“12 To The Moon” is a bad movie. Like, really bad. As if someone set out to make the worst movie they possibly could and really excelled themselves bad.
This 1960 Z-grade sci-fi thriller tells the story of the first multi-national manned mission to the Moon. Crewed by representatives from twelve nations plus two monkeys, two cats and a dog, our intrepid explorers set out for the moon, encountering strange magnetic fields, meteorite showers and geopolitical tensions en route. But these challenges are nothing compared to what awaits them on the lunar surface.
Clearly screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen is immensely proud of the research he has done given that he pads out the dialogue with snippets of real scientific facts and figures (which are liberally mixed with utter nonsense, conjecture and just plan scientific ignorance) as the disparate crew discuss their mission in a leadenly expository fashion. The actual journey doesn’t take that long, yet there’s repeated use of the same stock footage of the rocket flying through space in a fashion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon” serial. When the crew aren’t busy airing their old grievances – a brief confrontation between the German crewmember and the Israeli crewman regarding the actions of the Nazis is particularly awkward – they spend their time exploring the set of the Moon’s surface, skillfully filmed by director David Bradley so as to show the soundstage rigging in several shots. The cost cutting isn’t just limited to the sets, props are cheap, cheerful and occasionally downright cheeky, such as when the open face space helmets have their ‘invisible electromagnetic ray screen’ activated to allow them to breathe on the Moon.
So why am I even bothering to blog about this film, let alone try to convince you to watch it? It’s because, despite the frugal and ham-fisted execution, there’s a lot elements of this film that would become the core values and tropes of a TV series which would debut 5 to 6 years later: “Star Trek”. An internationally and ethnically diverse crew of men and women aboard a spaceship travelling to a planet where they encounter a mysterious, powerful (and bizarrely cat loving) life form who, using them as examples of the human race, pronounce judgement on our barbaric and primitive ways. Through ingenuity, compassion and self-sacrifice, the humans manage to demonstrate that we are not beyond redemption and it all ends on a hopeful note.
If 1956’s “Forbidden Planet” can be argued to be a direct ancestor of Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking sci-fi opus, then there’s definitely a place for “12 To The Moon” in that family tree too. Given the boneheaded actions of the scientists during their exploration, it may also have a place in the ancestry of “Prometheus” too.
Easily qualifying as a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie, if you can’t stomach the thought of watching it in its original format, you could always watch it with the guys from “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” who featured it in a 1993 episode. A mostly forgotten
diamond cubic zirconia in the rough, it’s fun enough to check out just to see the genesis of some of the core values that “Star Trek” would later develop and expand on to genre-changing effect.