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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Moonraker [Blu-ray]

 

(Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: MGM Pictures

Blu-ray: MGM Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 126 min

Chapters: 32

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: March 24, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 22 MBPS

 

Audio:

English DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio. Original Audio Dolby Surround. Spanish & French 5.1 Dolby Surround

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese & Mandarin

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Director Lewis Gilbert & Members of the Crew

• Audio Commentary by Sir Roger Moore

• Inside Moonraker - in 1080i (42:02)

• The Men Behind the Mayhem: Special Effects – in 1080i (19:01)

• Ken Adams' Production Films (12:03)

• Learning to Freefall & Skydiving Test Footage (3:56)

• Cable Car Storyboards (3:33)

• Circus Footage (1:19)

• 007 in Rio (12:45)

• Bond 79 (12:18)

• Theatrical Trailer (in letterboxed 480p)

 

 

The Film:

Moonraker enters at exactly the halfway point in the seven-film span of movies with Roger Moore as 007. Coming between what are arguably Moore's best Bond outings (The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only) Moonraker has more than its share of detractors. Even for a Bond movie, the science fantasy technology it depicts in and around Drax's space station is ludicrous. On the other hand, Moonraker is clearly Moore/Bond's most ingratiating comedy. Roger Moore generally traded Connery's realistic two-fisted agent for a humor that straddled smirk and whimsy. And once Jaws makes his surprise appearance (having been ironically dispatched in The Spy Who Loved Me), and especially as he emerges like Wile E. Coyote from certain death, time and again unscathed, the tone is set, and the entire finale seems less preposterous.

But Moonraker isn't Moore's picture anyway, it's Richard Kiel's. Had the filmmakers realized this more acutely they would have turned a routine Bond movie into a cult classic simply by ending it with the leaders of the free world tuning in to Jaws and Dolly making out instead of James and Holly. It has always struck me as the obvious choice, but then it wasn't my money.

The Movie : 6
The Bond formula, besides the actor playing 007, rests on the women, the clothes, the gadgets and stunts, and the locations. Less important is the plot. There's a common theme in most all of them: extortion on a global scale was in vogue in the days of SPECTRE, but in time megalomania became the motivating force. The money trail isn't far from view. Few villains ever equaled the designs of Hugo Drax, of whom his pilot says: "If he doesn't own it, he doesn't want it." A bit premature it turns out, since Drax's plan is nothing less than to exterminate the planet's entire human population and replace it with his own variety of übermenschen: all young, healthy, gorgeous and ready to repopulate the world once the air clears.

Bond often first meets his adversary over a cocktail or the gambling table, in this case, it's at Drax's estate where 007 begins his investigation into a highjacked space shuttle – one of a number owned by Drax's company. Michael Lonsdale is perfect as the usually unflappable Drax. His command to his henchman to "Take care of Mr. Bond – See that some harm comes to him” is so wonderfully detached, yet sinister for just that reason.

Bond plays cat and mouse not only with Drax, but with Dr. Goodhead (Lois Chiles) – that's "Holly Goodhead" to her friends – an astrophysicist on loan to Drax from NASA. She seems to show up inexplicably - first in Venice, then Rio - as Bond chases down his leads. Just whose side is she on, anyway?

The stunts include a masterful and rather funny freefall without a parachute as 007 attempts to pry lose a parachute from his adversary. There is also the requisite boat chase (I find these tiresome after a while). Best of all, however, is Jaws (Richard Kiel) who chews his way through the scenery until he finds true love in the shape of the diminutive but bountiful Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), a distraction that gives him pause - as it would any man, regardless of size.

 


 

Image: 9/10
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

If it weren't for a couple of scenes in semi-dark interiors that seem unnaturally brightened and thus grey instead of black, the image quality might have rated a perfect "10." As it is, the source print is superb and the transfer, except as noted (unless the problem was there to start with) is just about flawless. Coupled with some gorgeous locations in Venice, Rio and Iguaçu Falls (some 300 WSW of São Paulo HERE), plus some beautifully lit luxurious interiors, Moonraker might just be the best looking Bond film ever. It's just too bad that some of the sets (like the temple near the Falls) are so 60s. Their very clarity makes their fake appearance all the more disruptive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/8
Unlike MGM's DTS HD-MA mix for Live and Let Die, the lossless mix for Moonraker works just fine and I felt was the preferred audio mix, even as compared to the "original Dolby surround." (MGM, like the great majority of high def studios has still not grasped the sense of offering such "original" tracks in lossless form.) While there is plenty of dynamic impact during the battle in space, the boat races and even in the G-Force centrifuge, I felt that location cues were arbitrary: we are definitely immersed when called for but location precision is lacking.

 

Operations: 5
MGM's menu for all the Bond films on Blu-ray, while quick to load, are clumsy and arcane, with vague and arbitrary titles like "Declassified: MI6 Vault" "Mission Control" "Mission Dossier". Why so obscure? Why are some features under one category and not another? Additionally, whenever you return to the main menu, you find yourself, not where you left off, but at the beginning.

 

 

 

Extras: 6
Neither of the audio commentaries held my attention. Sir Roger's comments are staggered, though it's nice to have him here at all just for old time's sake. The main commentary with Lewis Gilbert and friends is more like a series of production-related reminiscences than precisely informative. I recall when the theme from Close Encounters is used for the entry code for the lab in Venice, not so much as a word from anyone, and when someone asked if they got copyright clearance for using music from The Magnificent Seven, Gilbert's answer was less than certain.

Much better for the purpose, I think, is the documentary "Inside Moonraker" – It covers all the essential points (the rationale for going into space – think: Star Wars - the idea of "screenplay by committee," casting (especially of Miss Chiles) and the choice of locations (especially IguaçuFalls.) By the way, though this and the special effects segment (which is interesting for the failed stunt attempts at Iguacu) are in nominal high definition, much of the footage is archival and only fair-to-good quality at that, so don't get your hopes up. In fact a surprising amount of the special features look more like home videos (which some are): Ken Adams' Production Films, Learning to Freefall & Skydiving Test Footage, Circus Footage (when Jaws falls into the tent), the Cable Car Storyboards (fairly interesting), 007 in Rio (very shabby). The Bond 79 retrospective is fun for the sake of historical perspective.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
Any fan of the series should enjoy this movie. The Blu-ray scores big points for image. Given Amazon's present discount of better than 50%, how can you go wrong?

Leonard Norwitz
April 2nd, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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