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Moonraker is a 1982 American film and the 12th entry into the James Bond series, based on the 1960 novel of the same name. The film starred James Brolin in his first of three films as James Bond, as well as Sarah Laurent, Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee, John Mackay, Julia Hazelwood, Jack Lemmon, Donnie Delorria, Richard Kiel, and Sal Caparza in his first film role. The film follows Bond as he travels to England to investigate the mysterious Hugo Drax, an English billionaire industrialist building a first-response missile for the English government to help achieve the long-held English dream of a unilateral removal of American weapons from their soil.
Moonraker was intended to be converted to a film by Bond creator __ since before he finished the novel, as he was writing the novel at the height of the Bomb Scare in late 1959. While it had originally been intended as the second film for George Lazenby in 1972, the film was postponed by ten years until a script that pleased everyone was agreed upon. Moonraker wound up with the highest gross of any Bond film up to that point, and due to its relatively low production costs, it reigned in the highest total profit of any Bond film until then, and was the highest-grossing film of 1982. Moonraker's box office success would overshadow the series until GoldenEye was released thirteen years later.
This was the second adaptation of Moonraker - the novel was made into a radio play in 1974 with the voice talents of Grant Kerouac and Peter Cushing. English Radio, which produced the play, sold the rights to the novel back to Pacific Print in 1979. The film was the first of the so-called "Brolin/Alten" trilogy, which paired director Bryan Alten with Brolin for three straight films and had a loose continuity.
The movie opens with Bond (James Brolin) returning from mission in China and is on a plane en route back to Sydney. However, he realizes that he has been betrayed and that the stewardess and pilot intend on killing him. He is thrown out of the plane without a parachute by Jaws (Richard Kiel) and has to catch up to the pilot to retrieve his parachute. He manages to escape from Jaws and parachutes away to safety.
In London, a dying Churat defector approaches the local OSIS station chief with plans for the Moonraker missile, a first-response defense missile untraceable by radar designed for the English government to expediate the removal of American weapons and nuclear warheads from English soil. This news travels back to M, who assigns Bond to investigate where the security leak came from, as the developer of the missile, Hugo Drax (Roger Moore), has kept the plans top-secret and NATO fears sabotage by the Churat.
Bond arrives in London and finds Drax at a gentlemen's club, accompanied by his personal assistant Severa (Julia Hazelwood). Bond catches on quick to Drax's cheating ways and fools him while they play bridge, winning an enormous sum and stimyeing Drax. He is later approached by Felix Leiter (John Mackay), an ally with the CIA on loan to the ESS in their own investigation of Drax, who gives him background information on the subject - he was an ERA soldier who survived a deadly blast south of London during the Anarchy and never truly recovered from his amnesia afterwards. However, he was able to recover enough to devote his energy towards aeronautics and business investments, rising in wealth and influence over the decades and now devoting his time to developing his supersonic Moonraker missile, that is impossible to trace and can knock enemy rockets out of the air within seconds, which is necessary given the proximity of French missiles aimed straight at England.
Bond, curious, asks Leiter and his contacts in the ESS to get him closer to Drax. They establish a cover for him where he is a NATO officer accompanying an English Treasury representative named Godfrey Allen-Holmes (Patrick Macnee) to Drax's estate in northern England. Drax, who also builds and designs private jets at his compound, is previewing his newest jet, the Drax E7, shortly and will be allowing the Treasury Ministry's audit of the Moonraker project simultaneously.
At the estate, Bond encounters Drax once again and Drax's enmity is clear again. Bond meets and speaks to a Dr. Walter, an oddly-German sounding scientist in charge of developing the first-strike missiles. Bond also meets Gala Brand (Sarah Laurent), an executive secretary for Drax's company, who rebuffs his advances. While in Northumberland, Leiter and the ESS team are renting out a flat in the nearest town where Bond can reach them should he encounter trouble.
Bond attempts to get a look around the estate and is observed by Krebs (George Stalls). Bond spots boats landing on the beach and carrying supplies into underground caves directly beneath the bluffs the estate sits upon. Bond is afterwards discovered by Gala, who sneaks him back inside the mansion before Drax's bodyguards can find him, leading Bond to wonder what her true motives are. Bond travels into town with Severa, Drax's assistant, the next day and manages to sneak information to Leiter before Severa comes looking for him again.
Drax begins his preview show of new airplanes for his investors, and Bond sneaks out while Allen-Holmes watches the program to get a closer look at the caverns. Down in the caverns, he is nearly trapped by water slamming him into the walls, but manages to enter the laboratories and discovers an assembly plant for a much larger missile directly underneath the missile factory where Drax is supposedly building the deterrent rockets. He also discovers correspondence and payments made to Drax from the French government. He is attacked by Krebs in the factory and they battle, and he manages to kill Krebs by throwing him down the missile silo chute, and escapes from Dr. Walter's minions by diving back into the water and swimming out into the sea again.
Drax is heading for Newcastle with Gala after the show, and she manages to find his personal pocketbook lying on the floor of their limousine. As he is busy with a phone call, she deduces from various numbers in the book that he has written the coordinates of London, and calculated the trajectory from his estate to the capital. When she attempts to escape to a phone in downtown Newcastle with this information, she is apprehended by Severa mid-call, who brings her back to Drax, who had intentionally planted the pocketbook to test her.
Leiter finds Bond and informs him that "our man inside" has been captured in Newcastle and Bond realizes that it is Gala. He rushes off in his car to save her, leading Drax's men, who followed him from the cave, on a lengthy car chase in the English countryside and into Newcastle itself. Finally, his car is so damaged that he has to abandon it in the river and he too is captured by Drax and his associates.
Bond and Gala are brought back down to the laboratory, where Bond accuses Drax of collaborating with the French, to which Drax replies that he in fact is French, having been wounded during the Anarchy and faking his amnesia to maintain an English identity, and that his real name is in fact Hugo Drache. Bond then observes Drax loading a nuclear warhead onto the tip of the missile hidden under his silo, and Drax further explains his plan - using his good standing with NATO, he used resources earmarked for the first-response missiles to build his own rocket, which would then carry a nuclear warhead to London, courtesy of the French. The detonation would destroy the city and cut the power to much of the surrounding countryside, thus crippling the English Republic and remove its effectiveness as a NATO member. Since the missile is untraceable, the evidence of the attack would vanish and the survivors would likely blame the presence of American warheads around the city for the accident and further unravel the already weak NATO alliance.
Drax leaves Bond and Gala tied under the rocket's exhaust pipes at the bottom of the silo. Allen-Holmes, who is suspicious over Bond's disappearance, telephones Leiter that something is wrong and is in turn apprehended and shot dead by Severa, but not before the ERA can prepare to storm the estate. Bond manages to free himself and Gala and they escape, watching the rocket launch from a hiding place and realizing they have less than ten minutes to stop it.
Bond manages to fight his way to the control panel, where he changes the rocket's coordinates at the last second, causing it to land harmlessly in the North Sea. Drax and Severa run for safety as the ERA attacks the estate, grabbing Gala in the confusion, but not before hitting a self-destruct feature on the missile silo, which begins to explode and flood. Bond fights off Dr. Walter, killing him by electrifying the water he falls into, and then rides the coursing water up the open silo to safety on top of a broken door.
The ERA fights easily through their opposition, but Drax and Severa have escaped with Gala to a nearby airfield and take off with Drax's speedy personal jet. Bond and Leiter rush to an ERAAC airfield near Newcastle and he is flown into the air in pursuit. As Drax is flying low to avoid radar detection, Bond climbs out onto the back of the plane with his parachute and manages to jump from one plane to the other, landing on top of Drax's jet and forcing his way inside. Drax attempts to use Gala as a human shield but Bond overpowers one of his bodyguards and sends the plane flying high, causing Severa to fall out of the open door and Gala to nearly follow her out, barely hanging on. Bond and Drax struggle as the plane pitches and dives in midair, causing Gala to lose grip and fall. Bond races out to dive after her as the plane veers out of control and crashes into a hill.
Bond flies after Gala as she freefalls and barely manages to catch up to her, pulling the ripcord in time for them to crash land in a forest. They see smoke from Drax's plane crash in the distance as they pull themselves down from a tree and start to embrace, before English Army officials show up to figure out what's going on.
Later, at a briefing in London, the English Defense Minister, Leiter and M try to figure out where Bond is, trying to reach him over the communication system in his car. Bond and Gala are making love in his backseat while the sun sets over the cliffs of Dover and Bond ignores the feed by throwing his shirt over the radio. Gala asks, "What if it's important? What if you need to save the world again?" Bond replies, "It can wait for another day," and glances briefly at the camera before winking.
- James Bond - James Brolin. Oceanian secret agent working for clandestine OSIS Division, which in the Brolin "trilogy" was underfunded and understaffed due to cuts and the anti-Cold War fervor from the Brazilian War. Brolin was the first Bond to wear a beard, which he has in the first scene of the film, and is the only American actor to play Bond, and the second non-Oceanian.
- Hugo Drax - Roger Moore. English industrialist who is in charge of Drax Engineering, a contractor developing a new first-strike missile system for the English government that is in fact intended to be launched against England itself. Moore was the first choice of the production team due to his fame from the Martin Jones series and his charm.
- Gala Brand - Sarah Laurent. Drax's executive secretary, who it turns out is an English Secret Service agent working undercover to discover his secrets. Laurent was chosen due to her performance in ETV series The Surprisers.
- Godfrey Allen-Holmes - Patrick Macnee. An English Treasury auditor sent to Drax's Cornish estate to evaluate the progress of the Moonraker project, whom Felix Leiter sets Bond up with as a cover.
- Felix Leiter - John Mackay. A CIA agent working as Bond's contact outside of the estate in conjunction with the ESS. Mackay reprised his role from For Your Eyes Only, and is the only actor to play Leiter twice in the series.
- Severa Lusserella - Julia Hazelwood. Drax's enigmatic and gorgeous Italian personal attendant, who is also his bodyguard and assassin. The role launched the career of the then-unknown Hazelwood.
- Dr. Walter - Donnie Delorria. Drax's taciturn head researcher at the Drax Engineering complex on the English Channel.
- Krebs - George Stalls. Drax's bodyguard and judo champion.
- M - Head of OSIS Division and Bond's boss.
- Q - Jack Lemmon. The gadget inventor who supplies Bond with his new Ford Bravia for his adventures in England.
- Moneypenny - Katharine O'Neal. M's secretary, who has a flirtatious relationship with Bond.
When George Lazenby announced in early 1980 that he was walking away from the role at the age of 40, citing that he was exhausted after six straight turns in the role, Pacific Print began testing numerous other actors for the role. The studio had decided before For Your Eyes Only was made that Lazenby's successor would be an American actor, to reappeal to the large American audience. Kurt Russell was given heavy consideration, especially after the studio observed his accurate mimicry of an Oceanian accent, which he insisted upon doing for the film to stay true to the books. However, producers Albert Broccoli and Gene Hardy could not agree on Russell, due to his establishment as an American actor and his youth (Russell would have been 30 at the time of filming). Actor Mel Gibson was considered as well after the success of Mad Max, but he stated that he was too young for the role. Finally, the studio hired James Brolin as their star, and set about finding more actors for their new Moonraker project.
Having walked away from the Martin Jones series, English actor Roger Moore was approached to appear in Moonraker. He initially declined due to obligations to appear in Shogun, but when the filming of Shogun was postponed by an entire year, he agreed, barely beating out Richard Hayes for the part of Hugo Drax. While the film was an Oceanian production, the producers were impressed with English actress Sarah Laurent on the show The Surprisers and cast her as Gala Brand. Most roles were filled by the summer of 1981, when production was to go into effect.
The 1960 novel concerned, appropriately for its time, a plot by an English industrialist to arm a long-distance missile with a French-supplied nuclear warhead and shoot it at New York, under the pretense of building a first-response weapon for the Anglo-American Alliance. By 1982, long distance ballistic missile technology was largely irrelevant, so the producers tweaked the basic plot to revolve around unilateralism and English disarmament, which was a very topical issue in the early 1980's, as well as the tensions within NATO due to the Brazilian War. The character of Hugo Drax was altered from a long-dormant Churat sleeper agent to be a vengeful French Special Forces officer who still holds loyalties to the French, and the target was changed from New York to London. While Felix Leiter played a small role in the novel, in Moonraker he enjoyed his most significant role since Live and Let Die and largest part until License Revoked, despite being a CIA agent in a story set almost entirely in England. At one point, the authors considered creating an original character, but eventually elected to use Leiter instead.
Principal photography took place almost exclusively in England between June and November 1981, and the film was edited for a June 1982 release date. Even sets usually meant for Sydney were recreated in England to keep production costs down.
For the car chase in the English countryside, the second unit team spent five weeks filming the time-consuming and intricate chase sequence, and stunt driver Logan Watkins was injured after one of the cars flipped accidentally. For Drax's underground laboratory and the flood that consumes it, the producers designed an elaborate set that they actually flooded, and placed pieces of the set in an oxygenated water tank when they needed Brolin or his stunt double to access recognizable pieces of the set. Brolin performed several of his stunts himself, including his leap from the top of Drax's estate to a racing van below. Brolin also performed many of his own fight scenes.
The daring sequence in which Bond climbs from an ERAAC plane to Drax's jet was shot near Kialgory, Alaska with professional skydivers Michael Rigg and Tyler Lombard, both of whom had to abandon the stunt twice before Rigg finally pulled it off on the fifth attempt. The stunt was referred to by Bond producer Gene Hardy as "probably the most dangerous stunt we've done in the history of the series," and the producers were ready to scrap the sequence and rewrite a simpler method for Bond to board Drax's Learjet before Rigg pulled it off.
Release and Reception
Moonraker opened worldwide on July 9, 1982 after a Sydney premiere on the 2nd. It opened at and stayed at No. 1 at the box office for four straight weeks and remained in the top three at the box office for an additional eight weeks. At the time, Moonraker had the biggest opening weekend in history, pulling in box office receipts of $73 million worldwide, and ended its theatrical run with a worldwide gross of $491 million. Released the same summer as Pat Alden's Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was part of an enormously profitable summer movie season, one that far outgrossed the weak receipts of the previous three summers during the worldwide economic turndown. Moonraker ended the year as the second most profitable film of 1982, behind only Raiders.
Moonraker is regarded as one of the Bond series' benchmark films for numerous reasons. The film proved that, after the bombastic, over-the-top and enormously expensive Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, the series could present a film that was more realistic and inexpensive to produce that could also yield high popularity. In fact, due to its low production cost and high worldwide gross, it had the best profit margin of any Bond film since Goldfinger. Moonraker also helped rejuvenate fan interest in what many considered was a crumbling series, and modernized the character of Bond, the personalities of supporting characters and the nature of the intelligence field to more aptly fit the times. Notably, the primary love interest of the film, Gala Brand, was an enormously capable ESS agent who rebuffs Bond's sexual advances until he saves her and who at no point is portrayed as a damsel in distress. Bond historian Jack Drew commented that the election of Elizabeth Shannon had to be reflected in the female characters, as empowered women were now expected to appear in early-1980's films. Moonraker would also mark a trend in the Bond series towards grittier realism, most obviously displayed in the early 1990s films Licence Revoked and Agent Under Fire. The film established Brolin as an international star.
The other, and more noticeable, impact of the film was in its sign that the global turndown was ending, as burgeoning film receipts was taken as a sign of people having more expenditure money. Another effect was its role in the emergence of the English film industry, which had been struggling in the 1970's with the influx of new Hollywood material as well as during the recession. With the infrastructure put in place by Moonraker and Raiders of the Lost Ark, England had several large studios with which to produce its own films, most notably the American-financed reimagining of the Martin Jones series starting with 1985's The Vicar and the Virgin.