Since its release in 1979, Moonraker has been simultaneously one of the most infamous and hotly debated entries in the history of James Bond movies. In its final form, the Roger Moore-led 007 film was wildly different from its source novel, chasing the Star Wars trend that was sweeping Hollywood. However, a long lost Moonraker script written by Ian Fleming himself has resurfaced, and it’s a huge deal for several reasons when compared to what we got.
Apparently the author who created James Bond was very keen on getting 007 to the movies. So much so that in a report from The Guardian, it was revealed that a 150-page document outlining how Fleming wanted to adapt Moonraker into a feature film had entered into the collection of an antiquarian book shop in England. This is a big deal in terms of Bond history for two reasons: it was Ian Fleming’s only screenplay, and it was written in 1956, shortly after the book was published.
This draft from Ian Fleming comes only two years after he’d been hired by CBS to adapt the first non-EON Production version of Casino Royale for American TV in 1954. However, it also predates his collaboration with Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Dr. No for its 1962 release. This also means that it was Moonraker, not the beleaguered Thunderball as previously noted, that technically counts as the first 007 adventure intended to head to the movies. At least, that’s if the feelings of the series’ creator have any say in the matter.
Looking through the details of Moonraker’s original pitch reported, there are a lot of differences between Ian Fleming’s treatment and the eventual film written by screenwriter Christopher Wood. The most stark of which is the fact that while it sounds like plot would have hewed much closer to Fleming’s novel of a British industrialist’s plot to attack London, M and Moneypenny were left out of this early sketch of an idea. Sticking to the road of card games and a rocket targeted at the country’s capital, James Bond ended up going on a way different adventure when the book was eventually adapted for the big screen 23 years later.
The Moonraker everyone knows now turned Hugo Drax into the more traditional “world domination” style villain, rather than a cold blooded baddie who had it out for England specifically. Rockets would still play somewhat of a part, as the evil plot was transported to a space station where Drax could recreate humanity in his own image. Add the jokes that were en vogue in the Roger Moore era of Bond, as well as the return of Richard Kiel’s Jaws as a henchman, and you have something that was very contemporary.
While it wasn’t exactly reflective of its source material, Moonraker’s cinematic adaptation was still an interesting experiment in changing with the times. Taking on a space-based sci-fi tone that meshed with Moore’s rather humorous take on 007, it could have potentially been directed by Steven Spielberg. Even in the face of that very tantalizing ‘what if,’ wondering what Ian Fleming’s drafts for Moonraker reads like is a great missed opportunity in the world of James Bond films.
With this year marking the 60th anniversary of James Bond’s cinematic legacy, there isn’t any new cinematic news on the horizon just yet. For the moment, spy fans will have to take a look for other espionage adventures to keep themselves occupied in the interim. You can find some of those titles on the list of upcoming movies, which still has some espionage dramas and action headed our way.