This is the eleventh essay in a 24-part series about the James Bond cinemas co-created by Sundog Lit. I encourage everyone to comment and join in what we hope to be an extended conversation about not only the films themselves, but cinematic trends, political and other external influences on the series’ tone and direction.
Of [In]human #Bond_age_ #11: Moonraker: In the Teeth of Nostalgia
For the first time since I began the #Bond_age_ project I’m at a loss regarding how to approach an essay. I suppose I should be grateful I’ve lasted this long, churning out thousands of Bond-y words without hiccup or hesitation. After all, this entry marks the 11th Bond movie. This is the 12th #Bond_age_ essay and we’re in the 22nd week of watching and loving James Bond. That’s a lot of Bond. And I’m getting a little nostalgic for the project already. Worrying about the inevitable end of something that’s been more enjoyable and rewarding than I’d thought possible.
So let’s just see where this brief trip through my pangs of nostalgia takes us
My first #Bond_age_ tweet for #DrNo:
That theme song just sends chills, doesn’t it? #DrNo So visceral.— James David Patrick (@30hertzrumble)
Consider that this project was conceived the week that Skyfall was released and began in earnest, after some short planning, on December 12th with Dr. No – the night that I tweeted facts and information to myself for 20 minutes before one person came along (thanks, @jennjaysleafs). A couple of people chimed in with some commentary of the “Wow, I never knew that” variety. The @007hertzrumble twitter account hadn’t yet been created. Hell, the tumblr didn’t even come around until sometime at the beginning of February. Considering from whence we’ve come, #Bond_age_ is now a well-oiled machine… but as late as January 16th,the night we watched Thunderball, I was considering canning the whole project entirely. Three people, including myself, had tweeted Goldfinger the prior week. The most well-known and generally most-liked Bond movie drew three people for the live tweet. And two of them were obligated to be there. I really don’t think I can be blamed for my disillusionment. I’d plugged this Goldfinger more on Twitter, thinking that persistence and top-of-mind awareness would eventually pay dividends. As it turned out, however, per the timeless words of Steve Coogan, I was just “doing Bond wrong” altogether.
Well, not actually Bond, per say, but Bond on Twitter, certainly. I gave myself the ultimatum. One more chance, I told Justin Daugherty, the editor of Sundog Lit Mag, the early sponsor and champion of the project, regarding that week’s screening of Thunderball. And then I tried a different tactic. It occurred to me that perhaps while I had 1200 followers on twitter I was just using a megaphone that wasn’t switched on to broadcast my live tweet sessions. I’d derived many of those followers from my tweeting about writing and music, hockey and baseball, not necessarily movies, and certainly not Bond. It should have come as no shock that my offers to enjoy great #Bond_age_ were met with deafening indifference.
I sought out movie-related accounts and found people running Bond fan pages and plugged my project without shame. For every one response, I probably sent ten messages. I couldn’t do this alone. It was, after all, the James Bond Social Media project. It was hubris to think that I had enough “Kred” (or “Klout” perhaps) to go it alone. And ultimately it was other live-tweeters that really helped give #Bond_age_ the push. Perhaps if not for the Cultural Gutter, TwitFlix and the TCM Party folks and their fan bases, none of us would have been watching Bond every Wednesday and I certainly wouldn’t be here, now, writing about Bond. That week, Thunderball was joined by a relative horde of tweeters. And by horde I mean five, maybe six people who joined in the conversation without pre-requisite attendance. Suffice to say, this was more than enough encouragement for me to forge on. Each week thereafter our numbers grew. Two weeks of promise encouraged me to create the tumblr at 007hertzrumble.tumblr.com to act as a new home for the project. The rest, well, just fell into place.
When I guested on the Debatable Podcast last month I cited two milestone tweet sessions. The first was that Thunderball tweet, the night I first realized we had something going (even if it was only blind faith that the project would continue to grow). The second milestone, of all movies, of all nights, was Moonraker. (Ahh, perhaps you’d forgotten that this bloggy mess of a rambling essay had a point after all.) That night sticks in my mind. We all tuned in to watch the infamous mess of a Bond movie. Bond in space! And while there was some veiled negativity (mostly channeled through my passive-aggressive encouragement to drink more), our mood was light and we attacked Moonraker with equal parts gusto, disbelief, and reverence (also irreverence).
As it turned out Moonraker had left a lasting impression on a number of #Bond_age_ fans. Nobody really denied the movie’s egregious missteps. But we tweeted along in good fun, perhaps partially inebriated, Bond-ing over what many consider to be the worst 007 movie in history (naturally, I submit Diamonds Are Forever and Die Another Day as reasons that this cannot be possible), but alas I would be remiss if I did not mention this opinion. It would be easy to turn this essay into another “what went wrong?” or “what were they thinking?” expose on the many flaws of Moonraker, but that would be a disservice. Its flaws are widely documented and not likely in need of any further elucidation.
A funny thing happened on the way to the space station
I, like many others, have a long festering distaste for Moonraker. I thought its offense was incontrovertible. I remember my first Bond binge. I was eleven or twelve, watching through the entire Bond catalog (or as much as I could find) and loving every minute of it. I remember certain moments, scattered images from this first Bond-a-thon. I remember the rickshaw chase in Octopussy because it was really my first exposure to images from India. I remember Jaws killing people by biting them in The Spy Who Loved Me because HE BITES PEOPLE! Also the massive scale of the set in Egypt from the same film. I remember the volcano assault in You Only Live Twice. I did not remember, however, that those ninjas yelled so much.These moments became excerpted from their wholes, jumbled and misplaced over the years, edited into my own nostalgia piece (that I guarantee would have played better at the last Oscars to commemorate 50 years of Bond). But perhaps most vividly of all, I remember watching Moonraker and how the movie shifted from James Bond to Indiana Jones to a space laser battle. And I remember going “OMG WTF” long before lame Internet shorthand had consumed my unconscious thought. And that reaction stayed with me. I refused to re-watch Moonraker.
…that is, I refused to re-watch Moonraker until the night we gave it good #Bond_age_. Until then, I’d stuck to that stubborn oath. And I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that I’d been wrong all these years. My eleven-year-old self had been wrong about a great litany of things, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong about Moonraker. It’s a terrible mess of a movie, undermining all the progress made by The Spy Who Loved Me toward again creating legitimate James Bond movies after Diamonds Are Forever (and arguably You Only Live Twice but don’t get me started) ransacked the franchise. But I’d come to Moonraker as a huge Star Wars fan. I’d come to it as a Bond fan from the starting points of The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill.
It would be easy to point out how flawed Cubby’s claim is that Moonraker boasts “science fact” rather than science fiction. You know, like how a laser battle in space makes “pew pew pew” noises and leaves visible laser trails. Science fact! (Not really.) There’s also the egregious softening of a brilliant hench-villain to the point of Jaws falling madly in love with the Little Debbie girl. One could devote pages to the ways in which the cable car sequence at Sugarloaf Mountain appears to bend the laws of physics and space-time. Never you mind the coincidental convenience of the ambulance standing by at the precise location at which Bond and Mary Goodhead drop to the terra from a very great height to sustain nary more than a bit of latent bruising. I don’t know whether to cringe or champion Drax’s evil premise to create a new master race by sending a bunch of “perfect” human specimens up in a shuttle to procreate and, upon landing at the space station, give birth to the master race. It’s never explicitly stated, but we all understand what’s going on here. He’s a pimp and he’s created the first space orgy. I have a few other notes about the ways in which Moonraker stumbles but the above paragraph is of sufficient size that I feel I’ve made my point. After all, I promised I wouldn’t flaunt the laundry list of flaws. There’s no need to browbeat a movie that’s already been browbeaten to a bloody pulp. (Okay, but just two more… double-taking pigeons and that inexplicable Roger Moore safari outfit.) From nearly every discernible angle, Moonraker, well,stinks. But there’s still one angle I’d never considered until we gave this movie the #Bond_age_ third degree.
The Nostalgia of Bond
The Bond series has endured for so long that it has been reborn no fewer than six times to adjust for changing styles, trends and varying faces of 007. The James Bond series trades in nostalgia by forever bringing back the Aston Martin DB5, the Walther, the familiar introduction: “Bond, James Bond,” the gun barrel, Monty Norman’s theme. We’ve all come to be fans of Bond each in our own various ways. The most common answer it seems is that our fathers introduced us to Bond, probably a Connery entry (probably Goldfinger) and then we picked up with the contemporary version as they were released. As I recall, I saw The Living Daylights with my dad in the theater and then we started renting every Bond at our local video store. At the time, I lived in a small farm community in southwestern Michigan and I remember our local video store didn’t actually have every Bond. That fact seems surreal to me know, not having access to these movies in a dozen different formats. DVD. Blu-ray. Streaming. VHS. And the copies of the few Bond movies we did own were VHS-to-VHS dubs made in a top-loading Zenith VCR. But as I’m wondering whether or not my parents still have that top-loading boat anchor, clearly I digress.
In case you’d forgotten, this is what all of our movie shelves used to look like (courtesy of XMU DJ Jake Fogelnest.)
Throughout the #Bond_age_ series, most every contributor has shared their own Bond origin story at one time or another. Bond, it seems, is a family affair. These memories are poignant, visceral and nostalgic. Nostalgic for tradition and childhood and the shared experience of watching Bond with fathers and grandfathers (and mothers and grandmothers). I remember, for example, after my grandmother passed, we were clearing out her house in Wisconsin and I had the job of going through her movies. I found three copies of Casino Royale. It had just come out on DVD before her hospitalization and three different people had thought to send her copies of the movie, myself included. We all knew she loved watching Bond. The most striking thing was that all of those copies had been opened, like she’d bothered to watch each one that was sent to her like it was brand new. Whenever I watch it, I always come back to that moment of sitting alone in her old living room and stacking up those three copies of Casino Royale, wondering if she’d enjoyed it as much as I’d hoped she would, what her favorite Bond movie had been. Frivolous things that didn’t matter much, not really, but still things you wish you could have known had you thought to ask.
So while I cherish my nostalgia for those Dalton Bonds, children who came to love Bond in the 1970’s, however, identify with Roger Moore. And what better movie could there have been for a prepubescent boy than Moonraker?
Bond’s adversary is a multi-millionaire megalomaniac with a plan to wipe out the Earth’s population with a deadly plague (released from space, mind you!) and then repopulate earth with a master race of his own creation. Do we have a reason? No. Do we need one? Clearly not. EON’s choice to send Bond to space was not, after all, well planned. As late as the release of the prior Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, the plan was to release For Your Eyes Only as its successor. And then Star Wars happened. Space and science fiction became de rigueur once again. To capitalize on the cinematic space race, EON took the only remotely space-related Fleming text (the novel was only “space-related” in that Britain was developing a kind of Reagan-esque Star Wars project) and went gonzo all over it. Nary a trace of that original Fleming novel remains except the Hugo Drax name and some Nazi-underpinnings. While the Moonraker film has become known as “Bond in space,” very little of the actual movie takes place in space. 90-minutes of globetrotting around to France, Brazil, Venice, the U.S. and Guatemala occur before Moonraker fires up a single rocket. Bond dressed like Clint Eastwood, rides a horse set to the theme from the Magnificent Seven, drives a semi-aquatic gondola through the streets and canals of Venice and wrestles a massive python in the Amazon in the finest safari duds sold through the J. Peterman catalog.
If you watch and consider how these elements played in the eyes of a boy, suddenly the movie makes more sense. The affection falls into place. Through the #Bond_age_ tweets during the movie, I started to see this affection more clearly. I started to feel the powerful nostalgia of others, the kind that forever turns a blind eye to the specific missteps that cause some critics to say it “just flat-out sucks” (courtesy of Norman Milner of MSN) or that the movie is just “sheer idiocy” (according to critic Nicholas Silvain).
Consider specifically how Jaws, the menacing villain from The Spy Who Loved Me, becomes Bond’s ally. Young fans of the henchman wrote to Cubby Broccoli and Lewis Gilbert and wished that Jaws would be nicer because they liked him so much. Fans wrote letters, real pencil-to-paper letters, and influenced the outcome of Moonraker. While this turn of character and crowd-sourcing style of influence appalls adults who consider Moonraker objectively, this softening, however, must have been positively thrilling for a young fan of James Bond. And once my opinion of Moonraker softened, just like the stone-cold heart of the killer Jaws (who was redeemed by falling in love with a little pig-tailed girly-woman), I was able to let go of my critical ego and enjoy the spectacle and the lunacy. Through that #Bond_age_ session I remembered vividly what it was like to enjoy sharing Bond with friends, just as I’d done with family as a boy newly discovering how much fun Bond could be.
So it seems that this entry found a point after all.
As we reach the original end date for this project, I hope that everyone that has enjoyed good #Bond_age_ through these live tweet sessions and the content on this tumblr over the past 22 weeks has also been able to feel this healthy nostalgia. I’d like to thank everyone that has participated. From those that were there in the very beginning when it was just a couple people chatting about Connery’s bedeviling handsomeness to those that were there when we first topped the national Twitter trending topics list, you’ve all helped make Of [In]human #Bond_age_ the power-hungry megalomaniac (in the best possible sense, of course) that it’s become. Even though we’ve reached the last official live tweet session with tonight’s screening of Skyfall, I have decided to continue the series with no definite destination or expiration. In that it’s always been about being a “social” enterprise, I hope that the community we’ve fostered can direct the project forward for as long as we can continue to find pleasure in the shared experience of Bond and good #Bond_age_.
As Hugo Drax might have said, “It is with the greatest amusement that I hope that we might prolong this cockle-warming endeavor so that it might someday reach the surreptitious canopy of the Amazonian Kapok tree, whereby our consciousness might find harmony at the dawn of ages.”
Or something like that.
By the way, how cool is it that if you search “Moonraker space orgy” you get this result:
Yeah, that’s me and our very own @krissy_myers leading the pack of experts dispensing knowledge on Moonraker space orgies.
Previous James Bond #Bond_age_ Project Essays:
Dr. No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live and Let Die / The Man with the Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View to a Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence to Kill / GoldenEye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale / Quantum of Solace / Skyfall / Spectre