Thursday, November 6, 2014

Moon Zero Two (1970)



          Produced in the UK and released there in 1969, this leaden thriller represented a rare return to the realm of science fiction for British production company Hammer Films, which spent most of the ’60s and ’70s making horror pictures. Aside from the company’s usual tropes of elaborate costumes and set design, however, Moon Zero Two bears no obvious Hammer trademarks. Quite to the contrary, it’s dull, flat, and turgid, whereas Hammer’s other pictures of the same vintage are generally lusty and violent. Starring American actor James Olson, the movie was released in the U.S. in 1970, presumably to piggyback on the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Any viewers snookered by the promise of another sci-fi head trip were sorely disappointed, because Moon Zero Two runs the gamut from numbingly pedestrian to painfully stupid. Set in the future, when man has built a group of cities on the surface of the moon, the picture starts with an absurd animated title sequence suggesting the story will be about Cold War tensions. Yet once the narrative begins, Moon Zero Two becomes a tepid crime thriller about land rights.
          Olson stars as Bill Kemp, a space pilot who operates a salvage ship. He makes his living recovering broken satellites and selling the parts. Eventually, Bill is recruited by Clementine Taplin (Catherine Schell) to help find her missing brother, whom she fears was the victim of foul play because he owned the rights to potentially profitable land. A convoluted adventure ensues, during which Bill and Clementine match wits with an unethical entrepreneur, J.J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell), who wants to seize all the land rights he can get.
          None of the characters is interesting, and the performances are lifeless. Worse, the style of the picture is consistently goofy. The immaculate space suits look like holdovers from bad ’50s movies, and the less said about the dancing girls who perform during innumerable scenes taking place in a moon lounge, the better. Long stretches of time pass without spaceship action, and this movie’s idea of a wild action scene is a zero-gravity bar brawl that the lazy filmmakers merely stage as a reduced-gravity bar brawl. (Picture lots of slow-motion leaping.) For devoted ’70s sci-fi nerds, the most interesting aspect of Moon Zero Two is the presence of leading lady Schell, who later played a shape-shifting alien on the cult-fave UK TV series Space: 1999 (1975-1977). Although hidden behind animalistic makeup on the series, Schell appears in all of her unadorned loveliness here.

Moon Zero Two: LAME

4 comments:

William Blake Hall said...

This would be worth my checking about simply because I remember loving it as a kid, and it might be worth studying how much of that bloom has withered. I think you're a little tough on the animation -- yeah, it wastes most of its time on a pointless Cold War theme (this is, I believe, a British picture made one year after the first manned moon landings, so perhaps some mockery of the Space Race -- recall the "moon landings are staged" subplot of "Diamonds are Forever" -- is to be expected). It ends, though, with the moon besieged by entrepreneurs from all over the world, and that's where the story starts. I may also just have a soft spot in my heart for any movie which casts Donald Pleasence (he was already the first Blofeld, the model for Dr. Evil) as a kind of latter-day Blofeld wanting to get his mitts on an asteroid's worth of sapphire. Kooky handling of moon gravity, a game of Moonopoly -- it was perfect for an Apollo-happy pre-teen like myself.

By Peter Hanson said...

Alas, there's no Pleasence presence in the movie, although I agree he enlivens nearly everything in which he appears, and my quibble with the animation is that its comical tone doesn't jibe with the rest of the movie. That said, nostalgia's a powerful force, and I confess to loving many childhood favorites that, had I had first encountered them later in life, I probably would not have viewed so favorably...

William Blake Hall said...

Ouch, you're right! How'd I recall "Hubbard" as Pleasence? Some conflation of memory going on -- it has been a while.

B Smith said...

"...recall the "moon landings are staged" subplot of "Diamonds are Forever"

I'd always thought that scene was depicting astronaut training...

Despite my disagreement with you about The Kids Are Alright, I'm 100% with you on this one; if not for Ms von Schell, this would be a total stinker.