Friday, March 23, 2012
The Infernal Machine: Moonraker
The greatest war in the history of the world rages. On June 6th, Allied forces assault the beaches of Normandy, and the Empire of the 3rd Reich begins to collapse. In retaliation, the Nazis unleash one last horror, one born not of the ancient capacity of humanity to hate itself for its differences, but out of the explosion of technological breakthroughs of the 20th centuries as we found ways to finally pierce the sky itself.
From Paris, several rockets blast into the air. Ethanol, Water, and Liquid Oxygen fuel a fiery blaze lasting 65 seconds. The rockets soar over 50 kilometers in altitude, breaking free of the land and penetrating outer space. They travel over 100 kilometers before descending at more than 10 kilometers per second, emitting an ear-shattering crack as they surpass the sound barrier three times over, crashing onto a London still devastated by the aerial bombardment of the Battle of Britain. A thousand kilograms of explosives end the lives of two civilians - 63-year-old Ada Harrison and 3-year-old Rosemary Clarke - and one Royal Engineer on leave, Bernard Browning. And for months, the rockets continue to fall, killing more than 2,700 in London, nearly twice as many as were killed by the bombings of the Lutwaffe, and injuring another 6,500. On November 24th, a single V-2 kills 160 and seriously injures another 108 after hitting a Woolworth's department store. (In Antwerp, Belgium, an even more devastating hit strikes a cinema, killing 567 and injuring 291)
When at last the War ends, enough still stands that it can be rebuilt.
1955. The trauma in England of the devastation of their homeland and their capital lingers, amplified by the economic difficulties Post-War.
Across the Pond, the Pentagon announces their plan to build ICBMs - intercontinental ballistic missiles, armed with the increasingly powerful nuclear weaponry of the age. The Soviet Union oversees the Warsaw Pact between the Communist powers in Europe. Winston Churchill steps down as Prime Minister after a series of strokes severely weaken him both physically and mentally. His last term has overseen the fall of colonialism and the British Empire, despite his stubborn resistance.
Tolkien finishes The Lord of the Rings with The Return of the King. The biggest hit single is Bill Haley's rousing rock-and-roll rendition of Rock Around the Clock, another lighthearted joy to counter the dark moods of England (and complement the much more optimistic mood in America).
He's going to nuke London with what was meant to defend her. In a single moment, he will utterly destroy England.
And so, with England itself in danger from both the enemies of yesterday - the Nazis - and the enemies of today - the Communists - armed with the space-age weaponry of tomorrow, Bond becomes England's White Knight, mythic in an entirely different way from Live and Let Die.
But Fleming's big humanization of Bond is in his finale. Bond loses. Oh, he does save London, but Drax's nuke still explodes out in the North Sea, resulting in a tidal wave that kills Drax... and thousands of civilians on the coast. M tries in his distant, stiff-upper-lip way to sort-of comfort his best agent, but Bond limps out of the office largely defeated, with the only bright spot in his mind being Gala Brand, the girl he met at Drax's compound.
And having given Bond the best female counterpart he's had yet, and taken everything else away, he brings Bond to his "reward"... and takes even that away. Gala's ring isn't just a ruse, after all; she's genuinely engaged and off to be married. The intensity of their hours together fighting Drax have left her a bit confused, but Bond, despite having nothing else, denies her before she can really even ask. He honorably lets her away to a better life. A life Fleming suggests Bond neither shall nor could ever have.