Moon Zero Two

Moon Zero TwoSynopsis: William Kemp (James Olson) was a celebrated planetary voyager years back, the first to set foot on Mars. It’s now 2021, and the celebration – and the era of exploration – is over. Kemp pilots a lunar-based scavenger craft, retrieving adrift satellites for scrap. But he’ll find the adventure he longs for when he agrees to help a woman hunt for her missing brother at a mining camp on the moon’s dark side. “The first moon Western” blazoned ads for this film rife with cowboy-genre motifs. Sci-fi fans may note another influence. From sets to costumes to scenes of men in the blackness of space, Moon Zero Two seems to draw inspiration from a pivotal classic released two years earlier: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Moon Zero Two 6.0

eyelights: Catherine Schell. the unusual setting.
eyesores: the “special” effects. the unrealistic-looking models. the oft-ridiculous costumes. the dumb animated credits.

‘Moon Zero Two’ is a 1969 Hammer Films science-fiction movie. Until one of my best friends gave me a copy for my birthday, I didn’t even know that this film existed. Heck, I didn’t even know that Hammer had made a sci-fi picture, even though they’d made a few.

The fact is that, for two decades, from the mid ’50s to the early ’70s, Hammer Films was predominantly known for its horror films. The company carved quite a legacy with the help of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who were extremely popular in their Frankenstein and Dracula productions.

Released in October of 1969, three months after Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and more than a year and half after the phenomenal ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, ‘Moon Zero Two’ is a low-budget, yet ambitious, motion picture that defies expectations, tradition …and belief.

Set in May 9, 2021 (really?), it follows the space scavenging crew of the Moon 02, as they try to turn a quick buck on a lunar base. There they are hired by a tycoon to run the clandestine operation of landing a 6000-ton meteorite composed of sapphire. Needless to say, they run into trouble.

Starring James Olson (‘The Andromeda Strain‘) and Catherine Schell (‘Space: 1999’) , the picture was conceived by the filmmakers as a space western, featuring lunar prospectors, rowdy stampeders, cowboy dancing girls, a saloon atmosphere, and even traditional western revolvers.

If that seems a little discrepant, it’s just a start: the film is constructed as a traditional action-adventure, but it has the tone of an ill-conceived comedy. The opening credits speak for themselves: a crappy cartoon about a moon conquest between US and USSR, it let us know not to take the movie too seriously.

And thank goodness for that, because there’s a good list of elements that were hard to take at face value, such as:

  • The science. I don’t know much about space, truth be told, but this film didn’t lend itself to be taken seriously. Sure… there are fortunes resting under the lunar soil. Sure… there are 6000-ton sapphires floating in space. Sure… a man perishes on the moon and, three months, later, all that’s left is a decomposed skeleton.
  • The Zero-G. Unlike ‘2001’ or ‘Gravity‘, which benefited from budgets allowing them to create space sequences of apparent verisimilitude, ‘Moon Zero Two’ has some of the most seriously inept Zero-G sequences in recent memory. Ropes? What ropes? And when they’re not floating in space, they’re all trying to move in slow motion. Ha! Schell is particularly bad. Is she even trying? Or is she more subject to lunar gravity than the others?
  • Bullets can be fired accurately in Zero-G. So, beyond the requisite pistol fights (being a space western), does it make any sense on the lunar surface? And what about in space? Can a bullet actually hit its intended target accurately in space? Because, yes, some of the characters fire guns in space. Not lasers – cowboy revolvers. Sigh…
  • The costume designs. Right from the start, we are treated to some mod era-influenced costumes, which is already terrible because it dates the film like crazy, but the designs are often absolutely ridiculous, and are made of vinyl and felt. Wait til you see Schell’s hat when she arrives on the moon! Priceless! And don’t get me started on the many colourful wigs that the women wear…
  • The sets. Not only are the designs extremely dated, but the models used for the long shots are so poor that you can’t even believe that the actors are supposed to be looking into the distance at actual locations and vehicles – it looks like they’re also staring at models, as if they were in a museum.
  • The models. There’s one sequence when our two leads are looking at a display in a waiting area and, while they’re supposed to be looking at models, the “models” looks like toys. I mean, really! There’s this hilariously inept sequence when they go out on the moon in a buggy: some epic music pumps through the soundtrack, as if something awe-inspiring was happening – but we’re CLEARLY looking at bad models! So the music ended up being ironic, which turned the scene into a joke. Too much!

The story is mundane, contrived and predictable. The attempts at comic performances are pathetic. The production is virtually laughable. Only the unusual setting is worth noting, along with the fact that their lunar base has an all-female Bureau of Investigations. Nice. At least they were trying to be progressive.

But, beyond that, ‘Moon Zero Two’ is merely a curiosity. It might be amusing in the right frame of mind, but it’s no great cinematic offering. I mean, at the time it was double-billed with ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’, if that says anything. Clearly, this was intended for immature audiences.

Which is probably why it was ripe for spoofing on ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000‘, in an episode that I have yet to see. But will very soon.

Date of viewing: January 19+22, 2014

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