When Star Wars hit cinemas 40 years ago this week, it changed the film industry forever. But as well as its long-reaching impact, in the immediate wake of its release, it also drove scifi into the moviemaking spotlight in a big way. Whatever could the James Bond series do to compete? Send 007 into space in the wildest way.
The tragic passing of Sir Roger Moore yesterday has us casting our minds back to Bond’s own attempt to capitalise on space mania after Star Wars rocked the box office. After The Spy Who Loved Me, series producers had intended to adapt For Your Eyes Only, but the enormous success of Star Wars prompted a change in direction, and so Moonraker was instead chosen for Moore’s fourth Bond film.
Except, despite the decidedly spacey title, Fleming’s original novel is not scifi at all—in fact, at the time of its release, it was infamous for being set entirely in England. Fans were annoyed at the lack of exotic locales in the book’s story, which revolved around turncoat industrialist Hugo Drax attempting to use a missile defense system he designed for the British Government to nuke London. The movie lifted the title, Drax as a villain, and then very little else, in order to make Drax’s plans for evil have some out-of-this-world scale... literally, because Moonraker decided to set its climax aboard a space station orbiting Earth.
What followed was one of the craziest suspensions of disbelief in Bond history, as Bond, his buxom companion Holly Goodhead, and even villain-turned-ally Jaws battled to stop the villain from launching nerve gas into Earth’s atmosphere... while the United States sent a platoon of Marines up to space to combat Drax’s henchmen in a zero-g laser gun fight.
It’s completely insane, and quite unlike anything Bond had ever attempted before—or likely ever will. Astronauts vs. fascists in a laser-strewn space battle would be absurd for a lot of franchises, let alone one as often more serious as James Bond, but it did it anyway. And it looked pretty damn cool, despite the absurdity.
Moonraker might not be the best Bond movie—it might not even be the best of Moore’s time with the Bond mantle. But all these years later, its goofy charm perhaps best represents the joyful camp that Moore brought to his role as 007, something we will always remember now that he’s gone.