Stark and Run For It Marty continue their epic quest to re-read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and discuss them here, at the Last Movie Outpost. You can read their take on Casino Royale here, and Live And Let Die here.
This time around they tackle Moonraker and a tale different from the one experienced on the big screen. How different? Very, very different.
Look After Mr Bond, See That Some Harm Comes To Him
At the end of the movie The Spy Who Loved Me the next James Bond movie had already been announced. The closing credits assured us that James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only. So what happened? Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, that’s what. The world was sci-fi crazy. Bond producer Cubby Broccoli wanted in on the action. So For Your Eyes Only was shelved and they dug into Fleming’s back catalog to see what they could adapt.
Their gaze fell upon Ian Fleming’s third novel, Moonraker. Wholesale changes were made, with the Moonraker becoming a space shuttle rather than the ICBM of the book. At the time a functional US space shuttle was still two years away. Only the mock orbiter Enterprise existed and was used for glide testing. This didn’t stop the producers and Moonraker went on to be the highest grossing movie in the series for many years.
A staple of many Christmas TV schedules around the world, it is fondly regarded by many fans, even as they acknowledge the ridiculousness that pervades the entire thing. But what of the novel?
Published in 1955 it was always, in Fleming’s mind, supposed to be a movie even before he began writing it. He first thought of a James Bond screenplay and even went as far as accepting an option from American actor John Payne of $1,000 for nine-months. A further $10,000 payable on production starting. That never happened the basis of the screenplay became part of the novel.
After the globe trotting glamour of Live And Let Die James Bond returns home for an adventure set entirely within the UK, and mostly in the county of Kent, in the South East of England. Ian Fleming lived in the county for much of his life. James Bond’s fictional biography also has the character grow up in Kent, living with his Aunt after his parents are killed in a climbing accident. So Fleming was clearly writing what he knows.
Settling down to yet another day of paperwork and boredom in London, 007 is summoned to M’s office. His first clue that something is amiss comes when M calls him James. He cannot remember ever being called anything but “007” or “Bond” by the Admiral. M is embarrassed to ask Bond to help him out in a personal matter. At his London club, the prestigious Blades, one of the members is suspected of cheating at cards.
If a Blade’s member was found to be cheating his fellow members it would be scandalous enough. This is potentially worse. The suspected cheat is Sir Hugo Drax, multi-millionnaire industrialist and hero to the British people as he is funding himself the development of the Moonraker, an advanced new ICBM with a greater range, speed and payload than anything else anywhere in the world.
He was badly injured and stricken with amnesia in the explosion of a bomb planted by a German saboteur at a British field headquarters. Facially disfigured by the bomb blast, after extensive rehabilitation in an army hospital he returned home to become a wealthy industrialist.
If he is implicated in a cheating scandal there will be consequences for British defence. M asks Bond, as the best card player in the service, to accompany him as his guest to Blades, to study Drax, discover why he likes to cheat at cards, and to beat him badly at the tables, hopefully to warn him off future cheating attempts.
Then, when the head of security from the Ministry Of Defence for the Moonraker project is murdered in suspicious circumstances Bond is sent in as his replacement and to find out why he was killed. Hooking up with Special Branch officer Gala Brand on the South Coast of England, between Sandwich and Deal where the Moonraker will shortly be test fired over the sea, Bond discovers there is far more to Drax than suspected and now faces a race against time to uncover the facts as the clock ticks down to the Moonraker’s first flight.
I Think He’s Attempting Re-Entry
Stark: Not going to lie. I love this book. It’s incredibly tight, contained. It feels very real. I also feel an affinity for this book because I spent a lot of my childhood in Kent. I grew up there when in the UK. I know these locations.
Deal, Sandwich, Kingsdown. I go there all the time. Even the hotel and the pub mentioned in the book are still there today. And they have a car chase that goes through the middle of Maidstone, down the Ashford Road to Leeds Castle. I drove that road about two weeks ago! So I guess I think I might go out down that way and take some pics. Do something for the site on Ian Fleming’s Kent.
Run: I would definitely be interested in that as that is part of England I have not had the chance to visit.
Stark: I was down there a couple of weeks ago, on the Kent coast between Sandwich and Deal. Was thinking a lot about the book as I had a look around. Drax is an epic villain. He was the best thing in what I consider a below average Bond movie. Michael Lonsdale is incredible in the movie. Here in the book he’s got a great backstory and good motivation.
Run: He also looks totally different. He’s closer to Mad Eyed Moody than he is to a normal-sized Peter Dinklage. I was sad to hear of Lonsdale’s passing recently.Stark: It’s strange to think that this novel was actually the basis of the center of the story for Die Another Day. Toby Stephens’ Gustav Graves character being an enemy hiding in plain sight, using his fortune to create something ostensibly for benefit that he has nefarious plan for. Him being something of an establishment hero, therefore somewhat untouchable. Bond confronting him at Blades. Miranda Frost was actually called Gala Brand (the name of the heroine in the book) in an early version of the script.
Run: That’s hard to believe. Not that it isn’t true but I just can’t reconcile that movie to this book.
Stark: Weird, isn’t it? That two of the worst entries in the movie series all came from one of the best books! One of the best things about this book, for me, is how Fleming has clearly relaxed into it and it shows. It also shows in the character of Bond as you start to get a real sense of the man in this book. It talks about him and his habits maybe lays the groundwork for some of the movie 007 we all know.
Run: Yeah. He spends a good amount of time in the beginning going over Bond’s life, his finances, etc.
Stark: I also liked how the whole thing starts with a rather embarrassed M asking 007 for a personal favour. I like the idea it’s to protect a reputation rather than some far off nefarious deed Bond needs to stop… at first, at least!
Run: Yeah. That stuff starts off pretty well for me at the Blades Club, but once it gets into that Bridge game it suffers a bit from “Goblet of Fire-itis” where it just drags. I don’t play Bridge and I don’t care if Romania wins the Quidditch World Cup either.
Stark: Another thing I started to realize in this book is how Moneypenny, in the novels, is not even the character she is in the movies. Moneypenny is still M’s secretary in the book, but there is zero relationship or flirting with 007. She’s just the guardian of M’s domain. The secretary Bond has a flirtatious relationship with and who deeply cares for him, worries about him when he’s off on missions is his own secretary, Loelia Ponsenby. The movie Moneypenny is an amalgamation of two book characters.
Run: I thought that was pretty interesting. I liked all of that MI6 stuff at the beginning quite a bit. The minutia and mundaneness of it all. I was also amused by Bond blowing his winnings on a car and some bottles of wine.
Stark: And speaking of the women in Bond’s life. He doesn’t get the girl here, just like in Casino Royale. That was another movie invention, that 007 always ends in bed with the girl of the adventure.
Run: As Austin Powers once said “All his movies end that way, baby!”
Stark: Also still no Q, still no real gadgets. Very lean. Like the Daniel Craig movies the adventures are connected. Bond reacts to things based on his previous adventures and experiences. There are references back to the events of Casino Royale and Live And Let Die. We are not even at the SPECTRE trilogy yet! That is still several books away.
Run: I think I preferred Live and Let Die to the other two so far. I like the location changes and the brisk pace of it. Some of Moonraker seems like he took things from Casino Royale and did it bigger (the car chase, the card game).
Stark: I guess I always feel an affinity for this book as it’s based in places I know well. I also enjoy the change of pace and total focus on a domestic adventure, and that it’s just so different from the movie. I like the developing sense of who Bond is. I like the details about life at MI6 when not on a mission, M needing a favor and all that stuff. I also like that, by this time, SMERSH has developed a real, deep hatred of Bond and he’s becoming a marked man for always being in their way.
Run: The back story stuff I did enjoy. I think Fleming’s biggest weakness in these books so far has been the dialogue, especially on the villain end. Some of it reads like Dr Evil as Snidley Whiplash. In fact, the opening of Chapter 22 reads exactly like this Dr Evil speech.
Stark: Thinking of things that are similar to the movie. The exhaust tunnel scene clearly replicated in Roger Moore’s 007 escaping, with Dr Goodhead, from the conference room under Moonraker 5. The name of Drax. The fact there is a guy called Bond in it and that the deus ex machina is called Moonraker. Other than that I don’t see a lot more.
Run: The book was in desperate need of a double-take pigeon scene.
Stark: Nothing needs a double taking pigeon! A series lowlight in every way. I think the story could still stand to be more faithfully adapted to the big screen as a Bond movie. Make the Moonraker a new drone or something? Change up the locations. The British military is testing a new UCAV, the BAE Taranis, down in Australia. There you go, Bond has never been to Australia in the movies before!
Run: But he has been to space and inside of an iceberg submarine.
Stark: You and I run in very different directions regarding the Roger Moore era! One thing that becomes clear as you go through the books is just how many stories there are left to tell back in Fleming. Chapters, short stories, scenes, all of which could be adapted and expanded.
Run: Yeah. I don’t get what the hell Saltzman and Brocolli were doing with this source material. Seems like they stopped caring after 1969.
Stark: They needed something new for You Only Live Twice as it was well out of step with the order of the SPECTRE trilogy in the novels so had to start from scratch. Roald Dahl came in to write the screenplay. He went fantastical, audiences responded. To me that’s the point where where they started going too far.
I love the final scene in the book as well. Bond in the park, having his heart broken by Gala Brand, and him just dusting himself off and going back to work. All part of what makes him the way he is in later novels.
Run: Just because is a master spy don’t mean he ain’t got feelings and she hurt damn near every single one of them.
Stark: Fourth book next – Diamonds Are Forever. I had to slow down dude! I think I am three books ahead of you now. Must be all that Hollywood History you are researching.
Run: Yeah. I’ll get there. Think of me as the tortoise to your hare.