Moonraker (Ultimate Edition) Review

Bond is back...and so too is Jaws, one pushing the other out of a light aircraft high over South Africa. Luckily, one has a parachute and as Bond opens it, Jaws loses hold of his leg and continues falling to his doom, vainly flapping his arms in the hope of slowing his descent. How fortunate for him that a circus tent awaits him...

Elsewhere and away from the distractions of Jaws, someone is stealing the Moonraker space shuttles, the last one while it was being transported on top of a airliner. Terrible though this is, each crime is made worse by the destruction of the airliner and the death of everyone therein. As Bond is recalled to London, he is asked by M (Bernard Lee) to investigate the missing Moonraker shuttles, starting with the billionaire industrialist Sir Hugo Drax, whose corporation is the main contractor for their build and supply.

Not being made to feel welcome is the first of the surprises awaiting Bond as he travels to California and Drax's lavish mansion, wherein Chang (Toshiro Suga) is instructed to take good care of Mr Bond, ensuring that, in Drax's words, some harm comes to him. Surviving an attempt on his life while in a centrifuge, Bond befriends mission specialist Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) and, after rifling through Drax's study, leaves for Venice, location of another of Drax's operations, where the breaking of a glass vial sees the biologists working there suffering an excruciating death. As Bond and Dr Goodhead, who reveals to Bond, amongst other things, that she is a CIA agent, continue their investigation into Drax, they travel first to Rio de Janeiro, to another meeting with Jaws, and then, to even Bond's surprise, to space, where the final part of Drax's terrible plan becomes clear...

Moonraker has, for quite obvious reasons, never quite been anyone's favourite Bond. Having little to do with the Ian Fleming novel of the same name, Moonraker exists due to its snappy title and the likelihood that Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli could haul it towards sci-fi/fantasy, hoping to replicate the success then being enjoyed by Star Wars and Close Encounters. To say that Moonraker is a cash-in is something of an understatement - there is barely an original idea in its entire running length of a shade over two hours - while, from being rushed into production, it looks nothing less than a pastiche of earlier Bonds. Inspired by the relationship between Bond and Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker pairs Bond with CIA agent Holly Goodhead, her every bit Bond's equal and, when such knowledge is needed, rather more experienced with a Moonraker shuttle. But it doesn't end there, with Live And Let Die lending Moonraker its speedboat chase, the pre-credits sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me has tribute paid to it with yet another parachute jump, albeit a much less impressive one and even dear old Shirley Bassey makes a return with the theme song. One would have thought there might have been an infinite number of ways Bond could save the world but, as Moonraker proves, apparently not.

However, much, much worse than that is the dreadful sense of humour that runs through the film. Having already hinted at it here, there are a whole host of gags that threaten to bring Moonraker crashing back to earth, or indeed have it burn up on re-entering the atmosphere. In addition to the sight of Jaws flapping his arms as he falls earthwards, there is a pigeon doing a double-take and, returning from The Spy Who Loved Me as if by popular demand, a drunk looking worryingly at his bottle of wine as Bond drives past in a gondola-cum-hovercraft. Also returning from that film are the use of horrible musical cues, such as the use of Also Sprach Zarathustra in a hunting scene and the theme from The Magnificent Seven as Bond rides a horse through the Brazilian countryside. Even the five-note theme used to contact the aliens in Close Encounters finds its way into Moonraker, being used by Bond on an electronic keypad as he enters Drax's Venician laboratory.

And yet, in spite of all the problems with the film, it remains rather grand entertainment and may actually be one of the best-looking of all the Bond films. As the film hurries through many beautiful locations - the scenes in the Amazon are a particular highlight - the finale aboard Drax's space station looks quite wonderful. The actual unveiling of the space station in the sunlight as Bond and Holly Goodhead approach has a strong case for being one of the most arresting moments in any Bond film and just as eyecatching as seeing the golden body of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. Elsewhere, Venice, if you can look past the nonsense in the gondola, looks quite stunning, as does Rio de Janeiro. Changing tack slightly, Drax's killing of Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery) is one of the most chilling in the series while there's the rare feeling that Bond, and the world, are actually in danger, particularly as the third globe enters the earth's atmosphere. Finally, Bond's escape over the waterfall via hang glider is almost as remarkable a stunt as the pre-credits sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me - it really is that good - but is not as grandstanding a moment.

But in spite of all of these, there's always the feeling that, with Moonraker, the Bond team are treading water. The ending, as well as the gags, is particularly rotten with Bond's situation looking hopeless before Jaws not only finds a voice but also redemption. That the filmmakers resorted to neutering one of the great villains of the series is one of Moonraker's greatest disappointments. Even as they returned to basics with the next film in the series - each rebirth of Bond comes after such a loss of confidence - the producers seemed to realise the problems with Moonraker and went back to the straightforward spycraft of For Your Eyes Only. One can hardly blame them with this being an often extravagant capitalising on the success of The Spy Who Loved Me but, by being rushed into production, Moonraker lacked the careful plotting of that film. However, it is not without memorable moments, it being a good deal better than its critics would have it but not up there with even the best of Moore.



Transfer

This Ultimate Edition is a much better looking version of the film than was on the Special Edition, with a brighter picture and much improved colours. Skin tones are more natural, the levels of red seem to have decreased and the foreground is much more noticeable, particularly in the first screenshot of Bond in Brazil. Granted, there's only a little more detail in the image but with a much better framing of the image, this Ultimate Edition is such a more impressive picture all round that it does restore one's faith in these Ultimate Editions.


MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)



MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)



MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)

Moonraker had already enjoyed a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the MGM Special Edition although this appears to be a new one created for this release. Comparing the two, the use of the front left and right speakers seems to have been improved - this is most noticeable in Bond's near-death experience in the centrifuge. The hunting party's attack on Corinne Dufour is outstanding, using the entire sound stage to draw attention to her terror. John Barry's score for Moonraker was always one of his best, mixing traditional Bond themes with a set of grandly beautiful pieces and the audio tracks do this full justice, never better, even saying so again, than in the wonderful marriage of sound and picture that accompanies the unveiling of Drax's space station.



Extras

As with the rest of the Ultimate Editions in the Moore era, Moonraker comes with two commentaries, one of which has been brought over from the MGM Special Edition whilst the other, which features Sir Roger Moore, has been newly recorded for this release. The Moore commentary is in keeping with all the others he has recently recorded, being a self-deprecating track that's less his memories of the making of the film than random thoughts on Moonraker, fox hunting and Lewis Gilbert's dislike of needles. The other commentary, which features director Lewis Gilbert, executive and associate producers Michael G. Wilson and William P Cartlidge and writer Christopher Wood, is a chatty but subdued affair with lots of gentle backslapping and, from Wilson, memories of the production. The tone of this latter commentary will be familiar to anyone with any experience of the The Spy Who Loved Me track but without the silent marvelling at the figure of Caroline Munro.

On to the second disc and the new material on this Ultimate Edition opens with Ken Adam's Production Films (11m33s), which features the 8mm home movies of the set designer as well as his narration, offering a candid look at Eon Productions' tour of locations and sets. Bond '79 (11m47s) follows The Spy Who Loved Me's Bond '77 and sees Michael G Wilson introducing interviews with the members of the cast and crew including, as he puts it, his father-in-law Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli. Another archive production feature, 007 in Rio (12m13s), catches up with the filmmakers as they reach Rio but actually includes specific to the location, being something of a generic look behind the scenes. What follows these features are four short storyboard sequences and test footage, including Circus Footage (1m15s), Cable Car Alternative Storyboards (1m19s and 2m04s) and Skydiving Test Footage (3m55s) and Storyboards (1m17s). Finally, there is an Interactive Guide Into the World of Moonraker, which is identical to the others in the set.

In keeping with most of these Ultimate Editions, the best extras have been carried over from the Special Editions, including the definitive making-of the film, Inside Moonraker (42m03s), and a documentary on the special effects and stuntwork, The Men Behind the Mayhem (18m12s). With the amount of information in these two features, there's hardly any room for further features, leaving those new to the Ultimate Edition looking rather anaemic in comparison. Finally, there is an Original Trailer (3m47s) and a Photo Gallery.



Overall

And so, after thirteen films, my run of Bond reviews comes to a close. Apologies to anyone who has felt a little short-changed by some of them but with only a little over two weeks, time, unlike Azazel from Fallen, was not on my side. But looking back over the films and against all the criticism of these Ultimate Editions, the fact remains that these are Bond movies and are amongst the most entertaining films that there are. However Broccoli and Saltzman, then Wilson and Broccoli, did it, they kept a steady hand on a series that, in spite of a changing world, has remained a successful and much-loved one. Therefore, as a final note, enjoy these films, whether on these Ultimate Editions, the old Special Editions or, as tradition would have it, a Bank Holiday afternoon on ITV, where that Bond magic is as welcome now as it was during my own childhood and the excitement that came with my own first Bond, Diamonds Are Forever.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:54:28

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