Hello and welcome to another exciting episode of A Mind Occasionally Voyaging, and this week, we’re going to look at an actually good movie for once. Yes, we’ll be taking some time off from me making fun of bad movies to make fun of a good movie, and for that, we’ll be watching–
[Devastator]: DEVASTATOR! DESTROY!
Devastator? What are you doing down here?
I AM DECEPTICON!
Riiiight. So, um. I thought Leah said she didn’t want you hanging out down here.
No. Bad Devastator. No destroy Autobots. Sheesh. You’ve got six brains in there, I would not expect you to be the Inspirationally Disadvantaged Decepticon.
I say! You don't have to get personal about it. And I don't find jokes about the mentally handicapped very funny
Devastator? You can talk like a normal person? And, since this is in writing and no one can contradict me, you talk with the voice of Johnathan Harris?
Just because one is proportioned in a manner reminiscent of G. beringei, one is not obliged to display reduced intellectual capacity. That the thing I do in movies, that's called acting. You may have heard of it?
Um. Okay. So, what brings you out here today?
My good man, I was given to understand that you intended on viewing some sort of cinematic endeavour.
As a matter of fact, I was, Devastator. I take it you are interested in joining me? I’ve always wanted a Robot Friend to Help Me Keep My Sanity.
A Robot Friend? Really? In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a ten story-tall killing machine with a cement mixer for a mouth. I think you'll find that "robot friend" is rather outside my repetoir.
Not friends then. Of course. But you do want to watch the movie with me?
That was the general idea, yes. So, what is it that we're watching this fine afternoon?
Well, I was thinking about watching the highly anticipated and well-received blockbuster–
Does it have robots?
Um. You see, no. Actually, I was going to watch–
Because I was so hoping that some robotic-americans might be represented in this feature
Well you see, I was going to watch–
Do you have some sort of issue with robot actors?
No, it’s just that I wanted to watch–
DEVASTATOR! DESTROY AUTOBOTS!
Okay, okay, fine. We’ll watch a movie with robots. I’m sure I can find a good movie with robots. We could watch Star Wars. No, wait. Everyone’s reviewed Star Wars. And the Star Wars fanboys will roast me alive if they catch me saying something unkind about it. We could watch– um… Uh…
Um… How about– No, that wasn’t a robot. Or maybe– Oh fuck it, we’re watching Moontrap.
dir. Robert Dyke
Starring Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell
So, about (holy crap I am old) twenty years ago or so, me and dad went to the rental store, and I saw a VHS tape with box-art very much like you will see over to the side, only in the proper proportions and without the ‘shopped in DVD symbol. And yes, that is exactly how Walter Koenig was credited on the box art. In fact, on the back cover of the box, he’s also credited as “Walter Koenig of Star Trek”, as in “Astronaut Jason Grant (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) travels to the moon…” This movie had an official tagline of “For Fourteen Thousand Years, it waited…”, but I believe that in most promotional material, the tagline was given as “It’s got that guy who said ‘nuclear wessels’ on Star Trek!”.
So of course, we had to rent it. I was excited. This was pretty much at the height of the phase in my life where I was nuts for space exploration (Sorry, that’s “Exploration… IN SPACE!”). Subscriber to Odyssey magazine, favorite movie Space Camp (Hey! That’s a movie with a robot in it, can I review that?
DEVASTATOR! DESTROY JINX!), even had Space Shuttle wallpaper (Which is still hanging in my childhood bedroom to this very day), so we had a movie about space, and we had Walter Koenig (of STAR TREK) — and remember, I was only ten or eleven at the time, so it was still something I didn’t quite comprehend that Walter Koenig-the-actor and Pavel Checkov-the-character were two different people. I mean, yes, on paper, I understood this, but the idea that one actor could play many completely different and unrelated characters? That was heavy stuff, man. And it had Robots! And SPACE! It was going to be PURE AWESOME, or so I thought. It turns out I was largely mistaken. Some twenty years later on, the only awesome thing I recall is something entirely unrelated to anything I have said before. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
You may notice who the box cover does not mention. Namely, one Bruce Campbell, who I gather is an acting person of some sort. I will confess that, in 1990, when I last saw this film, I would not have recognized Bruce Campbell by name, nor, I think, by anything else. But it occurs to me that this must be a fairly un-Bruce-Campbellian role he plays, because, for the life of me, I had absolutely no idea he was in this film until the moment that I looked up its IMDB page to find out who the director was.
What I am getting at here is that the stars of this movie are “Walter Koenig of Star Trek” and “Bruce Campbell of The Evil Dead”, and when it came time to make the poster, they sat down and thought, “Hey, who should get billing on the poster?” and the answer was “We ought to give it to Walter. Oh, but make sure you mention that he was in Star Trek. People might not know who he is.” Bruce doesn’t get credit on the front, and on the back, he’s only identified as “Bruce Campbell” — no need to shout “Hey, we got Ash From Evil Dead!” Given the choice between one of the most famous cult-movie-actors of all time, and Walter Koenig, they decided that for the cover of this VHS, they wanted The guy whose name had to be qualified with an explanation of who the hell he was.
[Devastator]: I AM DEVASTATOR!
Yes yes, and I am Iron Man.
I AM DECEPTICON
And I am the Walrus, Goo goo ga-joob. Anyway, our movie opens with a title card giving the date as July 20, 1969, and then we cut to some grainy, badly distorted newsreel footage of Buzz Aldrin stepping down from the Eagle, saying “It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind*”
Sidebar: Whenever you see footage of the first steps on the moon, you’re almost always seeing Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong. That scene pictured at the right, and the one you’re imagining in your head. The audio doesn’t go with the video. Armstrong came out and stepped onto the moon first. Which means that he was the one holding the camera
Also, the reason the footage is so shitty is not for effect; NASA lost the original tapes of the landing, and through the 80s and 90s, every time you saw a clip of the moon landing, it looked like this, a second- or third- gen off-air copy of the footage sent out to the TV affiliates for broadcast. Fortunately, last year, a team of dedicated restoration experts were able to reconstruct the footage using the latest video restoration techniques. We are given to understand that their next assignment is to restore episode 4 of Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet.
As Buzz and Neil goof around on the lunar surface, we’re treated to a burrowing effect on the moon, which culminates in some kind of robot head popping out of the lunar soil, and watching via Video Toaster Vision as the LEM blasts off from the surface and returns to space. In real life, this happened about a day after the landing, not forty-five seconds. I assume he just wanted to give them a copy of The Watchtower.
We then cut back to credits, which are overlaid with the voice of a radio DJ announcing that we are now in the far-off year of 1990, where he’s about to interview our hero, Jason Grant (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK), who immediately says “You guys must be as bored as I am.”
Life imitates art, I imagine.
Now now, Devastator, you’ve seen that there’s a robot and everything. Surely a bit of suspense is acceptable?
Jason Grant (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) whines about how routine and repetitive Space Travel has become, and then talks about golf and the weather, and bitches about his terrible view. Of SPACE. Let me remind you, this entire sequence has been done to a screen which is blank but for the credits. In fact, did someone forget to actually film a movie? Did they burn their whole budget on that one robot shot and the rest of the film will just be dialogue over the end credits?
Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) complains that he’s been on this job for too long and is now bored with it. Also, he’s only TWO WEEKS from retirement, and then he’s going to go buy that boat he’s always wanted. At four minutes in, the interview gives way to Big Important Space Music, and we finally have a title card:
The music has an orgasm or something and turns into what would have happened if the Star Trek The Next Generation theme had a child with a cheap whore who liked to hum the theme from Superman, and we get a shot of the space shuttle doing pointless barrel rolls in space, as Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) narrates: “The Final Frontier (awkward pause) The Space Shuttle Camelot journies (awkward pause) into the void, braving dark depths of the universe,” and goes on a bit like this until some Paramount lawers file an injunction. Again, life imitates art, because Bruce Campbell is asleep. The premise here is that in the far-off year of 1990, shuttle missions are routine and very boring, because the shuttle is sent up all the time to do all the shit-work in space (Sorry. That’s “shit-work IN SPACE!”). Because this movie was made in 1989, just two years after the Challenger disaster, and the writers hadn’t yet realized that manned space-flight was going to find a way to become even more boring than their predictions.
Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) wakes up Bruce Campbell and they enjoy a tedious scene of lighthearted banter whose major plot points are: 1. They Are Old. (Which is hilarious given how young they are in this movie, compared to, well, how they look some twenty years on.), and 2. Bruce Campbell’s fighter pilot callsign was “The Penetrator”. Which is what I will call him from now on.
A few meaningless blips on their BBC micro indicate to Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) and The Penetrator that there’s a quarter-mile Weird Thing in nearby space. They scan it (Space shuttles have scanners?) and it produces a fake 3D wireframe of what is quite clearly a space ship out of a cheap 80’s sci-fi movie. Jason (of STAR COMMAND) decides to pull up close and take some pictures. The ship is in a decaying orbit, and NASA asks them to hop over to the ship to have a looksee. As Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) flies over in a space suit, The Penetrator checks the radiation sensors (Space shuttles have radiation sensors?) Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) sees some writing on the ship which he describes as “Strange heiroglyphics”, unlike the orginary hieroglyphics they normally find on alien ships. He also finds some kind of egg and decides to keep it. But as he turns to depart, he finds a mummified humanoid corpse. Rather than react, we just cut to the shuttle landing.
Though it sounds ridiculous, NASA’s chief expert in ancient alien artefacts, Santa, confirms via Carbon-14 dating that the corpse is 14,000 years old, and came from the moon (I was not aware that carbon dating could identify things as lunar in origin). However, the asshome guy from Washington (Which will serve him fine as a name, since I can’t be bothered to recall it) derides Carbon-14 dating as “Only a theory!” and calls Santa’s analysis “cockamaime”, and thinks that this is all part of some elaborate stunt to increase NASA’s budget. Yes. He’s accusing them of fabricating an egg made of alien alloy, an ancient, dessicated corpse, and lots of pictures and scanner data of an alien ship, in order to get their funding increased. Santa is so offended by this attack on his professionalism that they’re all forced to go get some coffee and leave the mystery egg unattended so that no one will see it when it opens up and disgorges a tiny little robot similar in design to the one from the pre-credit sequence. Only this one has RAPE TENTACLES which it uses to break the window to the room it’s in, and prompt the computer to show us some animated sequences explaining what the analysis had turned up. The computer reads, in a very mildly flanged voice, so we know it’s a computer, that the body is a 14,000 year old human, and it reconstructs a photorealistic image of what he looked like alive, and it reconstructs a photorealistic image of what his space suit would have looked like (Sort of like a red Lego-Person), what his ship looked like (Same picture as before), and its probable origin, “Earth’s Moon”, which is I assume how talking NASA computers of the early 90s referred to the moon. It also knows exactly where on the moon the ship came from. (Protip: When setting your movie in the future to justify the advanced technology, choose a date more than 1 year in the future of when the movie is scheduled for release)
Meanwhile, inside an elevator approximately the same size as my house, Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK), Santa, and The Penetrator try to talk The Douchebag From DC into letting them pull the last Saturn 5 out of storage and take it to the moon. In the unattended and unmonitored lab room, the robot uses its rape tentacles to rip down a ceiling lamp and spot-welds it into a deadly claw. DC Ass Guy is unconvinced, until The Penetrator reminds him that two years from now, in 1992, the Soviet Union has scheduled to make their
first manned lunar landing. The Soviet Union. In 1992. I’m starting to wonder if this movie was actually filmed, like, in 1984 or something and sat on the shelf for a while before it was released. It would make a lot more sense that way.
Downstairs, someone finally notices that the lab has been blown up and the mummy is missing. But since she’s a doudy-looking woman, she is instantly killed by the erector-set robot. Upstairs, The Penetrator gets angry at the coffee machine, and wishes it harm in a foreshadowy way. Downstairs, the NASA branch of the SS turns up, heavily armed and wearing creepy black uniforms and train conductors’ hats. They then immediately leave, and we cut back to The Penetrator, who judo-kicks the coffee machine into submission. The soldiers run by him on their way to the basement… Because the break room is between the lab you need to take the giant elevator to reach and the basement, though the evil erector set robot did not have to go past our heroes to get there… (Shakes head) Anyway, the Stormtroopers end up in NASA’s OSHA non-compliant industrial manufacturing plant basement, and stand in formation, being all scared, while an unseen something watches them using the same Video Toaster vision as before. When Santa, The Penetrator, and Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) arrive, we finally get to see this menace from space…
The soldiers prepare to shoot it, but Santa steps out in front of them, and insists that it’s incredibly unlikely that an advanced alien intelligence should be hostile, and they could learn much from it, and he goes and walks toward the robot with open arms, proclaiming peace and asking to establish contact and reading from the psalms. As you know, me=huge War of the Worlds fan, so I had my expectations for what was going to happen next. To my surprise, the robot doesn’t vaporize Santa, but merely wings him, causing Santa to just wheel around and shout “Get the son of a bitch!” Everyone starts shooting, including DC Douche Guy (So, what, they just let anyone bring a gun to NASA?) but the robot retaliates by shooting lightning bolts at the stormtroopers while sort of, um, flailing randomly because this robot has very limited mobility. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) climbs up into the giant-size ventilation ducts above NASA’s basement, in order to crawl close to the robot from above. The robot seems to understand that something’s going down, because it Video Toastr Vision locks-on to the sprinkler pipes above itself, but does not doe anythign about them. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) shoots down from above and cracks open the egg, which made up the bulk of the robot’s head.
With many good men dead, and Santa badly injured, we cut to the sterile inside of a futuristic 1990 home, where a young boy reads comics while someone off-screen makes sex-noises. We pan over to find Jason (WKoST) doing push-ups. Some dialogue passes between Jason (WKoST) and his son, the purpose of which is to mention that Jason (WKoST) has a son and is divorced. And apparently lives on the set of 2001 a Space Odyssey. A phone call comes in from The Penetrator, and Jason (WKoST) has to go rescue him from a strip club with a rotating sattellite dish on the roof (Because it’s the Future). The Penetrator had lured Jason (WKoST) here to celebrate, as the word has just come down that their moon mission has been green-lit.
And then they’re on the moon. Just like that. This movie fucking hates segues. Skipping all those potentially exciting scenes of take-off, model shots of an Apollo spacecraft, and the excitement of landing, we just cut straight to Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) jumping around on the moon in what is obviously not lunar gravity, acting like an idiot until he literally falls on his ass. As Teh Penetrator and Jason (WKoST) goof off, another one of them rape tentacle robots surfaces, notices them, then looks over and finds the LEM. It burrows up close, then tentacle-rapes the lander.
Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) calls up the orbiter, and complains that he’s forgotten to bring the frisbee that his son (who I do not believe has a name) gave him. He claims it would have flown for miles, this disc whose flying properties are based on the way its shape leverages air resistance, in the airless environment. They stop to change the tire on the rover when they notice a giant space-ship-city sort of thing built into the side of a hill on the moon. They pull up to explore, and take out their moon-guns, pausing to reflect on the moral suckiness of bringing guns to the moon.
Inside the alien base, they a preserved human woman, and accidentally wake her up. She immediately grabs The Penetrator’s space gun, then collapses. The astronauts take off their space helmets, as she’s just demonstrated that the atmosphere is breathable, and manageto get her to identify herself as Mira Sorvino. She finds a bracelet on a skeleton nearby and indicates sadness. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) and The Penetrator get a call from the command module, because one of those robocop robots has just stolen their LEM. This causes all the systems on the LEM to fail, except for Jason (WKoST)’s “special package”. The astronauts wonder what to do about Mira Sorvino, but she, who dpoes not speak a word of english, intuits what’s going on, and takes out an ancient legoman space suit and puts it on. Just before they can leave, however, the lights o out and a killer spider robot drops from the ceiling. Jason of Star Command and The Penetrator kill it with their space guns. They drive back to the landing site while the guy back in the command module expositions a little to NASA. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) and The Penetrator exposition a little about the robots, who I think are called “Helium”, because I am having a hard time making out Mira Sorvino’s dialogue. Only she knows what they are, and cantell them once they teach her English, which she doesn’t speak, despite the fact that she seems to understand everything they say, such as when they started speculating about how to get her out of the base without a suit, or when Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) asked “What the hell was that?” about the Robot Spider. At any rate, they find their LEM missing, and set off to follow the robot tracks across the moon. They eventually come to an alien space ship which is just starting to fire up its engines. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) decides that this is what the Helium have been doing for the past 14,000 years: working on building this space ship (Must have been a government project). He tells The Penetrator to stay behind and watch his back, to which Bruce Campbell responds, “My ass!” and insists on going with him. They decide to partner up and work together, when another Robocop robot pops out of the ground and tries to kill The Penetrator. Fortunately, Mira Sorvino picks up Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK)’s dropped Space Gun and throws it to him, allowing him to dispatch Robocop. The Penetrator explains “Back on Earth, we’d say you just saved my ass.” I assume this is intended to convey that The Penetrator has a thing about ass. Also, I am not sure why they would say it back on earth, but not here on the moon. “You have just saved one of our earth asses,” I suppose.
This is, of course, a cue for another Robocop to show up and throw The Penetrator into the side of a mountain. Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) narrowly manages to dispatch it, but it’s too late for The Penetrator, with whom he has to share a tender moment as he dies painfully. Meanwhile, something shoots the command module, causing it too to crash, killing the pilot, which would have more impact if I could even remember his name.
Cretin. Take no shit from a the machine indeed! Entirely out of line.
Thanks for your input, Devastator. I guess this movie isn’t quite what you had in mind, what with all the robot deaths?
Oh, that's to be expected. I gather this is some sort of horror movie in space, right? So, we'll see lots of innocent robots die in horrible ways, until the climactic scene, where the one robot who happens to be a virgin manages to defeat the evil serial-murdering human, and staggers away from the moon, shell-shocked by the traumatic experience but somehow stronger as a person.
Yeaaaaah…. So… Anyway, Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) mopes around for a bit, then goes back to their broken down rover and retrieves a backpack which instantaneously and off-camera inflates into an igloo. They climb inside, remove their helmets, and Jason (WALTER KOENIG of STAR TREK) spends the next five minutes complaining. He berates himself for beign too old and too uncool and for getting his crew killed and for the fact that he never should have tried to “go up against” that ship (I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about here, since they stopped the second they saw the ship and were attacked while they were just talking about attacking it, not actually going after it. And he whines about being stuck on the moon, and having woken Mira Sorvino up just so she could die with him, and then something happens which is the one thing about this movie I still remembered some twenty years later.
You see, I was eleven at the time. And my dad would rent all sorts of movies through the eighties and such, and I don’t recall my parents ever making a conscious effort to filter which movies I was allowed to see. But maybe they did and I just don’t recall, or maybe previously it just always happened that I was distracted or fell asleep before the relevant bits, or maybe it’s just that I was very young and the brain didn’t process. I don’t know really. What I do know is that in the next few seconds, my eleven year old brain took in something it had never comprehended before:
(After the jump…)