Moonraker’s 35th: when outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

June marks the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer. Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967′s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit. This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981′s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

A Bond for all seasons; how 007 endures

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming


By Nicolás Suszczyk

Who was the best James Bond? Which is the Best Bond film?

We often ask and we often fight in boards, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. Want to know my answer? Pierce Brosnan and GoldenEye. Still, I get along with every Bond and every film very well, despite those I don’t like very much, i.e. Quantum of Solace.

But besides many people are a child of their generation or relate to their favorite Bond actor/film to his first memories, there are many reasons to consider every 007 film was great and every Bond actor was unique. They represented a particular time in society.

Back in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most “hated” newcomer James Bond -– mainly thanks to the Internet and the famous CraigNotBond.com site. We can remember Daniel wasn’t only criticized for his looks but for representing an opposition to the style set by Pierce Brosnan in four James Bond films, a style reminiscent to the Roger Moore era with typical “save the world” and “get the girl” plots with a pinch of drama.

But Craig promised a grittier and tougher Bond, his muscular body giving us a hint of that, and fans couldn’t really get it.

It is funny to see what happens now, with Daniel Craig being established as a successful 007 after three films: Casino Royale, his follow-up Quantum of Solace and the Academy Award winning Skyfall, also the most successful Bond film to date. Now there are lots of people out there blaming the Pierce Brosnan era calling his Bond “weak”, “without charm” and with “stupid plots”.

This makes me think and evaluate every Bond and Bond film not as standalone plots or just thinking about the actor, but going beyond the film and actor and thinking of the sociopolitical/cultural era they were released. Why does Bond battle a media-tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies? Why does Bond go to outer space in Moonraker? Why the Miami Vice-style villains and plot in Licence to Kill?

The answer is simple: the era in which the film was released.

It’s perfectly logical Bond has to face a guy like Franz Sánchez: his American friend works with the DEA, he was captured and tortured, his wife killed, Bond seeks revenge on his own –- and obviously, Auric Goldfinger won’t be his villain, he’ll have to face a ruthless drug dealer with his butchers. The same way a man obsessed with increasing his value of gold won’t be a drug dealer in 1964. In 1989, you could obviously expect plots like Miami Vice or Die Hard.

Of course, if Star Wars rings a bell to you, then you’d understand why 007 went to outer space in 1979, the same way in 1997 communications and technology were involving every day and you could create a war using mass media – oh, by the way, remember how the media was involved in the Gulf War from the 1990s?

Ian Fleming began writing his novels in the early ‘50s and the Broccoli-Saltzman duo adapted the plots to the ‘60s, respecting the standards set by the British spy, journalist and author, but making them suitable for the time we were living.

That’s why Goldfinger tries to irradiate Fort Knox and ties the secret agent to a laser beam instead of stealing the gold or using a buzz-saw. The same reason the guano plot from Dr. No the novel is no match for the rocket toppling the evil doctor plans in the 1962 film. And of course, the abundance of girls had to be there (the swinging ‘60s) in the first Bond cinematic adventure, instead of letting Honey Ryder being the only girl in the whole adventure.

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Fifty years later, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go straight the same way: they respect the origins of the character, but they also give a look at the times we’re living. Plenty of situations in Casino Royale and Skyfall were lifted from the Fleming books: Bond’s “death” at the end of You Only Live Twice with M’s obit, the Glencoe settings where Fleming tells us Bond was born, and 007’s decadent situation and re-shaped for duty just like at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.

We all have our hearts, people. Mine is, of course, with that first glance at the GoldenEye film and game and the cardboard Tomorrow Never Dies standee I came across at a shopping mall being a kid in the ‘90s. That was “James Bond” for me as today “James Bond” is what people see in Skyfall or what my parents or my uncle watched in the Roger Moore era (some of them still complaining about the few gadgets in Quantum of Solace).

But Bond was made for all seasons. Perhaps that’s why we all get the “James Bond Will Return” credit at the end of every film!

2014: numerous big 007 anniversaries

"Order plenty of Bollinger -- '55, of course."

“Order plenty of Bollinger — ’55, of course.”

We were reminded that 2014 will mark a number of significant James Bond film anniversaries. Thus, there’s more reason than normal for 007 fans to dip into their home video copies.

50th anniversary of Goldfinger. The first mega-hit for Agent 007.

45th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An early attempt to bring 007 back down to earth, but one that wasn’t judged a success by United Artists.

40th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun. A box office misstep after Live And Let Die set a worldwide 007 box office record (though not in the U.S. market).

35th annivesary of Moonraker. Producer Albert R. Broccoli’s extragant follow-up to The Spy Wh Loved Me.

25th anniversary of Licence to Kill. A controversial Bond entry that preceded a six-year hiatus for the series.

15th anniversary of The World Is Not Enough. Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 entry and a preview of attempts to bring a more dramatic take to the world of 007.

UPDATE: As reader Stuart Basinger reminds us:

60th anniversary of the CBS television broadcast of Casino Royale. The first, and so far only, adaptation to feature an American (Barry Nelson in this case) playing Bond.

50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s death on Aug. 12. 007′s creator passed away the month before the film version of Goldfinger’s U.K. debut.

And one more that’s related:
50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Debut of the series featuring Ian Fleming’s other spy, Napoleon Solo, co-created with television producer Norman Felton.

Will Bond 24 be Skyfall Part II?

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

The answer is almost certainly not. But some recent comments by Bond 24 scribe John Logan remind long-time 007 fans of history: on previous occasions, Eon Productions has followed up enormous Bond hits with more of the same.

The IGN website had a Jan. 17 story that quotes Logan, signed to write Bond 24 and Bond 25, about the next 007 movie.

“My goal is to write a great movie that’s appropriate, to build on what we did on Skyfall, but make it its own unique animal,” Logan said of the teams aspirations for Bond 24. “The themes, ideas and the characters from Skyfall can obviously continue on, because it is a franchise, and it is an ongoing story. So I think there’s resonance from Skyfall in the new movie.”

Some history: 1965′s Thunderball was the biggest 007 hit of the 1960s, the decade the film series began. Eon followed it up with You Only Live Twice, which dispensed with most of the plot of the 1964 Ian Fleming novel. Instead, Eon came up with bigger set pieces and even had a SPECTRE woman assassin (Karin Dor) made up to look very similar to Thunderball’s femme fatale (Luciana Paluzzi).

In the 1970s, the future of the franchise was at stake. The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit in 1977 and Eon’s next outing was Moonraker, an even bigger spectacle. The former had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race to preserve the oceans; the latter had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race and repopulate it with a “flying stud farm” of perfect human specimens.

Skyfall, while having its share of spectacle, was more about introspection, inner emotions and the like. Based on Logan’s remarks, will viewers get even more introspection, even more inner emotions? Perhaps even flashbacks as Bond thinks back to the demise of M (Judi Dench)?

Obviously, few people have any idea what will happen next. Logan has made a tease, but that’s all it is. Still, it’ll be interesting to see when the movie comes out in the fall of 2015.

Peter O’Toole dies; his minor 007 connection

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O'Toole in 1967's Casino Royale

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O’Toole in 1967′s Casino Royale

Peter O’Toole has died at 81. His stellar career included one very, very minor James Bond connection: an unbilled cameo in producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

We’d try to explain, but it’s really not worth it. Feldman signed up a lot of famous actors for his over-the-top comedy. The producer opted to go the spoof route after being unable to cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli (a former employee) and Harry Saltzman, who held the film rights to the bulk of the Ian Fleming 007 stories.

O’Toole in various obituaries (including THE GUARDIAN, VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) understandably emphasized his role as the title character in Lawrence of Arabia.

That 1962 film, directed by David Lean, had a crew that would have a greater impact on the film world of James Bond: director of photography Freddie Young (You Only Live Twice), camera operator Ernie Day (who’d be a second unit director on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and special effects man Cliff Richardson, the father of John Richardson, who’d work special effects on several Bond movies.

Also, Spy’s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, included a snippet of Maurice Jarre’s main theme for Lawrence for a scene set in the Eyptian desert.

Happy 86th birthday, Roger Moore

rogermoore1

Oct. 14 is the 86th birthday of Roger Moore. It has been 28 years since his last James Bond movie, A View To a Kill. The mere mention of his name still can spur a spirited argument among 007 fans.

Moore starred in seven James Bond films from 1973 to 1985. To his admirers, he kept the series going at a time some people wondered if it survive the departure of Sean Connery. To his detractors, he’s the embodiment of an era that where the Ian Fleming source material was often dispensed with and the tone became much too light.

To this day, you will hear some people say things like, “I’m not sure you can count Roger Moore as James Bond.”

Moore’s 007 film debut, Live And Let Die had worldwide box office of $161.8 million. It was the first Bond movie to exceed 1965′s Thunderball and represented a 39 percent jump from 1971′s Diamonds Are Forever, the final Connery entry in the series produced by Eon Productions.

Live And Let Die wasn’t as big a hit in the U.S., where Diamonds still had bigger box office. What’s more, the 007 box office took a big dip with the second Moore entry, The Man With the Golden Gun. But things rebounded with 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me, and the series got back onto a regular schedule.

Almost three decades after hanging up his shoulder holster, Moore remains one of the best ambassadors for the Bond franchise. At various times, he has sung the praises of Connery, Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig. None of this, of course, means anything to the intense fan debates, which continue.

Meanwhile, in his public appearances, Moore comes across as a guy who’s still having a good time, particularly when the discussion turns to James Bond. It was once said that twice is the only way to live. Moore seems content to live well.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

June 2013 post: LIVE AND LET DIE’S 40TH: THE POST-CONNERY ERA TRULY BEGINS

May 2012 post: A VIEW TO A KILL, A REAPPRAISAL

2010 HMSS article: ROGER MOORE: A BOND FAN’S APPRECIATION

Peter Lamont working on a book about his film career

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, whose 007 art department career ran from Goldfinger through Casino Royale, is working on a book, according to THE WEB SITE OF TOMAHAWK PRESS.

The book is to be called The Man With The Golden Eye. Here’s the description:

The legendary Academy Award winning production designer Peter Lamont is finally opening up his archive for Tomahawk Press in a new book, co-written with Max Pemberton. Lamont designed 18 Bond films, and many of James Cameron’s films, including Titanic. Lamont’s iconic work provided the classy look for these films, and his contribution cannot be overstated.

In addition to being one of the world’s foremost production designers, Lamont is an extraordinary raconteur -– his stories providing new perspectives on the both the Bond franchise and James Cameron’s work. We cannot express how excited we are about publishing what we know will be an extremely important and beautifully designed book.

At this point, there aren’t further details but the publisher promises more as time unfolds.

Lamont, 83, worked on every 007 film of the Eon Production series from Goldfinger in 1964 (as a draftsman) to 2006′s Casino Royale, as production designer, with one exception. He skipped 1997′s Tomorrow Never Dies to work as production designer for the James Cameron-directed Titanic.

Lamont scored an Oscar for that film and was also nominated for 1986′s Aliens and 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me. On the latter, he worked as art director under legendary 007 production designer Ken Adam. After Adam left the Bond series for good following 1979′s Moonraker, producer Albert R. Broccoli promoted Lamont to production designer for 1981′s For Your Eyes Only.

For Lamont, the Bond series also was family business. His brother Michael Lamont and son Neil Lamont held art department posts on the Bond films.

Star Trek’s homage to Ken Adam

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

This weekend, the No. 1 in the U.S. is Star Trek Into Darkness. The movie references the original 1966-69 television series and one of the movies in the franchise. We’ll avoid specifics. But it also has an homage to veteran production designer Ken Adam, one of the major contributors to the early James Bond films.

Early in the new Star Trek film, there’s an emergency meeting of Starfleet captains and their first officers. The meeting room is clearly influenced by Adam’s “war room” set from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Do you suppose Ken Adam will get a royalty for this scene?

Do you suppose Ken Adam will get a royalty for this scene?

For the uninitiated, Ken Adam designed the sets for the modestly budgeted first James Bond film Dr. No. Producer-cirector Stanley Kubrick, upon watching the 1962 007 film, offered Adam the job to design the sets for Dr. Strangelove. The “war room” set is among the most memorable for that 1964 film.

Adam designed the sets for seven James Bond films in all, starting with Dr. No and ending with 1979′s Moonraker. He won TWO OSCARS and was nominated for another for 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me. Kubrick did some uncredited consulting work for Adam for the 1977 007 movie, according to the documentary Inside The Spy Who Loved Me.

`She’ll have our guts for garters!’

"Really, Mr. Bond...."

“Really, Mr. Bond….”


Margaret Thatcher, the first woman British prime minister, died April 8 at the age of 87. Her passing revived a debate about her political career and impact on the U.K.

Us? Besides all that we were reminded about her sort-of-appearance as a Bond woman in the person of actress Janet Brown (1923-2011).

The Bond movies, when producer Albert R. Broccoli was at the helm, avoided politics generally. We’d occasionally hear references to “the P.M.” or “the Prime Minister” for the U.K. or “the President” for the U.S. But you never saw the person holding the office, even from a rear or obscured view.

That changed in a big way with 1981′s For Your Eyes Only, which came out early in Thatcher’s tenure. After Bond (Roger Moore) wasn’t able to bring in a Cuban hitman alive for questioning, the Defence Minister proclaims, referring to the P.M., “She’ll have our guts for garters!” Few in the audience needed an additional explanation, given Thatcher’s reputation as a tough leader.

But the film’s ending, with 007 having successfully keeping a critical device out of Soviet hands, went where no Bond film had gone before.

Q sets up a satellite call between the P.M. to congratulate Bond herself. 007, after a rough mission, would prefer spending some quality time with heroine Melina (Carole Bouquet) and leaves his watch/communications device with Melina’s parrot.

Then, we see what’s supposed to be the exterior of No. 10 Downing Street. But this time, there’s no obscurred view. We see Janet Brown as Thatcher on the phone, thinking she’s congratulating Bond. For an added bonus, actor John Wells shows up as Thatcher’s husband, Denis.

It’s a slapstick sequence that stands out in a movie that made a concerted effort to be a “back to basics” 007 story after 1979′s Moonraker. The film’s long climatic sequence had been tense, so evidently Broccoli & Co. felt a longer laugh was called for. In any event, no Bond movie ever tried anything like this since involving an actual politician.

Anyway, here it is (at least until it gets yanked from YouTube):

Roger Ebert’s last 007 film review

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic, died on April 4 at the age of 70. Many publications and Web sites published obituaries about his life and his commentaries about movies.

His final review for a 007 film was, naturally, 2012′s Skyfall. You can read the entire piece BY CLICKING HERE. Here’s an excerpt:

In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the disappointing “Quantum of Solace” (2008) still in our minds, “Skyfall” triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever made. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played well in “Casino Royale,” not so well in “Quantum”–although it may not have been entirely his fault. I don’t know what I expected in Bond #23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating.

(snip)

M is not quite ready to retire, and “Skyfall” at last provides a role worthy of Judi Dench, one of the best actors of her generation. She is all but the co-star of the film, with a lot of screen time, poignant dialogue, and a character who is far more complex and sympathetic than we expect in this series.

(snip again)

During the early Bonds, did we ever ask ourselves about 007′s origins in life? The movie even produces a moment designed to inspire love in lifetime Bond fans: A reappearance of the Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger,” which remains in good operating condition, if you can guess what I mean.

Ebert had been the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 and a lover of movies long before that. For years, he and his rival critic, the Chicago Tribune’s Gene Siskel, had hosted television shows devoted to movies.

Here’s the opening the Siskel-Ebert At the Movies programs in 1983, 30 years ago, devoted to 007:

Siskel died in 1999 and Ebert penned A TRIBUTE to his long-running adversary in 2009. They may not have been exactly friends but nor were they enemies. Their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” verdicts on films were the dreams of the marketing departments of film studios. You can read the Sun-Times’s obituary of its long-time film critic by CLICKING HERE.

The balcony is now closed. It’s two thumbs down because we’re not likely to see the likes of either critic again.

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