Tuesday, October 24, 2017
MOON ZERO TWO
Last weekend, I received the latest issue of Richard Klemensen's magnificent LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine. It has become a recent tradition of mine to write a blog post on the movies featured in each new issue of LSOH. Issue #39 has inside looks at two Hammer films: TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER and MOON ZERO TWO. I'll tackle MOON ZERO TWO first. It's one of Hammer's most unusual features.
MOON ZERO TWO was produced in 1969 and released in the U.S. in 1970. Hammer executives had high hopes for the project. They felt that the real-life Apollo 11 space mission would be a promotional coup for the movie, and with financial help from Warner Bros., far more money was spent on the production than the typical Hammer picture. The main idea behind MOON ZERO TWO was that it was supposed to be the first "Space Western".
The movie did not wind up being a success with either the public or the critics. The many books on the history of Hammer tend to be dismissive of MOON ZERO TWO, when they even bother to
mention the movie at all. Issue #39 of LSOH has a comprehensive article on the making of the film by Hammer expert Bruce Hallenbeck. Thankfully Bruce writes about the film objectively and fairly, and he gives it far more credit than most Hammer fanatics.
Justly or not. MOON ZERO TWO will always be compared with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. There's no way that MOON ZERO TWO can come close to Stanley Kubrick's epic vision--it didn't have the budget or the production time for that. MOON ZERO TWO is meant to be entertainment, and while I wouldn't rank it as among Hammer's best, it doesn't deserve to be included among the company's worst. What hurts MOON ZERO TWO is that it is an in-between movie--it's not wild enough to be an all-out fantastic adventure and it's not serious enough to be thought-provoking science-fiction.
The year is 2021. The Moon has now been colonized, and space pilot Bill Kemp (James Olson), the first man to land on Mars, is now reduced to salvaging space junk. Kemp is in danger of being not allowed to fly, due to the age and condition of his spaceship, the Moon Zero Two. Kemp receives an offer from a greedy millionaire named Hubbard (Warren Mitchell). Hubbard plans to capture an asteroid containing tons of sapphire and crash it on the Moon, an illegal endeavor. The millionaire promises Kemp a brand new ship if he takes part. At the same time, Kemp's help is also requested by the beautiful Clemantine (Catherina Von Schell), a woman who is searching for her missing brother. The brother was a miner working on the far side of the Moon. Hubbard's plans and the disappearance of Clemantine's brother are linked, and Kemp has to use his astronaut expertise to set things right.
MOON ZERO TWO may be billed as a Space Western, but I don't see it like that. Most of the supposed Western elements are incidental--there's a saloon-type bar, there's miners, a sort-of-sheriff, etc. Maybe if it had tried to be more like a Western it would have gotten more notoriety. The actors, and the soundtrack music, certainly don't have a Western flavor to them. James Olson is a good actor, but he seems more like a character player than a heroic leading man, which is what Kemp is supposed to be. At the time Hammer probably wouldn't have been able to get a famous young American actor, but they might have been able to get a American TV star of the period....say Adam West, or Robert Conrad? The role of Kemp needed someone with a bit more vitality. (By the way, James Olson would later go on to play Arnold Schwarzenegger's former military superior in COMMANDO.)
The Hammer Glamour element in MOON ZERO TWO is provided by Catherina Von Schell (who would later change her name to Catherine Schell and gain cult fame for her role in the TV series SPACE 1999), and Adrienne Corri. Schell at one point strips down to her space underwear, and Corri, as the Moon "sheriff", gets to wear a couple of outrageous costumes. The Moon City saloon-bar features a group of dancing girls, but their routines are not out of this world. Warren Mitchell does very well as Hubbard (he comes off as a minor version of a Bond villain), but the rest of the cast isn't all that memorable. You don't get the usual Hammer repertory group in MOON ZERO TWO...but there is a cameo by Michael Ripper (I think he was included just to convince people it really was a Hammer movie).
The production design of MOON ZERO TWO is sleek and futuristic...but it isn't outlandish enough to be unbelievable. The same can be said of the special effects. The moon base, the Moon Zero Two ship, the Moon buggies, the spacesuits, the asteroid...they all have a realistic and practical look and feel to them. Many of the FX artists who worked on MOON ZERO TWO also worked on 2001. This movie makes extensive use of model work, but that doesn't bother me--I think models have a texture and reality to them that most CGI can't match. The floating-in-space sequences use wires, of course...but since these were filmed against a black background it works. One has to consider the FX of MOON ZERO TWO in the context of when it was made, not against movies of today. If a viewer does that I feel one will have more appreciation of the film.
Michael Carreras, son of Hammer chief James Carreras, was the producer and screenwriter of the film, and the driving force behind the project. Michael Carreras was always trying to do something different with the Hammer movies he personally worked on, and he has to be given credit for that, even though many of his ideas might not have worked out properly. MOON ZERO TWO isn't boring--there's plenty here to keep one's interest--but it might have been better if the story had been a bit more dynamic. Many of the action scenes take place in zero gravity, and this has a tendency to slow things down. There's a fight in the saloon-bar which takes place in zero gravity, and while it's supposed to be a satire on the classic Western bar brawl, it doesn't play out well. Roy Ward Baker was the director of MOON ZERO TWO. Baker made some of Hammer's best films, such as QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, and he also made one of the company's worst (SCARS OF DRACULA). MOON ZERO TWO fits somewhere between great and terrible, and I wonder how much enthusiasm Baker had for doing it.
The most intriguing thing Michael Carreras' screenplay for this movie, in my opinion, is the idea that after colonization the Moon has become all about commerce and bureaucracy. Science and exploration have taken a seat to big business and tourism. This is the best idea in MOON ZERO TWO--the idea that no matter how much progress we make in the future, the mundane, ordinary things of life we always be with us.
MOON ZERO TWO isn't classic Hammer Gothic horror, and it doesn't even have a classic Hammer cast, but it does have its moments. I've seen plenty of science-fiction movies that were far worse. MOON ZERO TWO is available on a Region 1 DVD with WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH on the same disc. If you are interested in more information in this movie, please check out Issue #39 of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS. Besides Bruce Hallenbeck's excellent article, there's a plethora of photos, artwork, and interviews concerning the production. Heck, if you have any interest at all in any aspect of Hammer Films, you should be reading every issue of LSOH no matter what.
Coming soon to this blog--a examination of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER.