A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 109 – Moon Zero Two

Moon Zero Two – June 16th, 2010

I’m rather amazed we have this. We own two copies now, one regular and one MST3K episode. The thing is, while it is dated and it’s got a lot of flaws, this really isn’t a horrible movie. It’s some decent hard sci-fi with a Western plot and it definitely had some impressive production values. Also, we love the soundtrack so very much.

This movie was released in 1969 and is apparently British, which I’d sort of suspected given the accents a lot of the minor actors have, but I’d never bothered to check on. Amusingly, the full version shows enough of one particular scene that we could identify Carol Cleveland as the hostess of one of the moon transports. Her part and a few of the others were cropped out as they’re not terribly essential to the plot, just to the character development of our hero, Captain Bill Kemp, who was the first man on Mars and is now salvaging space junk. When we meet him he and his engineer, Korminski, are bringing in a dead satellite and a bit of a tiff with a passenger ferry pilot lets us know that Kemp was once an important man, but has fallen from grace with the end of exploratory missions. Not wanting to be a passenger pilot, he’s turned to salvage and flies a beat up old ferry, the Moon Zero Two.

The main plot involves a millionaire named Hubbard and his plot to take over a mining plot on the far side of the moon in order to land a sapphire-filled asteroid on it, then claim the plot and mine the sapphire. Slightly far-fetched, yes, but it’s science fiction and really, the movie does spend more than a little time on the specifics of having to calculate orbits and trajectories and a key part of the plot is that the far side of the moon is hard to get in touch with, especially with the communications satellite dead (that would be the one hit by a meteor in the beginning). The secondary plot fits in with the main plot and involves the missing brother of a young woman who’s recently arrived on the moon from Earth. Turns out it’s his claim the asteroid’s being landed on and so Kemp ends up out there with Clementine, the young woman, and discovers that her brother’s been murdered. Hubbard catches up with them and threatens Clementine, kills a policewoman who’s sort of Kemp’s girlfriend, and forces Kemp and Korminski to finish the job he hired them for: hooking up rockets to the asteroid to crash it into the moon.

It’s sort of a complicated plot, but really, it works better than I’m probably explaining it. There’s some scenes in this version that aren’t in the MST3K episode, including some exposition that makes the plot make even more sense. It made enough sense in the truncated form anyhow, but with the additional stuff with Hubbard wanting the sapphire not to sell as gemstones but as insulation for rocket engines? And trying to tempt Kemp into throwing in with him as a pilot to Mercury? It not only makes sense in the overall plot, but it makes sense with Kemp’s character arc. See, Kemp desperately wants to explore. He goes on and on several times about his frustration with the Corporation, which runs the passenger flights to the moon, and how they’ve discontinued exploration. He talks about how some day someone will get to Mercury, but it won’t be him. And then Hubbard offers him that chance, but with the price of murder.

The other stuff that was taken out for the MST3K version is the stuff that makes it even more clear that Kemp’s a total player. There’s Elizabeth, the policewoman who’s been told to ground his ship but won’t because she cares about him and wants to give him a heads up. There’s Clementine, whom he’s rather smoochy with just an hour or two after Elizabeth gets killed, and then there’s Carol Cleveland, whose character doesn’t get a name in the credits (Kemp calls her something like Janey, but that bit was new to us) but has clearly been involved with Kemp in the past. Sure, not essential to the plot, but it does add some background and makes for some fun scenes showing more ridiculous moon fashion and Elizabeth’s bizarre ice palace apartment with faux cow hide blanketed bed.

So if the plot’s not bad, and the acting’s not bad (and really, I’ve seen so much worse), and the production values are high, and the soundtrack’s fun, what made this movie MST3K fodder? Well, it is so very 60s. I mean, we love the soundtrack, but it’s cheesy to the extreme. Very jazzy, with lots of sharp notes to punctuate tense moments. There’s an old adage that if the soundtrack’s doing its job, you don’t notice it. Not always true in my opinion, but in this case, much as we love the music it is so very intrusive. The MST3K crew comment on it a few times, asking why they’ve got a jazz quartet in the moon buggy with them. And there’s the hilarious fashions, which include day-glo wigs and vinyl leisure suits. There’s the fact that everything has “moon” as a prefix. There’s the zero-gravity fight sequence and the bizarre dancing girls in the bar, which has a different Earth-based theme every week (it cycles through south america, old west and something else harder to identify through the course of the movie). It gets goofy when it’s not being a serious space shoot-’em-up and the pacing can be odd. There are at least three scenes that feel like climaxes but then slow down to slo-mo moon/space scenes in between, so the tension disappears.

All that being said, I am so super happy that we own this and watched it tonight. Sure, I was supplying the MST3K riffs in my head (and okay, out loud too) through most of it, but I was also thoroughly enjoying what is actually a rather decent, if more than a little dated, science fiction romp.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Moon Zero Two

June 17, 2010

Moon Zero Two

Amanda and I own a lot of MST3K. I’ve probably mentioned that. We go to sleep every night with one episode or another playing in our DVD player. This movie is given the MST3K treatment way back in season two, but it’s one of our favorite episodes, and we’ve long maintained that the movie itself is actually really good, so when we had a chance to snap it up (in a two-movie set with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) we couldn’t resist. This movie is a hard sci-fi bit of speculative fiction made way back in 1969 just after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. The “futuristic” moon fashions they wear in the movie are hilarious, and for the sake of simple film making they have gravity generators, but most of the science in the film is fairly accurate. Several EVA scenes take place (using wire work and upside down cameras to depict movement in free fall) and all of them take place in relative silence except for radio communication between the characters.

The year is 2021 and William Kemp (who, it transpires later, was the first man on Mars) is flying a broken down old space ferry from his base in Moon City because he doesn’t want to be a regular Corporation man. He dreams of exploring unexplored worlds, not doing safe passenger flights, but there’s no profit in it, so he’s stuck on the moon. When the pilot of another ferry of the same model of his experiences technical difficulties and crashes the Corporation wants to ground him lest he crash as well and give space travel a bad name (thus cutting into their passenger business.) So when he gets a contract to illegally land a solid sapphire asteroid on the far side of the moon for an eccentric millionaire he doesn’t really have a choice – he has to take the job. He needs the money to get a new ferry.

I should note that Bill’s ferry is very derivative in design of the Apollo lunar landers. Except that it has multiple floors and cargo space. There are also domed complexes on the moon where people live, and hilarious rotund moon buggies for driving around on the surface. And rubbery space suits galore. But for a movie featured on MST3K this film has a pretty significant budget, what with all the sets and props. And I’m glad I bought the un-Misted version too, because there’s actually a pretty cool scene near the end that was cut for time on MST where the chief villian explains that his plot doesn’t simply involve profit, but involves outfitting a new set of exploratory missions to lay claim to all those planets that the Corporation doesn’t fly to. He tries to tempt Bill with the promise of being able to explore again as he ought, and become governor of one of the new colonies.

The DVD packaging declares that this is “the first space western” and I don’t know if it is the first, but it certainly does have western roots. There’s a tavern bar brawl, a plot involving claim jumping, and the buggies, rather than coming from Wells Fargo, come from Moon Fargo. It makes me want to watch Outland. Which we don’t own, more’s the pity.

My favorite part f the whole movie, however, is its great jazz soundtrack. It’s all catchy tunes and blares of horns, and it really gets caught in my head. Particularly when I’m drifting off to sleep accompanied by trumpets and the melodious voices of Josh, Joel and Trace.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments