Project Moonbase (1953)
Cast: Donna Martell, Hayden Rorke, Ross Ford, Larry Johns
I can’t help it, but I love old science fiction and horror movies. No matter how cheesy or ridiculous they may seem to others, I usually have a great time with them. It is a notoriety I have had since I was young and these films don’t cease to elate me. Recently I came across "Project Moonbase" a 1953 science fiction film based on a novel by Robert Heinlein. Although I have never been much of a fan of Heinlein’s writing, the film intrigued me with its plastic model looks and I decided to give it a closer look. Am I happy I did. The film turned out to be a blast!
The film tells the story of a space exploration mission during which Colonel Breiteis (Donna Martell) and Major Moore (Ross Ford) are selected to orbit the moon in a spaceship on the look-out for a possible landing area for future moon missions. They are assisted by Dr. Wernher who turns out to be a Russian spy, intent on sabotaging the project, destroying the lunar docking station. During a fight, their rocket is ignited and too much fuel is burnt for them to return to Earth. They decide to land on the Moon and transmit emergency signals to Earth, but for some reason they just can’t make contact.
The story clearly carries Heinlein’s vision of the future. As a matter of fact, this film, shot in the 50 predicted a future in the 1970s, which turned out VERY differently from what is presented in this film, as we all know. Nonetheless it is a charming film with an intriguing story.
However, not unlike Ed Wood’s films, "Project Moonbase" is a prime example of inspired incompetence. You can feel in every frame that the filmmakers had a vision and were very enthusiastic about what they did, but the technical limitations, and budgetary restraints I suppose, were as much in the way as their lack of qualification. While many years ago the film may have been considered just plain bad, after so many years it can now be considered a delight.
"Project Moonbase" is hilarious and jock-full of incredibly funny scenes and elements. I found myself bemused for the entire running length and the ending just threw me off completely. In all honesty – it took me minutes to compose myself after laughing out loud about the bewildering finale of the film that negates EVERYTHING the movie has been striving for. You will stare at the screen in disbelief at first and then crack up over the shortcomings this film has obviously had. But I don’t want to give it away here, you have to experience it to fully appreciate its ineptness.
While "Project Moonbase" is certainly no "Plan 9 From Outer Space" it was a fun ride to watch. Shot before the electronic and digital revolution, the film’s clumsy atmosphere, stacked with heavy duty mechanical gadgets rather than microcomputers has the typical 50s flair that I have come to love so much.
Image Entertainment’s DVD of "Project Moonbase" features a <$PS,fullframe> version of the movie. Given its low budget and the technical limitations, the presentation reflects these shortcomings accordingly. However, the transfer has been cleaned up and for the most part it is surprisingly clean and mostly free of distracting defects, although significant grain is visible. Some blemishes and scratches are still there, but hey, this is an almost 50 year old film that no one wrote home about to begin with. The black and white print is nicely restored on the DVD with deep and solid blacks and goof highlights. The transfer never has the overexposed feel of many old movies and the contrasts are always smooth and well delineated. Despite the minor defects in the source material, the compression on this DVD is meticulous. Not hint of a compression artifact is evident, leaving every bit of detail from the original film print fully intact. No <$pixelation,pixelation> or other digital aberration disturbs the viewing pleasure of the release from Image Entertainment.
The DVD contains a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track. As expected, the frequency response is narrow and the track has a rather harsh quality. While there is no notable bass in the track, I also found sibilance to be at a rather low level and distortions are at a minimum. The only extra on the disc is the movie’s trailer that is hidden in the last screen of the scene selections. Interestingly, this DVD does not even have a main menu and automatically defaults to the scene selections.
With its cheesiness, the plastic models, the pretentious acting and the nonsensical story line, "Project Moonbase" is an incredibly funny film. It is not for everyone, but if you are like me, enjoying these classic 50s science fiction films for their nostalgic values, you will have a great time with this disc. For something entirely different for a change, take a trip to "Project Moonbase" and forget for an hour that films can actually make sense! But don’t take my word for it. Give the disc a spin yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.