Friday, September 28, 2012

Moonraker [1979]

By 1979, the James Bond series was quite hale and hearty.  The smash that was The Spy Who Loved Me had re-established the brand as one that was capable of mass global success; now, how to maintain the high?

The answer: outer space.  Seemingly prompted by the unprecedented success of Star Wars, EON Productions decided to jettison the plans to make For Your Eyes Only the next film in the series, and turned their attentions instead to the science-fictionally-conducive Moonraker.

The producers, of course, said that this would be less a case of "James Bond does science-fiction" than of "James Bond does science fact," but if you believe that, you believe silly things.  Speaking of which, remind me to tell you sometime about the wild night Maryam d'Abo and I shared back in 1994...

In any case, Moonraker was a truly out-there film, and remains such to this day.  How will that translate in terms of our trusty Double-0 Rating?

Let's find out.






(1)  Bond ... James Bond

On the whole, this was probably Roger Moore's weakest performance as 007 to date.  I blame this almost entirely on the fact that Moore is called upon to do remarkably little acting in the film; mostly, he just walks around and smirks at people, and while Roger Moore was great at both walking and smirking, is that really all you want out of your James Bond?  Me neither.

I'll also say that this was the first movie in which Moore's age really seemed to become a factor.  We'll get into that element of the series more over the course of the next few posts, but this, I think, is where the line was crossed somewhat.  Moore was 52 when Moonraker was released, and the fact of the matter is that while some 52-year-olds can still manage to not seem gross when putting the snog to actresses half their age, Roger Moore was kinda not one of them.  At best, he seems like a creepy old man; at worst, he seems like a deviant uncle or grandfather.

But we shouldn't hold that against Roger Moore; let's instead blame the producers.



A few of my favorite R.M. moments from Moonraker:
  • Line delivered to Drax during the pheasant hunt: "I doubt if I'm in your class," says Bond, clearly making a backhanded non-reference to his superiority, whereas Drax wrongly assumes he is being modest.
  • Line delivered immediately upon using an explosive watch to blast his way through a wall: "Bang on-time!"
  • Toward the end, when he is confronting Drax near an airlock, the bad guy has a gun trained on him.  Bond raises his hands in surrender, and fires a poison dart with his concealed wrist-bracelet of doom.  What's great about this is the way Moore uses the raising of his hands to subtly remind the audience that he's got the dart-shooter on; many of us will have forgotten, but will have just enough of a chance to remember before Drax gets blown away for the moment to be supremely satisfying.
Moore's best moments, though, are unquestionably during the centrifuge scene.  For those of you who may not remember it, what happens is this: Bond agrees to submit to a demonstration of a centrifuge, and is nearly killed when Drax's henchman takes over the controls, and cranks them well past the point of lethality.  Bond uses his trusty dark-bracelet to get himself out of the jam, and when he disembarks from the contraption, he is visibly shaken to the point of collapse.









Moore is flat-out great in this scene, which is surely one of the most human moments in 007's entire filmic history.  He plays the distress, he plays the valiant efforts to regain his inner core of suaveness, he plays the anger of nearly being killed; it's a great scene, so great that it almost seems incongruous in a goofy movie like this one.

Points awarded: 005/007.  I initially went a point lower, but remembering the centrifuge scene has convinced me to step it upwards a peg.

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  Here, we get Michael Lonsdale as Sir Hugo Drax, who is cut from more or less the same mold as was Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me: he's a homicidal genius billionaire who is apparently using his vast wealth to fund a secret operation designed to reshape the world in his image.




Happily, Drax is a much more compelling villain than Stromberg.  He isn't perfect, by any means; Lonsdale's performance, though good, is a bit on the laconic side, very much in the same vein as Joseph Wiseman's Doctor No.  No and Drax share the same lack of personality, but Drax's aims are so concrete (goofily insane though they may be) and understandable that he comes off as a much more capable and threatening fellow.

Drax's whole deal is that he's basically a more open-minded sort of Hitler.  He wants -- for no apparent reason -- to decimate the Earth's population and use a squad of genetically superior (i.e., attractive) Adams and Eves to then repopulate from the heavens above.  It's about as weird as such plans get; you've kinda got to just tip your hat to it.

Drax gets scads of great dialogue courtesy of screenwriter Christopher Wood.  Some of my favorites:

  • To a henchman, literally only seconds after meeting Bond for the first time: "Look after Mr. Bond; see that some harm comes to him."
  • To Bond, who has shown up amidst Drax's plots yet again: "You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season."
  • Again, to Bond: "Mr. Bond ...  You defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you."
While Lonsdale's lack of emotion might in some ways seem like a deficiency, if he had shown much in the way of a wink at the audience while delivering great lines like these, it would have tipped the entire movie over into sheer parody.  As is, it teeters on the verge, but hangs on tenaciously until the last credit has rolled.  Lonsdale deserves no small part of the credit for that.



 
Points awarded (Main Villain):  005/007.
 
Henchmen:  There are two primary henchmen in this film.  The first, Chang, was played by Toshiro Suga.




He sucks.  Apparently, he was Michael Wilson's judo instructor, or some such nonsense.  Enough said.

The second prominent henchman is Jaws, who returns for his second straight 007 film.  Unless I'm badly mistaken, this makes him the only villain other than Blofeld to appear in more than one movie in the series.

Obviously, the character was popular, but I remain convinced that he sucked.  This was not Richard Kiel's fault; Kiel, in fact, was quite good in the role (in both movies), and remains to this day a terrific visual element of the 007 films.





And I'll give Moonraker this: it has a better sense of how to effectively portray Jaws than did The Spy Who Loved Me.  Here, he is handled with a delicate mix of satire and terror throughout the film, as opposed to the sharp left turn he takes in his first go-round.  And the scene in which he is hiding inside a giant-headed clown mascot during Carnaval in Rio remains genuinely unsettling.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  003/007
 
Total points awarded (SPECTRE):  004/007  

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  I suspect a lot of Bond fans would think I'm a little bit nuts for preferring Lois Chiles to Barbara Bach; but hey, I work with what I've got, people, and apparently that's just how I see things.

First things first: Lois Chiles does not give a particularly good performance in Moonraker.  To be frank, she kinda sucks.  As Drax, Michael Lonsdale is seemingly draining as much emotion out of his performance as possible; as Holly Goodhead, Chiles is doing much the same thing, except it seems to be more out of lack of ability than out of intent.

That said, I rather like Goodhead as a character.  She's tough, she's an undercover CIA agent (seemingly pulled out of NASA so that she could be plopped down into Drax's organization), she's sexy.  She's one of the more capable of all the Bond girls up to this point, and the film actually puts some effort into demonstrating that fact, rather than merely saying it is the case and failing to show rather than tell (a sin The Spy Who Loved Me committed in its portrayal of Barbara Bach's Agent Triple X).









Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  004/007.  Not by any means one of the highlights of the series, but I think the good outweighs the bad.

Secondary Bond Girls:  During the era in Bond films spanning roughly 1977-1985, there was seemingly a concerted effort to pack the film as full as possible of model-calibre beauties.  I complained about this fact a bit as regarding The Spy Who Loved Me, and yet here, I'll praise it a bit, because it is actually integrated into the story.  More on that in a minute.

First, let's deal with the film's most prominent secondary Bond girl: Corrine Dufour, as played by Corinne Clery.




She's not much of a character, but Clery gives a good performance, and my goodness ... she was bee-YOO-tifull.  She's also a key component in one of the film's best sequences, but more on that later, too.

Now, for the bevy of babes that Bond bumps into in seemingly every other scene.  Let's just toss in a set of photos of them all as they show up in a scene toward the end of the second act:


Irka Bochenko

Anne Lonnberg

Catherine Serre (l) and Francoise Gayat (r)

Christina Hui (l) and Nicaise Jean Louis (r)

Chichinou Kaeppler (l) and Beatrice Libert (r)

 
Several notes need to be made at this point:
  • These are great costumes, apparently designed with the express goal of making boys from age 13 to at least 38 (ahem) feel convinced that boobs are going to fall out of them at any second.
  • No point in not admitting it: my favorite out of this group is Francoise Gayat, by a mile.  Homina-homina-homina...
  • Is "Chichinou Kaeppler" on the short-list of greatest names in recorded history?  If not, it should be.  Also, she looks like Counselor Troi, which is fine by me.
  • Two of these women freak me out, for reasons I shall leave unstated.  Hint: it's not the ones you think.
If it seems like we have descended into Objectification Minute, allow me to defend myself by stating that the movie clearly wants us to do exactly that.  And it's worth pointing out that in terms of the story, the second we begin lusting after this passel of babes, we've entered the same territory where Hugo Drax obviously lives.  The fact that this is a somewhat natural response to this movie in particular and James Bond movies in general makes the whole thing somewhat complex in a way that Bond movies -- certainly ones of this era -- tend not to be.  I don't immediately have anything more to say on the subject than that, but it seemed to be worth noting.

Also worth noting: Manuela, played by Emily Bolton, who is seemingly destined to be killed by Jaws, then isn't, but disappears from the movie anyways.  Very strange.




And what to make of Blanche Ravalec, who plays Dolly, Jaws's girlfriend?  Does she even count as a Bond girl?  Fuck, man; I dunno.




And then there are the seemingly hundreds of bikini-clad women dancing all over the place in Rio during the Carnaval sequences.  Do they count?  I don't know that, either, but they sure are jiggly, and because of the exotic -- and, from all accounts, highly accurate -- setting, they don't offend in the way they might have in a different context.

All in all, from a visual standpoint, this is a cornucopia for people who admire beautiful women.  I'm tempted to give the highest marks here, but I can't do it, because the movie fails to make any of the lovely lasses pop as individuated characters.  (Although, as we discussed, that is arguably the point.)  The only one who comes close is Corinne, and the illogic of her character's helping Bond invalidates that somewhat.  Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  005/007, somewhat reluctantly.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  004.50/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  First things first: the aerial stunts during the pre-credits sequence are easily among the most spectacular stunts ever filmed.  They were apparently filmed over the course of nearly ninety jumps, and while they are amazing in and of themselves, they are even more amazing when you consider the fact that the cinematography is great, AND that it matches the rest of the film!  How the hell do you light a sequence like that?  And how the hell do you maintain a continuity of lighting over the course of footage culled from that many different jumps?

This stuff is simply as good as stuntwork gets.






















Check out the stuntman playing Jaws; that guy is acting his fool ass off.  I love how nobody even bothered to ask him to put the metal teeth in, and yet this gentleman is acting as if they are in there, showing 'em off to the world!

This is madness of the highest variety, and as far as cinematic spectacle goes, what the hell else do you need?  Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 007/007.  Notice how I didn't even bother mentioning the rest of the movie.  There are other action scenes, some decent, some kinda not very good.  Doesn't matter; you pull some stuff like this off, you're perfect in my book.  So, hats off to Jake Lombard (James Bond), B.J. Worth (the pilot), and Ron Luginbill (Jaws): you fellas are badasses beyond belief.

Editing:  The editing in the movie comes courtesy of John Glen, and is mostly quite good.  I've got some serious issues with the way the pre-credits sequence comes to a conclusion: for one thing, it's about as silly as silly gets, so Glen was hampered right out of the gates as far as making it work goes.  But still, it feels as if the editing of it all lacks ... something.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say here; I think maybe some shots were needed to boost the thing a bit, and maybe Glen had no such shots to work with.  I dunno.  I'll shut up about it now.

A few additional notes about the editing:
  • The centrifuge scene works extremely well from an editing standpoint.  There are a couple of shots inserted into the scene that basically show Bond remembering the explosive-dart device on his wrist.  Unless I'm mistaken, this is perhaps the only time a Bond film has an editing moment like this one, in which shots are used to communicate to us what a character is thinking.
  • The edit from Corinne's murder to bells tolling in Venice is a bit heavy-handed, but it also works extremely well, especially within the confines of a comic-book-logic flick like this one.
  • The scene in which Bond is wrestling a python is ludicrous, and to the extent it works at all, the credit should go to Glen (and to composer John Barry).
  • The space battle sequences, and the sequence in which Bond and Goodhead race to destroy the death-carrying satellites, are edited crisply and efficiently, and make for good solid tension.

Points awarded (Editing): 005/007.  Solid, if mostly unspectacular, work.

Costumes/Makeup:  The only bad thing I would say about the costuming choices in this movie is that Dolly, Jaws's girlfriend, looks ridiculous, and that that weird padded headgear Drax's guards wear toward the end makes them look like refugees from a school for the developmentally challenged.  But the uniforms for teams of henchmen always look goofy; in one movie it might be yellow suits with padded headgear, in another it might be all Koreans wearing pajamas, in another it might be guys with orange gloves and orange hardhats.  In a way, you've got to admire it, and I kinda wish I had action figures for all of them.

Elsewhere, though, the costuming is (pardon me for repeating myself) of the solid-but-unspectacular variety.  Holly wears a lovely white nightgown in one scene, and Bond has a terrific white leisure suit when he arrives in Rio.




You've also got to love -- unless you don't -- the silly gaucho and gondolier outfits Moore wears at various points.  What a goober.





Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 005/007.

Locations:  I strongly considered basing my write-up for this category on the idea that I would try to fool you, the reader, into thinking that I, the blogger, was convinced that the outer-space scenes had been filmed in outer space.  I'd be basing this conviction upon the fact that in the credits, it specifies that the film was filmed in outer space.  Which it does.

It's a charming idea, and one that I'm going to hold onto for later use of some sort, but for today, let's let it be.  And the fact is, there's no need to resort to chicanery of that nature; the locations here are plenty stunning on their own merits, with no need for me to make shit up.

Among the stunning places visited:
  • The upper reaches of California, during the aerial-stunt sequnce.
  • Drax's chateau, which in actuality was the Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte near Paris.  This contributed some stunning interiors, as well as the majestic exteriors.
  • Venice.  Ah, Venice!  It could be argued that it looks better years later in Casino Royale, and maybe even in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but if so, it's not by much.
  • Rio.  Ah, Rio!  Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand.  Speaking of dancing, there sure is a lot of it going on during that Carnaval sequence, which is even better than a similar sequence in Thunderball.  This place looks like Mardi Gras on ecstasy, which is saying something.  Here's where I'm tempted to say, "You can't fake spectacle of that nature," but in many shots, the filmmakers did fake it, and they did a convincing job of it, too.
  • The cable-car sequence at Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain offers some genuinely awesome vistas.  I'm putting that on my list of places I'd like to visit at some point in life.  As opposed to visiting it in death, I suppose.  (Not so much with the writing skills today, apparently...)
  • There is a massive waterfall, which is a special-effects recreation in many shots, but is the real deal in many others.  These are the Iguazu Falls, and they are stunning.
  • And, finally, a lovely Mayan pyramid, filmed in Guatemala.  It's silly to think that it could house a facility for launching rockets into outer space in service of a mad billionaire, but hey, it's also a charming notion.




















Points awarded (Locations):  007/007.  One of the highpoints of the series in that regard.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  006/007
 
(5)  Q Branch


Bond's Allies:  This was at the apex of that odd period in the series in which it was obvious that the whole of MI6 had nothing better to do than to travel the globe, assisting Bond on whatever mission he happened to be tackling.  I hate that conceit.  Does M do this for the other Double-Ohs?  Does Q have so large an operating budget that he can relocate his entire branch to, say, Brazil on a moment's notice, just because 007 is there and might need a pair of exploding bolas?

A better question: should I be worried about that particular conceit within the confines of a movie like Moonraker?

I don't have an easy answer for that.  Actually, I do: "no."  What I don't have is an easy justification for that answer.  Within these limited confines, here's the best I can do: it bothered me in The Spy Who Loved Me because the movie fails to engage me, whereas Moonraker -- silly though it may be -- engages me from start to finish.

It's no more complicated than that, really.  What that means, I think, is that Moonraker is more successful in its pulpy goals than The Spy Who Loved Me is, and therefore I am more inclined to accept its excesses, its oddities, its incoherencies.  Perhaps these are obscure biases of mine peeking through; perhaps I am being unfair to Spy, whereas I am giving Moonraker too much credit.

I don't know.  Maybe I'll figure it out someday; until then, I'm rolling with what I've got.

Speaking of Q Branch, Q himself gets off a couple of memorable lines:
  • During an early briefing in M's office, Q talks about how they've been searching for evidence of the wreckage of the Moonraker with "a fine tooth-comb."  Now, let's examine that.  He doesn't say with "a fine-tooth comb"; he says "a fine tooth-comb."  What, pray tell, is a tooth-comb?  This line reading fascinates me, not because Desmond Llewelyn got it wrong (though he certainly did), but because it makes me wonder how it is possible that nobody, in the entire course of production, caught the error.  How did it even originate?  Was it a typo in the screenplay?  A case of Christopher Wood simply typing the hyphen in the wrong spot, or not knowing where it went?  Or, perhaps, not putting a hyphen at all ("a fine tooth comb")?  Had Llewelyn never heard the phrase "a fine-tooth comb" before, and therefore had no idea what he was saying, so he just spouted the line out?  Did director Lewis Gilbert not notice?  Did Roger Moore, Bernard Lee, and the actor playing the defense minister ALL fail to notice?  Was it a case of Llewelyn saying it that way in only one take, and that take (for some reason) ending up as the only one John Glen thought he could use during the editing?  How, exactly, does a boo-boo of that nature find its way into a movie this expensive?  Swear to God, I could write a book about that line delivery.
  • Better: Q's response to 007 during the bola scene.  Bond looks down, pauses for just a moment, and then asks, "Balls, Q...?"  Llewelyn's look of pained patience is one of his best reactions ever.
  • Best: Q's bon mot at the end of the movie, "I think he's attempting re-entry!"  It's a groaner of a line, but allow me to take a moment and explain to you why it works.  It works because Llewelyn says it with no smirk on his face, no wink in his eye, no irony in his tone.  Q is looking at a computer, analyzing some obscure bit of data, and is making a coincidental comment.  He doesn't see what everyone else is seeing; it's not like he sees Bond screwing Holly and elbows M, and says the line with a chuckle.  Nope; it's a complete coincidence, completely in keeping with Q's character, and that's why it works.  Well done, team!  That one would have been easy to screw up, and you completely nailed it instead.
Mention ought to be made that this was Bernard Lee's final appearance as M.  He's got a few good moments, and the series did not fully recover from his absence until Judi Dench showed up sixteen years later.




Elsewhere, Bond's allies include a stupendously efficient American military (which is seemingly capable of launching a squad of space marines into orbit on literally a moment's notice), and the unexpectedly gratifying use of Jaws as a good-guy once the big lug figures out that a physical misfit like him would have no place in Drax's utopia of physical perfection.  Jaws is a deeply silly character, but I have to admit, I find him rather appealing in this particular role.  "Well," he says, cracking open a bottle of champagne to share with Dolly before they crash and burn, "here's to us."





Indeed.


a friend of mine dubbed this "Jawsus," and I salute him for it; I found it online, and would credit the original creator if only I knew who to credit...



Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  005/007.  Deeply silly stuff is happening here, but it feels so honest about it that I can't find the heart to be negative.

Direction:  Sometimes when doing these writeups, I struggle a bit in terms of quantifying the role of the director.  After all, Bond movies are not like other movies; in some ways, they function more like a television series, where the producer is the kind.  If I watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this Christmas and find myself annoyed with a specific character, or a plot development, or a scene that I feel didn't work, I can feel good about blaming director Peter Jackson, who ultimately controlled the entire production; a similar level of accountability can be charged toward Steven Spielberg's Lincoln or Ben Affleck's Argo or Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  It won't be the same case for Sam Mendes on Skyfall, because ultimately, he is a hired hand; he's probably not making all the big decisions, and while he can (and probably did) influence the production greatly, in this case the auteur theory goes out the window.

That's how it has always been on the Bond movies, for better or for worse.

So how to judge the contributions of Lewis Gilbert on Moonraker?  On The Spy Who Loved Me, I basically gave Gilbert credit for a strong visual sense, and for creating a sustained tone throughout the film.  I don't like that movie, but I think the problems come from a poor screenplay and from at least one genuinely awful bit of casting.  Some of that might be Gilbert's fault, but then again, it might not be.  I chose not to penalize him for it, at least not within the bounds of these doofus reviews.

Using the same standard, I think the only reasonable conclusion to draw is that Gilbert did even stronger work on Moonraker than he did on The Sky Who Loved Me (or You Only Live Twice, for that matter).  As I've indicated elsewhere, this is a deeply silly movie, but I think it does a better job at being escapist entertainment, and a lot of the credit for that should go to Lewis Gilbert.

And yet, he also brings enough seriousness to the table so as to allow us to have a sense of there being something at stake.  Two scenes stand out in that regard: the scene in which Corinne is killed by Drax's dogs, and the scene in which Manuela, at Carnaval in Rio, is stalked by a figure (eventually revealed to be Jaws) in a huge, creepy clown costume.









 
Both of these scenes are nightmarish, and arguably seem out of place, but both also share a key similarity: Bond is not in them to combat the evil that is at hand.  Is this a coincidence, or is something being said here about the need for a James Bond 007 to keep evil at bay, and his ability to make such evil seem cartoonish when he is present to do so?

Probably a coincidence, but then again, maybe not.  Either way, I think Lewis Gilbert did good work on this movie.  Points awarded (Direction): 005/007

CinematographyMoonraker was lit by Jean Tourneir, a French cinematographer who seemingly worked almost exclusively on French productions.  Consequently, I really don't know much of anything as regards his reputation.  However, I can say definitively that he did terrific work on Moonraker.  From Corinne's death to the exteriors of Bond's arrival at Chateau Drax to Bond fight behind the clock face with Chang, this is a lovely movie.




Points awarded (Cinematography):  006/007.

Art Direction:  Is Moonraker Ken Adam's best work for a Bond movie?  I'd have to think about that for a while, but it just might be.

Either way, it's genuinely awesome work.  I mean, the guy built a working centrifuge...!  I'm sure it didn't actually have centrifuge-level speed capabilities, but do what?  It looked great, and for our purposes, that's all that really matters.

There's great work all over the rest of the film, too.  No point talking about it; may as well let the visuals speak for themselves.












Points awarded (Art Direction): 007/007.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Special Effects:  Let's get the negatives out of the way first: there are a few really bad rearscreen shots (I think they're rearscreens, at least), mostly involving the cable car fight and, later, Bond on the hang-glider.  There are also a few sketchy shots involving an obviously-rubber python.

Otherwise, though, there is top-notch effects work on display, ranging from shots of Drax's factory to a couple of excellent boat explosions to a highly convincing waterfall recreation.  Oh yeah, and a lot of outer-space stuff, too, including good shuttle launches and a lovely space station.












Example: I love the scene in which Bond and Goodhead see the station for the first time.  Not only is it an excellent model, it's filmed extremely well, emerging from shadows into a slow blossom of sunlight.

The weightlessness effects work pretty well, on the whole, although you can glimpse wires every once in a while.  The big laser battle is well-done, too, and while this movie might not measure up to some of the competition of its day (Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman), that's less a reflection on Moonraker than it is on the genuinely incredible effects achievements of those films.

Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007, which I considered lowering to 005 on the basis of comparisons with those other movies listed above.  I elected not to do so, though.

Gadgets:  There are quite a lot of gadgets in this movie, and I like the vast majority of them.  The best one, probably, is Bond's dart-firing concealed bracelet, which gets him out of two extremely sticky situations, and is overall one of the better of the gadgets Bond ever employs.

There is also a nifty safecracking device (how safecracking seems to have progressed since On Her Majesty's Secret Service!), a gondola that converts into a hovercraft, a speedboat that contains a hidden hang-glider, a watch that houses the components necessary to explode a wall, and the small arsenal of CIA gadgets Holly possesses (but, sadly, never seems to use).

Points awarded (Gadgets):  006/007.  Definitely one of the stronger movies in the series for gadgets.

Opening-Title Sequence:  I like this one a lot, partially because it's one of the title sequences that works in concert with the rest of the movie on a thematic level.  Sometimes, it seemed rather obvious that Maurice Binder's only aim was to get a bunch of beautiful women naked and have them leap about, possibly with some sort of body paint or skimpy costume supplementing the endeavor.  And hey, can you blame him?  That seems like fine work if you can get it.  Immoral and misogynistic, true; but fine in its way.

There's some of that here, too, of course, but I also quite enjoy the way the title sequence serves as a bridge between the opening sequences aerial acrobatics and the weightlessness that comes later in the movie during the outer-space sequences.  Binder uses the circus conceit that is introduced courtesy of Jaws crash-landing into a big-top to transition, as well; he mixes these three modes of humans defying gravity, and the result is one of his better title sequences.














Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  006/007.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  005.86/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

How do you even begin to quantify the decision to take James Bond into outer space?  That, obviously, is what Moonraker is most notable for, and it was a truly out-there move on the part of Cubby Broccoli.  By all rights, it ought to have been the "jump the shark" moment for the Bond series, but in fact Moonraker was a huge hit, and its excesses did not seem to have any adverse impact on the box-office for the next film in the series, either.

In other words, evidence indicates that Moonraker was basically a vindication of a simple idea: that the Bond formula can go almost anywhere.

So, a few notes (bad and good alike) about the story and screenplay:
  • Bond's deduction that the place to begin his investigation into the disappearance of the shuttle is the place where the shuttles are manufactured seems ... illogical.  Look, I know expediency is the name of the game in a movie like this one, but even so, that's a BIG short-cut.
  • The scene in which Bond is attacked in Venice by an assassin inside a floating coffin is dumb.  Not funny, not clever; just plain dumb.
  • When I was younger, it used to annoy me quite badly that this movie had "stolen" (so I thought) the five-note communication theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This time, it finally occurred to me that it was possible to explain the whole thing away by theorizing that the scientists in charge of that lab were obviously fans of the movie, and had programmed their keypad as a way to keep themselves amused.  That's the sort of thing nerdy scientists would do.
  • In addition to that one obvious reference to a sci-fi movie, there are at least several others, including: the use of "Also Spake Zarathustra" (best known as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey) during Drax's pheasant hunt; another 2001 homage involving an astronaut who goes hurtling off into space; and a possible Star Wars reference when 007, like Luke Skywalker, switches to manual in order to shoot something from his spaceship.  There are also a couple of coincidental similarities to other 1979 sci-fi films: a modem-like sound effect appears in both Alien and Moonraker; and there are similar shots of death-carrying satellites in this movie and in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • During the fight scene between Bond and Chang, why is the museum full of priceless glass art pieces unlocked during the middle of the night so that these two assholes can run in and tear everything up?
  • In one scene, Drax decides to kill Bond and Holly by placing them in a room that lies directly beneath one of the shuttles, so that they will be vaporized when it blasts off.  That's all fine and good, but ... why does that room have a conference table inside it?  (I like to pretend that Drax was hoping he would be able to vaporize an entire group of people at some point when he called them in for a meeting.)
  • Does it seem even vaguely plausible that Bond and Holly would be able to get onboard one of the shuttles?  No.  It seems even less likely that they could do so by posing as the pilots!
  • How exactly was Drax able to construct the space station?  That implies a level of power that an entire nation could barely possess, much less one industrialist, no matter how wealthy.
  • You've got to hand it to 'em: they really commit to the idea of Jaws' indestructibility.  Bad enough that he survives plummeting to earth without a parachute unscathed, but then he is able to escape being burned to death upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.  PLUS he would have no way of piloting the remaining section of the space station!  I'm a little amazed that they didn't opt for something truly off-the-wall insane, like Jaws (a la Dark Star) surfing through space on a bit of leftover hull plating.  All of this is utterly indefensible, but it charms me for reasons I cannot quite figure out.





Points awarded: 00 . . . is 00WTF a  number?  Let's settle on 003/007; it sucks, but with so much panache that I find it to be perversely admirable.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  I've always liked this song a hell of a lot, personally.  Shirley Bassey sings it well, and it's a lovely, lyrical tune, if also a bit aimless.  In some ways, I think the disco version that appears over the end credits is even better!

One question: do you suppose anybody still remembers that the word "moonraker" has an actual meaning apart from being a Bond title?  It's a nautical term referring to a type of sail, and it's also apparently a slang word for simpleton.  By the way, it's worth mentioning that "thunderball" also has a non-007 connotation, which helps to explain some of the lyrics to that movie's theme song.  A thunderball is a meteor, or something like that; there's a Doctor Who episode (can't remember the specific one, but it's one of Pertwee's first stories) that refers to something as a thunderball!

Points awarded (Title Song): 004/007.  Not one of the best Bond songs, but good.


Bassey in Jamaica, 1979 (image pilfered from http://diamondbassey.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/dsb-shirley-bassey-beach-mobay-1979.jpg)

The Score:  For my money, this is easily one of the best of all the Bond scores.  It's just one marvelously-scored scene after the next, from the aerial freefall to Corinne's death to the arrival in Rio to the flight into space to the laser battle.

Two scenes in particular stand out: the scene in which Bond follows one of Drax's ladies into the pyramid, only to discover that ALL of Drax's ladies are prfesent and accounted for, is just gorgeous.  Also, the flight into space (particularly the moment in which Bond points out the ark-like "two by two" arrangement of men and women in the passenger section, but also the moment in which the space station is revealed) has to rank not only among the best musical moments in the Bond series, but among the best moments in any movie scored by John Barry.

Which is saying something.

Moonraker also features the (so far) final appearance of Barry's "007" theme, which has always been a personal favorite.

Points awarded (The Score): 007/007.  Outstanding in every way (except maybe for the quotation of Elmer Bernstein's theme from The Magnificent Seven -- the magnificent 007? -- but we'll let that slide).



 
Total points awarded (The Music):  005.50/007

Double-0 Rating for Moonraker:  004.84/007




I have to admit, I'm a little surprised by how well this one fared.  And yet, I don't think I've shown it much in the way of unfair bias, except (perhaps) in not taking it more to task for some of its outlandish elements.  I can't easily justify why I am kind to this movie whereas I am not to similarly lightweight entries like You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, except to say simply: this movie entertains me, whereas those do not.

Going into this project, I fully expected Moonraker to duke it out with a small handful of other films for title of Worst Bond Movie; instead, it has scored well enough that it may end up contending for the title Best Moore Bond Movie.

Amazing.

Some will call bullshit on this, and I can't blame them; but watching the movie again, I was reminded of the many reasons why this was always one of my very favorite Bond movies when growing up.












The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.39 -- Live and Let Die

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... For Your Eyes Only.

42 comments:

  1. Sorry for the delay in my response... been moving the Mrs. into our place all weekend. I kept saying, 'But the Moonraker blog...!' but she wasn't having it, haha.

    So first off, hat's off, sir - you are the author of the most comprehensive and well-put-together Moonraker review on the world wide web, at least that I've seen. No small accomplishment.

    I'll probably break this up into several comments - sorry to firebomb your comments thread, here.

    VERY good call on Moore's vulnerability/ anger after that centrifuge scene. That made a big impact on me as a kid. I actually got so pissed FOR him. If you picture an 8 year old me clenching his fists and shaking his head and saying, 'Oh, you're going to pay for that, you evil bastards...' that was me. All kudos possible to Moore's performance here. In general, he's still underrated. I'll put this scene (and the slapping the dude's tie away in TSWLM and straightening it after he checks to make sure the fall killed him) in a Bond time capsule.

    Also, more-personal-reverie: in the same way that hearing/ reading the term "the bends" instantly brings an image of the Choose Your Own Adventure "Journey Under the Sea" to mind, literally anytime I hear/read "G-Force," I think of this scene in Moonraker. Imprinting is a powerful thing. (It also made previews for the film "G-Force" personally entertaining to me. I actually wonder, given that film's plot's similarity to Moonraker's, how tongue-in-cheek some of that script was meant to be for Bond-philes. But, I've never really sat down with it with that in mind.)

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    1. In a large way, this project has allowed me to recapture my love for Roger Moore's version of James Bond; I consider it a worthy effort if only for that fact.

      Choose Your Own Adventure! Used to love those...

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  2. You've got to admire Drax's plan, here. He and Stromberg and Goldfinger and well, almost all Moore-era-Bond villains share that penchant for wack-a-doo secret lairs, bevies of beautiful-babe-henchmen, and these crazy plans that make L Ron Hubbard blush... God bless them!

    "He's a homicidal genius billionaire who is apparently using his vast wealth to fund a secret operation designed to reshape the world in his image..." Were they trying to tell us something, here, haha??? In the same way Hollywood filmmakers of the blacklist era tried to warn us about the extremities of anti-communism, perhaps Albert Broccoli et al. were trying to warn us about the Koch Brothers/ George Soros et al. (Probably not, but it's amusing to think of these films as smuggling subversive messages/ hitting the panic button rather than mere entertainment.)

    It was good to see Jaws get his redemption. (Fun point about the filmmakers' commitment to his invulnerability, as well.) I like to think of Richard Kiel's role in Happy Gilmore as the answer to the "Whatever happened t Jaws after Moonraker?" question that, well, no one ever really asked.

    One thing that's a lot of fun about being a fan of Bond as a child, as an adolescent, and as an adult is that I got to take in "Holly Goodhead" just as one of Bond's allies, then finally grokked what her name was all about, and then appreciating her as a capable woman/sidekick, here, as an adult. She and Pussy Galore share such ridiculous names, but, when you look closely, are pretty bad-ass, to boot.

    On an unrelated note (but I just got a flash of "John Steed," as sort of the male equivalent of this phenom) I'd love to see you break down The Avengers tv show. Like you don't have enough on your plate, I know, but hey! One for the "maybe one day" pile.

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    1. Well, whether Broccoli was trying to make any statement during this era or not is up for discussion, I suppose, but years later, in "Tomorrow Never Dies," a statement clearly WAS made. So I certainly don't think the series is immune to it.

      I've never seen a single episode of "The Avengers," believe it or not. I know, I know; put the tomatoes down...

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  3. Excellent calls, here, about the color and lighting continuity. I consider myself pretty attentive to technical details/ competence, but, I'm sorry to say, I never properly appreciated the technical mastery of that air-stunt scene, beyond, as you say, removing my cap to the bad-ass-ness of the stuntmen involved. But yeah, how the hell did they achieve such lighting and color continuity, especially pre-CGI?

    Ditto on the art direction and the costumes/ scenery. Really impressive stuff. (All the weirder that it accompanies such a bizarrely silly plot.)

    Along those lines, those two sequences you mention (the dogs overcoming Corinne, and Jaws menacing Manuela in the alley) freaked me out so much as a kid. I saw this in the theater with my Dad (this must have been 1982 or so; I don't know why it was in the theater, but this was in Germany, so we frequently got second-or-third-run movies in lieu of new releases; it was a whole different world, back then) and he took me into the lobby for some of the love scenes, but not for those. Damn! I'd rather have been exposed to the creepy images of Roger Moore's old-man-neck-and-fingers entwining with young female flesh than the frankly-terrifying images aforementioned.

    (Along the lines of Moore's age being a factor, nowhere is this grosser than the bathing scene in a View to a Kill. Come on, guys!)

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    1. That aerial sequence really is one of the best scenes ever put on film. It's unlikely we'll ever get anything quite THAT ambitious again, now that CGI makes such derring-do somewhat unnecessary.

      Which is maybe a good thing, in a way. A scene like that could have easily killed someone. Damn, is it glorious, though!

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  4. Two final thoughts:

    I didn't see Close Encounters until well into the 90s, and while I'd heard the theme song / knew it was a reference (in Moonraker), my first exposure to it - and hence, the first movie to come to mind whenever i hear it - was here. Funny to consider, now. I wonder if there's someone who mentally recalls One Crazy Summer (or any other film where the theme is homage-d) instead of Jaws when he/ she hears that theme?

    And excellent pic of Dame Shirley. Did you catch her belting out 'Diamonds are Forever' at the Queen's jubilee?

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    1. No, I haven't seen that! I didn't even know it had happened. I'll have to try to locate it; sounds cool.

      Speaking of Bassey, have you heard her song "No Good About Goodbye"? It was written by David Arnold, incorporating one of the themes he wrote for "Quantum of Solace," so it is retroactively a sort of (very unofficial) opening theme for that movie. Pretty sure Arnold did it on purpose as a bit of an eff-you. It's kinda great, too.

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  5. I have not, but thanks for the heads-up.

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  6. Enjoying your reviews very much. If you're going to pick on Q's fine tooth-comb, let me point out that I think it's actually bolas, not bolos. Also, do you use some type of grammar check for your posts? I come across a few errors that puzzle me a bit before I figure out the intended meaning. It's a minor thing.
    I love all the big pictures you've included for each movie. Great job overall!

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    1. Hmm...it IS "bolas," isn't it? Well, what can I say? I am a stupid American.

      As for my post containing grammatical errors . . . well, I wouldn't be surprised. I have to confess that I virtually never proofread these things, so it's bound to be riddled with all sorts of typos and whatnot.

      Sorry!

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  7. I have a fondness for Moonraker. It might've been the first movie I saw by myself in the theater, as a kid I just got completely lost in it. Over the years, I totally forgot about the gondola running through Venice streets & the pigeon double take, maybe I blocked out those questionable moments to preserve Bond's coolness in my head.

    I remember watching the pre-titles sequence, when Bond was pushed out of the plane I went, "Whoa, does he have a parachute? What's he gonna do?" & when he starts going after the other guy I thought, "Oh man, this is so great." After he steals the parachute & gets rid of the guy, there's a closeup of him struggling to hook the parachute on, missing, then doing it on the second try. That was a really nice touch, keeping things tense.

    Then we cut to a very wide shot of Bond far away, & then we see the back of Jaws swoop in from the foreground toward him as the JB tune kicks in, so nice. The fight with Jaws is over too quickly. When his chute fails & he starts flapping his arms, it's probably a travesty for those who like more realism in their 007 films but I think it's okay. This beginning is still cool watching it now. Haha I thought there was something a bit strange with some of Jaws' shots there. Sometimes he looks like a copier salesman.

    Those first 2 shots you have in Special Effects are interesting, the views of the Moonraker plant & Drax's estate from Corinne's helicopter. I read your review before I did my rewatch & when I saw those shots in the film I could totally see that they're miniatures. It might be the way it's moving, or maybe because the pole(?) in the foreground should be more blurry, I don't know. I wonder if I can forget that in the future & be fooled again by those shots.

    I like Drax as a villain, he's cold & just so bored with having to entertain Bond when they meet. "May I press you to a cucumber sandwich?" is my favorite villain's line, made distinctive by his weird accent.

    I notice there's a female agent in the first 4 of Roger's Bonds. Rosie Carver, Mary Goodnight, Anya Amasova, & Holly Goodhead. (Did I miss any?) It's good their skills seem to improve with each new film.

    I like that moment too when Bond staggers out of the centrifuge. Showing him shaken like that, having us feel that he's in moments of real danger that affect him, stuff like this & the closeup of him hooking the parachute on in the pre-titles, I appreciate it when director Lewis Gilbert tries to humanize Bond.

    With all of Drax's money, he really had a poor version of Oddjob in Chang (Badjob?). To kill Bond, Chang decides to use a wooden samurai sword, much less efficient than a gun or a real sword. And he makes enough ruckus from his kiai(!) shouts & all the shattering glass to annoy the neighbors & have them call the police. Chang honestly tries his best though, he really wants to do a good job. When Bond shoots the controls of the centrifuge, Chang's look of disappointment is priceless!

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    1. Chang. Man, he just seems like the sort of henchman you get for 60% at Henchmen 'R' Us the day after Christmas.

      You make a good point about the moment with Jaws flapping his arms. In some ways, that moment IS a travesty. Those who say it is are saying something I would find it difficult to refute. But . . . well, for me, this rewatch of "Moonraker" convinced me that it simply has no interest in realism. None whatsoever. Is that acceptable for a Bond movie? If you say no, then I can't fault you for saying so. (The hypothetical "you," not YOU, B.) And that would certainly make this movie a tough watch for you.

      On the other hand, if you say yes, and accept the comic-book-style "logic" that is at work here, then I think all of a sudden you've got a very solid movie on your hands. Stylish, fun, and -- some dodgy acting and a few weak effects aside -- stupendously well-made. It's a James Bond movie for kids! I've got no problem with that. Heck, I was a kid when it came out, so it was right up my alley.

      And still is.

      I wonder two things. Thing the first: can the Bond series ever devolve to this point again? Thing the second: do some of the Brosnan movies also work if you consider them on the level of Bond-for-kids adventures? I'm harsh towards all of his movies "GoldenEye," but I'd be willing to accept that I'm simply viewing them the wrong way. (For the record, I don't think this is the case. Too many scenes that are failed attempts at adult themes of pain and loss. But I'd be willing to hear the argument.)

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  8. You know, I'm not one to toot my own horn. But reading my way back through this, I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with it. This isn't exactly top-shelf film criticism, but did I meet my own set of personal expectations? I really did.

    That makes me happy, because it's only the case with maybe 1 out of 10 posts. So, yay me!

    This line especially pleases me, by the way:

    "Points awarded: 00 ... Is 00WTF a number?"

    Nice.

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    1. I was serious when I say this is the reigning internet champ of Moonraker reviews. And I'm happy to hear you agree.

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    2. I don't know if it rehabbed "Moonraker" for anyone other than me, but that's a good enough result for me to feel pretty great about it.

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  9. Come on now. You may be happy only with 1 out of 10 posts but I really have to commend you on this blog. You've done a lot of nice work here. Thank you for the endless hours of reading enjoyment you've given this particular Bond fan. You've really put in a lot of detail & care, going through all the categories, gathering screen shots, posters, etc. I hope it'll always be here to serve as a resource for everyone. Anyone who's willing to watch all the James Bond Jr. cartoons to give them a proper review is a lot more dedicated than I am & deserves some horn tootage.

    Yes, 00WTF IS a number, because you just created it! And I suspect it can mean any number you choose after something rattles your brain into confusion. Genius!

    It's funny but 60% sounds about right. Physically & mentally, Chang is only around 60% of an Oddjob.

    It would be an interesting experiment to introduce a kid to Moonraker & Die Another Day & see what they think about it. But your assessment sounds very spot on & I'll keep it in mind. I was certainly entertained by Brosnan's films when they came out. I'm not sure if I'll feel the same rewatching them now. The only times I've been let down by a Bond film is actually Quantum & Skyfall. Is that because I'm in my 40's & I can't see them with semi-childlike eyes anymore? Have I just seen too many of them? Have my tastes put me out of touch with popular opinion now?

    Very interesting about whether Bond films can devolve to this again. I'm not opposed to it since I do enjoy Moonraker. I suppose anything is possible if the series lasts long enough. I have to hand it to the producers, past & present. They take cues from what's in popular culture & they apply it to Bond, trying to find the right mix of formula & newness. They genuinely want to give people what they want, because of family pride, & well, it has great financial reward. So it just depends, if it seems like people want it, then it'll happen.

    I've always wondered about their change in tone from serious to comedic. Diamonds are Forever grossed more than On Her Majesty's but did audiences really want more comedy? Surely it was more a reaction to Sean being back than people approving of the comedy. But this list of the inflation adjusted figures is interesting. The gross on the fifth film, You Only Live Twice, is much lower than the previous, Thunderball. Understandable since that was such a big success. But YOLT's gross is actually less than the 2nd, From Russia With Love. So even without Lazenby, grosses already took a hit.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_James_Bond_films#Box_office

    YOLT made $514 M. So they tried to do better by going funnier with Diamonds, & it made $442 M, even less. So they go a bit more serious with Live & Let Die & it made $460 M. So I think this kinda shows the producers will follow the grosses, & it seems they've made pretty good bets most of the time, even if we wonder about their decisions in hindsight. They have a great advantage since Bond is such a beloved character that I think people will continue to watch even if a particular film lets them down. That allows for any needed course correction. But it sure seems like whatever they do, they keep raking it in.

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    1. Very true. In some ways, the Bond movies seem always to end up being reactions to the movie that came just before them. "You Only Live Twice" took a dip in grosses, so the producers -- hypothetically (I have no clue what their actual motivations may have been) -- decided it might have been because the movie strayed too far from Fleming. So for OHMSS they went back to Fleming in a big way.

      THAT lowered grosses even more, so they opted for a fling-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. They fine-tuned that with "Live and Let Die," and so on. It's a fascinating evolution from one film to the next, and it's part of why I find the overall series to be so compelling even regardless of its component parts.

      You are by no means the only Bond fan -- especially of our age -- who I've heard from as being none too enchanted by the Daniel Craig era. I myself have loved them all, even "Quantum of Solace." I suspect that my method of analyzing them is going to involve considering them from the vantage point of deconstructionism. Loosely; not in any rigorous or methodical way. But I do think the movies have been about taking "Bond" (i.e., the idea of James Bond as a cinematic icon) apart to some degree so that he can then be slowly reassembled once the individual parts have been analyzed and assessed.

      I have found that to be a very compelling process, personally. And entertaining, too. Not flawless, by any means; but I don't demand that art be flawless, especially since it is the flaws that sometimes make everything else stand out.

      All I know is, I'm looking forward to getting there. I'm in the process of harvesting my TWINE screencaps and writing the post for it, and . . . man, I am NOT enjoying the process. If anything, I'm enjoying less than I did with "Tomorrow Never Dies." (Though I do think TWINE is a marginally better movie.) "die Another Day" is going to be agony.

      All things considered, I got more amusement out of the "James Bond Jr" posts. Sad, but true.

      As always, thanks for reading! (And for the kind words.)

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    2. Good point on OHMSS sticking close to the novel & then veering away on the next.

      The series evolves to suit popular taste, so I think part of its fascination comes from the idea that the films become rough historical snapshots of popular culture. Our reactions & constantly changing tastes can tell us something about ourselves at each particular time.

      I do like the idea of deconstructing Bond. I like Craig a lot. He does great stuff with what he's given. The first time I saw him was in Spielberg's Munich. He impressed me in the little scene where they keep switching radio stations. He's so cool & tough in that simple scene. I'm not sure if I already knew he was gonna be Bond at that time but that scene convinced me & made me look forward to it.

      Casino Royale blew me away. I liked it so much I think it raised the bar for me subconsciously. And it was a big bummer when I didn't get that same feeling from the next two. There are several moments that are quite good in Skyfall, but all those moments didn't add up enough to make me like it overall. So now I think I've come down to earth with my expectations. But it's hard not to get caught up in the usual wave of advertising. I'm already excited by an idea in my head about the next one. I'm hoping that one of the things they do is take the same approach they did in Casino & apply it to SPECTRE. Ah, I can dream.

      I don't envy your having to go through the later Brosnan's. I'm sort of dreading Rog's last 2, we'll see. I'm looking forward to your upcoming TWINE post, as well as your usual thoughtful analyses on Quantum & Skyfall. Maybe it can help me better understand my reactions to them. Keep your spirits up, we appreciate your efforts!

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  10. First off, thanks for accepting my Facebook friend request. I sent along a message with it explaining who I was, so hopefully you saw that and weren't like, "Now WhoTF is this joker??"

    Another great review, really made me think about where Moonraker ranks for me. For a while when I was younger, it was my least favorite Moore, but it's definitely grown in my estimation over the years, especially the last few years. Granted, being my least favorite Moore Bond still put it in my top dozen or so Bond movies, but there wasn't many more than a dozen of them when I was a kid/teen. So now, between it moving up in my list of favorites and having more Bond movies to contend with in the last 20+ years, I really do appreciate it more.

    It's definitely a fun Bond movie, as that was Moore's approach, for the most part. Yeah, some of it gets pretty silly (like Bond riding across the plains like the fucking Magnificent 007), but it had some dead serious shit in there as well. The scene where Corinne is hunted down by Drax's dogs? Dude, that part straight up scared me when I was a kid. That shit was intense!

    And I couldn't agree more with your assessment of how Moore played the centrifuge scene. One of the things I really enjoy about reading these reviews is how it makes me appreciate every aspect of a scene like that. For example, the flashes of memory 007 has, reminding him (and us) to use the dart in his bracelet, really amps up the tension. Your analysis of that scene really makes me stop and consider how much that little touch adds to it. In fact, beyond just enjoying reading your opinions on the Bond flicks, I often find myself getting a big kick out of your attention to the small details. I mean, I always sweated that red head amongst Drax's chicks, too, and something as simple as you showing her a little extra love had me nodding in agreement. You really knocked it out of the park with these reviews, I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

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    1. Well, thanks! I wish I could all of them were as good as this one, but I think my "Moonraker" review might be the high-water mark of this blog. I think I more or less got the job done on this one; some of the others, not quite as much. Maybe in the eventual revisions.

      I don't think I saw the Facebook message, somehow. In fact, I didn't see the friend request for a while -- I only saw it while fielding a different one. But when I did see it, I figured hey, any friend of Bryan McMillan's is a friend of mine. I didn't even know it was you!

      I think the thing with the dogs is easily one of the darkest moments in any Bond movie. Interesting that it comes in the middle of one of the overall lightest films in the series. I guess some people might say that's a failing, but it works for me.

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  11. Bryan's a great guy, I've had plenty of great conversations with him about music, movies, and, of course, James Bond. It's funny, we grew up in the same area, but only really became better friends via Facebook (for all of Facebook's ills, it's redeemed by its ability to bring people together). In fact, I discovered You Only Blog Twice when Bryan shared your review of Spectre. I had to created an account here to be able to comment on your reviews and discuss the Bond movies.

    Anyway, you deserve all the credit you get for YOBT. Scanning through the comments, I saw what Bryan said about this being the most comprehensive review of Moonraker the he's come across online, and I thought that really sums up my appreciation of your efforts with these reviews. I mean, it's one thing to go in depth about "important " movies, or even the most iconic of the Bond movies, but to go into such detail about every Bond movie is a terrific accomplishment.

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    1. Facebook is indeed a pretty great thing when used correctly. I kinda hate it in some ways, but I've mostly figured out how to not use it in ways that provoke that response from me.

      Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate them greatly, and I aspire to live up to them.

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    2. Hear hear to all of these sentiments!

      Both of your insights into all aspects of pop culture - but, of course, especially Bond! - are a good portion of my "What Bryan Likes About the Internet" pie chart.

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  12. This is an awsum review. Great Work and well researched. For anyone interested I did a blog on Spy and Moonraker as sequels to each other: a http://jsadamsart.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. I will check that out -- sounds like my cup of tea for sure!

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  13. I guess I'm one of very few who've always loved Moonraker and still do all these years later. Yes it has more than a few "oh my" groaner moments in it (but they add to the fun-- like Jaws flapping his arms after his parachute rip cord literally rips off).

    I think that a lot of times we look at movies through "eyes of the present" rather than in the context of the time and place it was made... Moonraker came out in 1977. The "coming era" of "cheap, easy, and frequent" access to space for the 'common man' that NASA and the press had been touting for 5 years by that point, the rapid advance of technology in MANY areas of life (birth of the computer revolution and rapidly advancing availability of home electronics beyond maybe a 19 inch color TV, stereo turntable for vinyl records, 8 track tapes or cassettes, and the ubiquitous AM/FM radio) all played a part in that. The shuttle had been "big news" for quite some time, even though at the time it was suffering developmental difficulties and delays (Remember the shuttle was SUPPOSED to be ready to fly in the 1977-1979 time frame, one of its first missions beyond the test phase was to "rescue" the abandoned "Skylab" space station and boost its orbit so it could be reused, but unfortunately due to shuttle program delays and solar activity puffing up Earth's atmosphere, it reentered and burned up over Australia in 1979). At the time Moonraker came out, NASA was saying that the shuttle would fly in the 1979-80 time frame, and was making a pretty big deal out of it... particularly the "cheap, easy, routine access to space" angle. They really pushed a lot of ideas that seem straight out of science fiction now, in hindsight, but it was a time when *everything seemed possible*... Stuff like orbiting solar power stations beaming power back to Earth to solve the energy crisis via free solar electricity, to O'Neill's orbiting rotating tubular space colonies, basically a gigantic tube with an Earth-like inner surface, rotating to simulate gravity, complete with trees, grass, rivers, lakes, etc, lit by solar mirrors in the center. Seems crazy now, but at the time, it was all "the coming thing". I have an old library book I bought at a library sale from that time period, "The Space Shuttle System" (IIRC) and it details ALL of that and more-- constructing enormous space stations and space telescopes and making it possible to return to the Moon to build huge radio telescopes on the lunar farside, etc. It all seemed possible then.

    More to come... OL J R :)

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    1. I loved "Moonraker" as a kid unreservedly, and sort of lost my taste for it as I grew up and convinced myself that 007 always needed to be serious.

      But the process of analyzing it for this blog resparked my love for it; I think that if you judge it on its intentions, it's a very successful movie artistically. And it was a huge hit; people forget that sometimes, but it was a colossus at the box office.

      To some of your points:

      Skylab...! I haven't thought about Skylab in years.

      "it was a time when *everything seemed possible*" -- This is a good point. Boy, we don't live in that world anymore, do we?

      " I have an old library book I bought at a library sale from that time period, "The Space Shuttle System" (IIRC) and it details ALL of that and more-- constructing enormous space stations and space telescopes and making it possible to return to the Moon to build huge radio telescopes on the lunar farside, etc." -- It wasn't that particular book, but I had a similar-sounding book that one of my relatives gave me. It wasn't focused specifically on the space program, but on futuristic science of all kinds, including the type of stuff you mention. Underwater cities, etc. Man, I loved that book. No idea what it was called or I'd try to find a copy.

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  14. Continued...

    Moonraker picked up that theme and ran with it... maybe too far, but ran with it nonetheless. They did an absolutely spot-on job with the special effects in creating the look and feel of a shuttle launch. People should remember that when Moonraker was made, basically it would be another 4-5 YEARS before the first space shuttle would launch (in April of 1981), so NOBODY at the time had ever seen a shuttle launch-- the shuttle launch sequence is still one of the best and most realistic special FX recreations of a space launch ever made. The in-space sequences were also very good; the design of the space station, and Ken Adams' interior sets, were some of the best ever conceived. My "technical" pet peeves with the sequence was the fact that, basically, spinning a station for artificial gravity uses centrifugal force to substitute for actual gravitational pull-- hence a spinning artificial gravity station would have to be either ring-shaped, or dumb-bell shaped, like the ring station in "2001- A Space Odyssey". The "amount of gravity" one would experience varies directly with the distance from the center. At the center, one would feel NO centrifugal force "gravity", and halfway out, one would feel "half-gravity" from centrifugal force. The bottom floor (outermost wall) would have "full gravity" from centrifugal force. The station in Moonraker is portrayed as a large central sphere made up of multiple decks, with a bunch of long protruding "tubes" going to the docking ports for the shuttles, and supporting things between them like solar arrays (which weren't really pointed at the sun and rotated with the station, meaning they'd rotate into and out of the sun constantly, not delivering power when they were in shadow or at low sun angles). The shuttles docked around this "ring" of tubes, then the station was "spun up" by thrusters (which the thruster part IS accurate!). The problem is, the interior of the station is portrayed as multiple decks, arranged top-to-bottom like the "Death Star" stacked like pancakes from the north pole of the sphere to the south pole of the station's axis of rotation. This would mean everything in the central core would be in zero gravity, and everything else would be slung out toward the outer wall, which would in actuality be the "floor" experiencing the "artificial gravity" of centrifugal force. Plus, the shuttles out on the end of those long pylons would be experiencing MORE than full gravity, meaning their "airlocks" would have to support more than the entire 100 ton weight of the shuttle orbiter itself as the station rotated and the orbiters experienced all that centrifugal force-- something it would be impossibly heavy to engineer them to do.

    More to come... OL J R :)

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    1. "Moonraker picked up that theme and ran with it... maybe too far, but ran with it nonetheless." -- Too far in some ways, yes. But even before Roger Moore showed up in the role, the Bond movies had arguably turned into comic-books. So to some extent, Moonraker took that fact and ran with it, and that being the case, you could *kind of* make the argument that it was impossible to run too far. I mean, I don't really want to see a movie in which James Bond is fighting Nazi werewolves or something like that. But if that movie got made, I'd probably be weirdly excited about it. And frankly, there's no reason it couldn't be great.

      "People should remember that when Moonraker was made, basically it would be another 4-5 YEARS before the first space shuttle would launch (in April of 1981), so NOBODY at the time had ever seen a shuttle launch-- the shuttle launch sequence is still one of the best and most realistic special FX recreations of a space launch ever made." -- This is an excellent point, and it really should be remembered by more fans.

      "basically, spinning a station for artificial gravity uses centrifugal force to substitute for actual gravitational pull-- hence a spinning artificial gravity station would have to be either ring-shaped, or dumb-bell shaped" -- Very true, but I don't mind too much. I mean, Jaws falls into a circus tent from an airplane and lives, so in some ways all bets are off.

      Imagine Kubrick having directed this movie! My mind feels funny all of a sudden.

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  15. Plus, you couldn't walk down the "floor" of the tube to a shuttle-- you'd have to CLIMB a ladder running the length of the tube against this "artificial gravity" to get to the center sphere of the station. Dr. Goodhead's statement when she and Bond go to "orbital communications, level 10-- ZERO GRAVITY" would be absolutely correct, *IF* "orbital communications level 10" was in the exact center of a wheel or dumb-bell shaped rotating space station. For Drax's station to work "as shown", it would have had to have TWO spherical modules mounted on a trusswork, connected by a large central tube with an "elevator" of sorts, or ladders for crew to climb up and down, rotating around a tube at the center, to which all the shuttles would have docked. The center tube would experience "zero gravity" at the center of the axis of rotation, and the spheres would experience "full gravity", at least on the lowest levels, with the centrifugal force of "artificial gravity" getting less and less on each higher deck or level the closer one got to the "top" of the sphere, and less and less as one ascended the ladders in the tubes to the central docking module where the shuttles would be docked, which is in "zero gravity". The shot where Bond hits the "emergency stop" switch would have been absolutely correct in this case, as well. In the movie, when he hits the "stop" button, everyone is slung across the room by the rapid de-rotation thruster firing, which is correct, but the directions they are slung make little/no sense in reality, but since their orientation is wrong anyway (vertical instead of radial away from the central axis of rotation) it doesn't really matter. The "idea" of what would happen when you hit the "stop" button is correct anyway.


    With hindsight and having seen 135 shuttle launches, and knowing how COMPLETELY off-the-mark all those completely unrealistic and hopelessly over-enthusiastic assertions by NASA and the space community about the "coming age of cheap, easy, routine access to space" the shuttle was promised to deliver actually were, it's easy to peg Moonraker as "completely unrealistic science fiction", BUT, *at the time* this was ACTUALLY the sort of thing that *NASA itself* and the professional "space community" were touting as what was coming in the future, thanks to the shuttle.

    More to come... OL J R :)

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    1. "The shot where Bond hits the "emergency stop" switch would have been absolutely correct in this case, as well. In the movie, when he hits the "stop" button, everyone is slung across the room by the rapid de-rotation thruster firing, which is correct, but the directions they are slung make little/no sense in reality, but since their orientation is wrong anyway (vertical instead of radial away from the central axis of rotation) it doesn't really matter." -- Communicating all of that to an audience would be awfully difficult, I think. But imagine this: someday, when spaceflight actually *does* become a thing more or less anyone can do, imagine how quaint old movies like this are going to seem. People will look back at them and just giggle.

      Plus, movies -- or whatever type of new media takes their place -- will suddenly find it much easier to communicate ideas about how artificial gravity works. That'll be interesting.

      Sadly, I don't think I'll be around to see it. :(

      "it's easy to peg Moonraker as "completely unrealistic science fiction", BUT, *at the time* this was ACTUALLY the sort of thing that *NASA itself* and the professional "space community" were touting as what was coming in the future, thanks to the shuttle." -- And I'd add that in some ways, science fiction -- certainly sci-fi intended for mass consumption like Moonraker -- is under no real obligation to follow the letter of accuracy (or even perceived accuracy). It may well be that the more important function, socially, of science fiction is to cause people to dream (or to otherwise reflect on possibilities). From there, actual science can get the real job done.

      So while it didn't get everything right about the science, Moonraker probably did make a lot of people interested in space shuttles. That's no small achievement.

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  16. The "Space Marines" was also pretty much in keeping with plans at the time. Oh, perhaps somewhat more grandiose than the real Air Force stated intentions, but not completely unrealistic, either. NASA had been forced to team up with the Air Force on the shuttle, to help pay for the enormous costs of shuttle development. The Air Force at that point had had its TWO main "man in space" projects canceled in prior years-- first the "Dyna-Soar" orbital space-plane, designed to be launched atop a Titan III rocket, which was a small single-crew shuttle-like space-plane designed to "skip on the Earth's atmosphere" (called "Dynamic Soaring", identical to the "Sanger shuttle" design for an orbital bomber designed in Nazi Germany during World War 2, capable of skipping off Earth's atmosphere numerous times to cover intercontinental distances on bombing missions-- hence the shortened name, "Dyna-Soar"). Then, the follow-on program for an Air Force manned and operated spy space station, the "Manned Orbiting Laboratory" or "MOL" program which replaced Dyna-Soar in the 60's, which would have used a modified version of the NASA Gemini capsules atop 10 foot diameter "space station modules" which were launched atop of modified Titan III-M rockets into space-- the 2 man crew would transfer from the capsule to the station beneath them once in orbit through a tunnel connected to a hatch in the heat shield on the bottom of the capsule, enter the station, and perform whatever mission they were assigned for up to a few months, using food and stores already on board... Mainly operating the "Dorian" telescopic spy camera aimed at Earth below. (Which was counterintuitive-- having people bumping into the walls and floors and creating vibration, which would blur the highly magnified image coming from the telescope lenses into the highly sophisticated camera with tons of moving parts to record the image in a long "sweep" of the lens or mirrors across the film, would have hopelessly blurred the images produced by the spy camera, making the whole thing a moot point-- man-induced vibration is a major problem on the ISS today, and limits its scientific usefulness even now, since vibrations from people smacking into walls and bumping things can shatter delicate crystals growing in microgravity, etc... This is why spy satellites are best left unmanned, as the Soviets discovered with their "Almaz" military spy-sat stations.) After getting two manned programs cancelled, the Air Force was "promised" their own military missions with the shuttles. In fact, the Air Force had their own shuttle launch pad built in Vandenberg AFB in California, called "Space Launch Complex 6" (SLC-6, pronounced "Slick 6" by the personnel).

    More to come! OL J R :)

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    1. Apparently there's a pretty good chance we may actually get those Space Marines yet! Space Force, eh? Well, it's bound to happen one of these days, unless we blow ourselves up before then.

      "the "Dyna-Soar" orbital space-plane" -- I don't think I've ever heard about that! If I have, I'd forgotten it. Sounds pretty cool.

      "Which was counterintuitive-- having people bumping into the walls and floors and creating vibration, which would blur the highly magnified image coming from the telescope lenses into the highly sophisticated camera with tons of moving parts to record the image in a long "sweep" of the lens or mirrors across the film, would have hopelessly blurred the images produced by the spy camera, making the whole thing a moot point" -- Imagine how annoyed M would be when he found out his agents were only sending back useless blurry photos.

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  17. This was to allow the much-coveted ability the Air Force had defined as a "requirement" for the shuttle program, the so-called "once around" polar orbital mission. This would have had a shuttle launch out of Vandenberg, fly almost due south over the Pacific Ocean, dropping its spent disposable "Advanced Solid Rocket Boosters (ASRB's)" off the coast of Baja California to sink to the ocean floor (they were disposable), the continuing to fly almost due south towards Antarctica until it entered orbit and jettisoned its External Tank to reenter and burn up over Antarctica. The shuttle would then approach the Soviet Union from the SOUTH (away from its missile defense radar system looking over the North Pole from which a ballistic missile launch would come), open the payload bay to expose the cameras and instruments/sensors, spy on the Soviet Union as it passed over it from south to north, then close the payload bay doors, perform retrofire over the North Pole, and reenter Earth's atmosphere about 90 minutes after launch after a single orbit, landing at Edward's Air Force Base in California. The problem with this was, the Earth would have rotated about 1,500 miles EAST (since earth rotates about 1,000 mph from west to east every hour at the equator) during the 90 minute orbit, so the shuttle needed the "cross-range" to make up that difference between where the launch location WAS and where the landing location NOW WAS. This actually had a HUGE influence on the shuttle design, and required switching from the original design NASA had for a smaller, straight wing, "fluffy" orbiter that would have had a much stronger metallic heat shield (due to lower entry heating of that design) to the large, delta-winged shuttle orbiter with the huge payload bay the Air Force required for their spy-satellites and cameras and equipment, with the larger cross-range capability that the straight-winged smaller orbiter could not achieve. The larger delta-winged orbiter also heated up a LOT more on reentry, requiring the switch to the delicate, fragile, easily damaged thermal reentry tiles that covered the shuttle's underside, rather than the simple, tough metallic reusable heat shield of the smaller, lighter, "fluffier" (high area to weight ratio) straight wing orbiter originally proposed. The greater cost also ruled out the completely reusable shuttle system with a fly-back booster, changing the shuttle design to the solid rocket boosters. These two changes alone led directly to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters (Challenger caused by the SRB's leaking, Columbia caused by damage to the reentry heat protection tiles).

    More to come! OL J R :)

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    1. This is all very cool. Well, not the part about the disasters that resulted from it; those were very much the opposite of cool.

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  18. It also meant that shuttle's design was compromised and it would be terribly expensive to operate. Another error in the movie-- a shuttle launched out of Vandenberg CANNOT fly into an 'equatorial orbit' (which is the "usual" orbit for manned spacecraft-- essentially flying "due east" from the launch site into an orbit at a low angle to Earth's EQUATOR, versus "polar orbits" flying directly over the North and South Poles, or at a shallow angle near the poles. Spy-sats fly in polar orbits so they cover 100% of Earth's surface (or very close to that) and can fly over the same areas in the same lighting conditions (sun-synchronous orbits) at regular intervals. Rockets launched from Cape Canaveral or Kennedy Space Center, can only fly into EQUATORIAL orbits, NOT the required "polar orbits" for spy-sats. Vandenberg, by contrast, can only fly into POLAR orbits, and NOT "equatorial orbits". The reason for this is, a rocket launching due EAST from Vandenberg would drop its spent rocket stages to crash back to Earth in places like Phoenix or Albuquerque or El Paso, and upper stages would land in the heavily populated areas of northern Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North or South Carolina, etc, depending on the launch azimuth. Similarly, a POLAR orbit launch out of KSC or Cape Canaveral would drop spent stages on Cuba or countries in South America if launched towards the South Pole, and would drop stages and parts on the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard of the US if launched northwards... SO, unless Drax's station was in a polar orbit or "high inclination" near-polar orbit, a shuttle could NOT be launched out of Vandenberg to rendezvous with it. Given Drax's launch sites in the Brazilian Amazon basin, it would be VERY difficult to launch into a polar orbit without dropping spent SRB cases onto Paraguay or Uruguay or Argentina... particularly considering he would have had to fly NUMEROUS shuttle missions to construct the space station and equip it with most of the nerve gas globes BEFORE Bond and Holly discovered his base and plans in the first place. 12 foot diameter, 150 foot long spent rocket boosters crashing into Montevideo neighborhoods WOULD have made the news I'm sure... It *might* be possible to launch out of an Amazon base due east or northeastward into an equatorial orbit and drop the spent boosters into the Atlantic off the northern coast of Brazil-- after all, NASA *originally* considered building their launch base for the Apollo moon rockets along the northern coast of Brazil, back in the very early days of the space program-- the closer you are to the equator, the more "boost" you get from Earth's rotation, increasing the payload your rocket can lift.

    More to come! OL J R :)

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    1. I live in Alabama, so I vote no to big rocket parts landing in our populated areas. Or anywhere's, really, but especially Alabama.

      "particularly considering he would have had to fly NUMEROUS shuttle missions to construct the space station and equip it with most of the nerve gas globes BEFORE Bond and Holly discovered his base and plans in the first place" -- Given the type of specialists he would have had to employ to get this done, I believe an argument could be made that Drax is by far the most competent of the Bond supervillains. I mean, successfully commissioning a hollowed-out-volcano is one thing, but this Moonraker project is that times a thousand.

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  19. This is the reason you couldn't launch a shuttle "due west" from Vandenberg into an equatorial orbit, going the "opposite way" (retrograde orbit), which of course going the opposite way would make it impossible to rendezvous with a space station in a "normal" equatorial orbit anyway). SO, the Air Force DID have their SLC-6 shuttle launch facility at Vandenberg, and even had plans for their OWN shuttle orbiter (apart from NASA's fleet of orbiters, eventually) and justified all this with some rather, "exotic" shall we say, plans and missions-- everything from the "once around" spy-sat missions previously mentioned, to flying Air Force astronauts up to rendezvous and perform inspections and even sabotage other countries spy-satellites in orbit-- measuring and assessing their capabilities to detect and film US military installations, or even blow up, capture, or sabotage enemy spy-sats... one suggestion was doing "space graffiti" and simply spray painting the lenses on their spy camera's with black spray paint, so they couldn't film the US military installations, ruining the spy-sats. (Of course the ramifications of this were glossed over-- enemy nations WOULD have retaliated against US spy-sats in kind; if they couldn't "sabotage" them in the same way they'd simply launch missiles at them to blow them up... this would have created a HUGE foreign policy disaster and heated up the Cold War immeasurably... In fact many think that Eisenhower SPECIFICALLY ALLOWED the Soviets to launch their Sputnik *first* in 1957 in order to establish the "open skies" principle when it came to orbiting spacecraft, which it did, since the US did not "protest" the overflight of its territory by the Soviet satellite-- thus paving the way for overflights by spy-satellites to be also "legal" in terms of international law and affairs). In actuality, the SLC-6 shuttle launch facility at Vandenberg was YEARS behind schedule and hugely over-budget, though it was finally "ready" to launch a shuttle in early 1986-- in fact the next launch after the "Challenger" mission that blew up at the end of January 1986 was SUPPOSED to be the inaugural shuttle launch out of SLC-6 at Vandenberg into polar orbit. Many were afraid that, given the lessons learned and changes required at Kennedy Space Center for the shuttle launches, due to acoustic damage caused to the orbiter at liftoff, that insufficient precautions and changes had been made at SLC-6 and the shuttle could be fatally damaged on launch out of Vandenberg.

    More to come! OL J R :)

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    1. "and justified all this with some rather, "exotic" shall we say, plans and missions" -- Hmm ... very intriguing. Sound like basically a bunch of Space 007s.

      "one suggestion was doing "space graffiti" and simply spray painting the lenses on their spy camera's with black spray paint, so they couldn't film the US military installations, ruining the spy-sats" -- I kid you not, this sounds like the kind of thing Ian Fleming would have come up with. Not as a novelist, but as a special-services operative and consultant.

      "In fact many think that Eisenhower SPECIFICALLY ALLOWED the Soviets to launch their Sputnik *first* in 1957 in order to establish the "open skies" principle when it came to orbiting spacecraft" -- Fascinating!

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  20. As it was, the Challenger shuttle explosion stopped all shuttle launches for an extended period, and led to serious re-evaluations of the shuttle program, mothballing SLC-6 in the process and grounding all the Air Force's plans for polar orbit shuttle missions. This was a good thing anyway, because the Soviets were *convinced* that the shuttle was actually an orbital nuclear bomber anyway-- their scientists calculated that the costs of shuttle and how much money it would save was a myth (and it was), and so it was a SMOKESCREEN for the *real* reason for the shuttle-- as a military weapon. They also calculated that a shuttle launching southward out of Vandenberg, as the Air Force intended, could be equipped not with spy-cameras but nuclear warheads, which flying northward after crossing over the South Pole, would approach Moscow and their other cities completely circumventing their northern defense radars, release its nuclear weapons to hit Moscow, then reenter over the North Pole to land at Edwards AFB, which would be a powerful "first strike" capability, allowing the US to launch its regular ICBM's to "mop up" afterwards in the confusion. This frightened the Soviets SO MUCH that they developed their own shuttle (Buran) in response! (the Soviets had also designed their "Proton" launch vehicle for an identical mission-- the "fractional orbital bombardment system" to launch nuclear warheads over the South Pole from the Soviet Union towards the US, coming in from the SOUTH, opposite the way our "Distant Early Warning (DEW) line missile warning radars were pointed (toward the north pole), giving them a powerful first-strike capability). As it was, NO shuttles EVER launched from Vandenberg, and SLC-6 was later converted for Delta IV Heavy launches of spy-sats...

    Later! OL J R :)

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    1. "This frightened the Soviets SO MUCH that they developed their own shuttle (Buran) in response!" -- In all honesty, I can't say that I blame them.

      Thanks for all these comments! Very interesting stuff.

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