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.

Case study: How your views of 007 films evolve

Original 007 gunbarrel logo with Bob Simmons subbing for Sean Connery.

Following the release of 2006’s Casino Royale, the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website commissioned an interesting project. It asked all of its contributors to score all of the Eon 007 films plus Never Say Never Again.

The scores were then assigned points and the various films ranked. It was a very detailed effort.

While HMSS has been offline since 2014, much of it has been preserved at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine website. And that includes the survey of HMSS contributors.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not linking to the survey. Anyone else who participated in that HMSS survey can speak up for themselves if they’d like. I’m just keeping this post to my own ups and downs with the Bond films.

Still, viewing my own comments in that survey, I can appreciate how feelings about different series entries can vary over time.

So, to begin with, my harshest rating (D) and comments were for Moonraker.

Roger Moore looks like he’s sleepwalking at times (though he has a couple of good scenes). The hovercraft scene almost ruins a decent chase scene in Venice. The outer space effects are OK but not up to Lucasfilm levels. Too jokey at times…Ken Adam and John Barry are again the real stars of the film.

I still dislike elements now that I did then (pigeons doing double takes, Jaws flapping his arms when his parachute malfunctions, less-than-subtle product placement for Marlboro, British Airways and 7-Up).

At the same time, I’m more accepting of what Moonraker for what it is. The film was incredibly ambitious in terms of spectacle (and was even more so in its first-draft script). And, looking back, I was too harsh on Roger Moore, though I thought his performance in For Your Eyes Only was better.

Put simply, I’m more forgiving of the movie for its flaws, more enthusiastic about its strong points.

For what it’s worth, my grade wasn’t the lowest in that survey. There were two D-Minus grades and an F.

Speaking of For Your Eyes Only, I had the highest grade in that survey for that film, an A.

“The opening scene at the cemetery clearly shows this film is going to be different than Moonraker,” I wrote at the time. “The quick end for Blofeld didn’t bother me that much, but as many fans, the line, ‘I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel’ makes me groan.”

I saw For Your Eyes Only again in a theater in 2017, part of a tribute to Moore after his death in May of that year. Viewing it again on a movie screen with an audience pretty much reinforced how I felt. Perhaps it was because the 1981 film seemed more in line with the Bond films of the 21st century.

Finally, one more: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Over the past 20 years or so, people have made the case for why this should be considered in the top three (or so) of Bond films.

My grade was B, which lagged the pack (there were four A grades and one A-plus).  What held me back was George Lazenby’s inexperience.

Extremely faithful adaptation of one of Fleming’s best. Lazenby’s inexperience is evident. On the other hand, would Connery have cried at the end? Diana Rigg is a major plus. Telly Savalas is OK as Blofeld. Probably Richard Maibaum’s best script for the series. Ken Adam is gone but not really missed. John Barry hits on all cylinders.

If pressed, I’d probably give it a higher grade today. Still, I don’t think it’d be the greatest Bond film if Sean Connery had done it.

Had Majesty’s been done for 1967 instead of You Only Live Twice, we wouldn’t have gotten Peter Hunt as director. We now know thanks to the book The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service details of various script drafts, including one that included an underwater Aston Martin.

Hunt being installed in the director’s chair after editing the first five Eon 007 films had a major impact. In a lot of ways, the 1969 version of Majesty’s was catching lightning in a bottle.

UPDATE: A recap of Bond 25’s writing process

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s gunbarrel

Updated and expanded from a September 2018 post.

In September, outlets (starting with Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail) reported that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have resumed work on Bond 25. But things still remain a bit in flux.

With that in mind, here’s a recap of how we got to this point.

March 2017: Bamigboye reports Purvis and Wade have been hired to write Bond 25.

July 2017: The hiring of Purvis and Wade is confirmed in an Eon Productions press release that announces a fall 2019 release date for Bond 25.

December 2017: Barbara Broccoli, in a podcast for The Hollywood Reporter says Purvis and Wade are still hard at work on Bond 25’s story.

February 2018: Deadline: Hollywood reports that Danny Boyle, under consideration to direct Bond 25, devised an idea with writer John Hodge. According to the entertainment news site, Hodge was writing up a script based on that idea. If the script would be accepted, then Boyle will direct.

March 2018: Boyle essentially confirms the Deadline story during a public appearance.

May 25, 2018: Eon announces that Boyle will direct Bond 25, which will have an “original screenplay” by John Hodge.

Aug. 21, 2018: Eon announces Boyle has left Bond 25. Hodge isn’t mentioned but the writer later confirms he, too, is no longer involved.

Sept. 6, 2018: The MI6 James Bond website publishes a story that a Hodge script “was a re-working of a draft completed by long-term series stalwarts Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.” and it is “now being touched up again with changes being made to reflect the wishes of the producers and Daniel Craig.” (emphasis added) This is a new twist, given how the May 25 press release didn’t mention Purvis and Wade.

Sept. 13, 2018: Bamigboye reports that Purvis and Wade have been re-hired to work on Bond 25. The story says a Purvis and Wade treatment had been approved by Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before Boyle and Hodge arrived. A treatment is like a detailed outline. It is not the same as a script draft with its dialogue and stage directions. Anyway, Bamigboye’s story is confirmed by Variety and Deadline: Hollywood. Like Bamigboye, those outlets say Purvis and Wade are turning their previous treatment into a full script.

As 2018 draws to a close, there are contradictions.  Is it possible that Hodge was working from the Purvis and Wade treatment and not a script draft? There are no clear answers.

Jan. 1, 2019: The Geeks Wordwide website publishes a story that American screenwriter-director Paul Haggis has contributed to Bond 25’s screenplay.

Haggis did the final drafts of 2006’s Casino Royale. He shared the screenplay credit with Purvis and Wade. The news excites some 007 film fans. Perhaps another Casino Royale is in the offing. Haggis also was a screenwriter for 2008’s Quantum of Solace (where the credit was also shared with Purvis and Wade).

Feb. 16, 2019: The Playlist carries a story saying that American screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has been hired to do an “overhaul” for Bond 25 and he’ll be spending a total of at least four weeks and be well paid. According to this story, Haggis’ work either didn’t register or was dispensed with.

Regardless, we’re now up to at least five writers who’ve been reported to be involved in the writing — Purvis, Wade, Hodges, Haggis and Burns.

That’s hardly a record for a Bond film. The Spy Who Loved Me had around a dozen scribes, with two (Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum) getting a credit and the rest not.

Both Moonraker (Christopher Wood) and Tomorrow Never Dies (Bruce Feirstein) had only one credited screenwriter while numerous others did some work.

There are many unanswered questions. Is any of Hodges’ work being used, or was that pitched when Boyle left? Also, what does “overhaul” mean? Four weeks doesn’t seem like sufficient time to devise a completely new story, though it may mean significant changes for the existing Bond 25 script.

We’ll see what happens.

About Eon’s lack of a long-term plan

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Over the weekend, I read complaints by friends on social media about the 007 film series.

One cited how Eon flipped the order of filming You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The other cited SPECTRE, the most recent Bond film made by Eon Productions.

Neither friend knows the other. The thing is, both complaints reflected the same thing — Eon isn’t known for its long-term planning.

When Eon launched the series, it initially intended to adapt Thunderball, the then-newest Ian Fleming novel. Richard Maibaum cranked out a script before Eon cast its Bond actor (Sean Connery).

But there were legal issues so plans shifted to starting with Dr. No. For the next entry, Eon opted for From Russia With Love, even though that novel preceded Dr. No.

That wasn’t a big deal at the time. But the OHMSS-YOLT switch was more of a problem. The novels were very connected. Bond is a broken man in the Twice novel because of how Majesty’s ended. But that went by the wayside for a variety of reasons. Still, that wouldn’t have occurred if a long-term plan had been in place.

For some Bond fans (including one of the aforementioned friends), that was a major missed opportunity.

With SPECTRE, the tale is even more complicated.

Quantum is better than SPECTRE. What’s that? Uh, never mind!

Screenwriter John Logan sold Eon on a two-film story, something Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced in November 2012. But star Daniel Craig vetoed that approach. So Logan retrenched. Eventually, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to rewrite Logan’s script.

At one point, Logan’s scripts had Blofeld as an African warlord or a woman. After Purvis and Wade got through with it, there was a more traditional Blofeld. However, in the final version, Blofeld was also Bond’s foster brother — pretty similar to how Dr. Evil was the brother of Austin Powers.

Just a guess, but that wouldn’t have been the case with long-term planning.

Over the decades, there are other examples.

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the audience was promised that For Your Eyes Only would be the next entry in the series. But with the popularity of the first Star Wars film, Eon grabbed the only Fleming title with a rocket theme (Moonraker) as the starting point for its next production.

In the 21st century, Eon’s brain trust talked about how SPECTRE was passe and how the new Quantum was more sophisticated. Then, Eon got all the rights that had been held by Kevin McClory. Suddenly, SPECTRE was the No. 1 villainous organization again.

Regardless of your opinions about the individual films involved, it’s pretty clear Eon has never had a long-term footprint. SPECTRE was a belated attempt to tie the four Daniel Craig films together.

That doesn’t make individual entries bad. Still, the lack of a long-term plan still has an impact on Eon’s 007 film series.

Update: Moonraker concert doesn’t appear likely

Moonraker teaser poster

An effort to produce a Moonraker music concert is struggling as it nears its deadline.

As of early May 3, ticket sales of 6,085 British pounds had been generated, against a goal of 60,000 pounds, according to the Indiegogo page with details about the project.

Promoters wanted to hold the concert of Moonraker’s score on Jan. 26, 2019 in the U.K. in connection with the film’s 40th anniversary.

The deadline is May 6. If enough tickets haven’t been sold by then, ticket purchases are to be refunded.

A reader passed along a May 2 e-mail from the promoters. An alternate, smaller-scale program may be in the offing.

The intention is to keep the venue booked and although we won’t be able to keep a 100piece orchestra and do Moonraker (this time), I will be putting THE biggest Q The Music Orchestra together yet that night – with around 35 musicians including live Strings, and we will be doing several cue medleys including Goldfinger, A View To A Kill, as well as Flight Into Space, Capsule In Space and of course our fave: Backseat Driver. We will be doing some new ones too: medleys from The Living Daylights, Live And Let Die & The Spy Who Loved Me.
(snip)

I very much hope to get the Moonraker, and indeed other Barry/Bond scores, back on the agenda further down the line and thank you once again for trying to make this amazing project happen.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

Effort underway to launch a Moonraker concert

Moonraker teaser poster

There’s an effort underway to get a U.K. Moonraker concert off the ground for the 40th anniversary of the extravagant James Bond film.

Here are some of the details from an Indiegogo page.

The James Bond fans of the World have often lamented the inability to be able to hear one of John Barry’s most beautiful Bond scores – that of Moonraker – in isolation, and complete.

Performed by a 100 piece Orchestra and Choir, this will lovingly bring the score from Moonraker to life.

26th JANUARY 2019 @ The Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe, Bucks, UK

This will be a complete one off opportunity and will not be recorded.

The promoters have set a goal of selling 60,000 British pounds worth of tickets. As of late April 20, New York time, 5,735 British pounds of tickets had been sold. Ticket prices range from 50 pounds each to 250 pounds each for a VIP package.

“Basically, if we don’t sell enough tickets, the concert doesn’t go ahead and you get refunded,” according to the website. “Donations are welcome, but not expected at all.” The deadline to meet the sales goal is May 6.

Moonraker, the 11th 007 film, had everything from Bond falling out of a plane without a parachute to a battle in outer space. John Barry, who established the 007 music sound in the early 1960s, was more than up to the task of scoring the movie.

Lyrics for the title song were written by Hal David, who had collaborated with Barry on the song We Have All the Time in the World for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

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.”