"Moonraker" is probably the worst Bond film ever made, but it does have renewed life as a camp classic and an example of Hollywood excess
James Bond 11 - Moonraker (1979, Blu-ray)
Directors: Lewis Gilbert
Writers: Ian Fleming (novel) uncredited Christopher Wood (screenplay)
Features: * Commentaries * Featurettes * Documentary * Mission Control * Image Database
Roger Moore ... James Bond
Lois Chiles ... Dr. Holly Goodhead
Michael Lonsdale ... Hugo Drax
Richard Kiel ... Jaws
Corinne Clery ... Corinne Dufour
Bernard Lee ... 'M'
Geoffrey Keen ... Sir Frederick Gray
Desmond Llewelyn ... 'Q'
Lois Maxwell ... Miss Moneypenny
When I was first introduced to the early Bond films, my brother-in-law famously referred to "Moonraker" as "Jawbreaker" due to itís terribly slow pace and ridiculous premise. Since then, the name has stuck and I still refer to "Moonraker" as "Jawbreaker" in casual conversation.
"Moonraker" arrived in the theaters in 1979. To put that in perspective, "Star Wars" had just completed its long theatrical run and Paramount was mounting their own big budget sci-fi adventure, the long-awaited reboot of "Star Trek" entitled "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," which was set to arrive in theaters in December. Dozens of other sci-fi films were also sprouting up, all hoping to nab a piece of that lucrative "Star Wars" box office take. Alas, sci-fi didnít completely prove viable for many of these films, but some did walk away with a few pocketfuls of money. One such film was "Moonraker."
In fact, up until the Brosnan era of Bond films, "Moonraker" was the most successful, highest grossing Bond film ever made (not adjusted for inflation), grossing more than $200 million worldwide. Even today, adjusted for inflation, that number is quite impressive, besting many newer Bond films, perhaps even the latest entry, the action-packed, but ultimately disappointing, "Quantum of Solace."
Despite itís box office success, "Moonraker" easily stands as the single worst Bond film ever made. Itís loaded with excess and cheese. The story is dumb. The performances are abysmal. The central villain is laughable and the romantic subplot involving Jaws, returning after "The Spy Who Loved Me," was embarrassing at best, unwatchable at worst.
"Moonraker" is a perfect example of cross-genre tinkering -- when one successful genre attempts to mimic another with disastrous results. Thereís no real reason why Bond needed to shoot himself in space and fire laser guns. There just isnít. But studio heads looking at the almighty dollar decided it would be a good idea. The movie made money probably because the change was so dramatically drastic; people were intrigued in watching what was probably going to be a monumental train wreck -- or something really cool.
But cool it was not. "Moonraker" isnít just dumb and silly, itís also incredibly boring. Lumbering along with very little action -- most of the action set pieces come towards the filmís in-space finale -- the film tries to be fun, but it comes up short. Instead, the picture plays like a wasted effort with tedious scenes weíve seen a dozen times over in the previous 10 Bond outings.
Roger Moore is certainly having a good time with this film, but at a pretty severe cost. Most of the film revolves around him attempting to figure out the villainous plot of megalomaniacal billionaire Hugo Drax, but in-between the fight sequences and chases, Bond is paired with boring leading lady Dr. Holly Goodhead (cute). Goodhead is played by Lois Chiles, and while her performance is fine, sheís one of most uninvolving Bond heroines of the Moore era, playing more like a template for Bond heroines to come during the tired Brosnan era.
Despite the myriad of flaws this film boasts, time has been kind to "Moonraker." Today, "Moonraker" plays like a campy cult classic, mocked by fans and fondly remembered as the film with "Bond in space."
If youíve never seen "Moonraker" before, I suggest skipping the first act and part of the middle act. Move right on to the campy final act where Jaws finds love (with a woman who looks like comedian Amy Poehler), Bond chases Drax into space, laser battles take place that look like cut scenes from the SNL Digital Short "Laser Cats," and Bond gets to have zero G sex. Itís not good, make no mistake, but itís also incredibly entertaining, playing like a cheese wiz variation of the Bond franchise.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: B+
Film Value: D+
"Moonraker" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec on a dual-layered BD50 disc. "Jawbreaker" looks pretty damn good considering the age of this film. It certainly looks better than "The World is Not Enough" with crisper details, better shadows, textures and depth. Color design and fleshtones are spot-on and black levels are clean and inky, never bleeding into one another -- a shock considering how dark this film gets towards the finale.
Dust and dirt specks are pretty much nonexistent throughout, though a few do pop up every now and then. Film grain doesnít appear to have been tinkered with using DNR as a nice fine haze of natural film grain gives life and weight to the print often aiding in bringing out textures. Iíd mark this transfer as reference but I did spot just a touch of edge enhancement from time-to-time. I also spotted a slight glaze of color banding during the finale. But, these flaws are few and far between making this yet another fine remastered Bond film.
Audio choices are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 with Spanish, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. I wasnít really expecting much in terms of an enveloping experience with the older Bond titles, but MGM aims to please, presenting an aggressive 5.1 mix for fans to enjoy. Discrete effects flow back and forth between the front and rear surrounds while the score is evenly balanced between each channel. Even bass elements are aggressive and well mixed.
Some effects, like explosions, wind and gunshots, are a touch hollow at times, not really sounding like fresh, organic effects. Dialogue is also a bit muffled and mono-like which will likely displease some. Compared to last DVD release though, this track is far more realized and significantly better. In fact, this track is probably more aggressive and enveloping than the theatrical experience. Great job, MGM!
MGM ports over the special features from the original two-disc DVD set released back in 2006. Iíll lightly skim over most of these since fans have likely indulged in these goodies before. The only extra missing from this release is the collectible booklet.
ē Commentary -- Two tracks are offered on this disc. The first features director Lewis Gilbert and members of the cast and crew and the second track features Sir Roger Moore. Both tracks are pretty informative, the first appears to be been culled together using archival interviews. Moore is pretty entertaining, but offers little insight. Still, this guy is sharp as a tack.
ē Declassified: MI6 Vault (SD) -- In this segment, youíll be treated to eight features. The first two features are nothing more than quick featurettes. Theyíre both pretty interesting though. The remaining features consist of home movies, storyboards and test footage used to complete the filmís many stunts.
ē Mission Dossier (HD) -- Here, youíll be treated to two documentaries. Both are pretty explorative running a collective 62 minutes and presented in 1080!
ē Mission Control (HD) -- Basically a clip reel with footage from the film helping introduce newcomers to the characters.
ē Image Database (HD) -- Finally, thereís an extensive image gallery of all things Bond.
ē Ministry of Propaganda -- Cute name. This was missing from "Die Another Day," but itís packed into this set. Basically, this is a promo section with trailers, teasers, TV spots and radio spots.
Bond doesnít get any new HD gadgets with this release, other than an updated A/V presentation and a sleek menu. But, methinks this isnít the last weíve seen of Bond on Blu-ray. Expect PiP tracks on the next release when Daniel Craigís third Bond outing reaches theaters in 2010.
MGM knocks this one out of the park in terms of presentation, and the design of the packaging is no different. MGM mixes things up, presenting a quality look to a quality release thatís fresher than any Fox/MGM Blu-ray release yet.
"Moonraker" is probably the worst Bond film ever made, but it does have renewed life as a camp classic and an example of Hollywood excess. The Blu-ray boasts a solid transfer, a fine lossless mix and a nice assortment of special features making this yet another rock-solid special edition for a Bond "classic."
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: A camp classic worth owning.
On Blu-ray: March 24, 2009.
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----R. L. Shaffer