I share the love of OHMSS, but I also have a deep appreciation for Barry’s Moonraker score. I consider that film the last of the truly “huge” Bond cinema spectacles in the vein of TB, YOLT and TSWLM. Bond adventures used to unfold on an epic scale, and that’s been lost, IMHO. Anyway, with hindsight I can see the “epic” feel to those entries was only partly because of the cinematography and Ken Adams’ ginormous sets. A lot of it is Barry’s music, which adds a majesty and sweep that elevates the proceedings to a whole new level.
Moonraker is the perfect example of this for me. EON went way out on a limb with this film taking Bond into space, and for some fans nothing could ever have made that work, but to the extent it does, it’s in no small way thanks to Barry. Don’t get me wrong, Derek Meddings was a special effects genius and his model work here holds up remarkably well – arguably better than a lot of CG that’s shown up between then and now – but like any effects of this nature, a certain amount of cooperation and suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the audience. We have to be willing to play along or it just won’t work. Barry’s score makes that much, much easier with the track “Flight Into Space,” majestic and ominous and awesome on an almost Biblical scale; it just screams “SPACE,” and it sells the whole crazy scenario. When the sun peeks around the Earth to light up Drax’s space station, the reveal is hugely dramatic. Sure, we could see the wires if we wanted to, but Barry makes us NOT want to; he makes us want to believe. This is what it looks like when a movie composer is really doing his job.
Imagine that scene without music, or better yet, with the wrong music. Compare it to the reveal of the satellite dish in Goldeneye, which despite the change in scenery and players is, at heart, the same scene: “huge, hidden structure revealed to awed 007.” It’s hard to remember if there even is any music in that scene, because if it’s there, it’s Serra’s usual mix of faint, distant bumps and crashes, which could as easily be the sound of wrenches falling off the dish as it rises. Despite his illness, Derek Meddings is still a master of his craft here, and he does a top-drawer job on the miniatures, but now he gets no support from the music, and so the impact is greatly lessened, if there’s any at all.
I’m also always fascinated by tracks like “Cable Car and Snake Fight,” which accompanied two dramatic action scenes in MR but are decidedly slow-paced and laid-back. It’s a counter-intuitive approach, and I’m hard-pressed to think of another composer who would resist the temptation to play up the action with a faster beat, or blaring horns. But it works. The funny thing is, MR was one of the first soundtracks I got as a kid (as soon as it came out) and I remember thinking, “There was a lot of action in that film! I don’t remember it being this slow!” But in the context of the film, it works.
I really think the Bond series as a whole has become more genericized over time, with less and less to distinguish it from the competition. One of the things that used to set it apart was Barry’s approach to the music, and for me, Moonraker is a terrific example.