12/26/06

524 12 to the Moon

(1960, SciFi, b&w), with:

Design for Dreaming
(1956, Educational-Industrial, color)

Just because it’s futuristic, doesn’t mean it’s practical.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A flying dancer follows a masked announcer to a car show.
Film: A dozen international astronauts irritate some subterranean moon people.

Short Summary:

A birthday cake-baking oven that disgorges the finished project complete with frosting and pre-lit candles.  Mike calls no way, and so do I.In Design for Dreaming, a dancer sits up in bed to find a gold-masked stranger in her room. He magicks her out of her pajamas and into a gauzy gown so that she can go soaring over the city to chase a heart shaped invitation. She lands at a car show in the Waldorf-Astoria, where the masked man carries her around on his shoulders so that she can see the new cars over the crowd. She’s singing of her desire to buy one of each vehicle when she suddenly sprouts an apron. Her host drops her in the super automated kitchen of the future, where she twirls an electric Lazy Susan, inserts a punchcard, and wanders away to prance gaily about in a variety of outfits. A timer summons her back and she finds a cake waiting, complete with burning candles. Suddenly summoned back to the car show, she dances wildly for the crowd. When she’s finished, the masked man joins her to announce a line of impractical new cars, accompanied by models in impractical outfits. Then they climb into an oddly shaped sports car and drive away across the glittery slot car tracks of the future.

Film Summary:

In the beginning of 12 to the Moon, a very old man announces the first expedition to the moon in a worldwide broadcast. He painstakingly introduces us to each member of the international crew (as the title implies, there are twelve of them). Let’s see, we have an obligatory whiz kid, an arrogant Russian geologist, a breezy French Engineer, a German scientist (who’s the shamed son of a famous Nazi, but shhhh, it’s a secret) and his Jewish assistant. We’ve also got a tribally superstitious African navigator, filling the role of the “native guide” (sigh) and a couple of gratuitous women to fill the ship’s showering, kissing, and fainting requirements. There’s the squint-eyed doctor, a dog, a pair of cats, and a few random unremarkables to serve as proto-redshirts (i.e. hostile alien fodder). Of course, a handsome, square-jawed American commands the whole expedition.

They strap themselves into their reclining patio chairs and take off. After a lengthy blood-pressure scene establishes international tensions, they swing around an asteroid cluster to land on the moon. They don their helmets (with “invisible electromagnetic ray shields” in lieu of visors) and wander out onto a moon set, complete with gray rocks, steaming craters, scaffolding, lights, and bored grips hanging around in the background. They discover a previously unknown gemstone and shoot a cliff with a rocket to look for more. It bleeds acid all over the geologist, who is taken back to the ship for bandaging.

They discover that the squinty doctor and his hot blond assistant are missing. The ill-fated pair has gone into a cave, where they discover flaming mushrooms and the existence of breathable air. They take off their helmets and wander further inside to make love. A search party finds the cave sealed off with ice, and then some random unremarkables fall into a sinkhole and die.

The temperature drops, and they retreat to the ship where they receive a message from passionless telepathic aliens who live under the surface. They announce that they have captured the doctor and his assistant so that they can study the phenomenon known as “love.” If it turns out to be good, they’ll share their advanced technology. If it turns out to be bad, they’ll annihilate the earth. The aliens also demand the expedition’s cats for some reason, as well as the rocket’s immediate departure.

The crew complies and heads back to Earth, only to find that the aliens have flash frozen all of North America. The Russian decides that if they drop an atom bomb into a Mexican volcano it might jump start the continent again, so they draw lots to see who will make the suicide run to drop the bomb. The French engineer builds the nuclear explosive, but disconnects it, assuming that with North America out of the way, France can rule supreme! His appeal to the Russian for help goes unheeded, and the burned geologist allies himself with the American captain to bring the traitorous Frenchman down. The lots fall to the German and the Jew (who has discovered the German’s terrible secret and forgiven him). They ride a tiny rocket into the volcano’s crater and unfreeze the world. Touched by this act of sacrifice, the aliens withdraw their hostile intentions and invite the crew to come back someday.

Introduction:

Dr. F gets up to issue his rebuttal...Tom and Crow run off to play tennis while Mike has to stay and have a tea party with Gypsy. She asks him about last night’s episode of Designing Women. After some hemming and hawing, she concludes that he didn’t see it. Quoth Mike, “I was watching a show, though, and there were women on it who seemed to be designing.”

Host Segment One:

Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank dresses in a tuxedo and smokes a large cigar while he conducts a roast of Dr. Forrester. Quoth he, “I hope you die a slow, painful death, secure in the knowledge that no one loves you.” Dr. Forrester delivers several blows to his midsection. In the satellite, Mike and the ‘Bots hold a tennis tournament. Tom hits Mike’s first serve a little too hard and throws a heavily accented tantrum when Gypsy calls it out.

Host Segment Two:

Mike and the ‘Bots are roleplaying the multicultural moon rocket crew when Nuveena: Woman of the Future appears. She sings and dances all around the satellite, and will only respond to questions stated in the form of a song. She declares that she’s come to take them all away to her future world.

Host Segment Three:

Mike and the ‘Bots pack to leave while Nuveena dances around them. They wonder what the world of the future will be like. Quoth Tom, “Can we blow it up when we leave?” “We’ll see,” says Mike.

Host Segment Four:

Mike is ready to go, but finds that Nuveena has turned all his robots into kitchen appliances. They beg him for help, and he sings for her to leave. She calls him a “robot-loving turd,” and vanishes.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow try to console Mike over the loss of Nuveena. Quoth Tom, “Magical singing future ladies are a dime a dozen.” They read some letters. Down in Deep 13, Nuveena pops in to give Frank a gold mask and offer him his heart’s desire. He wants a corsage to go with his tuxedo.

Stinger:

The Russian geologist says, “Raaauurrgh, ridiculous!”

Thoughts:

Death of a Proto-Redshirt.Apparently, Design for Dreaming is meant to be a cinematic record of the 1956 General Motors Motorama, with a quick peek at their Frigidaire display. The fact that it’s weird to the point of hallucinatory makes it a great deal more memorable than your average trade show video. It’s obviously meant as a dream sequence, and it succeeds pretty well in that most dreams don’t make continuous sense. I think the moment that best summarizes the surreal feeling of this short comes at the end in what Mike appropriately names the “extension of my manhood car,” when she takes off the stranger’s mask and exclaims, “You!” without further explanation. The man smiles knowingly, but we never find out who he’s supposed to be.

12 to the Moon starts out like a standard space exploration film of the 50’s—with odd gray jumpsuits, a multicultural crew, and several metric tons of boring exposition. Political tensions are drawn along predictable lines, and then as soon as we have the all the pesky setup out of the way it turns into a much more interesting film. That’s not to say it gets better. One could even argue, on the basis of the ridiculous pseudo-science (Invisible electromagnetic ray screen? Steam in the vacuum of space?) and the awful production values (most notably the plastic lawn furniture and the clearly visible film crew) that the second half of the film is actually worse. I liked it better because it stopped taking itself so seriously. After steeling myself for another heavy-handed SciFi morality play, I was pleased to find a goofy Star Trekish plot underneath it.

So, if things don’t work out between the squinty doctor and his hot blond assistant, aliens will destroy the earth? That’s got to be kind of tough on them. Relationships are hard enough without that kind of pressure. Also, no one ever explains why the aliens want cats. Sure the dialogue is awful, the science is inaccurate, and the characters throw themselves around like Shatner on the Enterprise set, but everything turns out okay because of the indomitable human spirit.

Gypsy’s uncomfortable tea party is funny, and Tom’s tennis tantrum is great, but the star of the host segments is Bridget Jones as Nuveena: Woman of the Future. She spends three host segments prancing energetically around the satellite like Mr. B Natural in a gauzy dress. The overall effect is funny and bizarre. Frank’s roast of Dr. Forrester was a little obvious, and ended predictably.

The comments really fly during the short. My favorite comment comes during the automated kitchen sequence when Crow says, “Just because it’s futuristic doesn’t mean it’s practical.” When the woman drives down the roadways of the future, Mike points out the window to the “dead raccoon of tomorrow,” while Tom announces, “Future may not be available as seen.” The film segments with the movie aren’t quite as funny, but still have some good lines. When the aliens freeze North America Mike notes that, “this kind of weather wouldn’t even faze the Midwest.” When asked to extract a moral from the film at the end, Tom decides that it’s, “Always bring cats.” They also have a great deal of fun thinking up manly names for the American captain, such as, “Tank Concrete,” “Stump Hugelarge,” and “Chunk Ironchest.” It’s worth watching for the short alone, and the film that comes after gets pretty goofy towards the end as well.