Two Big Feet

Why do the astronauts have convex niples?Monday July 2oth will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – the first time human footsies touched the surface of another orb besides planet Earth. Since that fateful day, countless sci-fi films and documentaries on space travel have somewhat numbed that miracle.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons NASA tweaked the original footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface, because back in 1969, the televised footage wasn’t all that pretty. The restored (really enhanced) footage looks far better, with more details and a more stable image, but maybe to newer generations it looks like a home movie, and lacks the oomph of much prettier Hollywood films like Aliens or Watchmen, for that matter.

For those wanting to rekindle the immensity of the moment, there are plenty of source materials to drew from: numerous documentaries, including the IMAX films, like 2007’s Magnificent Desolation (and the older ones, nicely gathered in a boxed set, and a few recently released on Blu-ray); a superb doc from 1994 called Moon Shot: The Inside Story of the Apollo Project (based on the non-fiction book); Criterion’s For All Mankind (the classic 1989 doc newly remastered on DVD and Blu-ray with mega-goodies); the superb HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (2005); In the Shadow of the Moon (2008); and one I covered back in 2007, Apollo 11: The Eagle Has Landed (2004).

There's also countless Hollywood films spanning pre-landing concepts of a lunar landing, fantastical tales of lo-fi landings (First Men in the Moon), and more intriguing fare like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, a docu-drama on how a public bored with lunar travel returned to their TV sets when the ship’s astronauts were potentially stranded in outer space.

Leave it up to a near-disaster to ignite a blasé mindset.

Disasters in space and Man’s mismanagement or misunderstanding of space travel tend to be popular vehicles for filmmakers (Destination Moon, Red Planet), mostly because a disastrous event or series of inept decisions are more dramatic than a success story we’ve seen before, although nothing beats watching a genuine televised event.

I was still hugging teddy bears and playing with Hot Wheels (the good metal ones) when Armstrong left an imprint on the moon, but one of my earliest memories has me sitting with my parents on the sofa, munching on potato chips, and watching that familiar side-angle footage as a spacecraft moved closer and closer to the lunar surface before touchdown.

I remember asking my parents what we were watching on the 12” Admiral black & white tube, and actually being interested. Did I know what the moon was? Did I have a concept of space travel? Or was it just a mimicked reaction to what the parents were doing?

I think there was some subtle comprehension that what was being shown on TV was special, because for years I tried to track down what mission we saw (probably Apollo 12 or 17), and was surprised at the emotional reaction when I watched the aforementioned Apollo 11 doc.

The whole process of launching, orbiting, flying over to the moon, landing, shooting back up, swinging around the moon and slingshotting back to Earth was an amazing adventure to see, and is more gripping than a grand new sci-fi flick (well…. Let’s not go there).

The only similar themed event was the activation of the Mars Rover, and seeing the first pictures of Mars broadcast on TV. Actual pictures of the angry red planet showing awesome colours and landscapes, and the wave of pictures that followed were simply amazing. One can only imagine what images would come back if probes settled onto a few of Jupiter’s moons.

When Apollo 11 made history, Hollywood was already having fun with space aliens and planetary exploration, but those efforts – on TV as well as in theatres – were stories with formulaic and often comedic stories, and certainly one oddball effort to emerge in 1969 was Michael Carreras’ production Moon Zero Two – a terrible ‘space western’ set in an era when man has already settled on the cheese planet, and was opening up the land for prospectors to mine for mineral goodies.

If the execution wasn’t such a mess, the concept might have worked, because individuals and companies will always flock wherever money is to be made, and there’s that grey zone where abuse, bullying, and conflicts happen because local law hasn’t been able to catch up to innately bad human behaviour.

Of course, that’s too cerebral for Carreras’ script, so the tone is satirical, and even if it would’ve worked, one wonders if the public, having seen the landing three months prior to the film’s release, would’ve welcomed satire under a cloud of residual euphoria.

Any serious formulaic genre begins with straight drama, and degenerates to retread before someone spoofs the original idea, and Carreras’ concept may have been too silly, too soon.

Bad timing aside, Moon Zero Two is still a terrible, terrible film, hindered by an ill-conceived funky jazz score by Don Ellis (and I like Don Ellis). The film has evolved into a minor cult film and was given the Mystery Science Theatre treatment (which it deserves), but the original film in crisp widescreen hasn’t been available until the Warner Bros. 2008 DVD.

The problem? The damned thing was another of those Best Buy exclusives, and was reportedly pulled, making the DVD a collectible on eBay and Amazon. Is it worth the extra bucks? Well, the disc comes double-billed with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) with extra post-Neaderthal skin, so maybe.

I’ve uploaded a review of Moon Zero Two (the name refers to the freelance pilot’s spacecraft) and will eventually follow-up with the dino film, but here’s a salute to Apollo 11, and an event that forever changed the way we see and dramatize humans in space.

I just wish Hot Wheels licensed the sale of their Mars Rover toy in Canada.

Still want one.



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