Tuesday, 1 November 2011

BlogalongaBond #11 - Moonraker (1979)

(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Moonraker, May 2003)

Moonraker is, by a significant margin, the most beautiful Bond movie thusfar. There are two reasons for this. The first is a function of the story. This outing's evil mastermind is a totalitarian eugenicist determined to purge the earth before re-populating it with beautiful people and their progeny. The upshot of this barefaced ingenuity is that there is no clumsy parallel narrative needed on which to hang the pageant of attractive young women that are paraded through the lens as if on a Milanese catwalk. None of that 'girls suffering from allergies' nonsense as used in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The second is the quite breathtaking location photography of DoP John Tournier. There is not only the exquisite autumnal light outside in the grounds of (various) chateaux in Seine-et-Marne, but also the cool but not bleaching light within Drax's 'reconstructed' 18th century domicile. It's the same quality of light from a fortuitously cerulean sky over Venice that makes the canals and the double visit to St. Mark's Square so lovely (despite the infantile hover-gondola business). Yet more than that their framing and depth, the shots place the subjects in the midst of an urbanity that is instantly dismissive of any cynicism that might make us bend an ear to Drax's argument. It goes on: the sprawl of Rio, as vibrant a tumbling landscape as the Carnival into which Bond subsequently plunges for answers; the silent Mayan pyramid in Guatemala, breathtaking in a way that the gaudy, nylon jump-suit populated space ranch can never be.

There's also ingenuity in the shots (so that the only matte-backed sequence I could see is the cable car fight above Rio). The super, pre-title sky-diving stunt works not because of the exchanges or choreography but because of the simple authenticity of the act. When Bond survives the Paraná River waterfall the audience gasps not at the inevitable pocket para-glider but at the scale of the sight as the camera pans wide. In an act of unwitting solidarity, at the end of this sequence Moore's Bond throws away his helmet like an empty crisp packet - the kit is disposable, anonymous.

Best of all is one of the few handheld sequences, as Corinne Cléry's treacherous PA is chased into the woods of Drax's chateau by his dogs. Partly borrowed from Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970), the sequence doesn't fetishise the drama but gazes romantically after the doomed woman at light breaking through the trees, turning up towards them in pity as the dogs finally strike.

All this dreamy photography, egged on by John Barry at his most expansive (and giving Shirley Bassey the most romantic of her three Bond title songs) acts as a pheromone strike. The entire cast are preoccupied with sex to the extent that Bond doesn't even have to try to seduce the other two of his three conquests. Here is a film in which one of the chases fails to disturb a couple trysting on a gondola, a senior Russian diplomat's cameo includes his squeeze, even Jaws gets lucky... and there wasn't even time to show the space station's sex room in the final cut. Talking of superfluous scenes, the snake fight at the shuttle launching lair feels clumsy but serves as a Bond-as-Adam defeating the snake in the garden of Eden tableau. No, Bond isn't having any of this chastity nonsense, whether Drax, M or even God is calling the shots. He's always successfully attempting re-entry, cheeky monkey...

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