While my appetite for the obscure science fiction fare that YouTube has been feeding me lately is limited, the thumbnail and title for Moon Zero Two intrigued me. I almost changed my mind about watching it after an excruciating animated credit sequence with very bad rock accompaniment, but just as I was about to give up, a credit for Hammer Films flashed across the screen. That was enough to hold me a bit longer. The studio’s reliable panache is enough for me to give their product a chance even when I’ve never heard of it.
After those credits, Moon takes a while to get going. Made in 1969, i.e., after the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the first Moon landings, the film begins with a tepid ripoff of the former as a spaceship lands on a lunar surface that looks suspiciously like the plaster cast moonscapes in Kubrick’s film. That the lander also resembles NASA’s lunar ships did not suggest much invention, but I continued to bet on Hammer’s ability to rise to the occasion.
I was not disappointed, for things pick up when the astronauts, Captain Kemp (James Olson) and his engineer Karminsky (Ori Levy) get to the space station. Instead of the sterile, squeaky clean environments in 2001 or similar attempts at clinical accuracy, Moon City is a hedonistic playpen for space jockeys, miners, corrupt businessmen and chorus girls in a cross between a Western saloon, Vegas, and a touch of Disneyland. In this future, space exploration is not a matter of scientific inquiry or even military potential, but strictly an opportunity for exploitation by The Corporation.
Fortunately, this teeming capitalist brothel is permeated with unexpected wit, with just about every character dropping snappy, jaundiced observations. Kemp, for example, though a hero of sorts (supposedly the first man to walk on Mars) has few scruples and no illusions. He is that old standby, the worldly-wise cynic who has seen (and done) it all, but with just enough integrity to be sympathetic. Karminski, practically Kemp’s straight man, has his own charms, regularly quoting UN lunar regulations with a wink and a shrug to let everyone know they’re violating them. Even the villain, J.J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell) has a uniquely perverse way of turning his corrupt ambitions into hip variations on World Domination fantasies.
To achieve his complicated, illegal plan to force an uncharted asteroid to land on the dark side of the Moon, Hubbard needs Kemp’s expert help. A baroquely complex, sometimes confusing story results, but the flippant wit rides over the bumpier bits. Only the last twenty minutes or so feel both hurried and dragged out in a rush to tie up the overly abundant loose ends. But in Hammer films, plausibility or consistency are less important than self-assured daring. If Moon Zero Two wobbles here and there, its dollar for a dime smarts more than compensate.