The first western movie set on the Moon: Moon Zero Two, Part 1

A poster for the British science fiction film Moon Zero Two.

Howdy, my reading friend. How do you do? Yours truly has a bit of an oddball / incongruous movie for you this week. You see, Moon Zero Two was / is a British science fiction film whose premiere took place, you guessed it, in the month of October. Can you figure out in which year said premiere took place? Given the look of the poster, including the, err, scantily clad female characters, you presume that Moon Zero Two did not hit the silver screen in 1949 or 1959? Very good. Perhaps 1969, you say? Again, very good.

And you have a question. Why did yours truly say on 2 occasions that our movie of the week was / is a science fiction film if the title of this article referred to it as a western movie? A good question. The truth is I like to mess with you. A little. Sorry. With your permission, I shall explain my position by going over the plot of Moon Zero Two.

The movie’s animated opening credits, inventive, colourful, and amusing, showed an American astronaut and a Soviet cosmonaut chasing each other on the Moon as they tried to lay claim to our satellite. They soon realised that a lot of people had landed too, and were turning the Moon into a tourist trap. Said astronaut and cosmonaut went into the brand new lunar hotel, got chased and ended up in the garbage dump. They then left our satellite together, in the astronaut’s Apollo Lunar Module, as the movie’s theme song played, fast, loud and raucous. And yes, this spacecraft was mentioned in July 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

If one was / is to extrapolate from said credits, from the 1960s onward, the space race between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics gradually devolved into a comedy show in which the 2 superpowers spent so much time putting banana peels in each other’s way that they did not accomplish much that was actually useful or productive. As a result, lesser powers, among them the United Kingdom, but not Canada from the looks of it, were able to develop small settlements / colonies on the Moon without having to worry about the geopolitical musings of the, oh, so brilliant minds in Washington and Moscow.

To quote the great Jedi master, Yoda, in another life, as a movie critic (Yoda and Ebert or Siskel and Yoda perhaps?), a typical Cold War era movie Moon Zero Two was not. Humm.

In any event, the end result of the aforementioned situation was that, by May 2021, the month and year during which Moon Zero Two took / takes / will take place, there were a few vibrant and thriving settlements on the Moon. One of these, Moon City from the looks of it, was a pop art / psychedelic wild west style frontier / mining town with miners, claim jumpers, homesteaders and dancing girls clambering over each other in order to survive. Yeeeeeaaah! Sorry.

Would you believe that the world of 2021 looked a lot like the world of 1969, down to the iconic Ball Chairs created in 1963 by Finnish interior designer Eero Aarnio? The circular board of the Moonopoly game was a nice touch. Having a Lunar Hilton space hotel, jointly run (?) by the Americans and the Soviets, was another nice touch. The aforementioned dancing girls, known as the Go-Jos, and their Las Vegas, Nevada, style dance routines may not have been as good an idea, even when they dressed up as 21st century cowgirls. If I may, Moon Zero Two was not exactly a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women.

And no, positively and absolutely no, the idea of a Lunar Hilton was not developed in the 1960s. It first came up in 1958 and was the brainchild of William Barron Hilton, vice-president of Hilton Hotels Corporation and son of Conrad Nicholson “Connie” Hilton. In 1967, the young Hilton, by then president of the firm, was back at it. Better yet, he hoped / thought that he would be the one cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of said Lunar Hilton. Hilton Hotels actually printed and distributed countless promotional reservation cards. Thousands of people from every corner of the globe wrote letters asking that their name be put on a waiting list. And yes, there was a Hilton Hotels office in the space station of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a magnificent production mentioned a few times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since July 2018.

Let’s face it, the late 1960s and very early 1970s were a wild and wacky time. A great time to be young, provided you were lucky enough to live in a wealthy country, or to be rich in a poor country. And no, I was not old enough to fully appreciate these bygone days. Pity. My liver and kidneys, on the other hand, are very pleased I was quite young in 1969.

By the way, in 1999, Hilton Hotels commissioned a British architect to draw a plan for a 5 000 (!) room hotel on the Moon. Hilton Hotels & Resorts Corporation, a new name adopted in 2010, dropped the idea many years ago, but back to our story.

Two of the somewhat less shady characters living on the Moon in May 2021 were William H. “Bill” Kemp and his Soviet co-pilot / partner, Dmitri Korminski, which formed the crew of the Moon 02 rust bucket, sorry, space ferry – a 10 or so year old spacecraft that looked a lot like a big orange Apollo Lunar Module with an added section in the middle. And yes, Kemp was the stalwart, rebellious, almost cynical, follically challenged and not all that handsome American antihero of the story. And no, the sleek spaceship on the poster posted at the start of this article had nothing to do with Kemp’s space ferry. If truth be told, I’m not even sure it’s shown in the movie. Who knows, it might have been one of the elements that got cut while the movie was being shot.

More or less forced to leave Space Corporation, possibly some American, British or United Nations outfit, because the latter wanted to make money, in other words develop the mining and tourism industries of the Moon and run commercial flights to Mars and Venus rather than explore the Solar system, something that still made his blood boil, Kemp had to make a living salvaging satellites and space debris near the Moon and, perhaps, helping customers / passengers who did not want to answer too many questions. Calling Kemp a pirate might have been a tad much, but you get the idea.

And yes, there are people alive today, some of them very wealthy indeed, who very much hope / want to make money in space rather than explore the Solar system.

Why was Kemp not in jail, you ask? Well, he was good at what he did. Besides, Elizabeth “Liz” Murphy, the space sheriff of Moon City, the very pretty female space sheriff, an agent of the United Nations Bureau of Investigation actually, had the hots for him. Sorry. They were girlfriend and boyfriend. I am not convinced that Kemp’s feeling were sincere.

Incidentally, Kemp had taken part in the first journey to Venus. He was also the first human being whose hands set foot on Mars. Sorry, that did not come out right, but I digress.

One fine day, as he stepped out of the shower after a successful satellite salvage flight, Kemp found himself in the presence of a recently arrived attractive young woman wearing a really odd / ridiculous hat which covered her entire head and neck. If I may, Moon Zero Two was not exactly a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women.

Clementine Taplin wanted to know if he had seen her brother, Walter “Wally” Taplin, a frontiersman / miner whose homestead was on the hidden face of the Moon. The humour of the scene was quickly pushed aside, as an employee of the spaceport added 2 new names to a plaque dedicated to the memory of the people who had died so that human beings could live on the Moon.

Despite the fact that he gave Taplin a fast tour of the spaceport and explained that that he could fly to her brother’s homestead a lot faster than the 6 days needed for a trip in a moon buggy convoy, Kemp was not too interested. The truth is, he had a date, with his girlfriend. Sadly, said date did not go too well. You see, one of the individuals who had died was the space pilot friend / rival of Kemp who had just perished in the crash of his old spacecraft. The latter learned from Murphy that he had but a few days to make Moon 02 fully operational or find an equally operational replacement. Failure to achieve either of these objectives would result in his grounding, for safety reasons.

A brief digression if I may. Have you heard of a very well-known western / folk ballad called Oh my Darling, Clementine? Yours truly wonders if that song inspired the name of Moon Zero Two’s main female character. And yes, my reading friend, a cartoon character of the late 1950s and early 1960s by the name of Huckleberry Hound was known for his heartfelt rendition of a line from Oh my Darling, What’s Her Name?. I like the way you think, but you don’t want to hear me sing. If I may be permitted the briefest digression, I distinctly remember watching the French language dubbed version of the adventures of Roquet Belles Oreilles, as Huckleberry Hound was / is known in yours truly’s native tongue, in the 1960s.

I remember even better the sketches and songs of Rock et Belles Oreilles, a massively popular radio, stage and television comedy team from Québec active between 1981 and 1995. RBO, as it was often called, was known for its scathing and often controversial humour. Police officers were often the butt of jokes, for example. Both refined and vulgar, Rock et Belles Oreilles left few people indifferent, but I digress. And you know what, if I may quote Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, a classic American film with a shocking racism released in theatres in December 1939, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn! Sorry, sorry. Back to our story.

Understandably upset at the possibility of losing his spaceship and his livelihood, Kemp went to the bar. As luck would have it, his favourite alcoholic drink was not available. What Kemp had tasted like distilled rocket fuel. Indeed, it may have been just that. Topping that off, an individual / minion approached him, pointing out that his boss wanted to have a word. Kemp declined. A weapon was then produced which had the effect of changing Kemp’s mind.

The boss in question, J.J. Hubbard, a wealthy businessman and pillar of the community, all right, all right, a bald, bearded, monocled and mustachioed sleazebag of the first magnitude, was playing Moonopoly with his 2 ravishing but, in the case of the blond one, seemingly not too bright companions by his side, as always, when Kemp arrived at their table. Being bald, bearded, glassed and mustachioed, and having played Monopoly, yours truly felt / feels somewhat uncomfortable mentioning these details. My accent, however, is not as quite as thick as Hubbard’s, I hope. And no, Moon Zero Two was not exactly a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women.
Did I mention that the (American?) accents of the aforementioned Hubbardian minion and of his colleagues could also be used to identify them as shady characters? But back to our corrupt, greedy and sinister businessman.

If I may, Hubbard’s minions did not look at all like Gru’s, and… Don’t tell me you don’t know who Gru is? Sigh. Don’t you have access to… You’re messing with me, aren’t you? You, despicable… Sorry. Back to our story.

Hubbard had recently discovered that a tiny asteroid due to pass near the Moon, or else in orbit around it, was composed almost entirely of sapphire. Besides the simple monetary value of mining these gemstones, one had to wonder if sapphires were / are superbly able to protect from solar and cosmic radiation the solar panels used to power a lot of Moon buildings – unless they got their power from small nuclear reactors, of course. One also had to wonder if sapphire panels could be used as heat shields to protect the powerful rocket engines that would power the rockets Hubbard wanted to build to colonise Mercury and the moon of Jupiter.

Mining the sapphires as the asteroid travelled through space was of course possible, if utterly uneconomical. In any event, interplanetary mining laws would come into play. Hubbard’s profits would take a hit. No businessman worth his sodium chloride / salt would want that. Hubbard had a plan, however. The course of the asteroid would be secretly tweaked in such way that it would come down on the hidden face of the Moon, on a piece of land owned by Hubbard. Interplanetary mining laws would not come into play, and Hubbard’s profits would not take a hit. The illegal nature of this operation meant that no respectable space pilot would touch it with a 3.048 metre (10 foot) pole. Hubbard had found a not so respectable pilot but he turned out to be the very friend / rival of Kemp who had just died. Now without a pilot, Hubbard wanted / needed Kemp, the owner of the only privately owned spacecraft available on the Moon.

Our antihero hesitated. He wanted to go straight. Honest, Kemp did. Truth, justice, the American way. The whole shebang. Still, given Hubbard’s careful planning, his offer of a new spacecraft and the possibility / likelihood of a grounding, Kemp did not have much of a choice. He agreed to help Hubbard.

The following day, Kemp loaded up Moon 02 and prepared for the flight to the asteroid. Three of the items loaded on board were old rocket engines that would be used to tweak the course of the asteroid. When Kemp’s girlfriend unexpectedly showed up, in full sheriff mode, he stated that said rocket engines were part of the updates needed to make his spacecraft fully operational, so that he would not be grounded. Nothing to see here, nothing to see. (Hello, EP!)

Kemp and the aforementioned Korminski took off soon after, with 2 of Hubbard’s minions. The 3 rocket engines were successfully placed on the asteroid. Aware than one of said engines had a faulty start up circuit, Kemp stayed on said asteroid to fire the 2 undamaged engines manually – and give a good thumping to the third one, to get it going. As the asteroid began to move away, he realised he had forgotten to detach his safety line. Kemp barely had the time to cut it before being dragged away by the rerouted asteroid.

Soon after Kemp, Korminski and the minions came back to Moon City, our antihero went to the bar. As luck would have it, his favourite alcoholic drink was still unavailable. What Kemp had tasted like distilled rocket fuel, because that’s seemingly what it was. He soon saw a very concerned Taplin. No one had seen her brother for some months, she said. Adding to Taplin’s concern was the fact that her brother’s homestead might finally be worth something. You see, he had sent a message stating that he found a mother lode of… something. Unless said brother managed to register this discovery and, perhaps, pay some sum of money within the next 3 days, ownership of the site would revert to the lunar authorities. With few options open to her, Taplin asked Kemp if he could fly her to her brother’s homestead.

Hoping to make a poopload / tonne of dough as a result of his Faustian deal with Hubbard, Kemp was in such a good mood that he said yes. One of Hubbard’s minions took umbrage to this decision. A fight ensued. Kemp accidentally on purpose turned off the artificial, Earth-like gravity – a physical impossibility, at least for us, human beings living in 2019. For some reason, as was / is sometimes the case in movies, this arguably laughable fight was in slow motion, which made the very oddly garbed dancing girls look even stranger than usual. Need I remind you that Moon Zero Two was not a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women?

As the local constabulary moved in to stop the fight and arrest the people responsible, Kemp grabbed Taplin and made a run for it. They climbed aboard Moon 02 and took off. If I may be permitted to digress for a nanosecond, a few billion nanoseconds actually, photographing the spacecraft directly from above as it took off was a good idea. It’s a beautiful shot.

Twenty or so minutes after leaving Moon City, Kemp and Taplin landed at Farside Five supply depot, on the hidden face of the Moon. Why not land at the homestead owned by Taplin’s brother, you ask, my reading friend? Well, say I, the moonscape near said homestead was just too rough. Interestingly enough, one of the translucent domes of Farside Five was adorned with an open structure shaped like the front of wild west saloon.

Using his credit card, and dreaming of what he would get for the points, sorry, I digress, Kemp rented a Moon buggy for the 24 hour trip to the homestead. Said journey was uneventful. No Moon monsters in our movie, no siree. Moon Zero Two thus proved superior to Mission Mars and Battle Beyond the Sun, 2 feature films mentioned in July 2018 and September 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Upon arriving at the homestead, Kemp and Taplin began to look around. The rather small, very small in fact, igloo-like living area was empty. Their radio calls went unanswered. They then saw a lonely figure in the distance. Taplin ran over to him, and saw a skull where a happy, familiar face should have been. Kemp surmised that the young man had switched on an empty air tank – a tragic case of bad luck, or a stupid mistake to quote his very sensitive sister, but wait.

A terrible trio of bad hombres (Hello EG!) attacked Kemp and Taplin. They shot their Moon buggy full of holes, using what appeared to be more or less standard revolvers / pistols. As Taplin hid among the rocks, Kemp grabbed his revolver and started firing. In fact, he calmly sent all of the bad hombres to their maker, the other guy. Incidentally, the spacesuits were colour coded, presumably to make sure that viewers would not get too confused during this gunfight at a lunar corral. Sorry. That was mean.

Unable to return to Farside Five in their damaged and holed up Moon buggy, Kemp and Taplin climbed aboard her late brother’s damaged Bug-Dozer work vehicle. As they raced across a rough moonscape, the vehicle was hit by the full glare of the Sun. It began to overheat. Things got pretty hot in the cockpit as well. Kemp and Taplin had to strip to their underwear. When the Bug-Dozer finally caught fire, they put on their spacesuits and ran for cover, just before it blew up. And no, Moon Zero Two was not a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women.

After a long and tiring walk, Kemp and Taplin arrived at Farside Five, where the aforementioned Murphy had every intention of putting them under arrest for starting the brawl at Moon City. How she got there was not explained.

Kemp quickly pointed out that Taplin’s brother was dead. He had been murdered, he said. Remembering the bad attitude of Farside Five’s supervisor when he and Taplin had arrived, Kemp bluffed him into confessing that Taplin’s brother had indeed been murdered. Said supervisor, who later got his comeuppance, losing his life to the hot exhaust of a small rocket engine, had done the deed with a poisoned air tank.

What exactly was going on, thought Kemp? Then, to quote the aforementioned Gru, light bulb. A homestead on the hidden face of the Moon that would soon be available for purchase, an asteroid made of sapphire, and a sleazebag named…

Hubbard and his minions walked in at that time. How they got to Farside Five was not explained either. Tragically, Murphy was quickly killed in the line of duty. She died in Kemp’s arms.

Hubbard lost no time in pointing a firearm at Taplin’s head. You see, the asteroid’s course was seemingly not quite perfect yet. It might miss a certain piece of land our greedy businessman planned on buying as soon as it reverted back to the lunar authorities. Understandably enough, Hubbard had no intention of letting the sapphire asteroid escape him. He had after all gone to a lot of trouble to prepare for the arrival of said asteroid, up to and including the assassination of Taplin’s brother.

Hubbard was so keen on completing his business plan that he told Kemp that he and Taplin would be sent to their maker if our antihero did not fly to the asteroid for a final course correction. Kemp graciously agreed.

Once on the asteroid, Kemp performed the required course correction. As 2 of his minions, on the asteroid with their master, kept one eye, yes, yes, one eye, they were minions after all, on him, Hubbard relaxed, confident in the knowledge that the money he would make might make him the most important carbon based life form in the solar system. Suddenly, Taplin turned on one of Moon 02’s thruster, melting the helmet of the supervisor of Farside Five. I told you he got his comeuppance, didn’t I? Korminski, freed by Taplin (with a small circular saw?), shot one of the minions.

A standoff ensued. Kemp fired the asteroid’s rocket engines, after taking the precaution of tethering himself to a line linked to Moon 02. Hubbard and a minion found themselves marooned as Kemp and Moon 02 galloped, sorry, moved into the sunset.

All right, all right, Kemp went back to Moon City with Taplin and Korminski. Soon after leaving the asteroid, Kemp reminded Taplin that she was the rightful owner of her brother’s homestead, of the mother lode (of nickel?) he had found and, before long, of a certain crashed sapphire asteroid. She was one lucky and very wealthy young woman. Seemingly indifferent to the charm of Taplin for the longest time, Kemp was seemingly beginning to get interested – as his girlfriend’s body began to get cold. Sorry, sorry.

The End.

So, I ask you, my reading friend who is still shocked by that last sentence, was / is Moon Zero Two a western, a crime drama or an action movie set in space? Better yet, could one argue it was / is some sort of spoof of serious space movies like the aforementioned 2001: A Space Odyssey? Take your time to write an answer. The truth is, you have an entire week.

And yes, Kemp may well have been a bit of a sleazebag. Mind you, as was said (typed?) above, Moon Zero Two as a whole was not exactly a shining beacon pointing the way towards greater freedom and power for women.

That’s it for Part 1 of this article. See ya later, weathercaster.

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Rénald Fortier