The Sean Connery years of the James Bond films were all preposterous, but fun. Under Roger Moore’s tutelage, they were equally preposterous, but silly. All the later Bond films starring Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig returned to a gritty realism where the preposterous somehow seemed marginally possible. One of the silliest scenes in Moonraker is when the souped-up Gondola being chased by the bad guys converts to a hovercraft and scoots through the crowded Piazza San Marco in Venice. It took five takes to shoot the Gondola converting to a hovercraft. In the first four takes, Roger Moore would fall out of the contraption into the water due to its instability, in each case ruining his silk suit. Many tourists in Venice caught those unusable takes on home movie film. Entertainment Weekly called Moonraker “by far the campiest of all 007 movies.” Other film critics praised it. At least in the Connery films, the women were treated as conquests. In Moonraker,women seem to fall in bed with Roger Moore within two hours of meeting the middle-aged spy.
The opening sequence of Moonraker is confusing. It is not explained why Jaws, the assassin, is ejecting Bond from a crashing private jet without a parachute. Of course, Bond, while freefalling to his certain death, steals a parachute from a bad guy. Good for him…bad for the bad guy. That sequence required five weeks to film and eighty-eight jumps to produce two minutes of footage for the film.
Children wrote letters to director Gilbert Lewis asking why a bad guy can’t also be a good guy. So, it was decided that the Jaws, portrayed by 7’ 2” Richard Kiel, would switch sides and be James Bond’s accomplice, along with Molly, Jaws’ dimunitive girlfriend. When attacking a cable car containing James Bond, the cable Jaws bites through was actually made of licorice. With Jaws reprising his role from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and utilizing the same plot element of the evil genius obliterating the human race to repopulate earth with a master race, many felt Moonrakerwas simply a remake of The Spy Who Loved Me. Producers, however, claimed it was a sequel. I guess that helps to explain the aforementioned unexplained opening sequence.
The film had a budget of $34 million, the combined budget of all the EON Production Bond films before it. It was a huge success, grossing $58 million dollars in its first eight weeks of release. At over $210 million worldwide, it was the highest grossing Bond film until GoldenEye (1995).
The person who seemed to have the best time on most of the James Bond films is production designer Ken Adams. His three-story-high interior of the space station is spectacular. The eleborate set holds the world record for having the largest number of zero gravity wires of any scene ever filmed. The fifty sets required for the film required more than 220,000 man-hours to erect. For cost reasons, most interior scenes were filmed in France, which does not permit workers in the film industry to work more than eight hours a day. However, when they saw the scale and beauty of Ken Adams’ production drawings, they broke that rule for this film and allowed the overtime. Roger Moore enjoyed the eight-hour work days while filming in Paris as shooting wouldn’t begin until noon.
Visual effects weren’t digital in 1978, so to film the destruction of the space station, the visual effects crew locked themselves in their lab and shot the space station model to smithereens using shotguns. The outer space scenes were accomplished by shooting one model, rewinding the film, and then superimposing the next element. The final space battle required forty rewinds.
Guess what? Even with all the silliness, I can still recommend Moonraker.You don’t expect reality in a James Bond film, but escapism and a few explosions, laughs, and smirks along the way, which Moonrakerfaithfully delivers.
About the author – Lonnie Knabel is a resident of Sun City Carolina Lakes. He is a movie buff and a regular contributor to Living @ Sun City Carolina Lakes magazine. This article was originally published in Living and is republished here with permission. Lonnie is also a professional graphic artist. You can visit his website here.