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:
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:
Best of all, Kemp has the latest in remote control technology for use during his scavenging spacewalks: a wrist-based Wii-mote!
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:
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:
Other special effects highlights:
Besides a rousing game of Moonopoly, the residents of Moon Base have for entertainment one of the greatest floor shows in the galaxy:
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.
Bonus: the Uber-Groovy Theme Song! Listen and wonder!
Now see if you can get THAT tune out of your brain!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
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.
"Not checking out his butt, not checking out his butt, not checking out..."
"The Princess is in another castle!"3. Special Effects
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.
Fraggle Rock: IN SPAAAACE!
4. Future Entertainment