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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Moonraker - John Barry - Soundtrack Review

“Moonraker” is the first James Bond soundtrack I review on this site. None of the James Bond scores has ever won an Academy Award! How can the academy ignore the fabulous soundtracks of this series? John Barry won five Oscars for his music, but never for James Bond.

The movie

“Moonraker” (1979) is the 11th film in the James Bond series, and the fourth to star Roger Moore as Bond. Lewis Gilbert was the third and last time the director, and Christopher Wood wrote the second and also the last time a screenplay for a James Bond movie. With Lois Chiles as Bond girl, James Bond has finally a very smart woman at his side, and Richard Kiel acts the second and last performance as killer Jaws. Michael Lonsdale as Drax gives a good performance, but he is not my favourite.

I read the novel a few years ago, and was surprised about the high amount of anti-German comments in the book. Hugo Drax is a German, an ex-Nazi, who wants to destroy London because Germany lost the war. All Germans are again Nazis and, how surprising, dump. I was surprised how boring the book compare to the movie is. Compare to other Fleming novels, this book is more a detective story than a thriller because of the lack of action scenes.

For the movie, the plot was totally changed. Because it was as a French-coproduction James Mason was not anymore considered, and French actor Lonsdale stepped it. I would love to have seen Mason in this role, he would be much better. Here is the trailer:

“Moonraker” was intended by Fleming to become a film even before he completed the novel in 1954, since he based it on a screenplay manuscript he had written earlier. The film's producers had originally intended to film “For Your Eyes Only”, but the success of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and George Lucas’s “Star Wars” guided the way to “Moonraker”

“Moonraker” received mixed reviews, some fans think the movie is not serious enough, the jokes are over the top and especially the space scenes are not so good. The quality of the movie seems to drop when Bond is finally going into space. For me, “Moonraker” is my favourite Roger Moore Bond even though “The Spy who loved me” is a better movie. “Moonraker” became the highest-grossing film of the series with $210,300,000 worldwide, a record that stood until Pierce Brosnan’s ”GoldenEye” (1995).

The music

“Moonraker” is the third and last collaboration between John Barry and Shirley Bassey. In my opinion, “Moonraker” is her best song, “Goldfinger” is a classic and the most dynamic of the three, but I have to say that I like the timeless elegance of “Moonraker” more. Even though the lyrics sounds a little weird because Hal David has to put the word Moonraker into the song, I really like it from the musical point of view. Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra were both considered for the vocals, before Johnny Mathis was approached. Because Mathis was unable to complete the project, Bassey was hired, had just weeks before the premiere date in England and made the recordings with very short notice.

For me, John Barry wrote with this score his best James Bond soundtrack. “Goldfinger” is a classic, “From Russia with Love” and “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” have great action tracks and with his last Bond score “The Living Daylights”, Barry demonstrated that he is also able to combine electronics and the orchestra for action tracks in a modern James Bond setting.

So, why talking here about “Moonraker”? Because I think it is timeless elegant, especially when Bond is going into Space. With this score, Barry makes a switch in his composing style: away from the jazzy style in earlier scores with heavy brass to now slower music with a high focus on the string section. This more epic way of scoring Barry used also in “Out of Africa” (1985) that let the composer win another Academy Award for best score, and, of course, later Kevin Costner’s big success with “Dances with Wolves” (1990). This epic sound you can consider as the John Barry sound. Here is the love theme to "Moonraker" and you can listen to this very elegant epic sound:

“Moonraker” is very special in the way that you cannot hear the James Bond Theme a lot. Barry used also a piece called 007, the secondary Bond theme, Barry first introduced in “From Russia with Love”. A lot of classical music is used, too, for example, Drax plays Frédéric Chopin's Prelude no. 15 in D-flat major on the piano, and Johann Strauss’ Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka is used during the hovercraft scene on the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Film music fans will easily recognize Elmer Bernstein's theme from “The Magnificent Seven”, and for insiders one last thing: The theme from “Close Encounters” was used as the key-code for a security door.

The second track of the score is also one of the highlights: “Space Laser Battle” is one of the best tracks. I like the use of the choir here. Barry never did this before in a James Bond score and will never do it again. The choir gives the space scene a specific majestic atmosphere. If you like the scene or not, this track is one of the best Barry ever composed. Elegant, timeless and with great majestic strings.

Then you can hear the beautiful love theme in “Miss Goodhead meets Bond”, before we go into action with “Cable Car and Snake Fight”. Here is the "Space Laser Battle":

With over six minutes running time, “Flight into Space” is the longest piece of the score, similar to “Space Laser Battle” in his elegant approach of using the strings. “Bond Arrives in Rio and Boat Chase” is another action highlight with using Barry’s James Bond Theme. The last piece is a faster version of the “Moonraker” song, considered as Disco Version. We are now finally able to get a complete album with all the music.

Here is the boat chase:

Music was always a big part of the James Bond series, and the James Bond soundtracks should be an essential part of every soundtrack collection. With “Moonraker” you have one of the best James Bond soundtracks ever. I really like Bill Conti’s contribution to the series with “For Your Eyes Only” and like David Arnold’s James Bond soundtracks very much. Especially his action pieces brought a fresh attitude to the series, modern composed, but in John Barry’s James Bond style. Thomas Newman’s contribution to the series… I am not a big fan of. John Barry will ever be considered as the only James Bond composer, and “Moonraker” is his masterpiece.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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