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Soundtrack review: Moonraker (John Barry, 1979)

Film scores James Bond franchise

Soundtrack review: Moonraker (John Barry, 1979)


The night is warm and quiet. It’s one of those nights when you know you’re going to sleep well and deep. The cabin you’re in is isolated enough that you leave the window opened for the night without the fear that something might disturb your sleep. You welcome the sound of a distant brook flowing gently and you can see the stars from your bed. There is not a single cloud in the sky….A gentle wind blows and ruffles the petals of the flower you have in the window. So many stars tonight…you look at them until you fall asleep…

….you fall from a plane and you’re not even sure you have a parachute…but it’s ok because you fall in the channels of Venice and drive a gondola there and then stumble upon a secret lab, everything is moving very fast: a girl helps you, then immediately a few others try to stop you but you evade them as well and end up in Rio…the flower in the window has turned into a rare orchid that has a dangerous toxin that…wait what, you are now in a dangerous cable car? Only it’s more dangerous now, because those men are still following down from the top of a mountain you had no idea how you arrived on…you are again in a boat, on a familiar river, and you can’t understand  why you feel so calm and relaxed despite what’s happening to you: those men are still behind you attacking, chasing, but you feel peaceful…you are floating and feeling so happy and there’s a heavenly music all around you…that’s why…these magic sounds have the power to drown everything else, the danger, the worries, and they lure you to a secret place…. A pyramid…? This music has no place being heard there, in that context…it’s bigger then everything, it flows perfectly, it moves you and all you want to do is get closer to its source…and here you are suddenly flying towards those stars you were looking at…you’ve rarely experienced a more pleasant sensation…no, you don’t hear harps, but lots of magnificent strings and discrete choral arrangements that go on forever…here somber, here subdued, here so intense and beautiful that you almost feel your eyes welling up with tears. These strings take you higher and higher until you can’t see or remember anything else, and they never lose their flow, their unity…that’s what you’re flying on, and you trust completely that the flow won’t break and let you fall…And you keep flying…
 No, that wasn’t a dream. That was actually the plot of one of the most ridiculous and over the top James Bond films ever, the 1979 outing “Moonraker”.  I don’t think composer John Barry saw the film. Or maybe he did, and felt he had to clean up the mess there with one completely different and magnificent score. The movie moves fast and flashy, the score develops slowly and patiently. Barry went as far away from the atmosphere and feel of the movie as the script went from common sense. I imagine him in Paris, writing these slow cues, injecting feeling and passion in the movie, developing an important part of his everlasting sound, a process he would continue in the next few years with two of his most memorable masterpieces: Out of Africa and Somewhere in time.
It’s not easy to pick my favorite cues from this one, but there’s magic in “Bond lured to pyramid” and, especially, the 6’30’’ long “Flight into space”.  These two cues make me dream more than the rest of the score.  “Flight into space” will always have a place in my top 50 cues of all time. It’s one of those perfect cues that you want to listen to over and over again. And it can certainly make you forget about the laser battle in space that ends the movie.
 Sadly, one of the best and most unique John Barry scores for a James Bond movie lasts only 32 minutes, and that includes the less than brilliant theme song by Shirley Bassey. It probably lasts more than any dream would, and just as a dream, it feels much longer because of its depth and richness. I am still hoping for an extended release, even if rumor has it the original tapes were lost somewhere in France….
My ratings:
Cue score: 89/100
Total minutes of excellence : 25 /32
Score excellence: 68%
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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