Murder On The Moon (1989)
First posted on MyMavra
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
Starring: Brigitte Nielsen, Julian Sands, Brian Cox.
Aka Murder By Moonlight, this TV movie special was a big event at the time, receiving plenty of media attention in the run up to its premiere and a potent weapon in ITV’s eternal battle with the BBC for the cavalier attention of the viewing public. Potent, because the project had attracted ‘stars’ and offered a fresh spin on the tediously oft-tread murder mystery bollocks – hey, this one’s set on the moon, what genius! I know what you’re thinking, lunar-dwelling Lycans are responsible for the above mentioned murder and Viking huntress Brigitte plays an Astro-Lesbian. Sorry, no. Though she is butch enough.
There’s another, tabloid-friendly reason Murder On The Moon attracted mucho hyperbole; Brigitte Nielsen’s new jugs. And Lindsay-Hogg (who worked mainly in episodic television with only brief forays into cinema – Nasty Habits anyone?) wastes no time in shoving said jugs in your gib. Brigitte peels off her spacesuit to reveal a skimpy evening dress (she has arrived direct from a party), a dress that unashamedly screams “LOOK AT MY NEW TITS!” So, you do, while Ricco Ross gamely tries not to. Just give up, Ricco…
Things go wonky from the whistle. I think Lindsay-Hogg used said jugs as a tactical distraction, knowing the image would be burned into viewers’ minds for at least 10 minutes (20-plus if you’re a bloke) and what better way to camouflage the rampant stupidity of the opening exchanges. This section of the moon base (which looks to have been glued together from cereal boxes and toilet roll tubes and accessed by ‘Matchbox’ vehicles) is under Russian jurisdiction. Trouble is, one of the NASA guys has been found dead at the bottom of a mineshaft (both nations share lunar mining rights). Head honch Dennis Huff (Gerald McCraney, one half of 1980’s detective show Simon & Simon, more recently in West Wing and Deadwood) is incensed that the pesky Russkies are making a big deal about a “crazy accident.” Enter Russian investigator Kirilenko (Julian Sands, of the fantastic Warlock) and countered by the unwanted arrival of NASA Lieutenant Bartok (Brigitte, Red Sonja, as if you need reminding). For the third time in the script, the Americans insist the dead man has fallen down the (disused) mineshaft by “accident.” Yet it takes only a few minutes for the Russkie to point out the dead guy isn’t wearing a spacesuit! You’d think Huff and his staff might have noticed the stiff had “accidentally” forgotten to put his spacesuit on. The script here sounds like it was written on the fly to smooth over the inconsistencies and a ‘suicide’ angle gets thrown into the conversation. But it has already been established that there is a 30 metre walk across the surface to the mineshaft, clearly there’s no hara-kiri involved. Yet unbelievably, Kirilenko then entertains the “possibility” of suicide even though it was HE who pointed out the long walk, sans spacesuit! The dude held his breath for 30 metres? Man, he’d just walk out the base airlock, job done. Come to think of it, why didn’t the murderer leave a spacesuit near the mineshaft to make it look like suicide to begin with, y’know, victim took a deep breath, shook out of the suit and let himself fall. It’s plausible… Anyway, it appears the moon base is infected with a virulent strain of idiot flu.
And what’s NASA’s (represented by Private Frost from Aliens, El Ricco) reaction to all of this? “Who’s dead and what’s it got to do with us?” Errr, Ricco, mate, he’s one of your team, you clown! Fuck’s sake. A few moments later he says of the dead bloke, “He was a nice guy…” Can you imagine, in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster, going to NASA for a comment only for them to turn around and say, “Oh, no, once it left the launch pad it’s got nothing to do with us. Nice crew, though…”
Even the god-like Brian Cox (in ’89 still fairly unknown outside of television except for a brilliantly insidious turn in Manhunter) as Russian string-puller Voronin lands a clunker or two. “All your minutes have elapsed,” he rumbles ominously to Huff. “Make your records available immediately…” No messing about with this fella. Oh, hold on. “You have 2 hours to comply.” Eh? Thought you just said “immediately.” I might be picking nits but if I want something doing “immediately” I don’t mean 2 hours later. Brian Cox is still the best thing here, even with an e-mailed in performance. Mind you, this 2015 probably hasn’t invented e-mail but more on the future-tech in a minute…
Julian Sands is having what English football fans call ‘a nightmare.’ What seems to escape Sands is that acting is a bit like playing football; it’s not just about what you do with the ball at your feet, it’s also what you do off the ball. When somebody else is talking he doesn’t appear to know how to look or react. And the accent is straight out of the ‘kompare de meerkat dot com’ school of East European. At one point, Kirilenko is surprised into laughing by Bartok – look closely, you can see the desperation in Sands’s eyes! The next bit isn’t technically his fault, it’s crappy writing designed to give “cold as a bowl of borsch” Kirilenko a richly comedic interlude. The script calls for him to get wankered in the bar. There’s no dramatic reason for it. So far we’ve seen him icily professional, clinical, aloof. All of a sudden he’s out on a bender. Why? How did he reach that “Ah, fuck it, I’m going on the slosh” mindset? A little later on he has a terse conference with Voronin from which he emerges frustrated and impotent, his investigation seemingly at a dead (ha!) end. There’s his motivation, the drunk scene should have followed the spat with Voronin. Kirilenko is called to an emergency 10 minutes later – but displays no sign of alcohol abuse! Speaking of alcohol, it seems staff members have got their own personalized bottles of booze in the bar. I can’t see any reason for this detail other than to advance the plot later on.
The emergency scene is great, involving the old ‘decompression’ blow out we’ve come to know and love (Alien, Total Recall, Event Horizon… We should compile a Movie Blow Out Top 10). The set is some kind of video library where you go and grab yourself a flick. Judging by the video cases, looks like the moon base is still on VHS! I mean, shit, this thing was produced in 1989. Back then I used to read all kinds of bollocks about probable technological advances, or the future of home entertainment, magazines crammed with this stuff. These articles suggested that movies (and music) would be stored on ‘credit cards’ by 2010. Murder On The Moon takes place around 2015 but the film’s designers haven’t even bothered to pitch their imagination a few years into the future. And there’s no getting away from walls and piping that in places seem to be constructed from cardboard. Decent money, by television standards, was thrown at this production. Did it all go on Brigitte’s jugs? It reminds me of the sci-fi of the 1950’s, all fat knobs and Bakelite gauges depicted in the far future. But film makers then didn’t have the cinematic innovations or the budget to paint a futuristic sheen. What’s Lindsay-Hogg’s excuse?
An oddly shaped Brigitte Nielsen isn’t done any favours by the costume designer. She’s stuffed into a jumpsuit even MC Hammer would cringe at. Her shoulder pads are a danger to health and safety; you could land a helicopter on them. Meanwhile, her bleached barnet does a runner. Off she goes to question the staff, sporting a smooth brush back. On arrival, she’s got a feathered thing going on! My guess is that Kirilenko must be putting out a lot of static electricity – or maybe the “sizzling sexual tension” is to blame. Her hair does recover its former smoothie a few scenes later before rebelling again near the end. One bit cracks me up, when she flounces into the records room. This department is overseen by Gary Chang (David Yip, The Chinese Detective). I don’t know what kind of direction Yip was given but I’m guessing something like – ‘you hate your job, you hate the moon, you hate people, you hate yourself, you want to kill yourself…’ He’s my favourite character in it – the way he passionately attacks his keyboard, that’s exactly how I archive a file on the system at work! Anyway, Bartok flops into her seat to go over the records… for ten seconds, then announces she’s going for a break! Normally, you’d have a montage with a few dissolves to denote time passing. To be fair, Bartok has spotted an irregularity but either way it’s a bit fast. Time has passed in all probability but Lindsay-Hogg chooses not to make that clear. Happens again, actually. Telly constraints?
All of which brings me round to the inevitable love scene between Bartok and Kirilenko, set up during the staff questioning, the pair of them blatantly ogling each other to the point of spoof. I kept expecting Julian to start licking the air in front of his face and Brigitte to suck on her middle finger. It’s an unlikely pairing. Seeing the floppy haired, snout-faced Sands snuffling around Brigitte’s cleavage like a pig after a truffle is not sexy. Brigitte herself, to be honest, is a bit manly. Quite where the above quote comes from I do not know. There’s more “sizzling sexual tension” between Anakin and Padme’s gruesome lovebirds. And their après-sex chat is utterly devoid of emotion or naturalism, it’s a one-way conversation for Brigitte while Sands does his best impression of a startled skink.
The action packed finale will leave you wondering… when the action packed finale is coming. Honestly, you’ll think – ‘Now there’s gonna be a big finish’ after the handbags scuffle has been dispensed with only to find that was the big finish (concluded by an unintentionally funny weapon discharge). How they come up with the murderer’s name is laughable. Bartok and Kirilenko encourage each other to flights of speculative fancy (“Martin Bormann, Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, D B Cooper…”) because they’ve been told the suspect is somebody “unbelievable” and that’s a good enough reason to pluck the suspect’s identity out of thin air. Logically, they’d never come up with the name otherwise. It is heard once before, slipped into a conversation near the beginning of the film and as the story unravels does become relevant. The plot chucks in a pile of red turbots (worse than herrings) but I’m confident you’ll nail the culprit not too far into the running time. The final revelation is worth it just to see the look of realisation on Huff’s face…
You’ve got a director used to solid drama, what should be a competent cast, a good cinematographer in David Watkin (Out Of Africa) and a renowned composer in Trevor Jones (Last Of The Mohicans). Jones actually finds a bit of atmosphere with several cues but relies too heavily on a saxophone motif. It’s the wrong instrument for the moon (I miss the theremin!). The photography is static, workman-like, no artistic flourishes, like Watkin has been told to just get it lit and shot “and no clever stuff, time is money.” It’s all a bit flat. In the end, this story could have been placed anywhere. There’s no one thing that makes the lunar setting unique.
With the talent on board, Murder On The Moon should have achieved so much more. It was a missed opportunity. I think there’s a rare DVD out there somewhere and maybe a VHS version floating around Amazon.com, if you’re so inclined. Oh, well, calling all Astro-Lezzers v Werewolves, the moon is waiting to be conquered…
Coincidentally, I’ve just seen Brigitte for the first time since the early 1990’s. She was on a quiz show, Mr & Mrs. She’s married a bloke 15 years her junior (and a couple of feet shorter by the look of things). She looks to have had another jug enhancement in the not too distant past. They are now the size of Zeppelins.
ThereWolf, May 2009.