Moonraker (1979) is the eleventh spy film in the James Bond series, and the fourth to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. The third and final film in the series to be directed by Lewis Gilbert, it co-stars Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Corinne Cléry, and Richard Kiel. Bond investigates the theft of a space shuttle, leading him to Hugo Drax, the owner of the shuttle’s manufacturing firm. Along with space scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead, Bond follows the trail from California to Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon rainforest, and finally into outer space to prevent a plot to wipe out the world population and to re-create humanity with a master race.
Moonraker was intended by its creator Ian Fleming to become a film even before he completed the novel in 1954, since he based it on a screenplay manuscript he had written even earlier. The film’s producers had originally intended to film For Your Eyes Only, but instead chose this title due to the rise of the science fiction genre in the wake of the Star Wars phenomenon. Budgetary issues caused the film to be primarily shot in France, with locations also in Italy, Brazil, Guatemala and the United States. The soundstages of Pinewood Studios in England, traditionally used for the series, were only used by the special effects team.
Moonraker was noted for its high production cost of $34 million, almost twice as much money as predecessor The Spy Who Loved Me, and it received mixed reviews. However, the film’s visuals were praised with Derek Meddings being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and it eventually became the highest-grossing film of the series with $210,300,000 worldwide, a record that stood until 1995’s GoldenEye.
A Drax Industries Moonraker STS-like space shuttle on loan to the United Kingdom is hijacked in mid-air and the MI6 operative James Bond, agent 007, is assigned to investigate. En route to England in a small charter plane, Bond is attacked by the crew and pushed out of the plane by the mercenary assassin Jaws. He survives by stealing a parachute from the pilot, whilst Jaws lands on a circus tent.
Bond proceeds to the Drax Industries shuttle-manufacturing complex in California where he meets the owner of the company, Hugo Drax, and his henchman Chang. Bond also meets Dr. Holly Goodhead, an astronaut, and survives an assassination attempt via a centrifuge chamber. Bond is later aided by Drax’s personal pilot, Corinne Dufour, as he finds blueprints for a glass vial made in Venice. Bond then foils another attempt on his life, using a hunting shotgun to shoot a sniper. Upon discovering that Dufour assisted Bond’s investigations, Drax has her killed.
Bond again encounters Goodhead in Venice where he is chased through the canals by Drax’s henchmen. He discovers a secret biological laboratory, and by accidentally poisoning the scientists there, learns that the glass vials are to hold a nerve gas deadly to humans, but harmless to animals. Chang attacks Bond and is killed, but during the fight, Bond finds evidence that Drax is moving his operation to Rio de Janeiro. Rejoining Goodhead, he deduces that she is a CIA agent spying on Drax. They promise to work together, but quickly dispense with the truce. Bond has saved one of the vials he found earlier, as the only evidence of the now-empty laboratory, giving it to M for analysis, who permits him to go to Rio de Janeiro under the pretence of being on leave.
In Rio Bond meets his Brazilian contact Manuela. Drax hires Jaws to finish Chang’s job of eliminating Bond. Bond meets Goodhead at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, where they are attacked by Jaws on a cable car. After Jaws’ car crashes he is rescued from the rubble by Dolly, and the two fall in love. Bond and Goodhead are captured by henchmen, but Bond escapes and reports to an MI6 base in Brazil and learns that the toxin comes from a rare orchid indigenous to the Amazon jungle. Bond travels the Amazon River looking for Drax’s research facility and again encounters Jaws and other henchmen; a speedboat chase develops. Bond escapes from his boat just before it hits the Iguazu Falls, and finds Drax’s base. Captured by Jaws again, Bond is taken to Drax and witnesses four Moonrakers lifting off. Drax explains that he stole the loaned Moonraker because another in his fleet had developed a fault during assembly. Bond is reunited with Goodhead; they escape and successfully pose as pilots on the Moonraker 6 shuttle. The shuttles dock with Drax’s space station, hidden from radar by a cloaking device.
Once on board the station, Bond and Holly disable the radar jamming cloaking device, resulting in the United States sending a platoon of Marines to intercept the now-visible space station. Jaws captures Bond and Holly and brings them to Drax.
Drax plans to destroy human life by launching fifty globes containing the nerve gas into the Earth’s atmosphere. Before launching them, Drax also transported several dozen genetically perfect young men and women of varying races to the space station in the shuttles. They would live there until Earth was safe again for human life; their descendants would be the seed for a “new master race”. Bond persuades Jaws and Dolly to switch their allegiance by getting Drax to admit that anyone not measuring up to his physical standards would be exterminated. Jaws then attacks Drax’s guards, and a laser battle ensues both inside and outside the space station. Drax’s guards and his master race are all killed. During the battle, Bond shoots Drax with a cyanide-tipped dart, then pushes him into an airlock and ejects him into space.
To destroy the three already launched globes and return to Earth, Goodhead and Bond use Drax’s personal Moonraker 5 shuttle to fire lasers at the globes, while at the same time observing Jaws and Dolly escape from the disintegrating space station.
Initially, the chief villain, Hugo Drax, was to be played by British actor James Mason, but once the decision was made that the film would be an Anglo-French co-production under the 1965–79 film treaty, French actor Michael Lonsdale was cast as Drax and Corinne Cléry was chosen for the part of Corinne Dufour, to comply with qualifying criteria of the agreement. American actress Lois Chiles had originally been offered the role of Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), but had turned down the part when she decided to take temporary retirement. Chiles was cast as Holly Goodhead by chance, when she was given the seat next to Lewis Gilbert on a flight and he believed she would be ideal for the role as the CIA scientist. Drax’s henchman Chang, played by Japanese aikido instructor Toshiro Suga, was recommended for the role by executive producer Michael G. Wilson, who was one of his pupils. Wilson, continuing a tradition he started in the film Goldfinger, has a small cameo role in Moonraker: he appears twice, first as a tourist outside the Venini Glass shop and museum in Venice, then at the end of the film as a technician in the US Navy control room.
The Jaws character, played by Richard Kiel, makes a return, although in Moonraker the role is played more for comedic effect than in The Spy Who Loved Me. Jaws was intended to be a villain against Bond to the bitter end, but director Lewis Gilbert stated on the DVD documentary that he received so much fan mail from small children saying “Why can’t Jaws be a goodie not a baddie”, that as a result he was persuaded to make Jaws gradually become Bond’s ally at the end of the film.
Diminutive French actress Blanche Ravalec, who had recently begun her career with minor roles in French films such as Michel Lang’s Holiday Hotel (1978) and Claude Sautet’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film nominee, A Simple Story (1978), was cast as the bespectacled Dolly, the girlfriend of Jaws. Originally, the producers were dubious about whether the audience would accept the height difference between them, and only made their decision once they were informed by Richard Kiel that his real-life wife was of the same height. Lois Maxwell’s 22-year-old daughter, Melinda Maxwell, was also cast as one of the “perfect” human specimens from Drax’s master race
by simon schofield