(1979) ** 1/2 Pg
126 min. United Artists Films. Directors: Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, Ernest Day. Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery.


High on the list of "it is what it is" movies, you'll find Moonraker, a James Bond picture that stars Roger Moore and climaxes by sending 007 into outer space. Now that Mike Myers has given the picture a thorough ribbing, it's easier to be a bit gentle with this curio. Handle it with care, and you'll find a family-friendly action picture that, while frequently cheesy, entertains in a good old-fashioned way.

As we all know, James Bond pictures have a fairly rigid formula, and if any given entry delivers its erotic babes, exotic locales, suave heroics, tricky gadgets and large-scale action, there's a floor on how low it can go. Some are campier than others, and Moonraker is among them, with the metal-toothed henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) lumbering after Bond and turning out to have the heart of Frankenstein's monster. The film's one unequivocal saving grace is the spectacular production design work of Kubrick and Bond veteran Ken Adam, whose brilliant space-age sets show a deep understanding of how to pleasingly fill the space of a widescreen frame (and, yes, retroactively conjure the film's parodic child The Spy Who Shagged Me).

In 1977, Star Wars forever changed the movie landscape, and the years immediately following that film saw a haevy-duty space fad in movies and television. It's a fad reflected in "Cubby" Broccoli's opportunistic choice to film Ian Fleming's Bond novel Moonraker, freely adapted to get Bond into a space station. The plot, such as it is, concerns Bond investigating the mid-air theft of a Moonraker space shuttle. The path leads to billionaire spacecraft industrialist Hugo Drax (the urbane Michael Lonsdale doing his deadliest deadpan), who's hiding a secret plan involving Aryan procreation in outer space, or something like that. The earth-bound globe-trotting aspect of the film is largely pleasing and in keeping with the series' style: Bond goes to California, Venice and Rio, where Bernard Lee puts in his last appearance as "M" (Lois Maxwell's administrative assistant Miss Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn's gadget-meister "Q" also appear).

Bond teams up with reluctant and punnily named ally Holly Goodhead (likeable Lois Chiles) to bring down Drax; other "Bond girls" include Corinne Clery, Emily Bolton, and Shirley Bassey, whose offscreen presence as the singer of the otherwise forgettable title tune adds a touch more class to the proceedings. In the category of action, the most memorable moment comes in the opening sequence, an impressively realized free-fall stunt involving Bond tumbling out of an airplane without a parachute. There's also an aerial fight atop a cable car, and lots of running around on the space station as the film nears its end (the pre-CGI model work and special effects hold up surprisingly well). It's unfortunate that Moonraker is so clumsily plotted and paced (and marred by excessive product placement). This Bond winds up being primo kids' stuff, but under-satisfying for adults.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio

Street date: 3/24/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Quite simply, Moonraker looks spectacular on Blu-ray. Even those who saw the film in theaters in 1979 will probably be gobsmacked at the clean up work done by Lowry Digital. Without doing any harm to the original theatrical look, the disc banishes the washed-out imagery we've come to associate with tired '70s prints, replacing it with a fresh picture that looks newly minted. Color and detail are excellent, and the special effects sequences look surprisingly good, as well, the only proviso being that wires are now sometimes visible in the weightless sequences. Audio is definitive, with two great options: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and original Dolby Surround 3.0 mixes.

The bonus features gather all of the extras previously issued on DVD for this title, and it's a terrific package. First, you'll find an audio commentary featuring director Lewis Gilbert, producers Michael G. Wilson and William P. Cartlidge and screenwriter Christopher Wood, and a separate audio commentary featuring Sir Roger Moore. Both are enlightening and entertaining (though time-consuming).

For a more concise look behind the scenes, there's "Inside Moonraker" (42:02, HD), a comprehensive making-of doc that includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (vintage), screenwriter Christopher Wood, executive producer Michael G. Wilson, director Lewis Gilbert, associate producer William P. Cartlidge, production designer Ken Adam, optical effects cameraman Robin Browne, visual effects supervisor Derek Meddings, aerial stuntman B.J. Worth, editor/2nd unit director John Glen, aerial stuntman Jake Lombard, Michael Lonsdale, Eon Productions former VP Marketing Charles "Jerry" Juroe, Roger Moore, Lois Chiles (new and vintage), Richard Kiel, camera operator Alec Mills, Desmond Llewelyn, stuntman Martin Grace, stuntman Richard Graydon, special effects man John Richardson, and visual effects cameraman Paul Wilson.

"The Men Behind The Mayhem" (19:00) introduces the special effects crew. These guys have a lot of fun blowing up stuff. Vintage promo "007 In Rio" (12:45) documents the Bond crew's arrival in Brazil. "Bond ’79" (12:18) assembles press interviews conducted with the cast in Brazil. "Ken Adam’s Production Films" (12:03) offer photography of the locations and sets narrated by Adam. "Learning to Freefall" (3:56) is test footage for the sky-diving sequence; we also get the self-explanatory "Sky Diving Storyboards" (1:21). "Circus Footage" (1:19) is a bit of outtake footage from the opening sequence. "Cable Car Alternative Storyboards" (3:33) demonstrates two different approaches considered for the action scene.
007 Mission Control includes the usual breakdowns of “007,” “Women,” “Allies,” “Villains,” “Mission Combat Manual,” “Q Branch” and “Exotic Locations.” We also get the "Theatrical Trailer" (3:41) and an extensive Photo Gallery.

Bond fans cannot afford to be without this definitive Blu-ray edition, available separately or in a 3-pack with Goldfinger and The World Is Not Enough.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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