While the mainstream media fixates on history from two generations past (what most would call the Apollo program), I thought I’d offer up some forward-looking visions of our Moon. One of the neat things about having an enormous collection of Moon-related materials is that I can just pop over to the media section of the Lunar Library and start pulling DVDs and VHS tapes.
We’ll start out with a trilogy of suspense movies which remain available only on VHS tape. Given the B-movie nature of these titles, it is questionable as to whether they will ever become available on DVD.
First up, from 1990, is a thriller that ties together the Bermuda Triangle, Satan, and ‘The Dark Side of the Moon‘, weighing in at 96 minutes. Evil incarnate stalks the hapless crew of SpaceCoreOne, and even their babelicious computer may not be able to save them from the doom that awaits them.
From 1991 we get the mystery-thriller ‘Murder by Moonlight‘, weighing in at 94 minutes and starring Brigitte Nielsen as a statuesque NASA agent sent to a joint Russian-American mining base on the Moon, where an American miner has been found dead in the Russian part of the base. Sparks fly when she has to work with the rather unaccommodating Russian detective also put on the case, as political realities make the ‘truth’ rather fluid and elusive. Can she crack the case before she joins the growing body count?
Last up is the 1998 action flick ‘Moonbase‘, which weighs in at 89 minutes. A team of dangerous criminals escapes the Off-World Penitentiary and end up on the Moon at the Moonbase Waste Disposal Plant. Part of the waste being disposed of on the Moon are some nuclear warheads, just what they need to ensure themselves of a safe return to Earth. Or so they think. This particular one may be available in Region 2 DVD, but otherwise your Lunar Librarian has not yet been able to track down DVD versions of these films.
Another VHS movie, ‘Moontrap‘, weighs in at 92 minutes, and is available on DVD, though not legitimately. It’s rather surprising, given that it stars not only Walter Koenig from the old Star Trek television series, but also Bruce Campbell, whose cinematic oeuvre is one that I respect tremendously. In this story a Space Shuttle flight returns a strange, alien artifact that seems to have the capacity to use things in its environment to grow and become more deadly. No, not a human being, rather, some kind of robot/machine intelligence. Clues point to the Moon, so Walter and Bruce, two of the best in the business, travel there to investigate, uncovering a greater horror than they could have ever conceived.
Another Moon-set story that isn’t available either on VHS or legitimately on DVD, is the old ABC TV series pilot ‘Plymouth‘, clocking in at 90 minutes. In this tale a proud mining town in the Pacific Northwest is devastated by ecological disaster. The company responsible happens to have constructed a base on the Moon, would the townsfolk be interested in moving there to continue their generations-long mining tradition, just in a new locale? They agree, and thus is begun the first off-Earth settlement of humans, fighting the good fight to bring life to the places in the Solar system where there is none, like our sterile Moon.
Of this first bunch, the only one of real merit is ‘Plymouth’. It is legendary in the space advocacy underground, where you’ll hear stories of someone having it on videotape from the screening in 1991 on TV. The set-up may sound cheesy, but it is a rather intelligent story, and they make an effort to hew to scientific accuracy. Since the last two items are not legitimately available on DVD, I can’t point you to them, however I can inform you that if you look you can find them on the internet.
Moving on to movies that are readily available on DVD, the most memorable example of a human presence on the Moon has to be Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, which weighs in at a lengthy 148 minutes. The richness and wholeness of his vision not only attests to the influence of Arthur C. Clarke, but also set an impossibly high benchmark for all succeeding movies. The scenes relating to the Moon are limited to Act II, but the movie in its entirety is widely recognized as a masterful example of science-fiction movie making.
A year later was the release of the British masterpiece ‘Moon Zero Two‘, which clocks in at 100 minutes. In this tale a scrappy free-lance entrepreneur gets entangled not only with a massively wealthy but also criminally selfish industrialist, but also a damsel in distress who has come to the Moon to search for her brother, who has been trying to make a claim stake work on the far side of the Moon. Styled as a Western, the imagination underlying the story and the sets helps to elevate it to something more.
The British would continue the idea of a crewed facility on the Moon well into the 1970s. In 1973 the BBC aired six episodes of the television series ‘Moonbase 3‘, which altogether clock in at 300 minutes. An international crew staffs a scientific facility on the Moon, but the exploration is as much of our humanity as of the Moon’s secrets. Long thought lost to the vicissitudes of history, a copy recently turned up, so it is once again available to Moonatics. The series was of course overshadowed in the annals of television by the two season run of ‘Space: 1999‘ a couple of years later, which DVDs run in excess of 41 hours. This is what your friendly Lunar Librarian grew up with along with ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Blake’s 7′, as Dad was stationed in England through the mid-1970s, so I was stuck there with him. It doesn’t carry quite the same thrill that it used to, but still it explores some interesting topics, and was rather groundbreaking in its day. A bit of trivia is that the young lady who played Maya on the series, Catherine von Schell (on whom I had a major crush until Princess Leia stole my heart), was also in ‘Moon Zero Two’ as the damsel in distress.
The decade of the 1970s closed with the rather strange ‘The Shape of Things to Come‘, ostensibly based on an H.G. Wells story. Power-mad tyrants, killer robots, and hot disco-ish chicks almost make this one watchable, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit all the way through. It is notable for starring Barry Morse from ‘Space: 1999′ and Jack Palance, and is premised on an ecologically devastated Earth having driven humanity to colonise the surface of the Moon and begin reaching for the stars.
The 1980s seems to have been largely a wasteland for Moon movies, but there was a notable exception in ‘Star Cops‘, from 1987, with nine episodes weighing in at 450 minutes. An international team of police officers is gathered together on the Moon to keep the peace and fight criminals. Oops, speaking of which it looks like this one is only available legitimately as a Region 2 DVD, however it can be found in a form playable on U.S. (Region 1) players.
I’ve never understood the whole Region thing. I can buy a music CD anywhere in the world and play it in any of my CD players. But I have DVDs in the Lunar Library that I can’t play on my computer or my DVD players. I’m sure the media industry thinks they have a good reason for making some movies only playable in some parts of the world, but I find it terribly annoying. I also dislike corporate interests that sit on their assets and won’t do anything with them, but won’t let anyone else do anything either. This is part of why copyrights are supposed to expire.
As we’ve seen, the Moon movies from the 1990s are only available on VHS, so let’s fast forward to the new millennium. From 2002 we have ‘The Adventures of Pluto Nash‘, weighing in at 95 minutes. Total respect, what with Eddie being a distant cousin in the family tree and all that, but let’s just not go there. Sure, it would be cool if the Moon was developed to the extent shown in this movie, but the less said about this one the better.
From 2007 is the lovingly hand-crafted tale ‘Postcards from the Future‘, clocking in at 35 minutes. Director Alan Chan worked on the special effects for ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Beowulf’, and here he applies his skills to a story he wants to tell. Sean Ever(y)man is an electrical engineer sent to the Moon to oversee the establishment of the initial electrical grid. He’s not terribly happy about it, but he is the best man for the job, so he shoulders the responsibility. He misses his wife terribly, but their legacy will take him to the apex of human achievement in the Solar System in the near future. Your friendly Lunar Librarian is quite fond of this one, and arranged a screening at the 2007 ISDC.
If you want some science fact to go with your science fiction, there’s always the 2005 documentary ‘GaiaSelene: Saving the Earth by Colonizing the Moon‘. The first half discusses the complex energy, environmental and infrastructure challenges that we’re going to be facing worldwide through the year 2050. The second half of the documentary outlines how tapping the resources of the Moon and near-Earth space can help us in rising to the challenges we’re all going to face. Energy = Prosperity This is an important topic, so it’s worthwhile to stick it out through the whole documentary.
Now, as a special treat, we’re going to take a look at what all the hep young cats are digging. anime, As in Japanese style animation, what Americans would call cartoons. From 1985 comes the 84 minute long odd tale that is ‘Battle for Moon Station Dallos‘, which is only available on VHS. Something about tyranny and freedom on the Moon.
From 1994 and clocking in at 60 minutes, this future tale tells the story of a strange force within the Moon that is none too pleased at humanity’s trespass, and the only man that can defeat it – ‘Bounty Dog‘.
Moving into the new millennium, the grand-daddy of near-Earth, near-future anime is widely regarded as being ‘Planetes‘, broadcast from 2003-2005 before being released on six DVDs that clock in at 650 minutes. Significant portions of the story about a team of misfit orbital debris cleaner-uppers take place on the Moon, from a goofy Moon ninjas tale to efforts to travel to Jupiter, and especially my favorite episode – ‘Extraterrestrial Girl‘. If there’s only one space anime you ever watch, make sure it’s this one.
From 2006 comes the tale ‘Freedom‘, weighing in at just over 200 minutes. After a tragic space disaster unleashes ecological havoc on the Earth, the survivors relocate to the Moon where they establish a new society of perfect freedom. Well, within constraints of course. Young custom motorcycle racer Takeru chafes at those constraints, and in doing so he discovers that everything he’s been told about Earth may not exactly be true.
Last up we have ‘Moonlight Mile‘ from 2008 and weighing in at 300 minutes over the 12 episodes of season one. Goro and Lostman are competitive (and libertine) spirits whose destinies point them towards the Moon, though by different paths. This one is for grown-ups only, as it contains ample, shall we say, adult situations. For the grown-ups, though, it is a rather interesting tale, and one well grounded in the near-future, where cislunar space becomes a geopolitical (spatiopolitical?) playing field.
Finally, we come to a movie that is not yet available on DVD, because it is currently showing in a select few theatres around the U.S. since Sony won’t put it into wide release despite universally glowing reviews, including the one here at OotC, ‘Moon‘ starring Sam Rockwell and weighing in at 97 minutes. If I want to see it again I’m going to have to road-trip down to Austin to see it at the Dobie Theatre down on the Drag when it comes out on July 10th.
[Update: Well whaddaya know - it's being shown at the Angelika at Mockingbird Station, and is opening this weekend! Woo hoo! When I lived in NYC the Angelika down on Houston Street was my favorite cinema. Way to go Angelika, bringing some solid sci-fi to the masses.]
So as we can see, while the mainstream press fixates on the past, there nevertheless remains much to look forward to with regards to our Moon. In the end, as with any adventure in humanity’s story, it’s people and their struggles that make for compelling drama, and will provide the impetus for new adventures on the high frontier.