Director Lewis Gilbert’s Bond directorial debut, the space-themed You Only Live Twice, was reworked by the director as The Spy Who Loved Me and then again for Moonraker, which went one better than You Only… by taking a plot about a missing space shuttle and a megalomaniac obsessed with the stars to its illogical conclusion by putting 007 in orbit.
A spacy plot sends 007 looking for a hijacked shuttle owned by Drax Co., soon realising that the CEO is the most likely culprit. Teaming up with CIA astronaut (plot requirement) Holly Goodhead (…), Bond tracks Drax from his French aristocracy retreat in Southern California, to Venice, Rio, down the Amazon and finally into outer space, discovering that the evil genius is planning a master race amidst the stars and has nasty plans for the rest of Earth’s population.
A five-ring circus, this is less an espionage thriller than a multi-million dollar variety show, with something for everyone.
Don’t care for the pre-credit sequence with a freefalling Bond battling a henchman for his parachute (one-upping the opening to The Spy Who Loved Me)? How about his motorised gondola chase through Venetian canals, transforming the boat into a hovercraft for handy dry land navigation (inverting the Lotus Esprit gag from The Spy Who Loved Me)?
The vertiginous cable car clash with the gigantic Jaws too humdrum? How about a speedboat chase down the Amazon, James’ high-speed craft equipped with mines, mortars and a handy hang glider in case of waterfalls?
Or Bond battling a python? Or surviving 12Gs in an astronaut centrifuge? Or clashing with Drax’s kimono clad, kendo practising assassin (bizarrely named Chang) in a glass museum? Or taking a shuttle ride to a mammoth space station (an orbiting equivalent of The Spy Who Loved Me’s underwater kingdom, designed for much the same diabolical purpose)?
But, throw enough of anything at the wall and something’s bound to stick, and Moonraker has a sprinkling of 'pay attention, 007' moments.
Doomed Bond girl Corrine Clery’s flight into the woods chased by Drax’s Doberman has the ethereal menace of a Jean Rollin movie, Bond’s shadowing of Goodhead in the glass museum brazenly homages Vertigo, and the space station finale is a thrilling special effects driven set-piece (holding a record for the most people suspended by “weightless” wires).
Ken Adam’s massive sets, ranging from Inca temples, to boardrooms located beneath launchpads, and Drax’s city in space, continue to astound, as does the shuttle miniature work – the film was supposed to have coincided with the first shuttle launch, but real life mucked up and the launch was delayed until 1981, when For Your Eyes Only was playing in cinemas.
But, transforming Jaws from terrifying hitman into a monstrous Kato was a mistake (proving directors should not heed children’s fan mail), and plugs for 7Up, BA, Seiko and Marlboro makes the recent 'CaSony Royale' seem like a model of socialist non-advertising.
Moore firmly arches his eyebrow and fixes his tongue in cheek as an all-round entertainment Bond, while Michael Lonsdale simmers beneath his beard as a poor imitation of Curt Jurgens' Stromberg from, yes, The Spy Who Loved Me. As the raunchily named Goodhead, Lois Chiles is spirited but anonymous, Corrine Clery being more charismatic even when dubbed.
Aptly this is the 11th Bond, and indeed turns everything up to Spinal Tap’s favourite number.