MI6 trawls the archives to see how critics of the day received Roger Moore's fourth outing as James Bond in the 1979 film "Moonraker"...

Time Tunnel: Review Rewind
22nd April 2009

New York Times - June 29th, 1979
At a time when everything is being either inflated or devalued it's comforting to know that at least one commodity maintains its hard currency. That's James Bond, who, by all rights, should be an antique, as emblematic of the sixties as the Beatles and flower power, but who goes blithely on as if time has had a stop.

Moonraker, which opens today at the Rivoli and other theaters, is the eleventh in the remarkable series that began in 1963 (sic) with Dr. No and it's one of the most buoyant Bond films of all.

It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.

What's it about? That's a silly question, though I suppose one might answer that it's about sleight of hands—those of all the people who worked on it.

They include the indefatigable producer, Albert R. Broccoli (also known as Cubby); Lewis Gilbert, who directed it; Christopher Wood, who wrote the screenplay; Ken Adam, the production designer; and all of those far from little people who are responsible for the extraordinary tricks that persuade us to suspend our disbelief.

Mr. Wood's screenplay begins when a United States space-shuttle craft mysteriously disappears as it's being ferried to England on the back of a Boeing 747.


The fiend behind this remarkable theft is a French-accented American aeronautics tycoon named Drax (Michael Lonsdale), an eccentric fellow who lives in California in a transplanted French château and who surrounds himself with astronauts, all of whom are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, beautiful, and female.


The space-shuttle craft, called Moonraker, was actually built by Drax's company, so the mystery that James Bond (Roger Moore) must solve is why Drax would feel the need to hijack his own product. The trail leads from London to California to Venice to Rio de Janeiro and, after that, to Drax's jungle hideaway that takes in bits and pieces of settings filmed in Guatemala and Argentina as well as Brazil. Among other things Moonraker deals in creative geography. The climactic duel occurs in the only location left—outer space.

Moonraker, like all of the better Bond pictures, returns us to a kind of filmmaking that I most closely associate with the fifteen-part serials of my youth. Our astonishment depends on the ingenuity by which the writers and directors disentangle Bond from the impossible situations into which he seems to fall every seven minutes.

Moonraker begins with one of the funniest and most dangerous (as well as most beautifully photographed and edited) sequences Bond has ever faced. He's booted out of an airplane without a parachute and must do mortal combat, during a swooping, soaring free fall, with an adversary who, luckily, does have a parachute.

There are also a high-speed chase through Venetian canals (with one gondola a disguised Hovercraft), another chase on the Amazon, a fight on the roof of the funicular that goes to the top of Rio's Sugar Loaf mountain, and a final confrontation in space that is as handsome as anything in Star Wars. What's it about? It's about movie-making of the kind Georges Méliès pioneered in films like Voyage to the Moon (1902) and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1907). It's the unimaginable most satisfactorily imagined.

Almost everyone connected with the movie is in top form, even Mr. Moore, who has a tendency to facetiousness when left to his own devices. Here he's as ageless, resourceful, and graceful as the character he inhabits. Mr. Lonsdale is sometimes uncomfortably wooden and square, but then he's not supposed to be a barrel of laughs. Lois Chiles is lovely as Bond's Central Intelligence Agency vis-à-vis, who's just one of the sexually tireless Bond's conquests. Richard Kiel reappears as Bond's thug-enemy, the gigantic Jaws, who, you may be happy to learn, undergoes the kind of character transformation that means he'll probably turn up in yet another Bond film. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell, as, respectively, M and Miss Moneypenny, also are on hand. Welcome back to old friends.

Variety - July, 1979
Christopher Wood's script takes the characters exactly where they always go in a James Bond pic and the only question is whether the stunts and gadgets will live up to expectations. They do.

The main problem this time is the outer-space setting which somehow dilutes the mammoth monstrosity that 007 must save the world from. One more big mothership hovering over earth becomes just another model intercut with elaborate interiors.

The visual effects, stuntwork and other technical contributions all work together expertly to make the most preposterous notions believable.

And Roger Moore, though still compared to Sean Connery, clearly has adapted the James Bond character to himself and serves well as the wise-cracking, incredibly daring and irresistible hero.


Time - Jul 2nd, 1979
Producer Albert R. Broccoli, the major-domo of the James Bond movies, is the proverbial Jewish mother of cinema: he is not about to let anyone go away hungry. In Moonraker, the eleventh 007 opus, Broccoli serves the audience a space-shuttle hijacking, a jumbo-jet explosion and a protracted wrestling match between two men who are falling from the sky without parachutes. All this happens before the opening credits. From there, it's on to gondola chases in Venice, funicular crashes in Rio and laser-gun shootouts and lovemaking in deep space. Meanwhile, beautiful women come and go, talking (ever so discreetly) about fellatio. When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.

The result is a film that is irresistibly entertaining as only truly mindless spectacle can be. Those who have held out on Bond movies over 17 years may not be convinced by Moonraker, but everyone else will be. With their rigid formulas and well-worn gags, these films have transcended fashion.


Styles in Pop culture, sexual politics and international espionage have changed drastically since Ian Fleming invented his superhero, but the immaculately tailored, fun-loving British agent remains a jolly spokesman for the simple virtues of Western civilization. Not even Margaret Thatcher would dare consider slowing him down.

For Moonraker, screenwriter Christopher Wood has had to do little more than dream up new settings, a new heroine and a new villain with a novel dooms day plot. Everything else takes care of itself. This time around, the bad guy (Michael Lonsdale) is an aerospace conglomerateur who plans to wipe out the world's population with deadly Brazilian orchids before hatching a master race from an interstellar sanctuary.

To stop him, Bond (the ever smooth Roger Moore) must team up with Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), a CIA agent who picked up her astronaut's training at NASA and her judo expertise at Vassar. Such talents come in handy as the couple confront traditional nemeses: an Oriental thug (Toshiro Suga), attack dogs, and Jaws (Richard Kiel), the 7-ft. 2-in., steel-toothed goon introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) .

Wood pulls off some witty flourishes. There are funny references to other block buster movies (Close Encounters, Superman, Sergio Leone westerns), as well as amusing bursts of comic-book dialogue ("Look after Mr. Bond," whispers the villain to an aide. "See that some harm comes to him"). Rather than stage variations on Jaws' old fiendish gags, Wood has given the character some surprising twists, including a love interest. As always, there is no explicit gore or sex to jolt the audience back to reality.

If Moonraker is not quite as satisfying as Spy, the best of the post-Sean Connery Bonds, the difference is in the casting. Lonsdale is a bit too tame; he seems to be doing a John Ehrlichman imitation. Chiles is all too sexless. The title song, the important kickoff for Bond movies, is no match for Nobody Does It Better, the Carly Simon dazzler of Spy.

Still, one does not tend to notice these failings as Moonraker unfolds. Broccoli just keeps piling on the goodies: lush Ken Adam sets, gadgetry and gams galore, super stunts and effects. It may be another two-year wait for the next Bond film, so you may as well just stuff yourself silly now .

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