"Moonraker," the newest James Bond spectacle, is a cheerful, splashy entertainment. The curators of the Bond museum do not surpass themselves with this exhibition, the 11th in the series, but they haven't fallen down on the job either."Moonraker" is a satisfying blend of familiar ingredients, from the highly polished to the barely adequate.
The stunwork, Ken Adam's elegantly cavernous sets and Maurice Binder's brilliantly erotic titles epitomize the high end of the scale. The casting of Lois Chiles as the heroine proves once again that producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli is no stickler for quality control across the board. Indeed, his taste in feminine foils for Roger Moore's suddenly worn-looking Bond continues to defy analysis. The awkward Chiles gets a lead while the far more attractive and adept Corinne Clery, who starred in "The Story of O," gets knocked off in the second reel.
Moonraker is a space shuttle which is hijacked on a flight bound for London. The transport plane is mysteriously destroyed, as far as the British Secret Service can tell. The case is entrusted to Bond, and the trail quickly leads him to another wealthy megalomaniac, a spacecraft manufacturer named Hugh Drax, played with intimidating banality by the French actor Michael Lonsdale.
Drax's predictable aspiration is world conquest. He plans to destroy human life and repopulate a purified Earth with a hand-picked colony of desirables. If it's any consolation, he's not a racist. He appears to prefer the tall, the fit and the beautiful, perhaps an understandable bias in a tyrant short, flabby and plain.
The movie begins with a succession of highs that put one in a receptive mood - and later make the lows and lulls seem even more disappointing. Following the Moonraker caper, Bond enters in an exciting sequence of free-fall stunts when he's shoved out of a plane without a parachute and contrives to snatch one from a villain on his way down.
Although not as staggering as the fantastic ski jump that launched "The Spy Who Loved Me," the free-falling is splendid photogenic stuff. But the Bond second unit seems more comfortable on the water. "Moonraker" has speedboat chases in Venice and Central America that fail to improve in any perceptible way on the chases in "From Russia With Love" and "Live and Let Die."
I'm not sure why the hitch persists, but the big action sequences in "Moonrakers" frequently fail to pay off as strongly as their initial, ingenious circumstances lead one to anticipate. A fight between Moore and Richard Kiel as the haulking, indestructible menace "Jaws" atop a cable car headed for Rio's Sugar Loaf seems spine-tingling in conception. But the idea goes a bit flat when the performers begin a slow-motion wrestling match on the mock-up.
The climactic battle sequence has marvelously eerie, original possibilities. A detachment of U.S. Space Marines must assault Drax's orbiting fortress, and the combat begins in the void of outer space. The results aren't as impressive as the underwater battle in "Thunderball" or the sensationally choreographed and sustained attacks on underground frotresses in "You Only Live Twice" and "The Spy Who Loved Me." The armor, weaponry and tactics appropriate to combat in outer space could stand some refinement, but the idea seems so promising that the Bond team should probably take it back to the drawing board for a more spectacular encore one of these years.
Binder's glorious titles use the free-falling as a primary visual motif. The effect of nude silhouettes continuously vaulting, tumbling and hurtling through space is reminiscent of the lyrical diving sequences in Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympiad." Binder's greatest variation is a silhouette that goes skimming straight across the screen from right to left. Woman as jet! It's a shame that Binder's streamlined designs aren't sustained as astutely in the writing, casting and editing as they are in Adam's settings.
The Bond-series ladies have included an occasional knockout like Ursula Andress or a top-flight actress like Diana Rigg. But why occasionally? The selections are more often dubiously decorative than impressive. If actresses of the caliber of Jane Fonda of Shirley MacLaine had been recruited once in a while, it might have fixed many of the films more firmly in one's memory and affections. And it might have made it easier for both Sean Connery and Roger Moore to loosen up while pretending to be lady-killers.
Since the series promises to go on indefinitely, there's still time for improvement. Perhaps the projected return of Connery as Bond for a rival producer may inspire Broccoli to do a little more classing up of the act. Nevertheless, it remains a consistenly enjoyable, amusing act. CAPTION: Picture, Lois Chiles and Roger Moore in "Moonraker"