“Thundering thickets of thunderation!”
The Scoop: 1984 unrated (so far as I can tell anyway), directed by Jean Image and starring Dominique Paturel, Pierre Destailles, Serge Nadaud, Jacques Marin and Marc Dudicourt.
Tagline: Can’t find one.
Summary Capsule: The legendary Baron Von Munchausen goes to the Moon, and… stuff… happens. Yeah.
Deneb’s Rating: I plead the… er… eighty-sixth.
Deneb’s Review: …Huh.
I could stop there, really.
I won’t, of course, because you would scorn me. But I’m honestly not quite sure how to proceed with this one.
OK, OK, let’s start with this – I sure have been reviewing a lot of Moon-related movies lately, haven’t I? Yes sir, I sure have.
One of them, you may recall, was First Men in the Moon. As mentioned at the time, I decided to review that one in part due to my enjoyment of the H.G Wells original, and after I had finished my review, I went poking around to see what else there was to be found in the way of adaptations.
Imagine my gadzookery (I don’t care if it’s not a word) when I found mention of this little movie. According to Wikipedia, it featured the legendary Baron Von Munchausen (yes, that one, the same guy that’s in the Terry Gilliam film, and if you haven’t seen that yet, bloody well do so right now) encountering the Selenites, the Moon-bugs from First Men! I just had to lay my hands on a copy of it, and now, thanks to a combination of good luck and Christmas, I have. And what’s more, I have seen it. And now…
Let’s just launch right into this puppy, or I’ll be ‘huh’-ing all day. In the year 1787, the astronomer Sirius has summoned his cousin, the famous adventurer Baron Von Munchausen, to his observatory for the following reason – he wants him to go to the Moon. And why does he want him to go to the Moon? Simple – according to “ancient scrolls”, there are Selenites on the Moon, and said Selenites are rumored to possess a talisman that grants eternal life. Sirius thinks that sounds pretty awesome, so he’s prepared to make the Baron his sole heir (it’s never said in so many words, but I guess he’s kind of rich) if he brings the talisman back with him. (Of course, if he becomes immortal and lives forever, ‘sole heir’ would be kind of a worthless title – but that’s never brought up, either.)
So the Baron prepares to go to the Moon, aided by a map Sirius gave him and a ship he’s fitted out with hot air balloons. Along for the ride are his five assistants, Hercules the strong man, Earful the long-distance listener, Nimrod the keen-eyed gazer, Hurricane the powerful blower, and Kivalo the fast runner. They reach the Moon, find the Selenites, and fight their ancient enemies, the Green Means. In between and afterwards… um… drat.
Here’s the thing about reviewing a movie like this – it’s really, really tricky, because you can’t do so in the same way as a more conventional film. By ‘conventional’, I mean one with something approaching a budget, or advertising, or expectations. Something, in short, like what we think of as a movie, something put out by a studio that expects to make a decent return on their investment.
Moon Madness, however, was clearly made for roughly five cents by a handful of people working in a room somewhere, and was, I suspect, intended for being shown on TV – or possibly a limited release in theaters, but the pacing suggests TV. Moreover, it’s French, and my copy is dubbed – by who, I don’t know, but I doubt they paid rigorous attention to the accuracy of the translation.
You see my problem? This is like reviewing an ancient episode of Clutch Cargo – you simply can’t apply modern cinematic standards to it. I mean, OK, you can, but it’s an exercise in futility, since they certainly weren’t applied while the movie was being made or marketed, however that worked.
Oh, and did I mention it’s a sequel? Well, it is. This is a dubbed sequel to an animated children’s film for French TV that I haven’t seen. Ye gods, what have I gotten myself into?
OK, OK, let’s take it from the top. Deep breaths. Let’s tackle this thing.
To say the least, MM is a film made very much on the cheap. I know, I know, I already said that, but it bears repeating. This is not exactly Disney-quality animation we’re talking about here – hell, the animation in the Dot movies puts this to shame, so far as basic fluidity of motion goes. It’s not terrible, per se; it’s competently enough done, but there are… issues, shall we say.
In fact, there are enough issues that they warrant their own section. Characters smile confidently when they are in mortal peril, which might be taken as a sign of bravery, except that they also smile confidently in 90% of the rest of the film – I doubt that there was much venturing afield from the basic character models the animators had in front of them, is what I’m saying. Inevitably, there are a fair amount of repeated animations, and while I’ve certainly seen much more flagrant abuse of this practice in my time, the animations in question are just… odd. For instance, there is a particularly bizarre motion that the Selenite King’s counselors make with their hands that… OK, there’s no delicate way to put this; it looks like they’re squeezing imaginary breasts. I doubt they were going for that precise effect, but that’s exactly what it looks like. It’s like they’re talking to their pals about an *ahem* well-endowed female and going ‘da bazooms on dat one!’ while making the attendant this-is-how-big-they’d-be-on-me gestures. It’s… yeah. That’s a tad strange. And they do it over, and over, and over. It’s weirdly hypnotic.
Speaking of ‘weirdly hypnotic’, there were some rather questionable choices made in terms of regular, non-repetitive movements as well. To start out with, the Baron has this strut/swagger thing he does that in real life would make him look like he’d stepped straight out of the Ministry of Silly Walks. I understand why they did it; he’s supposed to be this cocky nobleman adventurer and all and they were trying to evoke that, but the execution just doesn’t work. What’s worse is when the characters are standing still – except ‘still’ is a misnomer, because the animators appear to believe that people don’t, in fact, stand still on most occasions. Instead, what they do is sort of bob up and down and crook their hips and flex their legs like they’re preparing to hop – or rather, their legs are, but the rest of their bodies don’t appear to have gotten the message yet. (Crowd scenes would be a lot more interesting were this the case, I’ll say that.)
But these, of course, are mere surface details – the movie was made on a tiny budget and corners had to be cut; I get that. The real meat of any movie is the plot, and there, too, there are issues. Not so much with logic or pacing or anything like that; the film moves smoothly from A to B, but therein lies the problem – it’s too smooth. Moon Madness is, no foolin’, probably the single most linear and uncomplicated piece of storytelling I’ve ever seen in my life short of books that teach you that B is for Bear. Not only are there no plot twists of any sort, there are practically no complications or complexities to anything – it’s like if I said ‘Look! There’s an apple!” picked the apple, said ‘Mmm, it looks good! I hope it is good, and does not conceal something bad!” then ate it, said “Delicious! It was good!” tossed it aside, and that was it. That’s the whole movie in a nutshell – or, should I say, an apple core. People say they’ll do things, and they do them. Things are set up to happen in a certain way, and lo and behold, they happen in exactly that way. I can’t honestly say that things happen ‘exactly as you’d expect them to’, because really, one expects complications. In fact, there are standard, clichéd complications that you would expect a film like this to employ, but they don’t use those either. Take those counselors, for instance; they seemed to be acting in a vaguely shifty manner at first and I thought ‘oho, they’ll be in league with the bad guys!’ but no, they really were just as loyal and trustworthy as everyone was assuming they were. Sure, things happen in Moon Madness, and they haven’t always just been talked about in exact detail a few minutes beforehand, but that’s about as layered as it gets – and even on the very rare occasion when something minutely unexpected does happen, there are no consequences from it. In its own strange way, it’s really rather amazing.
On the character end of things, I’m not going to be doing a character examination this time, because they don’t have enough character to warrant it. Munchausen himself does sweet bugger-all to justify the heroic image of him that we’re set up to have, and while his five helpers do get chances to show off their individual skill sets, overall, they’re flatter than their boss – at least he has some character, even if it’s mainly just being hypothetically dashing; all they do is stand around going ‘it’s amazing!’ and ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ Sirius is just kind of weedy and mumbling, the Green Means are paint-by-numbers evil baddies, and the Selenites range from having no character at all (most of them) to having one trait that solely defines them – for example, the Selenite King’s trait is that he’s faaaaaabulous.
Finally, you know what the biggest slap in the face was? I wanted this movie in the first place because it was Munchausen meeting the Selenites, right? Well, here’s the thing; they’re not the Selenites. Sure, they’re called Selenites, but all they share with the originals is the name – they’re no more Wellsian bug-men than I am. This strikes me as a terrible shame, since an actual meeting of the Baron and old-school sci-fi would be a parade of glorious wonders; you just try telling me it wouldn’t.
So if this movie is such a dreadful crock of incompetence and missed chances, then why am I bothering to review it? Well… read on, Macduff.
Moon Madness, by any conventional standards, is a failure – but a rather fascinating failure. And since, as I’ve emphasized, conventional standards are not really in play here, does that make it a success on its own terms?
I don’t know. What I do know is that, if one can look past the animation and the storyline and… all those other things, there is interesting stuff to be found in this weird little movie. It may take some patience, but it’s there.
You see, any old movie can flop in the ways I’ve talked about, and most of the ones that do so are thoroughly generic and forgettable to boot. Moon Madness, on the other hand, is not, I’ll wager, one you’ll find yourself forgetting any time soon.
How so? Quirkiness. Quirkiness is a quality many directors try for in their movies, but it’s rather a lost cause – like many cinematic qualities, either it’s there or not; you can’t just pull it out of thin air. This movie is rather epically quirky.
To start with, there are some nice visuals here. True, the characters may prance and twitch and gyrate their way around in ways that would get them locked up in real life – but the stage on which they do this prancing is quite interesting. The world inside the Moon is simply drawn, but well realized, with some nice use of color and shape, and overall just looks rather striking. It may be some ineffable difference in the way that European animators draw their backgrounds, but even when the moving bits were bugging me, I found the scenery to be consistently watchable.
This applies to the creatures inhabiting it, as well. Now, I said before that I was disappointed by the non-Selenite Selenites, and that’s true – but that’s not to say that they aren’t interesting, because they are. Far from Moon-bugs, the design is straight from Munchausen’s own adventures – or, if I’m correct, it’s actually a combination of more than one creature he encounters. I won’t give the design away, because it’s worth discovering for yourself; that ‘what the – that’s what they look like?’ moment would only be diluted by my describing it. Same goes for the otherwise not terribly interesting Green Means, as well as the various bits of Moon flora and fauna we see.
Also, there is just something oddly refreshing about this movie. You don’t realize until they’re missing just how omnipresent plot twists and the like really are – I’m talking about the sort of thing where you don’t roll your eyes and go ‘oh boy, we’ve seen this before’ because you probably never recognized it as a thing before. Moon Madness has absolutely none of those, and while that doesn’t exactly make for a riveting movie experience, it’s kind of… I don’t know, relaxing in a way. You know how people talk about ‘in a perfect world, such and such would happen, but as it is’, etc.? Well, going by that logic, the film clearly takes place in a perfect world of sorts, a world where the good guys are clearly marked ‘good guys’, the bad guys are clearly marked ‘bad guys’, and apart from the later, nobody has even a trace of all but the mildest chicanery or double-dealing in their make-up. It’s a world where everything turns out all right in the end, and if you’re pure of heart you will undoubtedly come out on top. It’s about as divorced from cold, hard reality as you can possibly get – this is warm, fluffy, dive-off-a-cliff-you’ll-hit-a-pillow-and-be-fine reality. It is not a sophisticated way of looking at things, but who needs to be sophisticated all the time? Sometimes you just need to shrug off the cares of the world, blow bubbles in your root beer, and kick back third-grade style – and MM channels that more or less exactly.
Final analysis – do I recommend it? Well… maybe. I certainly can’t recommend it to those with an intolerance for cheap-jack children’s programming, or an allergy to low-budget animation. But if you’ve got kids, or you’re babysitting or watching a younger sibling or something for a while and you need something to put on, well… you could do worse. You could also do better, but you could certainly do worse. Or hey, maybe you’ve had a long, hard day and you just want to put something on that you don’t have to pay close attention to while you collapse into a comfy chair – that’ll work, too. Some people, I’m sure, will hate it, but overall – eh. Not bad, just not great.
Meanwhile, I remain diligent in my search for an actual Munchausen-meets-H.G Wells’-Selenites movie. Somewhere – somewhere it must exist. Perhaps in an alternate reality… hmm… Someone wanna make with the quantum mechanics?
- The original title was ‘Secret of the Selenites’, which is why a song of the same name plays over the opening credits. (I would recommend you cover your eyes during this, incidentally, as while the song is actually not bad, it plays over bits taken from the film, which spoil a few visual surprises.)
- That dance is weird and disturbing. What are they doing?
- How is it that the hot air balloons don’t appear to do anything until the ship is already in the air?
- Apart from laughter and wordless exclamations, the Selenite Queen has not one line of dialogue. And she’s the only female in the movie. Come to your own conclusions.
- Munchausen, you dirty, dirty cheater! How you didn’t just wreck human-Selenite relations for the rest of time, I’ll never know.
Sirius: (singing) Ju-pi-ter, Ur-ay-nus/Pluto, Saturn, and Ve-nus/Shine in the plane-tarium/Of the great astronomer Sir-i-us/And though each one is oh so bright/Nothing sparkles in the night/Like my sweet and lovely light/The Moo-oon, the Moo-oon, the Moo-oo-oon!
Hurricane: Those spears could put a dent in your appetite.
Earful: I like shields like that served with a touch of meat sauce.
Nimrod: Me, I like ‘em steeped in garlic.
Baron Von Munchausen: (repeated line) Thundering thunderations!
Sailor #1: We don’t want to go to the Moon!
Sailor #2: They’re all out of their minds!
Sailor #3: Yeah, we don’t wanna go to no Moon, man!
Baron Von Munchausen: (repeated line) Thundering thickets of thunderation!
Farmer Selenite: Is it raining out? Oh no, it’s nice out – if you’re a vegetable.
Baron Von Munchausen: Straight to the Moon, lunatic!
Sailors: We’ll go down with the ship, but not up!
Selenite King: Each night, when you look up at the Moon, think about us – and come up and see us sometime!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Saludos Amigos
- Felix the Cat: The Movie
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen