life (animals and plant life will be fine) before landing and re-copulating the old place with his master-race...

Above; Bath Bubbles, toy Moonraker shuttles, stickers and tie-in novelisation.

How did it end? - well, you are alive and reading this so that should provide a hint at least...


The ending is all lasers and space-battles, Jaws turns good and there's one of those Bond-shags-the-girl endings as 007 joins the sixty mile-high club (I'm not sure, but sixty sounded good...)

Above - The wrist dart gun (This is a prop replica by SD Studios). Below - 007 tests the original - on a painting in 'M's office!.

 
IS IT ANY GOOD?; Yes, actually. The film isn't considered a classic by the auteres, but what do they know?. I love this one; my late Mum took me to see it and from the start it had the audience ooh and aahing – there was a round of applause at the end, not that anyone from EON could have heard it. Moore's performance is probably the last before his age begins to intrude, he's at the top of his game in more ways than one here. Sir.Roger himself admits he felt the film a bit silly, but it made shed-loads of cash and was the highest grossing film of the series until Goldeneye.
Dear old Bernard Lee made his final appearance as 'M'. He died before the next film, For Your Eyes Only, entered production. His appearance on screen betrays his failing health, but a gallant swansong nonetheless. Lois Chiles is well cast here; she is every bit the independent post-feminist and equal to the man amongst men. Lonsdale's villain is a nicely understated character – all restrained menace and quietly threatening. Even the widely-savaged Jaws/Dolly romance played well at the time – in a film involving laser shoot-outs in space I don't think it too much of a stretch.
The gadgets are fun; especially Bond's dart-shooting watch (How does he avoid shooting this accidentally?), plus the boat. (which I had the privilege of seeing at Bond in Motion) This remains one of my favourites, despite all the muttering from the purists. Definitely one for the DVD shelf!.




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