The first Western movie set on the Moon: Moon Zero Two, Part 2

A poster for the French and Dutch language versions of the British science fiction film Moon Zero Two.

Howdy again, my reading friend, and… I see a hand waving through the fog of space and time. You have a question? Yes, you are indeed correct. James Olson, the somewhat colourless American actor who played William H. “Bill” Kemp, the antihero of the British science fiction movie Moon Zero Two mentioned in the first part of this article, also starred in The Andromeda Strain, an American classic science fiction film first shown in March 1971. And yes, the Hungarian born British actress who played Clementine Taplin, the young woman in need of assistance also mentioned in the first part of this article, in other words Catherine Schell, born Katherina Schell von Bauschlott, played an alien in an unspectacular Italo British / British television science fiction series initially broadcasted between September 1975 and November 1977.

Dare I admit that I watched quite a few episodes of a French language dubbed version, made in Québec, of Space 1999, Cosmos 1999?

And yes, a Hungarian Canadian filmmaker by the name of Elisabeth Vitez was mentioned in an October 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / machine. You are the one who is digressing, my reading friend. We can’t have that. That’s my job.

Did you know that Space 1999 was the last series on which Gerry Anderson, born Gerald Alexander Abrahams, worked with the person who would soon be his ex-wife, Sylvia Thamm Anderson? This team known for its wire puppets television series was mentioned in September 2018 and March 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. But I digress.

See. I told you. My job.

By the way, did you know that the British actor who played the evil businessman of Moon Zero Two, J.J. Hubbard, who was mentioned in the first part of this article, also played the television character who inspired a famous but not particularly bright American television character? Does the name Archibald “Archie” Bunker ring a bell? Actually, now that yours truly thinks about it, Hubbard’s minions were played by actors better known for their comedic roles in the movies and / or on television.

Would you care to hear (read?) what critics, or yours truly for that matter, had / have to say about Moon Zero Two, my reading friend? And yes, that was indeed a rhetorical question.

Sadly enough, the producer and director of Moon Zero Two seemed unable to make up their mind about this project. Authentic looking scenes and / or serious / sombre reminders of the dangers inherent to life in outer space were followed by nonsense and / or moments of mild comedy, or vice versa. Was Moon Zero Two a western, a crime drama or an action movie set in space – or a spoof of a space movie? And yes, this was pretty much the question I asked you last week. Is your paper ready? Sigh… Never mind.

To make a long story short, Moon Zero Two was not a particularly entertaining movie. Some / many might even say it was pretty dull, dreary, boring and absurd. Others said there was more wit in that feature film that in many film comedies of its time. Whether or not the smiles and laughs were intentional was another matter.

While the film crew clearly knew which way was up, it seemingly did not understand the little things and the not so little things which made 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie mentioned in the first part of this article, one of the most amazing motion pictures of the 20th century. This was quite odd given that it is likely that members of the crew watched many science fiction movies and television series to get the feel of it all. As well, they seemingly looked at what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a world famous organisation mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018, was up to.

Released 3 months after the stupendously successful Apollo 11 mission, a mission mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since May 2019, Moon Zero Two actually included both a dialogue reference and a model of a lunar monument referring to said mission.

It is well worth noting that the cinematography of Moon Zero Two was first class. And yes, despite the rather limited budget, which included British pounds and American dollars by the way, the special effects were relatively good if patchy for their time. This was to be expected, mind you. Several members of the team had recently worked on, you guessed it, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Moon Zero Two’s jazzy / psychedelic music was / is pretty cool. It could also be described as blaring and very bad. The full size Moon buggy was seriously cool, or very bad.

The brightly coloured sets and costumes / spacesuits of Moon Zero Two also had a great if somewhat kitschy / campy look. Wearing these very well made but heavy rubber and fibreglass spacesuits took its toll on the actors and actresses, though. Worse still, the hot studio lights meant that, because they wore said suits for quite a while and / or often given the number of scenes requiring them, they sweated profusely. The aforementioned Olson, for example, soon realised that he did not need to jog every day to keep trim.

A detail if I may. The thin rubber gloves worn with the big and bulky spacesuits were a bit of a letdown. Another detail if I may. Did you know that an actress / actor who wanted / needed to remove her / his helmet had to ask an assistant to remove the screws that secured it to the spacesuit? Putting on the chest piece of the spacesuits was no easy matter either. Removing it was even worse. Incidentally, the resemblance between the pair of plastic doohickeys on the chest piece of each suit and the pair of, err, human body elements on the chest of each actress or actor was duly noted and joked about during filming.

The craftsmen who designed these rather expensive spacesuits, which were all different given the differing corporeal dimensions of the actresses and actors, knew how to save money. I heard (read?) that the belt buckles worn on the spacesuits came from British automobile seatbelts of a type very similar to the ones used in 2019. The boots, on the other hand, were modified West German horse riding boots.

It should be noted that the spacesuits used for the Taplin homestead scenes were unique to these scenes. Given Moon Zero Two’s rather limited budget, the creation of 2 sets of suits does not quite feel right. In any event, the plastic lunar spacesuits were seemingly much lighter and less restrictive than the ones used in other scenes, which could come in handy for the fight scene on the Moon. Sadly, they looked like the sort of props one could have found in a not too expensive 1950s science fiction film. The fishbowl appearance of the helmets and the thin rubber gloves were also a bit of a letdown.

These little oopsies were not the only ones a bright eyed and bushy tail person like you or I would find while watching Moon Zero Two. Regardless of how hard a film crew worked / works to produce a good quality product, one can almost always find bloopers of varying size / importance.

The customs declaration everyone had to fill before departing the Moon’s spaceport, for example, was the one everyone filled before departing a British airport in 1969. The only difference was the addition of words Lunar Customs and Excise. At that same spaceport, the several drink dispensers on view were also standard issue in British airports in 1969. At one point too, a supposedly half-drunk character reacted somewhat too fast when he grabbed a chair that was about to fall. Soon after, Kemp’s chair magically moved from the floor of the bar to being perched on a wooden crate. Said crate seemingly allowed a cameraman to better position Kemp and the Hubbardian minion threatening him.

Would you believe that, during part of the scene when the rocket engines were placed on the asteroid, the footage was accidentally reversed which meant that all the writing was also reversed? It was during that scene that the support wires of a stuntman were briefly visible. Worse still perhaps, the safety line which was supposedly dragging Kemp away as the asteroid slowly accelerated was not even taut. Oh yes, before I forget, the full size set showing a section of said asteroid did not resemble the model of the asteroid shown on screen.

What could be described as a big blooper can be spotted not too long before the low gravity bar brawl – itself somewhat of a blooper if you ask me. Having Taplin’s glass float in mid-air was a bit of a booboo. As we both know, the Moon has a non-negligible gravitational field – about one sixth of Earth’s, I seem to recall. Would you believe, and of course you should, that a panning camera caught Kemp and his co-pilot, Dmitri Korminski, a character mentioned in the first part of this article, frozen in mid-stride as the actors waited to walk into the bar, before the brawl? I kid you not.

Speaking of brawl, you may wish to note that Kemp heard at least one shot fired by one of the bad hombres who attacked him and Taplin. He heard it. On the Moon. A lifeless / airless body… Sorry. I get carried away sometimes.

Seeing Kemp lose his weapon one second during the gunfight at the lunar corral, and yet wield it in the next shot, was a tad disconcerting. The maraschino cherry on top of the sundae, however, was the brief scene during which the spacesuit of one of the bad hombres got punctured by a bullet and deflated to such an extent that its occupant seemingly evaporated into thin air – an impossibility as we both know. There is no air on the Moon. And none of the rocks there have a green tinge to them.

I regret to inform that Moon 02 itself had / has a bit of a flaw. If the top section was a flight deck, the mid section a cargo area and the lower section an airlock and storage area, where in Flying Spaghetti Monster’s name was the fuel storage area? In a couple of scenes, by the way, members of the film crew forgot to properly align the 3 sections of the model of the spacecraft. This being said (typed?), deliberately damaging sections of Moon 02’s flight deck to give it a well-used look was an innovative nice touch, used later on by the production team of the American blockbuster Star Wars of 1976.

Putting together the good and the not so good, yours truly believes that the potential to deliver a kick posterior adventure movie set on the Moon was there. So, why did Moon Zero Two end up the way it did?

One could begin by pointing out that the British studio behind this motion picture, Hammer Film Productions Limited, was / is primarily remembered and rightfully renowned for its horror films, some of them cult classics, like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), and for a few productions that hovered between horror and science fiction, like The Quatermass Xperiment / The Creeping Unknown (1955) and Quatermass II / Enemy from Space (1957). By and large, the sets, costumes and casts of a “Hammer” horror flick were great, vibrant and first class. Mind you, Hammer Film Productions was also responsible for some pretty campy horror classics. In the end, the very science fictionee nature of Moon Zero Two with its anachronic futurism set it apart from virtually all other films produced by this studio.

The wild west in space style of Moon Zero Two may also have been a problem. British studios and film crews were / are not known for their western movies, were / are they? Can you even name one British made western movie, my reading friend? The oldest one that yours truly could find was / is The Night Riders. Filmed in 1920, in California, it depicted the conflict between a British immigrant and cattle rustlers, in Alberta. Anyway, one has to wonders if the scriptwriters of Moon Zero Two, unsure of what made western movies tick, chose to play it safe by including every cliché they could think of.

This being said (typed?), the whole team seemingly tried to make said clichés as plausible as possible despite an environment which differed a wee bit from the South Western United States. They did not come up with a lunar buffalo, for example. Nor did they imagine indigenous populations fighting to save their culture from an extralunar invasion – and a trigger happy / racist / genocidal space cavalry à la Avatar, a 2009 blockbuster directed by James Francis Cameron, a Canadian gentleman mentioned in April and September 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Exploding spaceships in countless motion pictures and television series episodes, both bad and good, have produced / produce / will keep on producing the most horrifying / satisfying sounds. I know. I also know that Moon Zero Two seemingly did not contain a single scene of a spacecraft in its natural element that included sound effects.

All in all, the crew behind Moon Zero Two worked hard, within a rather limited budget, to make their sets believable. And no, the gun battle at the homestead owned by Taplin’s brother was not all that believable.

So why a western movie, you ask, my reading friend? Well, a little bird told me that the producer of Moon Zero Two loved westerns movies. He loved them a lot. Given the spacey context of the mid 1960s, this gentleman, who happened to be the son of the individual who ran Hammer Film Productions, pushed the idea of a western film on the Moon around 19666, sorry, 1966. He got his way. This being said (typed?), the original and seemingly quite gritty film idea reached the son of the boss man via the agent of a very successful British crime / espionage thriller writer.

Would you believe that said writer, a keen aircraft model maker and war gamer by the name of Gavin Tudor Lyall, served as a fighter pilot in the British air force, the Royal Air Force, in the early 1950s?

Did I mention that Moon Zero Two’s somewhat melodramatic scenario did not fill with joy the heart of its director? The rather limited budget did not thrill him either.

A potentially more serious flaw of Moon Zero Two was its relatively slow pace, especially during its first half, despite several pretty urgent deadlines and deadly conspiracies. This relative lethargy was compounded by dialogues that could often be described as laconic, spoken by characters who were, well, pretty generic / clichéd, if not a tad hollow.

All in all, the big problem with Moon Zero Two laid in its scenario. One has to wonder if the actresses and actors, most of them British, enjoyed playing cowgirl / cowboy, without Indians / Native Americans.

Indeed, putting the negative aside for a moment in order to play a positive note, a B flat perhaps, which goes against my nature, one could argue that Moon Zero Two did not seem to take itself too seriously. At times the atmosphere felt contemplative, if not surrealistic. At other times, said atmosphere was somewhat tacky / square / cheesy. But then, it’s not easy being cheesy.

It should be noted that some film critics (seriously?) wondered, both at the time and more recently, if some characters of Moon Zero Two might perhaps have strayed, or at least considered the possibility of straying, from the standard straight and narrow path in their personal relationships. Kemp and Korminski may or may not have had longing looks in the locker room, for example. As well, the very pretty female space sheriff of Moon City and her deputies may or may not have felt more than friendship toward each other.

Still, despite its many faults and peculiarities, Moon Zero Two was / is by no means sillier than many of the superhero / science fiction blockbusters of the past 40 years. Grant you, these American productions made / make a lot more money. Dare I suggest that people are becoming less and less intelligent?

Would you agree with yours truly in thinking that the universe created by the Moon Zero Two team was so rich and complex that it could have formed the basis of a sequel, if not a television series? You don’t? That’s too bad. You see, it looks as if there was indeed talk of a movie sequel set on Mars, Disaster in Space, and, yes, yes, a television series. Sadly these projects went nowhere. The reason for this was simple. As you may have guessed by now, the global impact of the Apollo 11 mission did not provide our oddball science fiction film with enough of a boost to become a successful and popular motion picture. The truth is that Moon Zero Two flopped in the United Kingdom and double flopped in the United States. Various issues within the aforementioned Hammer Film Productions may also have played a role in stifling the movie sequel and television series projects.

Still, one could always have bought the book version of Moon Zero Two, published in paperback format, in 1969 (United Kingdom) and 1970 (United States). The book differed from the movie in some minor aspects.

Better yet, still in 1970, Avon Rubber Company, a well-known British tire manufacturer, produced a calendar to celebrate the coming of a new decade. Yes, the 1970s. Said calendar featured Hubbard’s 2 ravishing female companions posing on various Moon Zero Two sets (Moon 02 airlock and flight deck, lunar customs, lunar hotel lobby and room, Taplin homestead, etc.). And yes, some of the clothing said ladies wore was on the skimpy side.

It is worth noting that some of the good quality spacesuits of Moon Zero Two appeared in several British television programmes / series as well as in advertisements. One of these television series was the aforementioned Space 1999. Another one was Doctor Who, a far better known and more appreciated series mentioned in an August 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. It has been suggested that these uses disturbed the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, to such an extent that he ordered the destruction of all the spacesuits used in that iconic motion picture.

Let us part in friendship, my reading friend. See ya later.

P.S. I forgot to mention the incomparable collection of the Canada Aviation and Space of Ottawa, Ontario, in this article. Profuse apologies.

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Rénald Fortier