Yeah, me neither.
But there’s good and bad in that. I’ll explain as we go along.
This is one of those obscure sci-fi/horror titles made back in the glory days of VHS I saw and then subsequently forgot all about until one day in the early 2000s when I was browsing through some bootlegs (I have no problem with bootlegs of movies you cannot get on DVD here in the states. Just putting that out there before anyone gets all high and mighty on the topic) on the web when I came across this movie, and it was like 1989 grabbed me by the collar, spun me around and jacked its knee as hard as humanly possible into my scrotum. ‘Holy shit!’ I thought. ‘I remember that movie!’
Back when I first saw it (going to estimate that it was either 1990 or 1991, when I was in my early 20s) I used to have the routine of setting the timer and recording any late night movie I wanted to see on the VCR in the living room, since it was the only TV in the house with a cable box, and then when I woke late the next morning, go out, get it and watch it before I got up and ready for work.
I don’t remember much about Moontrap now, other than the vague plot, and that Bruce Campbell and Walter Koenig were in it. I also remember this was when I first realized Koenig did not have a natural Russian accent, that it was just a trait of his Chekov character from Star Trek.
So does Moontrap still hold up?
Yes, it does, well, for me it does. The transfer, however, is a whole other matter, which I’ll get to in just a minute.
Our main characters are seasoned astronaut, Jason Grant (Walter Koenig) and young hotshot, Ray Tanner (Bruce Campbell) who encounter an abandoned alien spacecraft drifting in space on a routine shuttle mission. In a scene reminiscent of Lifeforce (1985), Koenig even dons a similar spacesuit, where Steve Railsback and crew venture out to investigate the alien spacecraft they happen upon, Grant ventures out to have a quick look at the spacecraft and finds an odd looking “pod” that doesn’t appear to be part of the craft. A humanoid corpse floats into view and Grant decides to take both back to Earth for closer inspection. This is where things get interesting. The corpse came from the moon; it and that alien ship have been floating around in space for 14,000 years. That pod opens up revealing an alien robotic device that takes part of the lab and part of the corpse (ribcage) and builds it into itself, creating legs and arms and a humanoid shape to menace the earthlings with.
Tanner, Grant, scientists and security suddenly bump into a huge hulking cyborg-thing moments later with hostile intentions, once it’s dispatched a second mission is put together that has Tanner, Grant and one other astronaut (consider this new character in line with the red shirts of the original Star Trek series and you’ll understand his importance in the movie) going to the moon, armed, mind you, seeking to find out how screwed Earth really is.
Here, within the ancient alien ruins they find is another humanoid, a hot, female one (Leigh Lombardi), in stasis, whom they immediately release. This plot point isn’t fleshed out all that much but I believe the implication is that there was once a race of human-like beings in existance on the moon from which all current human beings stem from. They also learn these cyborgs, the Kaalium, butchered all these “alien humans” and they plan to take their butchery to Earth now.
For a low-budget movie I was very impressed by how ambitious the filmmakers were. The moon landscape, the matte paintings, the miniatures, the NASA spacesuits, the cyborg effects, Leigh Lombardi’s tits, it all looks authentically spectacular.
This past summer the SyFy channel ran a documentary called, Aliens On The Moon that purports aliens have been stationed on the moon for eons. The doc also comes with purported actual photographs taken by NASA of actual “alien structures.” How interesting that Moontrap, which is essentially about “aliens on the moon,” finally gets released on legit disc the same year.
Whoops, my conspiracy-angled mind is showing. Not that I believe in a lot of alien or government conspiracies, most are too insane for rational thought, I just found that SyFy “doc” really interesting and decided to connect two dots that were probably never designed to be connected.
. . . or were they?
There were a couple of issues I took with the movie. For one the lack of weightlessness on the moon when Grant and Tanner were exploring it, but that could easily be explained away as the filmmakers not having the money to reproduce the effect. Second, can guns effectively be used in an environment that has no gravity? Well, in this movie they can be, which stretched by suspension of disbelief to the max. I explained it away as these were specially designed weapons to be used on the lunar surface.
I now see where Chick Pfarrer got his inspiration for his Dark Horse comic, Virus, that was later made into a 1999 movie. The cyborgs in Moontrap have a penchant for killing you then incorporating your body parts into their form, just not as gory as they did in Virus.
Now we come to talk of the transfer. Sigh. A German DVD and blu-ray came out this past summer with a lot of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) applied to it. I have not seen this version but have seen screenshots from it. When Olive Films announced they were going to put out the movie out here in the states on November 18th, fans got more than a little concerned this would be nothing more than a direct port of this awful looking German version. Olive even states on the back of the blu-ray and DVD, “…It was remastered in HD by Olive Films in 2014 specifically for this release,” so I naturally expected something along the lines of this not being that version, unfortunately what I saw last night looked more like the German version, or at least, those screenshots I saw of it.
When you apply to much DNR to a movie it tends to make actors’ faces look very wax-like and unrealistic for it smooths out the natural lines people have, blurs detail, and is generally used to minimize the natural grain all movies have within them. In proper hands you can remaster a movie with it and give it an upgrade without destroying the quality of the transfer, in hands that have no business using it you can get something along the lines of Moontrap.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p (1.78:1) high definition widescreen—English DTS-HD Master Audio—No subtitles.
For extras you get two interviews, one with Bruce Campbell (21 minutes) and one with Walter Koenig (33 minutes), plus a full-length commentary with Director Robert Dyke and Screenwriter Tex Ragsdale.
The interviews are fairly standard, but well worth a watch: Bruce knew Dyke before being cast, Koenig did not. Talk eventually comes around to Lombardi’s nude scene with Koenig. Both mention it in their interviews. You see Lombardi shows off her rather large and voluptuous boobs briefly. She was self-conscious and Koenig promised he’d keep eye contact with her in the scene. He’s then asked what’s the hardest thing he had to do on the shoot and he says, “…not looking at Miss Lombardi’s boobs.” Dyke and Ragsdale also state it is possible to shoot a gun in a vacuum, thus making it wholly possible to shoot a gun on the moon. I had no idea that was even remotely possible.
Ragsdale, Dyke and special effects artist Gary Jones (director of the 1995 cult classic giant bug movie Mosquito), who also did some of the FX on the original Moontrap, have all teamed back up for a remake/sequel titled, Moontrap: Target Earth. You can follow their progress on Facebook and Twitter. They are currently nearing the end of post production.
I’m still puzzled how this movie slipped through the cracks of Synapse Films, Shout! Factory, Scorpion Releasing and Code Red DVD, boutique labels who all specialize in releasing cult classics on DVD and blu-ray and who all would have given this movie a much better and natural looking transfer.
Anyhow, if you’re a hardcore fan, I’m still going to go ahead and recommend the DVD and Blu-ray, simply because it’s widescreen, comes with some noteworthy extras and is probably the only legit version we’ll ever see on disc. I mean, come on, it’s got to be better than watching a bootleg of it.