Monday, March 18, 2013

Any discussion of the worst movies ever made has to include Moonraker. While the rest of the Bond series is so good it makes one doubt the existence of a clunker, it's like enjoying button and Shiitake mushrooms and assuming Death Caps must be tasty too.

The problem starts with the title. Rather than sense danger, we guess the world's best secret agent is being sent on a mission involving interstellar leaves. In our minds we imagine the opening scene:

M: Bond, you need to get to Cape Canaveral immediately. Your country desperately needs you for a mission we call "Moonraker."

BOND: Are you serious, M? Sent into outer space? Why me?

M: We couldn't find a Mexican with a leafblower.

Problem #2 is the casting. I must have missed it, but evidently there was a time in the recent past when Roger Moore was considered hot. It doesn't take a scientist to disprove. Here, for instance, is Roger Moore after he's finished swimming.

And here's Sean Connery.

I mean, wasn't there anybody else willing to play Bond? Was Kelsey Grammer busy?

The fatal flaw, though, is the budget. You sense problems when the villain ejects fifty canisters of toxic gas from his orbiting space station to annihilate the human race. Look, there goes one! It's chilling seeing it emerge from the pod doors and coolly slide into space. Look, there goes another! I guess all pod doors and nerve gas canisters look alike, because that shot looked remarkably similar to the first. There goes the third! OKAY, WE GET IT, GUYS. YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE.

While you can't really fault the producers for making a film before the invention of competent special effects, they clearly could have rewritten the film to dodge their requirement. For instance, maybe they could have cut a thirty-minute laser battle after they realized it looked a lot like angry people squeezing silver pineapples while green crayon lines spluttered out of the other end. And maybe they could have moved the climactic battle back to earth after they realized their anti-gravity effect looked a lot like people swinging in slow motion on wires.

No gravity. Bummer. Look, there's somebody stuck to a wall.

In a familiar moment, an ominous space structure is blown up by a plucky hero who has a joystick and just enough time to squeeze off one shot. You expect someone to urge him to use the force. Anyone who got a passing grade in High School Biology will note that, in the absence of oxygen, there probably aren't a lot of fiery explosions in space. It must be cheap to superimpose fireballs on top of film footage, because it looks like a gas tanker exploding every time somebody farts.

Regular WCS readers know I hate those "Oh, okay" moments where people suddenly make ridiculous U-turns in behavior, but that's the path toward Moonraker's end. The villain -- a vaguely ethnic entrepreneur who lacks the ominous chill of my dentist -- wants to create a master race on the moon. An entire civilization of tanned, lithe bleached blondes, and some chicks up there as well. His Herman Munster-lookalike hitman never pieces the obvious together, though, until --

BOND: I know you've been trying to kill me for nearly two hours, but frankly I don't get it. Your boss intends to start a master race of perfect humans on the moon. You really think you'll fit in?

JAWS: Well, once I get my braces out --

BOND: -- you'll still be tall and ugly. Join my side and fight him!

JAWS: Okay, sure.

We're almost relieved when the movie finally slides toward the inevitable "around the world" joke. (Did that used to be a sex act? It's not an attractive metaphor, unless I'm the only guy in the world with two Singapores and a giant Darfur.) Still orbiting earth, Bond claims his prize: the wooden Dr. Goodhead. While the credits roll we note the film's final mistakes: blankets apparently aren't affected by weightlessness, and chick should have been dubbed Settlefer Missionary.

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