James Bond is out of this world in his eleventh adventure, Moonraker!
James Bond films have always been near sci-fi, but they may never be considered true science-fiction. Moonraker comes the closest to being a science-fiction film with the entire third act consisting of space action, laser fights, and an Asteroids video game inspired ending!
James Bond returns in Moonraker! The trailer shows a space shuttle in the opening seconds and then goes into what looks like a standard James Bond trailer for the era. But the back half of the trailer focuses more on the shuttle and the space portion of the film. It looks like the most sci-fi of any James Bond film to date!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
On loan to England, a Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked and the 747 airplane carrying it is destroyed. James Bond (Roger Moore) is attacked on his return flight from his previous mission by Jaws (Richard Kiel). They fall from an airplane fighting over the same parachute, with Bond winning and Jaws crashing into a circus tent. Insert sexy title sequence here. Bond is sent to California to investigate Drax Industries, the manufacturer of the Moonraker shuttles. His quartermaster, Q (Desmond Llewelyn), gives him a wrist-watch dart gun for the trip. He is taken from LAX to the Drax Chateau (shipped brick by brick from France) by helicopter pilot Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) where he is introduced to Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) and his bodyguard Chang (Toshirô Suga). Drax immediately wants Bond killed.
Bond meets with Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) who escorts him to the astronaut training centrifuge. She convinces him to try it out, but is called away. Chang turns up the controls to maximum G-force, but Bond uses his new wrist-dart gun to short out the controls. That evening he visits Corinne’s room to seduce her and get information. They make love and afterwards he sneaks into Drax’s office to take photos of some mysterious plans in his safe. The next morning Drax and his guests are having a pheasant hunt. He offers a turn to Bond, who misses the birds entirely, but kills a sniper hiding in a tree. After Bond’s departure, Drax confronts Corrine about helping Bond break into his safe. He has her hunted down and killed by his attack dogs.
Bond follows a lead to Venice, Italy and a small glass manufacturer called Venini. After seeing a strange glass phial inside, and encountering Dr. Goodhead again, he calls his personal gondola for a ride home. They are attacked by hitmen in a speed boat, killing the gondolier. Flipping a few switches, the gondola converts to a speed boat and they race through the canals. He loses the power boat when his gondola converts to a car and he drives around St. Mark’s Square. He returns to the factory that night and discovers a secret lab where Drax’s scientists are working on an instantly fatal nerve gas. Chang follows him, and the two fight destroying many priceless pieces of glass. Bond gets the upper hand and throws Chang from a clock tower into a piano, killing him.
Bond returns to Holly’s room and discovers that she was actually placed in Drax’s organization by the CIA. They sleep together and he leaves to meet with M (Bernard Lee) and the Minister of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) to show them the lab. Instead they discover an ornate study with Drax inside. Bond is discredited and put on a two-week leave. He decides to visit Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for his vacation. Drax hires a new, unknown bodyguard. Bond checks into the Presidential Suite where his contact Manuela meets him. They sleep together, “wasting” time until that evening when they can investigate the warehouse the crates in Italy came from. Bond discovers it’s another front for a Drax corporation. Jaws has survived his fall, and shows up to attack Manuela, but she is saved by some passing Carnival-goers.
Bond takes a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf mountain to watch Drax’s planes departing and discovers Holly there as well. They are attacked by Jaws on the way back down the mountain, and have to leap from the cable car, as it crashes–with Jaws inside–into the wheelhouse. They are picked up by Drax’s men in a fake ambulance. Bond manages to escape, but Holly is taken to Drax’s hideout. At a nearby monastery–a front for MI6–Bond is given further instructions and a speedboat to search the Amazon for a rare orchid Drax is using to make the nerve gas from. A boat chase ensues, with Jaws in the lead. Neither man can seemingly die. The boats go over a waterfall, but Bond ejects using a built in hanglider. He ends up at Drax’s secret Amazon hideout, where a group of five Moonraker shuttles are preparing to launch.
Drax monologues his plan, which is to take a series of shuttle’s to his hidden space station all staffed with genetically perfect men and women to repopulate the Earth after he launches his “death globes” full of nerve gas. He places Bond with Holly under one of the shuttle’s engines, but they escape before it blasts into space. They steal a pair of space suits and hitch a ride on the final shuttle. On board the space station Holly disconnects the radar cloaking device rendering the giant space fortress visible. A space shuttle of US Marines arrives and a massive laser fight between Drax’s jet-packed space force and the US military ensues. Bond ejects Drax into space, and with the help of Jaws–who realizes there’s no place for him in Drax’s utopia–he and Holly hunt down the three launched death globes, destroying them with lasers. Bond gets Goodhead one last time before the credits finally roll.
“Here in the untainted cradle of the heavens will be created a new super race, a race of perfect physical specimens. You have been selected as its progenitors. Like gods, your offspring will return to Earth and shape it in their image.” – Hugo Drax
History in the Making
There were several rules I drafted when I started this series of articles. I wanted to start in 1950 with the golden age of science-fiction. Rocketship X-M and Destination Moon kicked off the use of spaceships, interplanetary flight, alien invasions and the traditionally historic trappings of sci-fi. Prior to that, the majority of films that are listed as science-fiction relate to the mad scientist trope. Films like Frankenstein (1931) or The Invisible Man (1933) were the basis of the majority of sci-fi films from the 1920s through the 40s. I didn’t want to focus on these types of films either unless they had other more modern ideas of science-fiction, such as the science heavy film The Boys from Brazil. I also said to myself: no superhero films. That becomes a slippery slope. Superman (1978) is truly a science-fiction film, as are X-Men (2000) and Ant-Man (2015), but the superhero film is so firmly based in the conceit of comic books that it really is it’s own genre. And finally I said: no James Bond films. And I almost adhered to that one.
Moonraker is included in the Sci-Fi Saturdays series of articles for one major reason. It shows the popularity of science-fiction in the mainstream. In less than 30 years, sci-fi moved from “bad” films, B-movies and the like, into a global phenomenon of popular blockbusters. So when James Bond gets involved in the sci-fi realm you know the genre has really taken off, popularity wise. The Bond franchise is one that remains current by utilizing popular and contemporary elements to invoke the spy and action genres. And in the late 70s, what was more popular than science-fiction ideas? Still not sure that’s the reason? Moonraker was the most successful and profitable Bond film in the 17 history of the franchise, until Goldeneye (1995), which then took the top spot. Interestingly it was another sci-fi heavy film.
Moonraker wasn’t even supposed to be the James Bond film for 1979. The end credits for the previous Bond film, 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me, said, “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.” But as with everything else during this time, the success of Star Wars changed the producers’ plans, and they looked to the 1954 Ian Fleming novel as their inspiration. The decidedly non sci-fi For Your Eyes Only would be the James Bond film for the summer of 1981. But saying that any one Bond film is or isn’t sci-fi is not quite true.
In some sense, all the James Bond films, as well as other secret agent genre films and shows such as The Man from UNCLE, Mission: Impossible, and the Matt Helm and Flint franchises, contain elements of science-fiction. The genre which has existed as long as cinema received a new boost in the early 60s with the first James Bond film, Dr. No. This film, and the shows and films that followed it crafted a standard espionage thriller with high tech gadgetry that was slightly more advanced than anything that was currently on the market. Cameras were smaller and more advanced than ones the public could buy. Cars were tricked out with advanced armaments. Or as in Moonraker, a whole fleet of space shuttles exist along with a fleet of rocketmen equipped with laser guns. While Moonraker was inspired by previous James Bond films and current sci-fi hits, it was more influenced rather than an influencer.
One area that it may have provided some future inspiration was in its hybridization of the action film and the sci-fi film. To date the action in sci-fi films was relegated to space ship battles. Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica both took that inspiration from Star Wars, Mad Max had some car chases and smaller action moments, but Moonraker had the full power of the James Bond franchise (and a sizable budget) behind it! The sci-fi action scenes took place in space, but with an army of space-suited warriors using laser guns. It was basically the underwater fight from 1965s James Bond film Thunderball set in space. There were of course more earth-bound action set pieces. But perhaps the union of these was enough to influence the action sci-fi films of the 80s such as Escape from New York, Megaforce or perhaps even Predator.
There are certain things that audiences can expect from James Bond films. Exotic locations, action, sophisticated spycraft, and beautiful women. The Bond films of the 1970s, and those with Roger Moore specifically, were definitely of a different time than we live in today. The treatment and objectification of women was much more overt. Women always seemed a conquest for Bond, but in Moonraker it’s as if he doesn’t even have to try. They fall all over him and sleep with him at the drop of a cufflink. Bond beds three women on four separate occasions in this film. There are no consequences, unless you count the murder of Corrine who was really only in trouble for letting Bond break into Drax’s safe. The women are mostly there for window dressing, except Holly. She does get to be involved in the action scenes, something that Bond’s primary “girl” didn’t really do. Diamonds Are Forever had Bambi and Thumper, two female assassins that attacked Bond, and Barbara Bach’s Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me got more action scenes than any previous Bond girl. Modern Bond films are a little more thoughtful about his interactions with women, and the characterization of them as well. They are characters, the same as any other and contribute more than just in their sexuality.
The film’s main plot is about Drax attempting to exterminate life on Earth in order to repopulate it with offspring from his eugenics plan. This is a different plan from his goal in Fleming’s novel, which was to launch a nuclear missile from space towards London. There are some strange similarities to another sci-fi film reviewed recently, The Boys from Brazil. Both films deal with scientists attempting to create a eugenics program to control parts of society. The Boys from Brazil deals specifically with Nazi’s trying to clone Adolf Hitler, while Moonraker’s protagonist is French and has just sought out the most beautiful men and women to use in a standard breeding program. But the headquarters of both groups are in the Amazon region of Brazil. It seems as if the producers wanted to draw some parallels but not make anything too overt. Luckily space nazis wouldn’t become a thing until 2012s Iron Sky.
The Science in The Fiction
The main plot point of Moonraker deals with the eponymous space shuttle, based very closely on real space shuttles. The first space shuttle, called Enterprise–after the ship from Star Trek–was created in 1976 and used for approach and landing tests. It was often seen attached to a 747, which was used to get the shuttle into the air. This particular shuttle model was built only for Earth-bound flight, to test approach vectors, and was never designed for space flight. The first shuttle (Columbia) didn’t go into space until 1981–two years after this film was released–but was already a part of the American consciousness. Fans of real-life space travel couldn’t get enough of it. Several model kits were even available of the shuttle and 747. Putting this particular visual in a James Bond film at this time was appropriate and very futuristic feeling. But at no time was there a fleet of active space shuttles that could all be deployed at once like the movie would have audiences believe. And unfortunately a space shuttle with a laser gun attached is still just a thing of fiction.
All James Bond films have his use of gadgets of one kind or another. Early on they were simple spycraft gadgets, but as the films went on they became more outrageous and specialized. Every gadget seems to serve the exact purpose of getting Bond out of the problem that he finds himself in. Stuck on a centrifuge? Short out the controls with a wrist dart. Being chased by powerboats on the Amazon near a waterfall? The boat comes equipped with torpedoes, mines, and a hang glider. Since this film was going to take place in space, Bond sees one of his fellow spies using a laser gun when he visits Q at the monastery. The use of these types of devices in James Bond films push the nature of the film into the sci-fi realm more than a normal secret agent film might. But nothing short of these devices and the space shuttles would make Moonraker a Sci-Fi Saturdays worthy review.
The Final Frontier
Moonraker is very much its own film, but as with James Bond films of the era, has a number of jokes that break the fourth wall, showing how clever the writers can be. Since this was to be a Bond film about science-fiction conceits they decided to throw in some nods to other classic sci-fi films. The first nod is at the conclusion of the pheasant hunt. To signal the end of the hunt, the hornsman blows the opening notes to Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which is most closely associated with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Later when Bond discovers the secret lab in Venice, the codepad that allows entry plays the 5-tone theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And while not as overt, there’s mention of Drax’s shuttle being like Noah’s Ark–taking pairs of humans to the space station. This was the primary idea behind the climax of the 1951 film When Worlds Collide. The action and set pieces also inspired the 1999 comic spoof of 60s culture and James Bond films Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me with Austin travelling into space to stop Dr. Evil.
To keep with the action themes of the franchise, the final act for Bond and Goodhead is hunting down three deadly satellites before they can deploy their poison onto the Earth. Bond must pilot the shuttle, armed with a laser, and blast these spherical death orbs. It’s a video game inspired moment that seems straight out of Asteroids, even though the arcade game wouldn’t be released for another five months! There was never any direct Moonraker video game, but the 1983 Parker Brothers game “James Bond 007” included a sequence from Moonraker where–you guessed it–the player had to destroy satellites.
While Moonraker may be one of the cheesier James Bond adventures, with its droll one-liners, and unbelievable action sequences, there’s no doubt that it helped extend the reach of the science-fiction premise to audiences that would never see such a film. And at the end of the 70s it proved that the genre was in no danger of ending any time soon.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.