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Friday, March 30, 2012

Moon Zero Two

As a study in contrast, Hammer Films released a space-based sci-fi, Moon Zero Two (MZ2) shortly after it's more-customary Frankenstein film, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Both played to American audiences in early 1970. Hammer billed it as a moon "western." James Olson stars as Captain William Kemp. He's more famous for his role in The Andromeda Strain. Catherine Schell co-stars. She was more famous for her role as Maya in the mid-70s TV series Space:1999.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Captain Bill Kemp (James Olson) and his partner Korminski pilot their lunar-lander-style space ship up to a dead satellite and retrieve it. They land on the moon to sell for scrap.They encounter some banal bureaucratic red tape. Bill is told by Liz, the head of moon security (and a romantic partner of his) that he is under orders to ground is old ship (Moon Zero Two) because when it breaks down it gives space travel a risky image. The "Corporation" counts of space tourist income. Bill was a famous explorer astronaut who refuses to stoop to being a passenger pilot. A rich (and shifty) man named Hubbard hires Kemp for a profitable, but illegal mission. They fly to a small asteroid of solid sapphire and strop some rocket engines to it. These will alter its orbit so that it will crash on the far side of the moon (that's the illegal part). There it can be mined. When they return to the moon, a pretty young woman named Clementine seeks Bill's help to find her brother. He has a mining claim on the far side but hasn't been heard from. They take his ship to a frontier base, FarSide Five, then a lunar rover ("bug") to her brother's claim. Once there, they find him dead and men shooting at them. Bill subdues them and they return to FarSide Five. Liz is there to arrest Bill for flying while grounded. Hubbard and his goons arrive, shoot Liz and threaten to shoot Clementine if Bill doesn't help steer the astroid down. With Hubbard, goons and hostages aboard his ship, Bill flies to the asteroid. Almost everyone is on the asteroid. While setting the asteroid's rocket engines for a final burn, Bill manages to subdue some goons. He starts the rockets before Hubbard and remaining minion can unclip themselves. Bill jumps free. The asteroid crashes on the brother's claim, so Clementine is now a very wealthy woman. She and Bill trade flirty innuendos and head back to the moon. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
MZ2 is almost tragically dated, as if it were an Austin Powers In Space parody, except the producers were serious. In this, MZ2 is an interesting glimpse of the swinging ethos of the late 60s. Note all the vibrant colors and flamboyant wigs. Then too, there is a fairly fresh (for a re-tread western) plot.

Cultural Take
The overall scenario is that of a western set in space. This isn't totally new. Gene Rodenberry had pitched his Star Trek project as "Wagon Train to the Stars.". Though, Kirk's adventures were not as overtly "western". Still, MZ2 is evidence that space was losing its "terrible unknown" image. With the actual moon landing in 1969, outer space was becoming an extension of human civilization. There might still be monsters, but now there were also petty civil servants, cumbersome regulations, retail stores, bars with dancing girls, mobsters with minions and rowdy miners. Space was starting to look pretty familiar.

Space Bond -- Captain Bill is written in the James Bond style. He is presumed to be attractive to all women, and he's more than eager to bed any and all. Fortunately for Bill, it appears that outer space will be populated with only attractive women. Even the middle-aged Liz (Adrienne Corri was 39 at the time) looked pretty good in a bikini.

A Nod to Neil -- At one point, Bill points out to Clementine a monument on the moon to the first landing there by Neil Armstrong. MZ2 was released in the UK in October of 1969. They must have been in production when Armstrong landed (ust three months earlier), so stuck in a quick scene.

Pre-Solo -- Captain Bill is a forerunner of the Han Solo type of character. He's capable and courageous, flies an obsolescent ship in need of repairs, and makes his living on gray edges of legality. The writers also shared George Lucas's notion of a "used future" which has been around long enough for OUR shiny-new technology to be cast as jalopies. (Nevermind that the sets all look pretty clean and tidy)

Hammer Shift -- They started out the 50s with some sci-fi, such as The Quatermass Xperiment, but found that Victorian settings and gothic horror tales (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy) were highly profitable. By the late 60s, however, the Victorian gothic thing was less popular (and less profitable). So, it is interesting to see Hammer return to its roots.

Bottom line? MZ2 isn't great, but it's worthwhile B sci-fi entertainment . It has a very dated look and some pretty marginal acting. The special effects are okay at times, less so at others (even by the standards of the day). Yet, beyond the slightly campy womanizing flavor, lurks a taste of the future of sci-fi's gritty vision of the future. The visuals show the influence of Kubrik's 2001 (just on a lesser budget).


hurricane51 said...

I just received this as part of a two-for-one DVD. I've never watched it, but the print quality is excellent, right up there with the best DVDs. A nice surprise.

John Drake said...


I watched it once long ago and don't plan to watch it again.

The plot line and acting is fair to middling.

The only upside is Catherine Schell.