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Moonraker (1979)

John Barry 

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Absolutely Dazzling! - My Favorite Bond Score!
filmfactsman (April 16, 2006)
Not so long ago, a good friend of mine asked me what my favorite Bond film score was. I asked him the same question. We both called out in unison: "Moonraker!" For some strange reason, I wasn't surprised at all (he has good taste in music). The release of re-mastered editions of the James Bond scores offered up some great albums that expanded the original soundtracks with extra cues ("Thunderball", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "Diamonds are Forever" particularly stand out). However, "Moonraker," one of the best scores of the series and one of the most lyrical and unusual arrived on CD in a thread-bare 30-minute edition that replicates the original LP version with no extra tracks.

This is an unfortunate occurrence, but apparently the album producers at EMI had no choice. They wanted an expanded album but there was a major stumbling block because of the way the "Moonraker" recording sessions were originally produced. "Moonraker" was a French-British co-production for tax reasons, and most of the film was shot in France. The recording sessions were also done in France, and the original masters reside in vaults in Paris. The American producers of this album were unable to obtain access to these master tapes to make a longer version, and the effort to get at them would have been prohibitively expensive--which would have meant no remastered album at all.

Obviously, I'm disappointed we don't have a longer "Moonraker" album; however, the re-mastered sound and the general brilliance of the music makes it impossible for me to give this album anything less than five stars. I've loved this album for years, and still do. I think it shows John Barry at his best, and it's the most experimental score for a Bond film. Barry avoids the period music clichés (except for a slight disco beat under the end titles) that plagued Hamlisch's "The Spy Who Loved Me" score, and he also ignores the silliness of the film and turns in a serious, ethereal, and sensual score. Regardless of length, the "Moonraker" score wields a potent spell.

The theme song, sung by Shirley Bassey of "Goldfinger" fame, never became a big hit, but it's one of the best songs from a Bond film--exotic, timeless, and filled with soaring romanticism. Barry uses the heavy romantic melody in the cue "Bond Meets Dr. Goodhead," one of the album's most beautiful tracks. The theme also appears in the first half of "Bond Arrives in Rio and Boat Chase," this time with an understated calypso beat and chorus.

Barry ditches one of his signatures styles of the Bond series, the brassy and sassy use of trumpets and horns, for a more elegant and smooth approach. (In fact, you won't hear "The James Bond Theme" anywhere on this album, although it does appear in the film.) You can hear Barry's changed approach most clearly in "Centrifuge and Corinne Put Down," where Barry follows the death of Corrine at the fangs of Drax's hunting dogs with a hypnotic, slow building piece using strings and harp and only culminating in the brass at the end. More typical suspense music appears in "Bond Smells a Rat" (which covers Bond sneaking into Drax's Venetian laboratory and seeing the effect of the nerve gas on Drax's employees).

The action cue most reminiscent of the earlier scores is in the first half of "Cable Car and Snake Fight," with exciting brass punctuation marks, but then it segues directly into the snake deathtrap music, where Barry again takes an unusual approach with the orchestration, focusing on lyrical action and tension music. The second half of "Bond Arrives in Rio and Boat Chase" sees the return of '007', a piece of thrilling action music Barry first used in "From Russia, With Love," only here it is orchestrated to match the tone of the rest of the score; it's both beautiful and exiting, and a perfect example of how Barry could turn the expectations of action upside down.

But the real highlights of the album are "Bond Lured to Pyramid," "Space Laser Battle," and "Flight into Space," where Barry creates hypnotic and gorgeous musical suites. "Bond Lured to Pyramid" plays as Bond weaves through the jungle following a beautiful woman to Drax's lair; Barry uses a chorus and chirping woodwinds over a thick layer of strings to create a feeling of exoticism and mystery. (In the film, this cue leads directly into "Snake Fight.") "Space Laser Battle" takes the ridiculous laser duel between Drax's forces and the U.S. Space Marines (???) and makes a slow, lyrical dirge out of it--a brilliant move on Barry's part that emphasizes the 'space' aspect of the scene. "Flight into Space" is six and half-minutes of sustained beauty, and one of the greatest pieces Barry composed for any film: it's almost a complete ballet based on the theme of space travel, using a chorus, organ, and elegant trumpet and horn passages to create the portrait. The music for the emergence of the space station out of the darkness is especially stunning.

Alas, this isn't the longer album we hoped for. Perhaps one day the legal problems will be settled, but this is the best that EMI was able to do. And the remarkable score is still there and still as potent a piece of work as it ever was. An essential album for all James Bond and John Barry fans.

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