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Bond Pretitle Sequences: Moonraker

Simon Pitt | Film | Monday 29th July 2013

I’m watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.

All the Bonds. All the Gun Barrels. All the action. Well, the first five seconds of it.

Moonraker is the worst Bond film ever made. Some people think A View to a Kill is worse, but they clearly haven’t watched Moonraker properly. It’s awful. At one point a pigeon does a double take. An effect they create by winding back the tape and then playing it forwards again. Robert, who also writes on this site, considers this the worst moment in the whole James Bond series.

However, for all of that, the opening sequence has some amazing moments. I’ve spotted this a few times; sometimes, the opening sequence sets up the tone or quality of the film that’s going to follow, other times, not at all. Of course, the ending of the opening sequence completely undermines the rest of it, which perhaps describes Moonraker as a whole.

The sequence involves something we haven’t seen before. It contains two quite separate stories, one of which doesn’t involve Bond at all. We’ll see this more with the earlier Bond pre-credit sequences, but this is, to date, the last time this has happened. After this, the opening section became a single sequence featuring Bond, rather than a prologue introducing story elements.

We open on an aeroplane piggybacking a spaceship. On board a group of posh British men discuss how great the RAF is. However, all is not as it seems. Two villains have hidden in the back of the ship. Conveniently, there were two large people-sized cupboards. You can tell these guys are villains because they’re wearing black and they scowl. They prepare to launch the spaceship.

The engineer said this was more important than, say, guidance systems

I’ve always found it strange that there are “ignition”, “shuttle lock” and “emergency” alerts on the pilot’s dashboard. I mean, you wouldn’t have thought they’d have planned for the rocket to launch while the plane is in flight. Especially since doing so destroys the plane. It takes the pilots completely by surprise. But clearly the engineer who built the aeroplane thought this might happen so had built in the controls.

Maybe this happens to the RAF all the time. So frequently, in fact, that they have to install a large panel in the cockpit. What other eventualities have they covered for here? Is there a similarly large pane across the cockpit that alerts them if they’ve been microwaving their lunch too long?

In M’s Office, M is on an emergency red phone, “What, a whole rocket?” he says (to paraphrase him). It’s very similar to the beginning of the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, where someone on a red phone says “What, a whole submarine?”. In fact, the whole rhythm of this sequence is a repeat of The Spy Who Loved Me. Including introducing Bond via a smutty pun. “Moneypenny, is 007 back from that African job?” M shouts. “He’s on his last leg, sir.” Guess what we cut to next?

Give us a leg up

“Any higher, Mr Bond,” the woman says, “my ears will pop.” However, Bond’s attempt to join the mile high club is cut short. The woman pulls a gun, and the pilot comes out of the cabin, strangely wearing sunglasses.

I always think this man looks like he’s blind. Why is he wearing sunglasses inside? When he reaches for the gun, he misses several times before finally grabbing it, as if he’s feeling his way.

Underneath the gun is says 'fire' in Braille

Eventually, he does get hold of the weapon, and there’s a fight at the edge of the plane door. Bond is clinging onto the edge as the man pummels him. Finally, Bond manages to throw the man out of the plane. It’s a tense, well-shot sequence.

For some reason Bond stands by the door staring out at his handiwork. You’d think if you were right by the edge of a door you couldn’t wait to get back from it. Not Bond. But Jaws appears from nowhere and shoves Bond out of the plane. Bond has fallen out of a plane without a parachute!

I think there's genuine fear on Roger Moore's face here. I hope they didn't tell him this was going to happen

It’s a shocking moment. Like the best Bond sequences, the tension appears on the offbeat, you think you know what the problem is, and suddenly it gets a whole lot worse.

I don’t actually get, though, where Jaws comes from, or why he was even on the plane. I mean, it’s a tiny plane, and we’ve seen inside the cockpit and he wasn’t there. Was he just hiding in the toilet or something? And why? Just in case the other villain doesn’t finish the job properly?

Bond is plummeting from the plane. There’s a long shot of him falling. Suddenly the Bond theme kicks in, and 007 angles himself down at the man with sunglasses. He reaches him and they struggle. Finally Bond manages to get the parachute off him as they tumble down.

He has his face in his bum, my girlfriend points out

I think this stunt sequence is one of the most impressive in the whole Bond series. Except for a couple of close ups, the whole sequence was shot in free-fall, over the course of five weeks and 88 jumps. During each jump, there were only sixty to seventy seconds of freefall and by the time they’d got into position, there was only time for a few seconds of film. The stuntmen wore tiny hidden parachutes under their jackets, and the parachute they fought over was a dummy chute. It had to be removed before they could use their real parachutes.

Jake Lombard, the stuntman playing “Bond” has a strong resemblance to Roger Moore. Or at least he did once he shaved off his huge beard and long hair. Many of the close up shots are actually him. If you pause the screen you can see this quite clearly (and also that he’s wearing goggles, which Bond didn’t have on when he left the plane), but with the sharp quick cuts and the flurry of activity you don’t notice this.

I wonder how many actors/stuntmen have played Bond in total

Bond finally manages to pull the parachute on, but then, strangely, seems to struggle to do up the buckle. You’d have thought that after flying after someone, fighting them in midair and stealing their parachute, doing the buckle up wouldn’t pose too much of a problem. But no, that’s the bit the director chooses to focus on. That’s the real struggle here.

God it's tense at this point

However, even after Bond manages to get the buckle on, the danger isn’t over. Jaws has caught up with him and tries to bite the hem of his trousers. Bond pulls a trick that he’ll go on to use several times (on himself in The Living Daylights, and against enemies in Octopussy and Die Another Day) and pulls his parachute, leaving Jaws behind.

Bond heroically saves the hem of his trousers

And there the sequence should have ended. Unfortunately not. Unfortunately, the producers thought that this well-executed, tense sequence needed a ridiculous camped up ending. Jaws pulls his chute and, for no adequately explored reason, rips the handle off.

Why do they make Jaws do these things...

In a hammed up sequence, he stares in horror at the handle as circus music fades in. We cut to a circus tent and then see Jaws air swimming his way towards it (because this clearly makes more sense than pulling the reserve parachute). With a drum roll, Jaws crashes into the tent, it collapses (I’m not sure why), and a silhouette spirals onto the screen. This is meant to be part of the opening titles, but the drum roll continues before the theme tune starts. It’s an awful, camped up ending to one of the most memorable opening sequences in the Bond series. It turns the sequence into an over the top cartoon. Not only could someone not survive a fall like that by landing on a marquee, but it reduces the tension and need for Bond to steal the parachute, since he could have just aimed for the circus, and not bothered with the rest of this. It’s disappointing. A fantastic idea and really well implemented sequence, marred by typical Roger Moore silliness.

The sequence has been copied several times. Goldeneye has a nod to this, when Bond rides over the cliff after the plane without a parachute. I like to think Bond’s getting a bit cocky there, thinking to himself, “yeah, I’ve been thrown out of a plane with a parachute before, I can do it again.” In a more plagiaristic scene, Keanu Reeves jumps out of a plane without a parachute in Point Break before catching up with the villain. Other than the silly Jaws campness at the end, the Moonraker sequence is the best.

Name Rank and Number I think he got the Point Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed? Listen Carefully 007 Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office SP will return


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