Welcome back to the newest and most difficult entry thus far into this trek down the Ian Fleming rabbit hole, Bond vs Bond. This entry is difficult because the movie was so bad and so completely different than the book that I’m gonna have to limit how much I write about how different it is. Last week we saw the changes that could happen jumping to the movies while still following the basic gist of the book in Live and Let Die. This week though is Moonraker, and it is just an astounding adaptation. This is the third book and the 11th movie in the series. I did all the work, so let’s try to make something worthwhile out of it.
To see the write up on Casino Royale, click here.
To see the write up on Live and Let Die, click here.
Ian Fleming released Moonraker in 1955, the third book in his James Bond series. The man was officially on a roll, continuing what would be a consistent one a year pace until his death. Hell, he had enough Bond material to last for two years after his death. But while it is the third book in the series, it would take until the 11th movie for it to be adapted. Roger Moore was Bond for 6 years at that point, still going at the doddering age of 51. The series was just coming off a high point for Moore and one of the better entries in the series with The Spy Who Loved Me, so Bond was hot. The big 4th entry into the series, this would become the movie to help cement the idea that a Bond actors 4th movie would not be so hot. Thunderball wasn’t too splendid a trip for Connery and Die Another Day would go on to be the absolute nadir for the series. Daniel Craig is about to release his 4th, so hopefully he can reverse that trend. Roger Moore was a travesty to the legacy of the Bond name in regards to Connery and specifically the books, so the adaptations of the books with him weren’t always so close to them. But this is such a level of dishonoring the book that you really gotta wonder if the producers read past the back cover synopsis.
The book is a rebound for Flemings character, as we discussed last week that Live and Let Die wasn’t particularly great. In the book, Bond is actually asked by M to do him a favor outside of the agency. M wants to help him uncover if someone is cheating at cards at a rich gambling establishment that M frequents. That somebody is a member of this place and a mega celebrity in the UK, businessman Hugo Drax. Drax is a celebrity because with his riches and procurement of a rare metal, he is building a missile defense system to protect England from Russian nukes. He is widely considered a hero and people love him. Trying to find out if he’s cheating is their way of trying to protect his honor, so he stops before it gets out that he’s cheating. Bond proves it by beating him at cards and Drax is seemingly deterred from cheating. But when something goes awry at the Drax’s base, Bond is sent in to make sure no sabotage is enacted and protect the mission.
Despite all that busy work, the story is actually kinda simple and straight forward, losing all of the bullshit world building from Live and Let Die. It gets rid of any unnecessary supernatural elements and just tells a mystery. And it’s moving slightly more towards the Bond we know, with more action involved. But it’s still very much it’s own thing, with Bond’s darker edge and a focus on more procedural elements. What’s funny though is knowing that Fleming wrote this with the intent to turn it into a movie at some point, almost forseeing the future of the franchise in his sights. There’s a cleaner writing and the move towards more cinematic stylings. It may not go to space but it does have a bigger scope and a more massive plot. It takes itself back down to Earth, telling a story about more timely elements for the 50s, including Soviet Nuclear fears and the still lingering aftermath of WWII in the world.
The movie too uses something timely at the time to choose this book as the next installment. Star Wars was released and became a phenomenon. It was that simple. They saw a space movie was big and used the book with a title that sounds space like, and went with it. But again, they really didn’t read the book at all. Aside from the bad guy having the same name (spoilers, it’s Hugo Drax), nothing is similar at all. It decides to make it about a spaceship and not a missle defense system. And it can’t be said with enough disdain, but it ends in a space set laser shootout. That is so far and away from Bond is that it’s insulting.
The plots of the two are drastically different, aside from the movie making a laughable attempt at trying to be a mystery of sorts despite telling us of Drax’s villainy almost from the jump. Drax’s motivation in the book is pretty damn cool. He was a Nazi who was accidentally injured in an attempted bombing, having infiltrated enemy territory in disguise as an Allied soldier. Still harboring hatred for England, he builds up his riches and gets the materials needed to build a nuclear bomb in plain sight for England to essentially destroy themselves. That’s damn cool. In the movie, he’s just some guy who wants to create a perfect society on Earth, so he plans to destroy the Earth with some silly poison that only kills people and does nothing to the environment and repopulate with a chosen group of those he deems worthy. It’s so massive a plan, even in comparison to a nuclear attack. The books plot is big and pulpy, it’s at least grounded in a sort of reality. The movie is just so massively over cooked and done in a shitty way, that nothing about it works. And the motivations and depictions of the two Drax’s affects the plots immensely. By making Drax in the book a revenge seeking Nazi with a big personality and a big collection of burn scars, he has some weight and something to latch onto. His utter belief in the Nazi way never ended and the loss of WWII just makes him even more determined to take the UK down. But in the movie, he’s got no personality at all. He’s really just some businessman that hates the poor. The only good thing is it gives Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn something to latch onto when making Kingsman.
Another big change is the Bond girl. It’s a big change on every conceivable level. In the book, her name is Gala Brand. She’s undercover at Drax’s base as a Drax’s personal assistant, working for Special Branch. She’s a strong woman with agency, but finds herself attracted to Bond despite her best efforts. But despite the attraction, she withstands his advances and goes off to her fiancee, skipping a monthlong sex vacation with Bond. In the movie, she is a CIA operative undercover as an astronaut in Drax’s employ. Not too bad, right? Makes her even more of a strong woman with agency. But that’s kinda forgotten when the actress (Lois Chiles) is such a bad actress, unable to make anything sound natural. That can kinda be forgiven when having to trade sexual double entendres and banter with grandpa Roger. But it can’t be forgiven when her name is changed to Dr. Holly Goodhead. That alone goes to show what a fucking joke that pretty much all Roger Moore movies are. Change her name to some stupid joke that isn’t even a nickname. Nope, just Goodhead. And despite her CIA chops, she just can’t help buckle at the knees at the sight of Roger’s undefined and doughy body. They just ruin that character, and not even in the attempt to make a good Bond girl. She’s just crap.
Within their respective series’, they are completely different. We all know the movies basically stopped being serialized in any way when Kevin McClory got the rights to SPECTRE. Each movie would just be a standalone adventure that didn’t really care about the last movie. The books though, while not completely telling one long form story, have a sense of history. Bond is basically starting this book right after his convalescence from Live and Let Die. And while they don’t mention SMERSH explicitly, it is revealed that Drax was working with the Soviets to help him enact his plan. In the movies? Nothing at all. The only sense of history is that Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me shows up, and is turned into a big punchline. And they give him some ridiculous love interest. It’s nonsense. This is the 4th movie into Moores reign of terror and there’s nothing to latch onto. Just a complete abandonment of the Bond style.
The book isn’t perfect. Having three of his books in my cache at this point, I can safely assume that no Fleming book ever will. He spends too much time writing like a Sears ad, describing a lot of items and surroundings. And he spends too much time on the set up at the card game. Pacing ain’t his forte, but that’s fine. Despite too much time describing shit, he builds a world nicely. And the story is cool, despite the mystery isn’t mysterious. It’s obvious that Drax is a villain. But unlike the movie just telling you and going about the mystery format, this is obvious because of the writing. But in comparison to the movie that shares a name, this is like a Faulkner novel. Holy shit, the movie is an absolute mess. The tone is absolute trash, trying to be comical but half assing it so completely that nothing it attempts lands. And despite a pretty badass opening scene on an airplane with some crazy stunts, it’s got a severe lack of any interesting action at all. The plot is garbage and the pacing, like many Bond flicks, is shit. Roger Moore has regressed even further into cartoonish goon and can’t sell anything he’s asked to do. The only good thing he can do is some knowing smiles when Jaws comes to attack him on a cable car. It’s just no good, a completely baffling case of misguided intent. It’s a cheap, lazy cash grab that misses any of the elements of Bond on the page or the screen. There’s so many difference in here that it’s almost pointless to even list even half of them, let alone all of them. Just assume that whatever is on screen is just made up for the movie. So far into this project, this is the first one to have nothing to do with it’s movie. And the worst movie thus far. But luckily, the book is good so that gave me a week or so of entertainment. The next installment may be a slight improvement on the movie front, but I may be misremembering the level of shit it is. Essentially it’s another movie that’s garbage, but the book might be good. God, I can only hope.
Up Next: Diamonds Are Forever