Novel publish year – 1955
Film release year – 1979
007 – Roger Moore
The novel is mostly the standard Fleming 007 narrative…set up; test of physical strength; and, finally, the love interest. That said, 007 comes across as more thoughtful and even a bit more human than he does in the first two novels. The film, by contrast, was conceived of and produced in the context of the Star Wars phenomenon; hence, the plot apparently had to involve 007 in a space adventure. (For example, note that, in the film, the secret code needed to access certain rooms in Drax’s chateau is the famous notes from Lost Encounters of the Third Kind.)
Moving to the contrasts, it is fair to say that nearly everything between the novel and the film is different.
In the novel, 007’s adventure begins not with an official assignment, but with a request by M for a personal favor. M suspects that another member of his social club – Hugo Drax – cheats at cards. This is important to M because Drax is a national hero. He is a former solider who ostensibly lost his memory during World War II, but nevertheless went on to amass a fortune in the commodities markets and, in the process, became a prominent and celebrated figure in post-War British society. M is gravely concerned because a cheating incident involving Drax would turn into a national scandal, as Drax has publicly announced that he will use his own fortune to finance a nuclear missile – the Moonraker – the deterrent effect of which will guarantee England’s safety in the nuclear age. Drax has been knighted by the Queen for his generosity and service to England. Bond visits M’s club, plays Drax, and confirms that he is a cheat.
In the film, 007’s mission begins when the Moonraker – here, a space shuttle – is hijacked while being transported over English airspace. It is Bond’s job to figure out what has happened and why. Bond is led at first to Drax because Drax’s company built the Moonraker shuttle.
Of course, Drax’s true goal in both the novel and the film is nefarious. In the film, Drax follows the well-worn path of other supervillans – he wants to dominate the planet. Drax’s specific plan is to immigrate “ideal” men and women to a space station above the earth where they will then create a more perfect human race. In the interim, Drax intends to wipe out those remaining on earth with nerve gas capsules launched toward the planet from his space station. When all of the undesirables on earth are killed, Drax intends to repopulate the planet with his master race, which he further intends to then govern as their supreme leader in the heavens. The plan is ruined when Bond travels into space and destroys Drax’s space station and intercepts the nerve gas capsules before they can enter earth’s atmosphere.
Drax’s evil plan in Fleming’s novel is a bit more interesting. It turns out that Drax was a loyal – and sadistic – solider in the Nazi army during the War and is now hell-bent on avenging Germany for its defeat at the hands of the British and the Allies. Drax does not intend the Moonraker rocket to protect England; rather, his real plan is to use the rocket to destroy London, after which he intends to escape to Russia. Of course, Bond – with substantial assistance from Bond girl Gala Brand – thwarts Drax and redirects the Moonraker to strike Drax’s submarine in North Sea as he attempts his escape.
As noted above, the novel and the film are almost completely different in plot and overall theme (for example, Jaws, who plays a significant role in the film, does not appear in the novel at all). That said, there are some interesting similarities. Unlike the somewhat belligerent and intemperate Drax of the novel – who loses his cool while playing cards with Bond at the Blades Club – the Drax of the film is calm, collected, and cerebral. Both characters, however, are clearly inspired by Adolf Hitler. As noted, in the novel, Drax is motivated to avenge Hitler’s defeat. While the film makes no overt reference to Hitler, the Nazis, or the Second World War, Drax’s ultimate goal is no different than was Hitler’s – to repopulate the world with a “master race” of perfect human beings.
Another similarity can be found in the Bond girls. Both are intelligent, tough women who are at first cold towards 007, but are ultimately critical to the success of the mission. In the novel, Gala Brand is an uncover police officer posing as Drax’s private secretary; she begins to suspect that Drax is up to no good. It is Gala who comes up with a plan to save London and gives Bond the coordinates he needs to re-direct the Moonraker. In the film, Dr. Holly Goodhead is a CIA agent working undercover at Drax’s headquarters in California and pilots the shuttle that takes Bond to Drax’s space station. One surprising difference, however, is that in the novel Bond does not get the girl. After saving London, Bond ruminates about where he and Gala might go to take some time off together (Bond thinks perhaps France) – but Gala informs him that she is getting married to another man the following day. Bond has a lot more luck with Dr. Goodhead in the film.
Next: Diamonds Are Forever