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Moonraker
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Capitol / 2003 / 32m

Even by the standards of the Roger Moore years, Moonraker is a very silly, very bad James Bond movie, especially disappointing since it came after easily his best Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.  After a space shuttle is stolen, Bond doesn’t just trawl round various exotic locations on Earth, he even ventures into space.  And has a battle with laser guns.  And has comic relief from Richard Kiel’s Jaws.  It took until Die Another Day for the series to plunge lower depths.

Considering how silly the film is, it’s a wonder that the score is one of John Barry’s most reverential and serious of the whole series.  Barry must have been aware that he wasn’t really working on cinematic gold here as he had on the earlier movies; but he still took the thing very seriously.  Perhaps sometimes a little too seriously: the title song, seeing a return for the iconic Shirley Bassey, has always been my least favourite of Barry’s Bond songs.  It’s a beautiful ballad, earnestly crooned by Bassey, but it’s so languid and so at odds with both what this lighthearted film is, and what most people think James Bond films should be, I’ve just never been able to connect with it.  Worse, the disco-era end title arrangement (this was 1979, remember) is frankly ludicrous.

John Barry

John Barry

The score itself is a different matter.  While the whole thing is extremely slow-moving, and the Bond theme – staggeringly – doesn’t appear on the album a single time -it’s still identifiably a Bond score, and extremely entertaining.  The opening “Space Lazer Battle” must be one of the most ponderous pieces of action music anyone’s ever written for a film, yet it works beautifully and makes riveting listening, with its brass stings and subtle chorus. “Miss Goodhead Meets Bond” turns the title song melody into an attractive love theme, then there’s some more sloth-like action music in “Cable Car and Snake Fight”.

“Bond Lured to Pyramid” is a beautiful track, colourful long-lined string phrases accompanied by florid, fluttering flutes and gorgeous harp glissandi – and that choir again, a rarity in Barry’s Bond scores.  Following is the score’s real gem, the epic “Flight Into Space”, which stands as a beautifully-constructed tone poem to the beauty and grace of space.  Yes, the metronome is still moving down at number one on the Beaufort Scale, but there is such majesty to the piece – its slowly-building momentum somehow reaching fever pitch over the course of the six-and-a-half minute running time.  I think it’s one of the most memorable pieces in any of Barry’s Bond scores.

The mood lightens considerably in “Bond Arrives in Rio / Boat Chase”, with vaguely exotic percussion accompanying an uptempo version of the main theme for the piece’s first half; then comes a surprise as the “007” theme Barry introduced back in From Russia With Love gets a (guess what) rather slow, but full, airing.  Dark drama returns in the bizarely-titled “Centrifuge and Corinne Put Down”, with low strings providing some of the score’s darkest moments before easily the most fast-paced action material appears in the piece’s second half.  “Bond Smells a Rat” is action music of sorts, more suspenseful though, and needless to say rather slow moving.

It’s the least showy of Barry’s James Bond scores and can only be termed “deliberately-paced”, but I still find Moonraker to make a very strong album.  It’s a short one, only 32 minutes, and because the score was recorded in Paris and the tapes subsequently lost, apparently an expanded release will never happen; but it’s such a well-produced album, while I’m sure a lot of Barry fans would disagree, I think this is a perfectly good album as it is.  Those raised on more recent Bonds would surely be shocked if they saw the film, and almost certainly also if they heard this score; but I think it makes a fine addition to any Bond music collection.

Rating: ****

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  1. Christian K (Reply) on Saturday 8 June, 2013 at 03:45

    OK, James Southall, how do you do that? I was just over at Screen Archives, looking whether they had MOONRAKER for sale (they do). Next thing, I’m thinking I should head over here to check your review on it. A REVIEW YOU HAD ONLY JUST WRITTEN!!! What is this, telepathetic coincidence?! (See what I did there?)

    Cool beans, sir! 🙂