Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Moonraker’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 25th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Moonraker (1979)!
If movie franchises run for long enough, they inevitably make an entry that takes place in outer space. Granted this occurs more with horror sequels than with follow-ups in other film genres. In horror alone there’s: Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996), and Jason X (2001), among others. As you might’ve discerned, launching a sequel into space is, more often than not, a bad idea. However, those results haven’t kept the action genre from occasionally taking the same off-world route.
Most recently, John Carpenter (The Thing 1982) revealed his unrealized threequel, Escape from Earth. A couple of years back, Vin Diesel (Bloodshot) announced that he wants Fast & Furious 10, the supposed final installment in that series to be shot in space. (Out of touch with reality much, eh, Vin?) And let’s face it, if the Mission: Impossible flicks keep coming, an impossible space mission is inevitable. But James Bond beat every other franchise to the space-based sequel with Moonraker in 1979!
The end credits of the previous entry, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), stated that “James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only.” However, as was the trend with the Roger Moore era of the franchise, producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli once again chose to cash-in on the cinematic trends of the day. Which of course meant that 007 would be taking a cue from the biggest film in history up to that point, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) for the 11th 007 installment. As a result, Cubby chose to adapt the only one of Ian Fleming‘s books with any space-related content, Moonraker. Surprisingly, Moonraker is only Fleming’s 3rd Bond novel, published in 1956. Although, this novel and its cinematic adaptation in review have very little to nothing in common.
Unlike the book, which is understandably predicated around nukes, the film changes up the story quite a bit. Once again, James Bond 007 (Roger Moore) is sent on a mission to investigate the mid-air hijacking of a major craft. This time the stolen asset is the most advanced space shuttle in the world, known as Moonraker. To get to the bottom of this plot, Bond pays a visit to the creator of the Moonraker, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), and his massive facility. Unsurprisingly, Drax does his best to evade 007’s investigation. In turn, our hero teams up with one of Drax’s high-level employees, Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), to solve this mystery.
Based on the film’s largely familiar plot, it probably won’t surprise any Bond fan to know that You Only Live Twice (1967) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) director Lewis Gilbert gets back behind the lens for Moonraker; which turned out to be the helmer’s final Bond entry. Along with Gilbert, the co-screenwriter of the previous installment, Christopher Wood, returned to pen the screenplay for Moonraker. Together, these two gentlemen and the rest of the cast and crew made an incredibly unoriginal Bond picture, but more on that later. On the upside, Moonraker is a well-made picture as the technical film craft at play is top-notch.
But, I suppose the craftsmanship of Moonraker should be expected. Especially considering it was the most expensive Bond picture at that time, costing $30 million and grossing $210 million. It proved to be money well-spent as Moonraker remained the most financially successful Bond movie in the series until Goldeneye in 1995. I must say that the production budget was well-spent as you can see all the money on the screen. This includes the largest film set ever constructed in France to that date — and that’s saying something as a total of 50 sets were made for Moonraker. Furthermore, the film shot on 3 continents, in seven countries, and four studios. Hell, even the outer space sequences look decent.
As I alluded to earlier, Moonraker is perhaps the most maligned movie in the entire Bond franchise. Well, I must agree with the sentiment, because the only aspect of this film that truly works is the aforementioned technical aspects of the filmmaking. Outside of that, though, the cast doesn’t quite work. As much as it pains to say it, even Moore seems a bit bored this time out. While our protagonist could seemingly be more interested, Lonsdale’s performance as the antagonist as Drax is perfectly serviceable, but dull. The same can sadly be said for Chiles as Dr. Goodhead. Worse yet, she and Moore have no chemistry.
What ultimately makes Moonraker such a bad movie is not so much that it’s silly. I mean, it certainly is, but what makes Moonraker so bad is that it’s quite dull, as well as incredibly unoriginal and repetitive. Except for outer space, every aspect of the movie was clearly lifted from a previous Bond flick. Of course, these reused elements were not improved upon at all, merely utilized again. While Moonraker is the worst Bond flick I’ve reviewed to date, I will say that I find its immediate predecessor to be almost as bad. Ultimately, the film in review is a lazy cash-in, that’s self-inspired at best. Therefore, Moonraker most-definitely a Franchise Implosion! Just because this movie jettisoned 007 into outer space does not qualify it otherwise.
Moonraker is Available on Home Video
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with For Your Eyes Only (1981)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 25th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
Live and Let Die:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me: