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MOONTRAP (1989) blu-ray review

December 7, 2014

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written by: Tex Ragsdale
produced by: Robert Dyke, John Cameron and James R. Courtney
directed by: Robert Dyke
rating: R
runtime: 96 min.
U.S. release date: April 28, 1989
Blu-ray release date: November 18, 2014

 

If you’ve heard of “Moontrap”, that’s probably because you’re a science fiction and/or horror fan, maybe even a completist. The sci-fi B-movie stars two actors known for those genres, Walter Koenig (Star Trek’s Chekov) and The Man with the Chin, Bruce Campbell (best known for the “Evil Dead” movies). Although I consider myself a fan, I guess I’m not a completist of those genres, since I never got around to seeing this low-budget movie from 1989. For its 25th anniversary, Olive Films has released it for the first time on blu-ray with a remastered transfer, which is how I came to finally watch it. I may have missed its late night cable run back in the day and I never owned a worn VHS copy, but I can still acknowledge the cheese factor of “Moontrap” as something of a cult classic, in the so-bad-its-good category, that is.

The movie opens with footage of the famous landing of Apollo 11 on the moon on July 20, 1969. Then we break away to see a robotic eye following the “one giant step for mankind”. Of course, that’s the prelude. Decades later we’re introduced to Colonel Jason Grant (Walter Koenig) and his fellow astronaut Ray Tanner (Bruce Campbell) aboard the Space Shuttle Camelot as they make a surprising discovery in space when they come across an abandoned spacecraft and decomposed human corpse. Grant also discovers an alien orb which he brings back to the ship along with the body and eventually back to Earth. I’ve seen enough schlocky sci-fi flicks to know what’ll happen next.

 

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It turns out that football-like orb is 14, 000 years old and originates from the moon. While unattended, it suddenly comes to life as a sentient being that uses objects around it, such as the stiff from space, to create a deadly cyborg creature that attacks any human it comes into contact with. Naturally, Grant and Tanner’s superiors send the two back up to the moon (of course, these astronauts are armed with weapons) where they stumble upon the ruins of an ancient human civilization, an attractive (of course) space woman and a plot to invade the Earth by a race of alien cyborgs. The two men, along with the woman, Mera (Leigh Lombardi), do everything they can to prevent the threatening aliens from leaving the moon.

Just about the only thing “Moontrap” has going for it is seeing a young Bruce Campbell work his sardonic wisecracks and make the most of his material. As usual, he’s a blast to watch and supplies great chemistry with Koenig, who just can’t carry a movie. I like Koenig well enough, but really only know his work from his time as Chekov. Unfortunately, his work here is forced and flat. His scenes that are meant to be character-building wind up being comical or awkward, partly because of the way they’re directed, but primarily because of Koenig’s delivery. It says a lot that Koenig has first billing yet Campbell is on the cover of the blu-ray.

Director Robert Dyke had worked as a visual artist on “Evil Dead 2”, which is probably where he met Campbell. He would go on to direct Campbell in 2000’s “Timequest” and Koenig in 2008’s “InAlienable”. Nothing stands out in his work behind the camera here. No one shots whatsoever, but then again, this was his first crack at directing and I haven’t seen anything else he’s done.

 

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“Moontrap” isn’t a great movie. As mentioned, it’s cheesy and unintentionally funny as well. It’s production value shows its obvious low-budget with cheap sets and primitive visual effects. All these elements hinder a movie that is already hurt by an entirely predictable story. Screenwriter Tex Ragsdale, whose only other credit is “Moontrap: Target Earth”, wrote a by-the-numbers script here that is utterly predictable every step of the way. If it wasn’t for the curiosity of seeing Koenig and Campbell work together, this movie would be quite painful to watch.

You read that right. A sequel has been greenlit with Dyke attached to direct and will likely be released next year. I can’t confirm whether or not there was some kind of online petition asking for a sequel, but considering the few who’ve seen this movie, my bet is if they happen upon the sequel next year, I bet they won’t even know there was a “Moontrap”.

The oddest thing about the blu-ray release is its presentation, since the transfer is actually quite bad. I don’t know if they were going for a retro VHS tape feel, but that’s the end result. The blu-ray menu is rudimentary, offering to “play” the movie or go right to the Special Features, with no option to skip to any chapters or select languages or subtitles. As for the Special Features, there are three – two of them are overlong interviews, one with Koenig (33 min.) and one with Campbell (21 min). The interviewer is not shown and the actors are left to make the most of the mostly banal questions that go nowhere. There’s also a Commentary with Dyke and Ragsdale where they talk about working with the cast, the shooting locations and the visual effects. There’s some interesting anecdotes, especially of interest to those filmmakers looking to make the most on a tight budget.

 

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RATING: **

 

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You can find this title and many more over at Olive Films website

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