When the titles reveal at the end of TSWLM, that James Bond Will Return in For Your Eyes Only it always makes me smile for two reasons.
The first is that we all know that it was not to be the case, thanks to the global influence of Star Wars, but secondly because FYEO ( though widely regarded as a better and more realistic entry in the series) is still a very different entity, had it been released, as planned, after TSWLM.
TSWLM had often been criticised by senior Bond historians as a remake of YOLT, (white sports car, foreign spy team ups, plot device involving craft which swallows Russian and US vehicles, provoking WW3, hidden bases in ancient geological places etc) so I know I’m not alone when recognising that EON revisited a successful formula when looking for a stronger audience response after the weaker TMWTGG, as well as the separation of Broccoli and Harry Saltzmann.
If the film and screenplay which was eventually released in 1981 is in fact the film they had in mind for 1979, I genuinely believe it would have divided audiences for its approach. I shall try and explain why:
I think that after TSWLM, Cubby and the Eon team probably realised they had been outlandish enough given the magnificence of the ski jump parachute, underwater lair, submarine car, 7 ft henchman that bites a shark, near apocalyptic events, and globe trotting to beautiful sunny exotic cities and islands.
All of this was filmed in the Uber elite locations in the mid 70’s when the real world UK cinema audience lived in between strikes, power cuts and a 3 day week in Britain. EON totally delivered and the audience got would get exactly what they wanted.
Having surveyed the political landscape and world events I don’t think it’s an accident that, after all of that fantastical escapism, the perfect follow up was a more grounded, realistic adventure with a fine balance of stunts and a plot the audience could more relate to, with NATO and the Cold War.
It would have made perfect sense too, if you look at look at how FYEO is set up, and how the primary actions scenes involve a helicopter, a ski scene, a car chase, underwater scenes and a great mountain scaling finale, you see that everything is in place from the success they had on TSWLM.
The plot is fairly simplistic too, with a near perfect follow on military plot device, helps echo the military spy presence of the TSWLM, as well as a chance to let Roger jump back into the Lotus, and keep their demand high in the public conscious, as well as to cheer up the vast majority who had literally no chance of ever seeing sunny, exotic European scenery, except on the big screen in that decade.
Nothing complicated; a tested formula, and you imagine Cubby, Roger and co would have been ready to roll in early 1978, having enjoyed a bumper Xmas in ‘77 on the back of TSWLM and looking forward to it once the cast was agreed.
I would love to know from anyone on hear if FYEO was ever meant to look or feel any different from the final cut. It’s a Fleming feeling story from start to finish, and that scene where Roger kicks Locque’s car off the cliff is one of THE best in the entire 25 films to date.
I doubt that when they inserted that frame into the end titles of TSWLM against the lush cinematography of HMS Fearless steaming round the Mediterranean, nobody could have predicted the sea change that was incoming, from a galaxy, far, far away......
At the same time as TSWLM was released in July 77 in the Uk, the sci fi leviathan made just up the road, was already finding its audience in the US in its millions; forcing the entire cinematic universe into a gigantic rethink.
The mess that is Moonraker is possibly the ultimate example of a knee jerk reaction forced by the men in charge of the cheque books and studios back then.
You can see imagine the emergency like meetings which took place that over that Christmas; let alone what they were taking when brainstorming:
Bond in Outer Space, Space shuttles shooting out the jungle, space stations, Concorde, more parachute pre title stunts, a space battle, Jaws in space, Jaws jumping out of a plane, Jaws jumping over a cable car, Jaws physically battling Roger and trying to make Roger believable, whilst leaping about with a ray gun, a new OddJob like character, a Gondola speed boat hovercraft, more speed boats, and the Close Encounters & Magnificent Seven themes for comedy effect....the proverbial throwing of the kitchen sink and jumping the shark all delivered in 2 hours, all of which ended up in the final cut!
Whatever the suggestion, the outcome was clear; make sure they succeed in taking a market share from Lucasfilm’s juggernaut.
It’s no wonder that what was released is one the most critically derided films in the minds of the fans.
There is in my opinion very few watchable scenes and characters you can believe in; and the only scene which genuinely stands up with any degree of tension is the release of Corrine from her employer.
I think the real tragedy is that had they clearly had the basis of FYEO already underway, someone should have stood up to the studio execs and then taken the time to flesh out and deliver a well thought out and developed Moonraker screenplay which at the very least would have offered a better resistance (pardon the pun) against The Empire Strikes Back, widely regarded as the best sequel in cinematic history alongside the Godfather, part II.
Who knows what Moonraker could have been but one things for sure; no action figure and vehicles from MR or FYEO would ever give myself and my brother the decade of fun we enjoyed from Star Wars, which begs the question why even attempt it if you already have a loyal fan base?
I love FYEO for it is everything that MR isn’t, and can just about forgive the weird dialogue in the PTS, but you can’t help and wonder why they couldn’t wait and do a better job with Moonraker.