Directed by Robert Dyke
April 28, 1989
After encountering an ancient derelict alien craft on a shuttle mission, a group of astronauts are sent to the moon to track down the alien threat and stop it.
I have a soft spot for this film. It is cheap and cheesy, but it is so much fun and I like the idea of evil machines chopping people up for spare parts. The plot of Moontrap is a ridiculous idea which only serves as an excuse for moments of gore in the film and to quote Martha Stewart “That’s a good thing.”
There is a really big question viewers of this movie should have: why do they need much more frail organic parts to function? That is never really explained. And I just mean never. It is just something they do. Our hero Colonel Jason Grant (Walter Koenig) hypothesizes that the machine villains of the film were weapons that got out of control but how does that explain the need for fleshy body parts? Even the desiccated parts from a corpse the astronauts brought back to Earth is good enough.
I first heard about Moontrap at a Star Trek convention around the time it came out and the individual speaking about it did not have nice things to say about the movie. Reportedly Koenig took his role in the film because he always wanted to front a movie and this was a shot.
The great Bruce Campbell is Koenig’s costar for much of the film as Grant’s copilot/sidekick Ray Tanner. The character is just the affable buddy really, but it is played by Bruce Campbell and he thrives in low budget films. The man can work magic in them. I think this may have actually been the first film I ever saw him in. I knew of the Evil Dead films and knew of him, but I had seen nothing with him in it.
The plot of story moves rather quickly. They are in space and then on earth with the weird pod they salvaged from the spaceship and then we get introduced to Grant’s son and then they are in space again and on the moon and the third man on the mission crashes and they find the lady in the suspension capsule and then they are captured and on the spaceship and heading back to the space shuttle. For around 90 minutes this movie covers a lot of story and that is one of the bigger problems with Moontrap. It moves way too fast. The action starts at a breakneck speed and really does not lighten up.
A fast-paced plot is not always a bad thing. There are times when the action/story must move quickly but when you have a great deal of mythology to introduce, things should be slowed down. There is little time to mentally digest what is coming at you. You have spaceships and ancient moon bases and ancient astronauts, and they get little better than a mention before the next thing comes along. They may then have needed to spend more money, but a slower story would have created a better film in the end.
Though rapid Moontrap still manages to be a good a space monster film. Evil machines are doing evil things. Much like the alien in the Alien films these things are doing what they do just because. Why they do it is ultimately unimportant. B movies need not concern themselves with such things. They can but it is not necessary.
There are some interesting story implications here in Moontrap. Mera (Leigh Lombardi), the woman they find on the moon, is clearly human which begs the question: is she from some prehistoric human civilization that was devastated by these machines? Did humans come to Earth from another planet? Was this a case of parallel planetary development? A sequel called Moontrap: Target Earth was released not that long ago, but I am not sure what it addresses though a different rumored sequel that did not happen called Moontrap II: The Pyramids of Mars from the title alone sounds as if it could have addressed things implied in the original.
The alien machines whose name is revealed to be Kaalium by Mera build their bodies from junk in the environment. The first one we actually encountered in the film builds itself from random components in the containment room at NASA and I can’t imagine it’s that sturdy but it takes some serious effort to stop it.
Another shortcoming in this film are the effects. The moon itself looks good. Reportedly they used cement mix for their lunar dust which prompted a “No liquids” sign from the director and probably was not all that healthy to be breathing in during filming. The shortcomings however in the effects are the shots of the miniatures. They are clearly miniatures zipping around on a small lunar set. The alien ship and the base are largely matte paintings and look like cover art for a science fiction novel rather than realistic environments. Lastly the space shuttle shots look like cheap toys.
They do nothing during the story portion on the moon to make it look like they are functioning in lunar gravity. They move about rather normally and things drop just like on Earth. One infamous scene is set after Mera is found and Tanner is killed in an attack. Naturally Grant and Mera set up a tent on the moon just to boink. It is a weird turn in the movie that does nothing to move the plot but does give an excuse for a boob shot.
And yet Moontrap manages to be a good film. All Moontrap asks is for you to leave your brain at the door and have fun. It is an interesting take on the space monster idea. The creatures are interestingly designed and the ancient advanced human thing, though unexplored, gives the whole story a boost.
It is an extreme rarity for me to say this but I think this is a movie that could benefit from a reboot/remake. Flesh out some of the implied concepts and give it a better budget. You do not need a spectacular budget, but you need something better than they had here.
Moontrap is not the greatest film out there but it is a fun and interesting film nonetheless. Though the story moves a little too quickly it is still a good story. This is a “Watch it!” for B-movie aficionados and an “If you want” for film fans in general.