CONTAINS THE TEDIOUS INEVITABILITY OF SPOILERS
With a new Bond movie heading into view this year, I've been steadily wading through Eon's back catalogue over the year so far, and have now arrived in the middle of the dreaded Roger Moore era. Now I like Roger Moore - a few years ago one of the ITV stations screened old episodes of The Saint and The Persuaders! and I thoroughly enjoyed them - but it's a sad fact that none of his 007 entries matched the level of my two favourites of Connery's tenure, You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger; or even On Her Majesty's Secret Service which, some iffy line readings aside, is a terrific piece of work.
Many regard The Spy Who Loved Me as the pinnacle of the Moores and probably the finest of the series as a whole. I disagree completely: to me it's a film that does absolutely nothing right and it's my least favourite Bond film with the possible exception of the deathly dull Thunderball. Mad multi-billionaire marine biologist Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) wants to wipe out the entire human race and create a new and beautiful world beneath the sea, and captures nuclear submarines to give him the means to start World War 3; Bond and Russian agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) team up to stop him. Cue the usual gallivanting round the world (Egypt, Sardinia), a car chase (the car turns into a submarine), a fight on a train with the indestructible Jaws (Richard Kiel), and a race against time to defuse a nuclear warhead. But Stromberg, the villain, is barely in it and isn't a particularly threatening or menacing adversary; nor does he even have a satisfyingly gruesome death at the end (being merely shot in the goolies under the dinner table).
More damaging than anything else is the absence of John Barry for only the second time in the series and of all the composers and musicians they could have picked they went for Marvin Hamlisch for a nauseating ballad and a completely inappropriate score that doesn't fit and has none of that indefinable essence of James Bond about it; of all the non-Barry Bond scores its' easily the least interesting. The few pleasures - another huge Ken Adam set, a nifty punch-up on a Cairo rooftop, and the undeniably impressive pre-credits ski-jump - are lost in the dullness of what is essentially a retread of the far superior You Only Live Twice with variable special effects.
Many people also regard Moonraker as incredibly stupid and absurdly far-fetched even by Bond standards. Which in this instance is true: it's a breathtakingly stupid film that sets a record for utter idiocy that wouldn't be even attempted until the invisible car and CGI windsurfing of Die Another Day. Mad multi-trillionaire industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) wants to wipe out the entire human race and create a new and beautiful world in outer space and has built a space station from which to look down upon his perfect new race; Bond and NASA/CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up to stop him. Cue even more foreign travel (California, Venice, Rio), a boat chase (the gondola turns into a speedboat which turns into a hovercraft), a fight on a cable car with Jaws and a race against time to destroy biological weapons.
Moonraker gets a lot of things right that The Spy Who Loved Me got wrong. John Barry's back and if his score isn't one of his best, it's still immeasurably better than Hamlisch's. The special effects are generally pretty good (particularly in the outer space sequences) and Drax is a far more interesting villain with far better lines. It's also better shot: perhaps because it's a UK-France co-production they ended up with a different DP and the film looks terrific. What sinks proceedings is the staggering comedy relief: the jokey music choices, nonsensical one-liners and particularly the embarrassing gondola-hovercraft sequence with its double-taking pigeon. While nothing in Moonraker is as fist-chewingly ghastly as the Margaret Thatcher skit at the end of For Your Eyes Only (the next in the series), absolutely none of the gags work for a microsecond.
While they're basically Bond films, I'd like the idea of global destruction and the annihilation of the human race to be treated just a tad more seriously. It doesn't have to be The Seventh Seal, but it doesn't have to be Carry On Up Your Apocalypse either. But that's probably because both films were written by Christopher Wood, author of the Confessions Of.... series and what he's done is to make them into Confessions Of A Secret Agent, with far too many silly and unsubtle gags (why does Bond keep punching Jaws in the face or kicking him in the knackers when he knows it doesn't have any effect?). There's no tension, no suspense in either film, some of the acting is little more than speaking the words aloud, and the back-projection is as shamelessly blatant as it was when Sean Connery clearly wasn't driving around Jamaica in Dr No.
There are moments in both films, moreso in Moonraker but they are still only moments. I like the fight in the glassworks, the centrifuge sequence, the death of Corinne Dufour, the pre-credits sequence where Bond is thrown out of an aeroplane without a parachute. But they're not enough. It's better than the Spy Who Loved Me but it's still not up to standard and it's leagues below the best of Connery.