“Just like the Moonraker knows his dream will come true someday…”
It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This week, I’ll be discussing the beautifully dreamy and romantic themes of Moonraker.
For the third and final time, Shirley Bassey sings the title song to Moonraker. Unlike the first two themes she did for Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, this is a softer, more melodic tune devoid of robust music or the attitude. That said, “Moonraker” is by far my favorite of the three.
Interestingly, Bassey was not the first choice. Originally, it was Frank Sinatra, once again offered to sing a Bond theme, and, again, he declined. Next was Kate Bush, but she also declined. Johnny Mathis began recording with composer John Barry, but could not finish the project and left. Bassey was brought in with only weeks before the release of the film.
This led to the song to have practically no popular impact on sales charts. Also, there was some confusion on the singles released by United Artists that probably didn’t help. Mostly, the reason why the song failed to do as well as either “Nobody Does It Better” or “Live and Let Die” was that Bassey wouldn’t perform the song live until 2005. I find it really odd. It’s a really pretty song. It uses the overall theme, which we’ll talk about more in the next section, very well. It feels romantic and dreamy while invoking the movie itself nicely. A more disco style version of the song, with a more upbeat tempo, was used for the closing credits in the film to kind of cash in on the pop music craze of the genre at the time as well as match some of the score of the previous film’s composition by Marvin Hamlisch.
One more thing of note is that the original lyrics for the song were written by Paul Williams. However, Hal David, who wrote “We Have All the Time in the World”, discarded the lyrics and started from scratch and that’s the version we hear today.
Ultimately, “Moonraker” is absolutely one of my very favorite themes in the entire series. I think it does benefit from having some of the same thematic feel as “Nobody Does It Better” while still being its own and matching the movie’s romantic view of space and scientific advancement.
John Barry is back at his full abilities with his Moonraker score thanks to the British raising taxes on film productions forcing Albert Broccoli and EON Productions to base the production out of France. This eighth score comes after a couple fairly forgettable or downright bad scores. Not since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has one of his scores for a Bond film sound this good.
A big part of the reason was for a turning point in his career. Previously, Barry employed a jazzy, Kentonesque style of theme for many of his scores. By the late 70s, Barry started to mellow out his themes with more rich string sounds. This would continue for him into the 80s. 1979 would also mark the year he scored Disney’s The Black Hole and the Italian ripoff of Star Wars called Starcrash. All three of the space movie scores produced that year by Barry would employ that same strings sound and all would focus on the majesty and romanticized feelings toward the beyond. People were falling in love with science fiction and astronomy all over the place. John Barry would score the hell out of that for folks.
As mentioned, Hall David’s lyrics for “Moonraker” would fit that dreamy, romantic tone of this score. This is something I feel really escalates the film in almost every scene. Barry was mindful to use some of his past pieces for other films again. For example, he brings back his “007” composition not heard since Diamonds Are Forever. He also brings back elements of another piece he did for From Russia with Love called “Bond Smells a Rat” to help spice up the score in action scenes. In all, this is one of those scores that connects so well to its movie that it is hard to listen to the pieces and not picture the film in your mind or watch the film and not immediately get plugged in with the music.
The Opening Title Sequence
Last week, I marveled at the obviously full on naked women used in front of the brightly colored Maurice Binder backgrounds, but this time, it’s a little more subdued, but no less beautiful.
The film’s opening scene before the titles has this wonderful action sequence with Bond being tossed out of a plane by Jaws without a parachute. He takes Jaws’ from him in an exciting mid-free fall fist fight, and Jaws lands on a circus tent. That’s why the film starts with the drum roll with Jaws’ silhouette like he crashed through a wall, but the other things that are scene early on and how it ties to later in the title sequence and the overall themes of the movie is really nicely done.
The titles open with clowns, acrobats, high wire talkers, etc. falling from Jaws crashing through the circus tent. These performers are crashing to the Earth. Later, we see various gymnast jumps and flips as they seem almost to be in weightlessness. This is only helped by imagery of the Earth, of clouds, and the moon and sun shining in on the background. There’s even reference to flying and a very modern use of lines and dots that cover the girl’s body as she seemingly flying through the skies. It all ends with a girl doing endless flips and spins which is all meant to invoke thoughts of being somewhere without gravity. Like space. It all ends up feeling an awful lot like we’re watching ballet in space set to a love ballad of a song.
The credits are much less overtly sexual as some in the past, but instead opts to go more of that romantic angle just as the score is doing that throughout the rest of the movie.
Join me next week for a look at the twelfth Bond film, For Your Eyes Only.