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007 follows the crowd
on January 10, 2004
In the 60's, the James Bond team were innovators who inspired a slew of imitations, everything from Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies and TV's "Man from U.N.C.L.E" to Richard Burton's anti-Bond in "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold." But as the 70's dawned, Bond was showing signs of fatigue. With 1979's "Moonraker," 007 admitted defeat to the science-fiction boom led by "Star Wars," a film whose special-effects team included John Stears who won an Oscar for "Thunderball," and became an imitator himself.
Sending her majesty's top secret service agent into space wasn't necessarily a bad idea, but it indicated that the series was repeating itself, exhuming ideas leftover from "You Only Live Twice" (in which Bond almost became Buck Rogers). Worst of all, it acknowledged that the cutting edge in the cinema of the fantastic no longer belonged to 007 but to "Star Wars," a film that would lead to a series that rivaled Bond at the ticket windows. (The Bond team had already acknowledged the emergence of Steven Spielberg by naming one of "The Spy Who Loved Me"'s villains after the killer shark blockbuster of 1975, and Richard Kiel's reappearance here is another example of the series cannibalizing itself.)
What really sinks "Moonraker" is the humor. No longer merely tongue-in-cheek, it was now pie-in-face, a mistake the producers acknowledged themselves by returning to a more sober thriller mode for the next film ("For Your Eyes Only") despite the fact that "Moonraker" became the first film in the series to surpass the record box-office take of 1965's "Thunderball" (which remains, as its ad campaign claimed, "The Biggest Bond of All" when inflation is taken into account). In addition to the dopie love interest for "Jaws," the film pays humorous homage to "The Magnificent 7" and Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, and the result is a Bond film that seems to be imitating Bond's own imitators, especially the Matt Helm series.
Even though this is one of the worst Bond films, it can't be dismissed out of hand. As usual, the production values are top-flight, Roger Moore's skin was still tight (the fall became noticeable in "Octopussy"), and John Barry's score is memorably haunting. For 007, this is the pits, but it still makes for good entertainment.