Friday, September 14, 2018

Moon Zero Two (1969)

Having mentioned Hammer's 'Space Western' Moon Zero Two earlier in the week, I thought I'd take a quick look at its trailer this time.  If nothing else, it confirms my recollection that the special effects were actually pretty decent for a film of this budget, featuring some effective miniatures work and convincing space scenes.  I think what surprised me most when I saw it as a kid was the extent to which it was, quite literally, a 'Space Western', recycling all the tropes of that genre - claim jumpers, stage coach robberies, gun fights - with futuristic science fiction trappings.  This is confirmed by the trailer, which prominently features many of these sequences.  It really does come across as an old western script which has been dusted off and relocated from old Arizona to the moon.  Unfortunately, the low gravity environment of the moon means that everyone moves much more slowly than on earth, slowing down all of the action sequences which, in an actual western, would have played out at breakneck speed.

The reference to 'futuristic weapons' makes me smile as I recall that the characters mainly tote ordinary revolvers.  Which, of course, begs the question of whether firearms would actually operate in a vacuum - would the propellant charges in the cartridges ignite without the presence of air?  I actually have no idea.  Even if they did, the lower gravity would significantly effect the range and trajectory of any bullets fired, (even on earth, atmospheric conditions can seriously effect these things - there was a whole study conducted by the US Army into the way the trajectory of bullets fired from M16s were effected by Arctic conditions).  The presence of all these traditional western elements means that the film never really feels like a science fiction film.  The simplistic plot which unfolds against the background of all the futuristic elements doesn't help.  Neither does that jazz oriented score (actually quite typical of movies of this era), which sounds neither historical western nor futuristic science fiction, but rather entirely contemporary (to the late sixties, obviously).

Perhaps the most jarring element, though, is this bizarre animated title sequence, which seems as if it should belong to an entirely different film:

It gives audiences the impression that they are about to watch some sort of comedy film, a science fiction equivalent to the Pink Panther, perhaps.  It's an indication that the makers had no idea of how the film should be marketed.  Which is hardly surprising as Moon Zero Two lies somewhat outside even Hammer's varied output. 

Moon Zero Two stands as a fascinating oddity in terms of the Hammer catalogue and is very much of its era - I mean, where else can you find a science fiction movie which mixes western tropes with psychedelia, all to the accompaniment of a jazz score?  Perhaps it would have helped if Hammer had employed a director better know for visual flair, rather than the stolid, reliable, veteran Roy Ward Baker, a highly professional director skilled at managing large scale, complex productions, but not noted for a sense of pace or cinematic innovation.  A a less bland leading man might have helped as well.  But the end result is a decently made, if somewhat uninspiring space adventure, a clear descendant of those historical adventure films like Devil Ship Pirates, The Crimson Blade and Pirates of Blood River that Hammer had previously made.  Like them, it is reasonably enjoyable while its on, but not hugely memorable afterwards.



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