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Lewis Gilbert
Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Writing Credits:
Ian Fleming (story), Christopher Wood

Outer space now belongs to 007.

In the 11th installment of the 007 series, director Lewis Gilbert delivers a visually thrilling progression in filmmaking. Roger Moore returns as dashing secret service agent James Bond. This time around Bond must investigate the theft of a space shuttle with help from beautiful CIA agent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) and sexy Euro supermodel Corrine (Corrine Clery). Agent 007 discovers that genocidal maniac-millionaire Hugo Drax (Michel Lonsdale) plans to poison all of humanity from outer space and repopulate earth with only the most perfectly bred humans. A variety of traps and villains awaits Bond, including the recurring character Jaws (Richard Kiel, also featured in The Spy Who Loved Me).

Box Office:
$34 million.
Opening Weekend
$7.108 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$70.308 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 5/16/2000

• Audio Commentary with Director Lewis Gilbert, Executive Producer Michael Wilson, Associate Producer William P. Cartlidge, and Screenwriter Christopher Wood
• “Inside Moonraker” Documentary
• “The Men Behind the Mayhem: The Special Effects of James Bond” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Moonraker (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 20, 2006)

Moonraker stands as the only Bond film for which I feel a nostalgic affection. That's due to the fact it was the first Bond picture I ever saw. At least I think that was the case; I'm not a hundred percent positive, but my memories tell me I had very little awareness of 007 prior to entering the cinema during the summer of 1979. My Dad dragged me and my friend to see it somewhat against our wishes - bizarrely, we wanted to see the Barbra Streisand outing The Main Event instead! - and for once, the Old Man was correct. Both my friend and I had a terrific time, and I at least was set on the path to being a Bond fan forever.

Well, a moderate Bond fan, at least. I'd never been hugely fond of the series, though I've always really liked a particular few. The release of the movies on DVD led me to rediscover the whole batch of films, and through this experience, I've had to reshape my sentiments about many of the pictures.

Despite the fact I loved it when I was 12, my impression of Moonraker actually remained negative for many years. I can't recall the last time I saw it prior to the 2000 DVD release, though I think I checked it out in the early Nineties and thought little of it. However, I do now recognize that my general disdain for the Roger Moore years has tainted my opinion of all his films and that some are actually pretty good. As such, I entertained the notion that I might have been on the right track as a youngster and I could possibly enjoy Moonraker at the ripe old age of 39.

That concept vanished pretty rapidly soon after the DVD started to spin. I wanted to like Moonraker - honestly, I want to like all of the Bonds - but I just couldn't get there. The film is possibly the silliest and least coherent of all the Bonds. Each of the films is unrealistic, but Moonraker goes so far over the top in that regard that it becomes absolutely ludicrous.

Moonraker seems like little more than an uninspired rehash of other Bond elements, cobbled together with little wit or freshness. The plot concerns supervillain Drax (Michael Lonsdale) and his attempt to destroy mankind and start his own master race in outer space. That theme obviously borrows liberally from a certain real-life nutbag's plans back in the Thirties and Forties, but the stealing seems even more shameless considering that the prior Bond - 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me - also involved a rich guy who wanted to destroy mankind to start his own civilization. Granted, I don't expect a whole lot of originality in Bond stories, but at least don’t rip off your last movie!

If that self-plagiarism wasn't enough, Drax himself makes for a terribly dull villain. Think of a boring version of Blofeld with a goatee and you have Drax. To spice things up, the filmmakers continue to recycle ideas through their resuscitation of Spy's main henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel). Despite his status as a gimmick character, I liked Jaws in the older film; he made for a nice combination of menace and light comedy. That doesn't continue here, as any dignity or power is completely stripped from the character; Jaws seems little more than a really tall buffoon in Moonraker, and the role offers absolutely no fun or thrills.

Moonraker also echoes the very successful immediate predecessor through its main female lead, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles). Major Amasova in Spy provided a strong and competent woman. Although Barbara Bach was rather poor in the role, at least the part itself made for a nice challenge to the usual pathetically weak Bond babe.

Goodhead seems scripted to continue that tradition, as she is: a) a CIA agent; b) a fully-trained astronaut; and c) a scientist. Add to that d) a tremendously dull character played by e) a very weak actress and you have "F" which is the grade I give to Dr. Goodhead. Although Bach wasn't much of an actress, she's a veritable Meryl Streep compared to the insanely stiff and flat Chiles. Goodhead doesn't have much spark as scripted, but a real performer could have wrung some spark out of her. Unfortunately, Chiles is such a bland and boring presence that she makes Goodhead one of the least charismatic and appealing Bond women of all time. I disliked her so that I almost pined for the return of The Man With the Golden Gun's grating Miss Goodnight; Britt Ekland's character may be annoying, but at least she had some life to her! As it stands, Chiles' terrible performance as Goodhead weakens the film considerably. At least Bach was amazingly gorgeous; Chiles is attractive but visually pretty bland as well.

And this is a movie that can't stand much weakening. Moore seems game as ever as Bond, but everything appears so stale and bland. Even the trademarked action sequences look uninspired and fail to rouse much excitement. I like the Bond pictures well enough I feel even a bad Bond still offers some fun, but Moonraker tests my loyalty. It’s probably the worst Bond flick ever made.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Moonraker appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film provided an inconsistent transfer.

Sharpness was an occasional concern. At times, the image appeared fairly crisp and clear, but other occasions offered less defined visuals. Moderate edge enhancement seemed to cause some of these issues, as haloes popped up through the flick. I also noticed considerably heavier indications of jagged edges and shimmering than usual. Source flaws came up in the form of specks and small marks. These weren’t as bad as during some of the other Bonds, but they created a mix of distractions.

Colors seemed acceptable but also varied. Some scenes stood out with bright, vivid hues - the parties in Rio come to mind - but for the most part, colors were decent but a bit bland. Even black levels - usually the strongest aspect of the Bond DVDs - appear duller than usual on Moonraker; I found them to be generally okay but they seemed somewhat muddled and flat at times, and shadow detail looked about the same. Low-light shots tended to be more opaque than I’d like. Moonraker wasn’t an unappealing transfer, but it suffered from too many flaws to merit a grade above a “C”.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offered some notable strengths and weaknesses. First the negatives: even for a movie that's more than 25 years old, the audio quality seemed flawed. Dialogue appeared consistently thin and lacked much of a natural tone. The lines seemed agreeably intelligible but the dull quality hurt it. Music appeared similarly flat and lifeless, and at higher volumes could be rather strident.

Effects tended to be loud and offered some good low end, but they also displayed too much distortion. The harshness wasn't extreme but it was bad enough to be a distraction. Admittedly, the quality of the sound wasn't radically bad for a movie from 1979, but it seemed weaker than I'd expect.

One way in which Moonraker improved upon the prior Bonds came from its very good soundfield. This was easily the best-defined of the Bonds up through 1979. Although 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun and 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me offered decent soundscapes, they didn't compare to the activity level of Moonraker.

Unsurprisingly, the forward soundfield offered most of the action, with plenty of nicely localized audio from all three front channels that blended together well. The rears also provided quite a lot of information. They bolstered the forward mix in a satisfying manner and even tossed in a fair amount of split surround usage, such as during the centrifuge and throughout the climactic space scenes.

The quality of the soundfield was so strong for the era that I really felt bad about sticking the audio of Moonraker with a less-than-stellar "C+". However, I think that no matter how exciting a soundfield may be, if the quality of the sound seems weak, then the entire package suffers as a whole. After all, a monaural mix can work very well as long as the quality appears good, but even the best 5.1 localization and integration can't overcome mushy or distorted audio.

As we move to the package’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Lewis Gilbert, screenwriter Christopher Wood, associate producer William Cartlidge, and executive producer Michael Wilson. They all sit together for a running, screen-specific chat in which they offer a refreshingly frank and fun view of the movie.

Okay, it's not so honest that the guys actually strongly criticize the movie, but they do poke some fun at it. For example, Wood bitches about how some of his lines were changed, and the speakers just seem not to take things too seriously. Mainly they convey a lot of fun information through anecdotes, and the piece even gets in a contemporary note through a mention of Blair Witch Project. For some reason, the participants get in a lot of jabs at famed set designer Ken Adam; they're all gentle and in good fun and they add some real spirit to the commentary. I didn't much like the movie, but this track is very enjoyable.

Next we get the standard documentary about the film, this one called Inside Moonraker. The 42-minute program uses the format well-established for these Bond features: it combines contemporary interviews from participants such as actors Moore, Chiles and Kiel and crew like director Gilbert and set designer Adam with film clips and lots of great behind the scenes footage from the set. We see material like Chiles' test shots and a variety of raw stunt footage. The show offers the usual fine description of the creation of the movie, and it makes for a very entertaining and informative piece.

The Men Behind the Mayhem gives us a 19-minute tribute to the folks who fashioned the special effects for the Bond series. The program makes sense on this DVD, since Moonraker stands as the most effects-intensive Bond, but the show covers technical aspects of many other Bonds as well. As usual, the piece gives us a great look at the behind the scenes work done for the movies.

Surprisingly, this DVD cuts back on the plethora of promotional materials we typically find on the Bond DVDs. The others toss in multiple trailers plus TV ads and radio spots. However, on Moonraker we only discover one theatrical trailer. Why so little? I have no idea. Perhaps they've gotten lost, but it seems odd that a relatively recent Bond would lack these components whereas much older efforts still boast lots of materials.

The standard plethora of stills appear as well. The Moonraker Gallery includes almost 100 pictures spread across 14 different sections. While the photos themselves are mildly interesting, I must say the style of the interface seems unnecessarily awkward. On one hand, it's good that the pictures are split into different areas because it makes future access easier. If you want to check out a certain shot, you won't need to wade through dozens of uninteresting snaps to get there. However, many of these sections feature only between one and three pictures, and the awkwardness of access through a DVD player - which is relatively slow at going from menu to menu - makes exploration of these photos more of a chore than it should be.

Finally, Moonraker tosses in the usual terrific booklet, similar to those found in all the other DVDs. As always, it's a fun and valuable little extra.

Unfortunately, that and the other strong supplements aren't enough to redeem Moonraker, for it remains a fairly lame movie. I like the Bond pictures and find enough fun in Moonraker to get me through it, but it's possibly the worst Bond to date. The DVD provides decent but flawed picture and sound plus some fine supplements. Despite the poor quality of the film itself, the DVD is good enough to warrant purchase from serious Bond fans; all others should probably skip it, however.

To rate this film visit the Ultimate Edition review of MOONRAKER

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main