Moontrap (1989)

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You know a TV show is famous when fairly minor actors from it still get leading roles in movies 20 years later. “Star Trek” is that show, and Walter Koenig is that actor. We’re covering it for ISCFC because it’s just been re-released on blu-ray with a ton of decent special features (like we need a reason to cover obscure old films).

“Moontrap” makes fairly clever use of the 1969 moon landing footage, as if to say “whoops, look who that woke up”, before opening credits which are, I presume, just different enough to two or three famous sci-fi franchises they ripped off to avoid legal action. We’re then swept into First Contact, and the two lucky fellows who do this are Koenig and Bruce Campbell, two Space Shuttle pilots. They happen upon what is, lest we forget, a completely alien space-ship, and act like one of them found $5 he wasn’t expecting in his back pocket – sort of pleased, but not as excited as you’d expect to be when discovering THE EXISTENCE OF ALIENS!!

The one thing they remove from the ship is something which looks an awful lot like the head of a penis, but is actually a super-tough alloy shell for a tiny robot thing. Along with a floating space-corpse, which they identify as a 14,000 year old human, they take it back to Earth, discuss Ancient Astronauts for a bit, get attacked by a giant robot built by the tiny robot from stuff he had lying around, then realise they need to go back to the Moon to find the base of the penis-end aliens and avert a potential invasion.

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Much like so many other low-budget movies, these people seem to exist in a bubble where there’s no police, no authorities, and no news. I just don’t believe that in the present day, even if it’s a world where space travel is commonplace, that the shuttle could find a spaceship as gigantic as that one is and no-one on the ground spots it – or at the very least, listens in on their communication with mission control. Perhaps I’m just not a believer in the conspiracy theory about the Government keeping alien stuff secret – if they found something, it would ensure NASA’s funding for the next hundred years. The only people who seem remotely bothered about first contact are the two pilots, two scientists and one government fella, and I think the reason this all feels so off is that it’s empty. They can afford more extras for the barroom scene that follows this, and that’s just a bad use of resources.

It’s hard to reveal how illogical the ending is without spoiling the heck out of it, so I’ll leave that for you to discover. But when you’re watching it, just think about how unlikely those final few scenes are. Well, not the very last scene of course, the classic “all our sacrifice is for naught” ending so un-beloved of viewers of genre movies.

Walter Koenig is a perfectly serviceable actor, but the problem is him being a leading man in 1989. He was 53 at the time, and looked older, so while there’s not tons of action-movie-hero stuff to be done, there’s enough that I just don’t buy him doing it. His pre-teen son is another clue that they maybe intended him to either play younger, or they switched roles at the last minute with Campbell, who would of course have been an amazing leading man.

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It feels like I saw a weird TV edit of this (despite all the blood, boobs and beast still being present). The connective tissue that allows later scenes to have emotional impact isn’t there, like how they just find…the thing they find…on the Moon, and why they need to go to the Moon in the first place, and where that original spaceship came from. It’s curious, because the actual idea of the film is great, the Ancient Astronaut theory used in the most appropriate way, as fiction (because that’s what it is). It’s got a sense of humour, ish, plenty of good looking sets and it’s close to getting it right…it just feels weirdly empty and slightly unfinished. That this film, amazingly, doesn’t follow the “Chekhov’s Gun” law (okay, I know it’s not named after him, but still) isn’t the worst of its crimes.

Perhaps that’s due to this being director Robert Dyke’s first film – he’d wait 11 years before doing another one, “Timequest” (also featuring Bruce Campbell), then another 8 after that before his next, “InAlienable” (“from the mind of Walter Koenig”, according to the poster, as he wrote and starred in it). In post-production right now is “Liquid Red”, starring three of the stars of “Timequest” and next year will see a sequel to “Moontrap”. He’s either a great guy to work for or the people he hires will work for peanuts.

Rating: thumbs down

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