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.

Lewis Gilbert, an appreciation

Lewis Gilbert (right) with Albert R. Broccoli, Roger Moore and Lois Chiles during filming of Moonraker

Lewis Gilbert, coming off producing and directing Alfie (1966), was not the most obvious candidate to direct a James Bond movie.

Alfie was a comedy-drama about the emptiness and consequences from pursuing a lifestyle purely for your own enjoyment. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.

You Only Live Twice, the 1967 007 film Gilbert signed on for, by contrast was a huge, sprawling film. It teased the possibility of sending James Bond (Sean Connery) into space. It featured a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, with a squad of Japanese Secret Service ninjas squaring off against the minions of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Subtle, it wasn’t.

Yet, Gilbert, with a varied resume of films, was up to the challenge. The movie did away with the plot of Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel. In its place was a thrill ride.

You Only Live Twice promotional art, which provides an idea of the movie’s spectacle

“Well, I was a bit dubious at first,” Gilbert said on an installment of Whicker’s World, the BBC documentary series while the movie was in production in Japan.

“I must say in this case the two of them (producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), they’ve been wonderful. They’ve let me come in with any ideas that could improve the Bond.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this picture that I could ask for that hasn’t been given,” the director continued. “I said today, ‘Look, I want 5,000 people flown in from Tokyo, I’m sure they would be flown in.”

You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the series, was a success despite how the 1960s spy craze was starting to wane. A decade later, Broccoli — his partnership with Saltzman now dissolved — came calling again.

This time, the project was The Spy Who Loved Me, the third 007 film with Roger Moore. The franchise was at a crossroads. The previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had a falloff in the box office compared with Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

Gilbert brought something of a fresh set of eyes having been away from Bond for so long. He decided Spy should play to Moore’s strengths and not have the actor try to copy Sean Connery.

Again, the movie would be epic: A tanker swallowed British, Soviet and U.S. submarines. A megalomaniac villain (Curt Jurgens) was out to end civilization and start over. Subtle it wasn’t.

At the same time, there was a moment of drama when Bond’s Moore admits to Soviet agent Anya (Barabara Bach) that he killed her lover while on a mission. It was a scene that caught a viewer’s attention amid the spectacle.

Spy was a huge success, revitalizing the series. So it was natural that Broccoli brought Gilbert back to direct Moonraker. The showman producer intended the film would be extravagant.

This time, a Bond film would complete was had been teased in Twice — Bond would go into space for a final showdown with another megalomaniac villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

The plot of Gilbert’s three Bond adventures are undeniably similar. But the spectacle overwhelms such concerns during viewing. It’s only until the films are over that fans debate such concerns.

When Gilbert emerged from Bondage, he continued directing, working into his 80s.

When news of his death emerged on Tuesday (he had died late last week at the age of 97), a new generation of directors expressed admiration for his work.

“RIP Lewis Gilbert, the great British director who, among his 40 plus credits, directed ‘Alfie’, ‘Educating Rita’, ‘Reach For The Sky’, ‘Shirley Valentine’ and one of my very favourite Bond films: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’,” Edgar Wright, the director of Baby Driver, wrote on Twitter. ‘”Why’d you have to be so good?”‘

“Lewis Gilbert, director of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, has passed away,” Peyton Reed, the director of 2015’s Ant-Man wrote, also in a Twitter post. “SPY was the first Bond film I saw in the theater. (And I have a tiny homage to MOONRAKER in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP.) Rest in Peace.”

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.”

Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

Longest-lived among 007 film creators

Lewis Gilbert b. 1920

Lewis Gilbert, director of three James Bond movies, celebrated his 97th birthday on March 6.

Among 007 film creators (and we’re talking behind the camera) who worked on multiple Bond films, he may be the one who enjoyed the longest life. Oswald Morris, who was co-director of photography for The Man With the Golden Gun (for interior scenes only) lived to be 98.

What follows is a partial list:

Lewis Gilbert (director, three films): 97 and counting.

Ken Adam (production designer, seven films): 95

Guy Hamilton (director, four films, including Goldfinger): 93

Syd Cain (art director, production designer, multiple films): 93

Albert R. Broccoli (co-founder Eon Productions): 87

Johanna Harwood (co-screenwriter, Dr. No, adaptation, From Russia With Love): 86 or 87 and counting

Peter Murton (production designer, The Man With the Golden Gun, had worked as art director under Adam on Thunderball): 85

John Glen: (director, five films): 84 and counting.

Richard Maibaum (screenwriter or co-screenwriter, 13 films): 83

Terence Young (director, three films): 79

Christopher Wood (screenwriter or co-screenwriter, two films): 79

Harry Saltzman (co-founder Eon Productions): 78

John Barry (composer, 11 films): 77

Peter Hunt (editor, director of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, editor five films): 77

Michael G. Wilson (screenwriter and producer multiple films): 75 and counting

Roald Dahl (screenwriter, You Only Live Twice): 74

Ted Moore: (director of photography or co-DOP, six films): 72

Ian Fleming (James Bond creator): 56

Meanwhile, outside of the Eon-produced series (and all one-timers):

Douglas Slocombe (director of photography, Never Say Never Again): 103

Charles Bennett (co-scripted 1954 Casino Royale on CBS): 95

Lorenzo Semple Jr. (writer, Never Say Never Again): 91

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, Spy was that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won. 

MI6 Confidential looks at Lewis Gilbert’s 007 films

A Moonraker poster

A Moonraker poster

MI6 Confidential’s new issue takes a look at the “Monorail Trilogy” of director Lewis Gilbert’s three 007 films: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979)

The publication says articles in the issue include new interviews with Gilbert, 95, and Ken Adam, 94, who was production designer on all three movies.

Gilbert’s three 007 films were spectacles, which included massive sets and big action sequences. Adam designed, among other things, SPECTRE’s volcano headquarters in Twice, a tanker that could capture submarines in Spy and an orbiting space station in Moonraker.

Issue 30 of the publication also includes an article on Richard Kiel (1939-2014), who played henchman Jaws in Spy and Moonraker, and a story about the poster artwork of Robert McGinnis.

For information about ordering, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros.