James Bond and Moonraker by Christopher Wood
Based on the film Moonraker, screenplay by Christopher Wood
Panther Books, 1979
Price I paid: $6.53
A very regrettable incident has occurred. A US MOONRAKER space shuttle, on loan to the British, has disappeared—apparently into thin air. Who has the spacecraft? The Russians? Hugo Drax, multi-millionaire supporter of the NASA space programme, thinks so. But Commander James Bond knows better.
Aided by the beautiful—and efficient—Dr Holly Goodhead, 007 embarks on his most dangerous mission yet. Objective: to prevent one of the most insane acts of human destruction ever contemplated. Destination: outer space. The stakes are high. Astronomical even. But only Bond could take the rough so smoothly. Even when he’s out of this world…
“A Bond novel, Thomas?” I hear you asking. “I thought that this was a blog about forgotten stuff.”
Aside from the fact that I’ve broken that rule about a dozen times already, this particular situation is a bit weird! You see, this is James Bond and Moonraker, based on the film Moonraker, which is in turn based on the novel Moonraker.
Here’s the deal: The screenplay for Moonraker was so completely different from the Ian Fleming novel that the franchise decided to adapt the movie into a novelization. This isn’t the first time that happened. The other time was a novel named James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me. You’ll note that both of these titles have that extra James Bond in there to prevent them from being confused with their Fleming predecessors.
Each of these novels were adapted by a guy named Christopher Wood. Wood’s literary output before this is largely smut, most famously the Confessions series with titles like Confessions of a Film Extra, Confessions of a Private Dick, Confessions of a Milkman, and so on. And that’s awesome!
He was the first author to write a novelization of a 007 movie, and this is interesting in and of itself, because not only did he write the novels of these movies…he wrote the movies.
This is the first time I’ve ever read a novelization of a movie that was written by the screenwriter! Utterly fascinating!
One typically assumes that the novelization writer had nothing else to do with the film. They’re handed a screenplay and told to adapt it and then paid. I think we’ve discussed before that that screenplay is often an early draft because getting the novelization out is such a rush job, so the audience ends up with lots of differences—scenes that got cut, characterizations that don’t match the actors, and so on. But Wood here was in on the whole thing from the start! He can give us the inside scoop!
That’s not what happened here. While I’m told that his adaptation of The Spy Who Loved Me gave us an extended backstory of the character Jaws that wasn’t in the film, we don’t get much of that in James Bond and Moonraker. In fact, what we get is very nearly the movie, scene for scene, except absolutely tedious to read. The differences that do exist are fascinating, though.
I have to confess that I hadn’t seen Moonraker before. I was peripherally aware of it as one of the goofiest Bond movies. I knew it was the one where Roger Moore goes into space for some reason. I thought that it had to do with a laser. So when I was about halfway through this book, I decided to rent a copy and watch it just so that I could have a point of comparison. It’s a good thing I did. It made the rest of the book much easier to follow.
It has very little to do with Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read it, but I’ve been doing a little research. Fleming’s Moonraker is from the 50s, for one thing, so there’s nothing about space shuttles or space stations. It has to do with an ICBM and is largely focused on the homefront. It’s the only Bond novel to take place entirely in England. It does feature a villain name Hugo Drax, but he is very different from the one played by Michael Lonsdale.
That may not have always been the case! In this novelization, Drax is ugly and misshapen with red hair, just as Fleming described him. He still has many of the same lines that end up in the movie, which is also interesting. What I have to wonder is whether the original intention was to keep that characterization in line with Fleming, or was Wood just having a bit of fun with his novelization?
It’s not like I had that much fun with it, so I guess it’s nice that somebody did. I mentioned above but I’ll repeat, this book was tedious from the first pages.
Those who have seen the movie probably remember the exciting and incredibly stupid opening scene, where a 747 carrying a space shuttle is destroyed when the space shuttle is hijacked from on top of the plane and then flies away, destroying the plane.
I want to go on and on for a minute about how many things are wrong with that scene, like how the space shuttle does not fly around like some kind of a rocket plane, or how towing the shuttle on an intercontinental flight with the tank full of space gas is a painfully wasteful idea, or that the shuttle doesn’t actually have space gas like that, it’s all stored in that big orange tank that goes up with it and then gets dropped again.
But I must, for reasons of fairness that don’t make sense even to me, point out that this space shuttle is not the same as the one we’re all familiar with. This isn’t Atlantis, it’s Moonraker, and I must admit that perhaps this fictional space shuttle does in fact work that way. I hate to do it. I’m trembling with self-directed fury even as I type.
Flying it around like that while fully fueled is still super stupid. I’d say that it was probably done that way because Drax knew he was going to steal his own shuttle (spoilers, I guess) but surely someone else would have caught that and said something? Or that MI6 or the CIA or whoever, in their investigation of the theft, might have thought of it?
Anyway, I brought this all up to point out that this stupid scene in the movie is like a minute and a half long, and pretty exciting despite all. In the novel, it’s five pages and most of those five pages are the inner thoughts of the pilot and co-pilot. The former is thinking a lot about how he’s going to get laid when he gets to England. The latter is thinking about breakfast. For pages.
Everything in this book takes just forever to happen. There are so many words.
And a lot of those words are frikkin’ SAT words. Christopher Wood is one of those authors who really enjoys showing off his vocabulary. Wikipedia says he went to Cambridge, so there you go.
It had often occurred to Bond to ask himself what particular brand of loyalty bound Moneypenny to M. To be his personal amanuensis could not be the easiest job in the world.pg 27
I had to look that word up. Christ almighty, just say secretary, you asshole.
Later in that same paragraph we get profligacy, too.
The whole book is like that, and freakin’ wordy sentences that meander onward forever. I know at least a few of you are reading this and thinking “Wait, pointlessly big words? Interminable sentences? Thomas, are you being a hypocrite right now?” And the answer is yes, probably.
But I’m not getting paid to do this.
Other differences I noticed were that in the book, Drax’s personal helicopter pilot is named Trudi, whereas in the movie she’s a French woman named Corinne Dufour. Both characters play the same role of sleeping with Bond and helping him get his first clues about Drax’s scheme. They also meet the same horrible fate at the hands of Hugo Drax’s hunting dogs, but whereas in the movie we get this long chase scene, the book tells us about it in dialogue after the event.
One really notable thing that the book has is the results of a doctor’s examination. Chapter three starts with Bond thinking about a recent doctor’s visit. The results of this are almost farcical—one of those things were everybody knows that James Bond’s lifestyle would kill a man before he hits forty, so we’re going to lean into it.
We learn that Bond drinks a half a bottle of spirits and smokes sixty cigarettes a day. Holy crap, that’s a lot! How on Earth does he have the time to smoke that much? Back when I still smoked I never made it over a half a pack a day, and part of the reason I wanted to quit was because it felt like that half a pack of smoke breaks was eating up so much of my time.
Let’s assume Bond is awake for sixteen hours a day. That’s a cigarette every sixteen minutes!
The physical mentions that his tongue is growing fur and that his blood pressure is a whopping 180/100.
Nothing else in the novel supports this, but this whole section seems to me like the author cheekily saying “Don’t try this at home, kids. It’s only fiction.”
We meet Jaws much later in the book than we do in the movie, and Jaws never meets his new girlfriend, Dolly. It’s kind of a shame, because I think the best part of that movie was Richard Kiel’s performance. People make fun of it, but I kind of liked seeing him get a happy ending like that. We do see Jaws at the very end of this book with a female companion, so maybe that’s a nod, but he doesn’t have an excellent final line.
In fact, so much of this novelization is purely from Bond’s point of view that we lose a few good moments like that one. Likewise, there’s a moment that I reckon the screenwriter author was particularly proud of, because he went to great pains to make sure that Bond was there to see it (unlike in the movie, where we just saw it happen) and describe to us in detail what he sees. The scene? It’s just some mook rolling down a hill in a gurney until he hits a billboard for British Airways.
In the segment that takes place in Venice, we don’t get that hilarious moment where Bond’s gondola turns into a vehicle and drives around. What we get instead are very insensitive descriptions of Drax’s minion, Chang, who, among other things, is a shorter, fatter character in the book. What we really get to learn about are the precise nature of his eyes, though. It’s gross.
Another gross moment comes when Bond, for some reason, has to convince an American tourist woman to leave his gondola driver alone. She’s hitting on him and Bond’s response is to play camp and say that the driver is “occupied for the evening” or something like that. Her reaction, according to narration, is to very nearly say a powerful homophobic slur. She doesn’t, but why did we need to know she thought it?
I know I’m sort of dancing all over the place here but I’m assuming you’ve either seen the movie or quit reading pretty early on. And that’s okay if you did! Not that you know I’m saying that it’s okay if you’re one of the okay people, of course.
The absolute most tragic omission from this narrative adaptation comes at the very end. Bond fans are already holding their breath, hoping I’m not about to say what I’m about to say. But it’s true. The final scene, where Bond’s sexual congress with Holly Goodbody is broadcast to several heads of state, is omitted. More importantly, the line where somebody asks what Bond is doing and Q responds “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir” isn’t here.
Why even tell the goddamn story if you aren’t going to build up to that entendre?
This book wasn’t great, but it was also based on a movie that itself wasn’t great. And they’re not great in different ways. Moonraker: A Star Wars Story was stupid and derivative and an obvious cash grab, but it was at least entertaining to me. I’m not one to have strong opinions on James Bond movies in general, but I could certainly see the argument that it’s among the worst. I think real Bondheads tend hate it?
And yet, the only thing this book had going for it over the movie was a weird bit where we learn that James Bond’s blood pressure is so high his limbs are in danger of flying off like an Incredible Crash Dummy.
Folks, I know I said it already, but please, just for one moment, think about how James Bond’s tongue canonically has hair on it because he smokes so much.
4 thoughts on “James Bond and Moonraker”
I love it when you hate a book. I can almost see the steam coming out of your ears.
My intro to Bond was the earliest books, which were gritty and realistic. JFK loved them, and that made sense. I had already jumped ship before the movies made him into a cartoon character.
LikeLiked by 1 person
At the urging of the same coworker who told me about this book, I’ve checked out a copy of Casino Royale and do intend to read it, although only heaven knows when that’ll happen.
Speaking of James Bond — As often happens I am still thinking about the issues your review raised. I enjoyed Casino Royale and several of the early Bond books, but my favorite Bond related works were from elsewhere.
John Pearson’s book James Bond: the authorized biography of 007 tells how the author, with MI5 clearance, met the real James Bond and interviewed him in order to tell his life story. It seems the novels were MI5’s way of convincing the USSR that Bond was not real, so he could do his work better. Brilliant and very well written, this was another in the sub-genre of biographies of “real” fictional people that included Tarzan Alive and all those small British works that tell us why Sherlock Homes was real. I confess an addiction to them.
The other Bond non-novel was The Man Who Saved Britain by Simon Winder. It explores the financial and morale effect of the Bond fantasy on his war weary country. What I took from this book was an understanding of how completely the war had killed fun in Britain, from the viewpoint of a youth growing up then, while America was inventing the suburbs, fast cars, and rock and roll.
Winder also alternates between serious and smart ass in a manner you would probably find congenial.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I need to read that Pearson! I love that kind of thing. Phillip José Farmer’s stuff has worn a deep groove in my brain.