Thursday, March 11, 2010

Moon Zero Two (1969): A Visual Review

The plot of Hammer Studios' 1969 sci-fi flick Moon Zero Two revolves around Captain William H. Kemp (James Olson), intrepid space explorer famous for being the first man on Mars. Disgusted with the abandonment by Earth government of further exploration in favor of chasing the almighty dollar in the form of moon mining and passenger flights, Kemp has quit the military and now makes his living scavenging space trash with his partner, Russian-born Kaminsky (Ori Levy). When his lover and head of Lunar Bureau of Investigation Elizabeth Murphy (Adrienne Corri) threatens to ground him for his own good if he can't come up with money to upgrade his rickety old space ship, Kemp is pulled into the machinations of corporate overlord J. J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell), who wants to crash-land an asteroid containing 6000 tons of sapphire on the lunar surface without letting the government know, so he can claim it and get even richer. Along the way he meets Earthbabe Clementine Taplin (Catherine Schell), whose brother has mysteriously stopped radioing from his mining claim on the far side of the moon.

It's a decent plot as far as moon-based action flicks go, but the real joy of the movie is in what I like to call its "Visions of Future Past"--that is, the fully-realized world of the future according to what folks thought it might be like circa 1969. With groovy futuristic fashions, endearingly clunky miniature work, a riotously intrusive score, and a surprisingly prescient view of the commercialization of space exploration, Moon Zero Two works for me less as a mystery/thriller than as a beautiful, comic-booky document of the time, through the lens of a possible future.

Come with me as I show you the wonders the future has in store for us:

We start with a Schoolhouse Rock-style cartoon under the main credits (with an AMAZING groovy theme song--see the end of the review to hear it in all its glory), in which a US astronaut and Russian cosmonaut battle over who'll have possession of the Moon:

Tim Conway interviews Kruschev...IN SPACE!

Soon, however, the political concerns of the spacemen are shoved aside as commercial interests take over, rendering the whole US/USSR space race a moot point. And presumably killing Communism as well, since after this the former hostilities are only hinted at in the broadest way possible.

Good service, but strangely lacking in atmosphere

These credits would seem to presage a Peter Sellers-style zany comedy, but after this it pretty much plays straight with the plot detailed at the top of the review. So instead of recapping that, I prefer to focus on the things that really brought me joy.

1. Future Tech

I always have fun with Future/Past movies, more for what they get wrong than what they get right. For instance, passenger travel to the moon is administered by "Pan-Moon" spaceways, an obvious evolution of Pan-Am airlines. After all, in 1969, you couldn't envision a future where they wouldn't be the preeminent travel brokers, right?

Apparently you also couldn't envision a future without paper-cup coffee machines:

"Not checking out his butt, not checking out his butt, not checking out..."

Nor one without phones like this:

Kaminsky once again grabs the Hitachi instead.

Best of all, Kemp has the latest in remote control technology for use during his scavenging spacewalks: a wrist-based Wii-mote!

It gets AM *and* FM!

Even amusements of the future get an update:

I'd buy it.
2. Future Fashion

By far the best thing about the movie is its vision of hair, clothes, and accessory fashions in the future. In 1969 they were dreaming of a far groovier future than we could ever have hoped to bring into being:
Maybe she's born with it

"The Princess is in another castle!"

Future Goth

Sexy Curls

Exciting Accessories

And this to say nothing of baddie J. J. Hubbard, who can really rock the futuristic monocle:

Hair Sponsored by Fruit Stripe Gum
The Future's So Bright, I've Got to Wear Shade

3. Special Effects

I loved the design of the space-suits here--very comic-book influenced and coloroful.

These play well in a scene where Kemp and Clem find her brother at his mine, the victim of foul play:

Cover of Weird Science

A gunfight ensues with the presumed murderers. Moon Zero Two envisions a future where gunpowder-based firearms are still de rigeur. While this robs us of the laser battles to which we've become accustomed, I really enjoyed the "depressurization squibs" and thought them quite effective.

"Top o' the Moon, Ma!"

Other special effects highlights:

Filmed on the same sound stage as the NASA Moon Landing


Fraggle Rock: IN SPAAAACE!

4. Future Entertainment

Besides a rousing game of Moonopoly, the residents of Moon Base have for entertainment one of the greatest floor shows in the galaxy:

Your guess is as good as mine

Don't ask me


Moon Zero Two was one of many, many movies lampooned on MST3K, and it's easy to see why it was attractive fodder for the show. It's less concerned with action and suspense than with explaining to the viewer how its self-contained world functions, and the political/commercial concerns that led to its state. While those seem prescient now, they're not terribly exciting. There's lots and lots of slow-motion space-walking, and even a slow-mo barroom brawl. (Threatened by punks, Kemp pulls a fire-alarm lever on the wall to disable artificial gravity! Why they'd need such a lever, I have no clue.) The acting is nothing great, though Adrienne Cory is good as Kemp's lover and superior. Even the Faustian bargain offered by J. J. to Kemp near the end lacks any real punch, as there's never any doubt how things will turn out.

The Duke of DVD makes a cameo

However, despite all its shortcomings, I found myself riveted just at the groovy beauty of it all. A neat cinematic time capsule of what people's dreams of the future once were, I left it with a smile on my face and a song stuck in my head. The fashions, the effects, the plastic furniture--it made me happy, and that's worth 2 Thumbs.

Bonus: the Uber-Groovy Theme Song! Listen and wonder!

Now see if you can get THAT tune out of your brain!


deadlydolls said...

Love it! But it saddens me that I don't remember this one on MST3K. Those outfits make me happy. Way too very happy.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks Emily! I haven't seen the MST3K episode either, but there was plenty of space for riffing. Actually I'm kind of glad I saw it sans commentary first--I could enjoy the visuals on my own terms rather than having my reaction affected by snark. :) And the outfits in this flick *are* amazing. I wish monocles would come back in style!

Hey, I just tumbled the connection between Moonopoly, the Monopoly Top Hat/monocle guy, and J. J. Hubbard here--the first time Kemp meets with the corporate overlord, he's actually PLAYING Moonopoly, and beating everyone. So I guess he's the Monopoly guy in the flesh? I don't bears thought!

JamiSings said...

Maybe disabling gravity helps them oust extremely morbidly obese drunks?

Mark Hodgson said...


Samuel Wilson said...

It looks like a classic of obsolete futurism, and I don't see what the robots could add to the obvious hilarity. This was a lovely little photo-essay, Vicar, and it should win this movie some fans before they've even seen it.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Jami--I hadn't thought of that, but perhaps you're right! During that brawl the Duke's twin gets to throw someone across the room wire-fu style, so I really can't complain. ;)

@Mark Hodgson--I don't know about the whole soundtrack, but the excellent Cosmobells has for download the 2-volume "Hammer Films Music Collection" (click here for that post) which *does* include that groovy theme song! In fact, it was hearing that song on this collection that made me seek out MOON ZERO TWO in the first place! Check it out, and tell them the Vicar sent you!

@Samuel--I didn't even think about the marked lack of robots in this flick, which just goes to prove your point--there's so much to enjoy, you don't even miss 'em. ;) Thanks for the kind words!

Prof. Grewbeard said...

this IS a fun film but i've only ever liked James Olson in one movie-The Andromeda Strain. he mostly creeps me out. and why does he get so pissed off at the space girl interrupting his space shower?...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! A forgotten Hammer classic and, like you say, so much fun. Just a happy movie. A complete flop at the box-office though - which is why Hammer never tried it again. Available as a Best Buy with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth - can't get much better than that.
Watching Hammer

James R said...

I saw this on TV a few months ago and was fascinated by it, particularly by the idea that it was a Hammer production. And you can't not respect a SF film with a villain called Hubbard.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@prof grewbeard: Olson turns in an odd performance here, part Sam Spade and part Han Solo, but neither very effectively. :P As for his anger at the shower interruption, maybe her Mushroom Outfit startled him. ;)

@Watching Hammer: You're quite welcome! And I love your blog--anyone with a hankering for Hammer should check it out!

@James R: I didn't even think of the Hubbard connection! Good catch. :)

Unknown said...

I really like this movie!!! Great visuals and costumes - it would make a cool retro-styled tv show!!!

Unknown said...

I really liked this film, and your review was very humorously entertaining. 😀

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