James Bond — Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert, 1979) 🇺🇸

December 03, 2021

Glowing like a silver star in his state-of-the-art spacesuit, James Bond has found a cure for space sickness: a swarm of interstellar nymphets he has brought into orbit with the force of his irresistible charm. From his position at the centre of the universe, Roger Moore defies the laws of gravity and lights up the eleventh 007 outing with the usual array of stunts and chases, mostly in the air rather than on the ground.

In 1969, NASA sent a man to the moon. Ten years later, 007 hurls his enemy into the galactic void, a “giant leap for mankind” in Neil Armstrong’s famous words. James Bond has just rid the earth of a new Hitler, reincarnated as Drax (hiding under Michael Lonsdale’s goatee). Just like the evil Stromberg and his dreams of a better world under the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me, Hugo Drax is plotting to wipe out the human race using a poison derived from an orchid. Inventor of the Moonraker space shuttle, he uses it as a sort of Noah’s Ark transporting genetically “perfect human” specimens to his space station.

The futuristic sets do of course bring to mind Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, also evoked when the first cosmic notes of Thus spoke Zarathustra are blasted out on a trumpet during a hunting trip on Drax’s property. Ingeniously designed by Ken Adam, the creator of the control room for Dr Strangelove, they create a feeling of lyrical anguish at the sight of the blue planet such a vast distance away. The clinical white of the instrument panels is illuminated by flashing buttons and we find it hard to resist the temptation to press the red one, but... too late: Star Wars lightsabres cause mayhem as we are thrown into the gaping blackness of space.

This last half hour of the film sends us “spinning”, our heads in the stars, the film features few scenes where we actually touch down, from the opening credits where a naked figure undulates in the moonlight around a horizontal bar (to the sound of Shirley Bassey) to the final scene where Bond and his girl (Lois Chiles as a sexy CIA spy) defy gravity – while making the earth move.

The pre-title sequence shows Bond in an endless free fall from a plane – great work from the stuntmen! Saved at the last second as he grabs his assailant’s parachute while plummeting through the air, he is then attacked by a toothy ghost from the past: Jaws is back, baring the same lethally sharp steel fangs as in The Spy Who Loved Me! The giant reappears in Rio, his smile bigger than ever, as an equally dizzying sequence unfolds on the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car. Not as a tourist, but as a killer, capable of breaking the cable with his bare teeth. For the record, these acrobatic feats almost cost one of the stuntmen his life when he was suspended from one of the cabins 300 metres above the sea! This love of heights then takes us to the Iguazu Falls, which we fly over in a hang glider that pops up from Bond’s speed boat like a rabbit out of a hat. In Venice, after a mad dash through the canals, 007 lands his amphibious gondola in the middle of the pigeons on St Mark’s Square, the tourists looking on in astonishment. To the stirring music of The Magnificent Seven, he rides his horse across the pampas to get to a Mexican monastery transformed into the MI6 HQ. This is where he joins up with M, head of Her Majesty’s secret services (whose real name is Sir Miles Messervy), who appears in a total of eleven James Bond films.

Bond only comes down to earth so he can bounce back even better than before and send his enemies flying as they rain down on him from the sky. After Jaw’s memorable head-first tumble onto a trapeze artist’s net, James Bond shoots a hunter who crashes down from a tree like a pheasant. The same goes for the ambulance driver who ends up on a British Airways billboard, or the Japanese villain who is thrust into the strings of a grand piano: they should have learned to fly!

I must admit that these acrobatic excesses had the same effect on me as the centrifuge had on James Bond – I came out of it groggy, to say the least. I’m more at home in the state of hazy weightlessness that concludes all this hectic activity. And, just like 007, I’d be happy to end up in orbit, “raking the moon” and toasting the stars with Jaws and his new ladylove!

Check out the French version of this article.