Retro Futurism: 1969's 'Moon Zero Two' Was Set In The Year 2021
Lobby card for 'Moon Zero Two.' Source: Pinterest
What will the year 2021 hold? In 1969, Moon Zero Two, a film from the Hammer studio famous for horror movies, pondered just that question. Starring Catherine Schell and James Olson, the movie depicts a lunar mining colony and a plot to get rich by hijacking an asteroid made of emerald -- so as a speculation about the then-future, Moon Zero Two is far off the mark. The colorful space suits, mini-skirts, and go-go boots show that this is a film that looked to the future but couldn't quite get out of the '60s.
Space will always remain a mysterious frontier for brave adventurers. During the Groovy era, space was hot, thanks to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throw in the historic ‘69 moon landing, and every creator under the sun suddenly needed to bring their space idea to life just three months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin “made one giant leap for mankind.”
Moon Zero Two directed by Roy Ward Baker and produced by Hammer films hit the big screen. Dubbed “The first moon 'Western,'” the film scored very poorly at the box office. However, as films often do, it became a cult classic on the strength of Catherine Schell’s beauty and campy action scenes.
'Moon Zero Two's Plot
In Moon Zero Two, the moon has become a spaceport for tourists to explore Mars, Venus, and the frontier beyond. Astronaut Bill Kemp, played by James Olson, also the first man to ever set foot on the moon, works as a salvage pilot disenfranchised by what the moon has turned into in the era of commercialism.
Add in Clementine "Clem" Taplin, portrayed by the foxy Catherine Schell, who comes to the moon searching for her lost brother. Kemp attempts to navigate the commercial interests of the moon and his girlfriend’s, played by Adrienne Corri, desire to move up in the world. Everyone’s life turns upside down when Hubbard (Warren Mitchell) strongarms Kemp into illegally wrangling an asteroid made of sapphire into the moon’s orbit.
2021 Looks A Lot Like 1969
An enjoyable aspect of Moon Zero Two that likely led to its cult popularity was how much 2021 on the moon looked like life on Earth in 1969. First, Hilton Hotels, in its infancy in ‘69, decided the sci-fi flicks would function perfectly as a vehicle to shine a light on their then-growing hotel chain. The chain even printed numerous promotional reservation cards reading "The Lunar Hilton." Apparently, many people wrote to Hilton begging to put their names on waiting lists. This may sound familiar, and it is: 2001: A Space Odyssey also gave us a Hilton with offices in the space station.
1969 On The Moon
Some other touches by Hammer films to put the Groovy Era in outer space? Fans of the iconic Ball Chairs by Finnish interior designer Eero Aarnio will recognize the capsule-esque form of the bulbous chair fad. There’s also a quick shot of a circular monopoly being played at a bar, because who wouldn’t play a four-hour monopoly game while imbibing? Last but certainly not least was the quick mention that the Hilton Hotel was jointly run by both the Americans and Soviets. This was a not-so-subtle hat tip to the furious space race of the ’60s.
Catherine Schell, 1969's Hottest Space Gal
Naturally, for a movie made in ‘69, scantily clad was the name of the game. From the lithe “Go-Jo” girls of the moon to the completely unnecessary high thighs of Adrienne Corri’s spacesuit, sex sells, even in outer space. Funnily enough, actor Ori Levy called wearing the spacesuits, "sheer hell." According to him, the suit’s chafing caused blisters and led to back problems due to the giant air conditioner installed into the back to keep him cool. Schell lost 13 pounds due to the suit and was forced to go on malted milk chocolate to maintain her weight.
Spoiler alert: ultimately Kemp’s wet blanket girlfriend, Liz, meets her unfortunate demise at the hands of a nefarious villain. Catherine Schell finds a shoulder to cry on to mourn the untimely death of her brother. Both protagonists reap millions when the sapphire asteroid serendipitously crashes onto land recently secured by Schell’s departed brother and they live happily ever after.
Science Fiction Tropes Of Moon Zero Two
It's impossible to consider Moon Zero Two, released in 1969, without recalling the two classics from 1968 that clearly informed it: Barbarella and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Moon Zero Two shares Barbarella's vibe that the future (when we're not wearing space suits) will look like a groovy nightclub, with plenty of miniskirts, clingy jumpsuits, and go-go boots. While we marvel at the "accuracy" of Kubrick's 2001, based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name, there is the fairly obvious fact that the year 2001 came and went and it didn't look like what we saw in the film.
The film's combination of elements of a western with science-fiction was very logical at the time -- after all, Star Trek had been calling space "the final frontier" for years. And the idea the astronaut or other space traveler as the future analogue of a rough-and-tumble cowboy had been common in science fiction for years. By now, we've seen plenty of mining colonies on planets other than Earth, including Outland and Prometheus. Due to Moon Zero Two's tendencies toward '60s camp, the western touches are pretty heavy-handed at times, with characters carrying six-shooters and brawling in a cowboy-themed saloon.
Moon Zero Two also gives us one of the great go-to images that we've seen in science-fiction art for decades: The skeleton inside a spacesuit. Seeing a long-dead human inside the technologically-advanced suit that was meant to preserve him or her has always been a powerful visual.
Ultimately, Moon Zero Two is not a bad movie, but its brand of science fiction tells us more about the '60s than it predicts 2021. It's not what we'd call serious sci-fi, and in that sense it's much more Barbarella than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which isn't a bad thing.
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