Though often thought of and positioned as rivals, science- and Wild West-based fiction actually share a good deal in common. Sure, one may have the market cornered on green-skinned alien babes, but both worlds deal with the idea of uncharted territory, of boldly and blindly exploring the unknown in hopes of finding a better future. Of course, the rare movies that hybridized these genres have concerned themselves more with spectacle than philosophy, which is fine and a fun enough approach on its own. But many times, our entertainment was at the expense of a picture whose ambitions exceeded its budget, as was the case with 1969’s Moon Zero Two. Produced by none other than the good folks at Hammer, this rootin’, tootin’ space opera delivered exactly what it promised: a western set among the stars, complete with shootouts and mustache-twirling baddies. This is an amusing little trifle, but it hasn’t aged that gracefully, with viewers more likely to glean ironic chuckles from it than genuine pleasure.
Even for a space pilot in far-off 2021, Captain William Kemp (James Olson) is old news. Once the first man to walk on Mars, Kemp now commands a clunky old ship and barely makes ends meet by salvaging broken-down satellites. With tourists starting to swarm the recently-colonized moon, the future doesn’t have much of a place for people like our man anymore. This is why he has no choice but to work for J.J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell), an unscrupulous tycoon looking to buy up whatever lunar property he can get his paws on. But while Kemp reluctantly agrees to help the fink illegally corral an asteroid made of sapphire, a woman (Catherina Schell) trying to find her missing brother starts sniffing around on the moon. It’s no coincidence that Hubbard has something to do with the matter, and it’s up to Kemp to uncover just what that is before he and the girl end up being blasted into space dust.
To its credit, Moon Zero Two doesn’t go overboard with the future schlock, which is something I always appreciate in my sci-fi. A lot of movies paint themselves into a corner by predicting all these fantastic advancements that only kiss plausibility goodbye, so seeing this picture keep itself relatively grounded is a neat change of pace. One could almost call it a precursor to the likes of Alien in depicting its protagonists as working-class schlubs, with Kemp decked out in traditional spacesuit gear while everyone else looks like they fell off of the mod tree. The production design mixes the old with the new, so while it’s a silly sight to see virtually every actress saddled with a pastel wig, it’d make sense for the moon to get all tacky and touristy once people got cozy. The western aspect of the story does feel a little forced at times (as when regular bullets are used in the lunar gunfights — what, no lasers?), but it doesn’t need to stretch itself to work with the sci-fi motif all that often. It smoothly updates the action of Dodge City for the Sea of Tranquility, and we even get the benefit of a villain whose key scheme isn’t of the typically get-rich-quick variety.
But outside of this, Moon Zero Two is only intermittently engaging. The transparency of the plot didn’t really bug me, but the leisurely slog that director Roy Ward Baker (The Vault of Horror) took as he worked his way through it was a pain in the ass. The characters share an awful lot of flowery ruminations on life in the bleakness of space (imagine The Phantom Planet‘s “the good and the beautiful” speech stretched for 100 minutes), gaining no traction beyond the notion that, yep, the moon can sure be lonely. I know these scenes exist because the production only had so many pennies to spare for the stunt set pieces, but even the action has a hard time budging one’s pulse. The worst offender has to be an “anti-gravity” barroom brawl in which the film is switched into slo-mo, and maybe one guy is sent sailing through the air. Still, we’re treated to an animated opening credits sequence that’s pretty fun, and Olson (Crescendo) turns in a solid performance as our resident wiseass hero.
Moon Zero Two isn’t one of the most noteworthy non-horror efforts to emerge from Hammer, but I wouldn’t deem it a dud. Though it’s certainly easy to poke fun at (as demonstrated by the riffing it underwent on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”), the flick has plenty of moments where seeing how it criss-crosses genres is kind of cool. Moon Zero Two never quite takes off, but it’s no lunar snoozer either.
Moon Zero Two (1969) was reviewed by A.J. Hakari.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker / Written by Michael Carreras, Gavin Lyall, Frank Hardman and Martin Davison / Starring James Olson, Catherine Schell and Warren Mitchell
Certificate G (USA)
“Ride a rocket Texas-style! Have a shoot-out in Moon City! Find a new frontier and a new kind of pioneer. But watch out for deadly moon maidens. It’s the first Moon ‘Western’.”
Moon Zero Two (1970) is available on DVD (Region 1) from Amazon.co.uk; and if you decide to make a purchase after following this link you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.