Moonraker’s 40th: When outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

Moonraker poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

June marks the 40th 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. Today, that’s a pittance. Back then, it was a huge investment.

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.

Rave Reviews

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 (1924-2000) 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.

The final film bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1966 Dino De Laurentiis-produced Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. Both films feature a villain who feels Earth is getting over populated and is willing to go to extreme lengths to address that problem.

The 1966 film was also filmed in Brazil and arguably makes better use of the locations. However, during Moonraker’s release, Kiss the Girls was mostly forgotten and there wasn’t the kind of home video for viewers to compare the two movies.

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.

A Different Era

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.

Moonraker also is a symbol of a different 007 era.

Albert R. Broccoli only cared about entertainment. In the 21st century, Eon Productions has chased after Oscars and prestige, seeking out writers such as Peter Morgan and directors such as Danny Boyle (both of whom ended up dropping out of 007 film projects). You can’t image the current principals of Eon even attempting a Moonraker.

007 in New York exhibition opens

Ken Adam sketches shown at Spyscape in New York (Photo courtesy of Gary J. Firuta)

This weekend, the Driven: 007 x Spyscape, a James Bond exhibition opened up in New York.

The blog couldn’t make it for real-life reasons. However Gary J. Firuta, a friend of the blog, was present and sent some photographs.

Spyscape is a New York City spy museum. The Driven: 007 x  Spyscape exhibit was intended to provide “a different perspective in this brand new exhibition.”

“The multi-sensory experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5.”

The exhibit takes up five rooms at Spyscape. Over the past two weeks, a number of 007 fan sites indicated they’d be present for this weekend.

The exhibit’s debut came a little more than a month before the beginning of principal photography of Bond 25.

Lewis Gilbert, director of three 007 epics, dies

Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert (1920-2018)

Lewis Gilbert, who directed three of the biggest, most spectacular James Bond films, has died at 97, according to a tweet by the James Bond fan website From Sweden With Love.

Gilbert helmed You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). The three epics contained more less the same basic plot, where a villain is going to wipe out huge parts of mankind.

The films also utilized production designer Ken Adam to the fullest, including a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, a tanker that swallowed atomic submarines and a space station.

Gilbert wasn’t the most obvious choice to supervise such massive, escapist movies. The director’s first films in the 1940s were documentaries. During the 1950s and ’60s, he directed dramas or comedies such as The Good Die Young, Sink the Bismarck!, The 7th Dawn and Alfie.

The latter, released in 1966, was critically acclaimed. According to the documentary Inside You Only Live Twice, Gilbert initially turned down directing Bond but producer Albert R. Broccoli remained insistent until he got his man.

Twice was the first 007 film to totally dispense with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel as it instead tried to top its 1965 predecessor, Thunderball, for spectacle. It turned out not to be as big a hit as Thunderball but was still popular. The movie was overshadowed, to an extent, by star Sean Connery announcing he was through as Bond.

Gilbert directed other films until Broccoli came calling again. The producer had split with partner Harry Saltzman. This time, Broccoli only had a Fleming title with The Spy Who Loved Me.

By the mid 1970s, some questioned how much life was left in 007. The Man With the Golden Gun’s global box office had slid almost 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The Spy Who Loved Me would test both Broccoli and Bond’s box office appeal.

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The 10th James Bond film proved to be a big hit. Gilbert was brought back for Moonraker while Broccoli sought to make an even more extravagant film where Bond would go into outer space.

“Bond is just a huge entertainment, it isn’t just a normal film,” Gilbert told the BBC during filming of Moonraker in Rio. “It isn’t meant meant to be a great drama…It is pure escapism.”

Moonraker also delivered at the box office, although some fans complained the movie had strayed far beyond Fleming. Broccoli opted to bring Bond back to earth for For Your Eyes Only and the budget would be scaled back. Rather than retain Gilbert, Broccoli promoted editor-second unit director John Glen to the director’s chair.

Gilbert, though, didn’t lack for things to do. He directed six post-007 films, remaining active into the early 2000s. He wrote an autobiography, All My Flashbacks, that was published in 2010.

UPDATE (2 p.m. New York time): Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions issued a statement on the official James Bond website: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our dear friend Lewis Gilbert. Lewis was a true gentleman. He made an enormous contribution to the British film industry as well as the Bond films, directing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER. His films are not only loved by us but are considered classics within the series. He will be sorely missed.”

Gassner says he will be Bond 25’s production designer

Dennis Gassner told International Cinematographers Guild Magazine that he will return as production designer for Bond 25.

“I’m about to do my fourth James Bond film, and acknowledging the efforts of Ken Adam and others is a big part,” Gassner said. He said with franchise films ““you have to honor the established elements while meeting audience expectations.”

The ICG article primarily is about Blade Runner 2049.

Gassner, 68, took over as 007 production designer with 2008’s Quantum of Solace. He held the position with 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE.

Prior to Gassner, Peter Lamont had a long run as production designer starting with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and running through 2006’s Casino Royale. The only Bond film Lamont didn’t work on during that period was 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

The MI6 James Bond website earlier wrote about Gassner’s return as part of a roundup of recent Bond 25 news.

Below is a 2012 Skyfall video blog featuring Gassner describing his work on that film.

Roger Moore, 7-time film 007, dies at 89

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in 007 films in 12 years, has died at 89. His family announced his death via his Twitter account.

Moore died following “a short but brave battle with cancer,” according to the statement.

The actor was the third film Bond, following Sean Connery and George Lazenby.

During his tenure, from 1973 to 1985, the Bond films took a more lighthearted tone. But his films established, once and for all, the series could survive — and more — without Connery, the original film 007.

Moore’s first Bond film, 1973’s Live And Let Die, was an international hit. Its worldwide box office totaled $161.8 million, the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball’s $141.2 million. The U.S. box office was more modest, $35.4 million. That didn’t match the U.S. take for Connery’s Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever ($43.8 million).

Regardless, both Eon Productions and its feuding producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman along with studio United Artists were satisfied. Moore would continue.

The Man With the Golden Gun, released in late 1974, was a letdown with audiences, with the global box office falling 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The series, though, faced a larger crisis. The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership was about to fall apart because of Saltzman’s financial problems.

UA bought out Saltzman, leaving Broccoli in charge. But the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, would tell the tale whether 007 still had a future in the cinema.

The answer was yes. Spy had magnificent sets designed by Ken Adam, an Oscar-nominated score by Marvin Hamlisch and photography by the well-regarded Claude Renoir. Director Lewis Gilbert determined to play up the actor’s strengths. With Moore as the headliner,  James Bond once again was an undisputed hit.

The actor remained 007 for four more films. Eventually, Moore negotiated his Bond movies one production at a time. Broccoli would test screen potential replacements, including American James Brolin in 1982.

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

But Broccoli kept returning to Moore, long after the actor turned 50.

Moore returned for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. It was a much more grounded Bond outing following 1979’s Moonraker, which saw 007 go into outer space. The pre-credits sequence was filmed as if it the movie was intended to introduce a new Bond, with 007’s face not initially revealed.

Eyes was the first film in years to extensively use Ian Fleming story lines, utilizing two short stories from the author’s 1960 For You Eyes Only collection. While things beccame more serious, Moore showed himself up to the task.

Two years later, Moore was back again for Octopussy. Sean Connery was starring in a rival Bond film, Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball. Broccoli eventually went with Moore.

The 1983 movie was more uneven than Eyes. But Moore gave off a “I know exactly what I’m doing” vibe. The “Battle of the Bonds” generated big publicity but the actor appeared as if he were unfazed by it all.

Many fans felt Moore, now nearing 60, stayed for one 007 adventure too many with 1985’s A View to a Kill. Fans who never warmed to Moore — and there are some who’ve spent decades decrying the actor — felt vindicated. For those who enjoyed Moore’s performances, it felt like the end of an era.

For more than three decades, Moore continued to be the Bond franchise’s best ambassador. He expressed support for his Bond successors, Daniel Craig in particular. 

Moore lived to a ripe old age. So long, he outlived and said good-bye to a number of colleagues. Among them: director Guy Hamilton (who helmed his first two 007 films), Ken Adam and fellow actors Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee.

The actor, of course, did much more than Bond. He had become a star playing The Saint on television in the 1960s. He followed that up with another television project, The Persuaders, with Tony Curtis as his co-star. And he was a goodwill ambassador for years for UNICEF.

From a 007 perspective, he helped establish the longevity of the Bond franchise. As late as 1972, people could ask in all seriousness whether Bond could survive Connery’s departure. After Moore’s 12 years as Bond, that wasn’t a question anymore.

Here is the Twitter post from the Moore family:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

Why we mourn those we’ve never met

Chuck Berry, Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer

Over the weekend, we witnessed the passing of Chuck Berry, a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer (age 90); Jimmy Breslin, a distinguished columnist and journalist (age 88); and Bernie Wrightson, a notable comic book artist (age 68).

Their life details and accomplishments vary. But all three touched many. Social media was flooded with remembrances by fans.

A natural question is why so many can feel so intensely.

One answer is those involved touched many people. The passing of those who died this weekend somehow seems personal.

In a way, it is personal. Besides admiration for the accomplishments of the departed, there’s an additional layer of sadness. A piece of one’s own life has died. It is a reminder of one’s own mortality.

Baby Boomers likely are feeling this most of all. That generation is either in retirement age or approaching it. A weekend like this one is a reminder that Boomers are closer to the end than the beginning.

Here’s some context in terms of this blog and its primary subjects, the James Bond films and the spy entertainment generated by them.

In less than 12 months, we’ve witnessed deaths among the few remaining early key behind-the-camera contributors to the Bond film series (Ken Adam, Guy Hamilton). Among the “The Other Spies,” we’ve seen the death of Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

When the first screen Bond passes away — whoever it is, whenever it happens — there will be around round of mourning, one that will circle the globe.

This will only continue. It’s the way of the world.