Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dredged from Youtube: Moon Madness (Secret of the Selenites)

DVD Cover and Amazon linkWhen a cable channel starts out, it usually doesn’t have much money to produce its own programming and is dependent on buying shows from wherever they’re available. A side effect of this is that kids like me, watching Nickelodeon and/or the Disney Channel back in the late 80s and early 90s, saw some really weird shit. I believe it was the former that broadcast MOON MADNESS (or SECRET OF THE SELENITES) back when I saw it, and for a couple of decades the theme tune and some of the visuals have bounded around in my mind, in the area where nostalgia becomes “What the Hell was that, anyway?” One Youtube search later and here we are.

I am, of course, completely compromised on this. To see this at last in an adult and lucid state is gobsmacking, and though I’m not blind to MOON MADNESS’ flaws, it’s such a bizarre work of art that I don’t think I can give it a fair assessment. Also, since it’s either Youtube or ultra-low-budget DVD that may or may not even be in print, this isn’t so much a review as it is an introduction. However you wish to see this is up to you.

The story takes place in 1753, as the astronomer Sirius tells his cousin and good friend the Baron von Munchausen of a legend about the inhabitants of the moon, and a talisman they possess which gives them eternal life. Sirius wants immortality for himself, and promises to make the Baron his sole heir if he gets it for him. The loophole there is kind of obvious, but the Baron is game and takes his ensemble of superhuman companions on a trip to the South Seas, where a helpful typhoon helps lift their boat into the air, and some hot air balloons do the rest and take the travelers to the moon. Settling into one of the craters, the Baron and company dodge attacks from some bizarre monsters before meeting the Selenites, friendly satyr-like creatures with detached crescent-moon heads and three legs. The Selenites knew the Baron and company were coming, and hope they can help defend their people from an invasion of “Green Means”, tiny green robot-like characters attacking from an orbiting satellite. In the meantime, there’s plenty of time to have an athletic competition, and to watch the young Selenites spring fully-formed from walnuts.

On a couple of key technical points (and the minor theft from YELLOW SUBMARINE notwithstanding), the film has not held up that well. The animation is extremely crude, with a weird tendency for characters to bob in place or undergo strange repetitive movements for no reason other than their being animated. Despite this over-drawing in some parts, the film frequently recycles brief shots, leading to a bizarre pace.

The English voice dub is also far from top-level; the Baron has a thin, vaguely Snidely Whiplashian voice, the Selenite King sounds like Ed Wynn with a bad cold, and nobody really sounds that good. Not that the writing is particularly great, but better delivery would have sustained it a lot more.

And yet, the film has a special atmosphere to it that can’t be written off. The look of the inner moonscape is wonderfully strange and whimsical, bringing 18th century ideas of space travel to life in a way that hasn’t really been matched elsewhere. (Terry Gilliam’s live action ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN has a fun moon segment, but it’s not nearly as detailed.) It’s a lush and colorful hollow world that plays by unusual rules. There’s an insanely catchy theme tune, and a dreamlike tone- the conflict never seems too serious, and everyone is good natured throughout, so the film seems less of a narrative than a short assembly of pleasant images.

Like I said, I’m biased. This is too wired into my subconscious for me to not like it, and whatever flaws it has just seem to wash by in what is, after all, a very short space of time. It’s not half as good as it should be, but it’s also the only film that tries to do what it does, and until someone actually improves on the same story it’s hard to dismiss. You should see this simply because you’d be hard pressed to find anything like it, but be warned, you may never be sane afterwards.

Written by Jean and France Image
Directed by Jean Image

Grade: ???


Anonymous said...

Hi- I believe I saw this movie too in the early 80s as a kid, especially after I saw the illustration of the baron in it elsewhere. Was there a mermaid and giant flying birds towards the end? And the baron meets the mermaid as a girl back in the real world after he comes back? If not, perhaps this company made another film about the baron. He looks exactly like he does in this film.

Evan Waters said...

That must be another film- I do think that there was another Munchausen film made by this company, but I can't recall what it's called.

SOB said...

I know I saw this too...It has been bugging me...I kept googling Moonspinners with no joy... and then I rememberd Horatio Hornblower no...that's not it some other famous wierd named adventurer...BARON VON MUNchuoznndsomthing. eventually, years later, I stumble on this and I am wondering if I can find a decent copy of this to truamatize my kids with. I think it was the incessant head bobbing and the ridiculous voice casting that stuck in my head as "What the hell was that".
There's some skinny dude with long annoying surfer hair...Flashes of incomplete memories.

Anonymous said...

Moon Madness in the U.S.

Christopher Sobieniak said...

While I'm sure nobody may ever read this nowadays, I will like to point out the whole film has been stuck on YouTube at the moment, watch it while you can...

For the film itself, it is pretty much uneven at times and I think the only noteworthy entry to state was it's music, provided by the familiar tunesmiths of many cartoons of the time, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy (He-Man, Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff and other DiC stuff). It was basically a swansong for animator Jean Image, who might be known outside France for his 1950's feature "Johnny the Giant Killer".

I will say the one thing that amused me here was in how they had to hire a ship and crew to get out to where the typhoon is before starting their hot air balloon plan. Everyone outside Baron's team just flip out at the thought of being flown up into outer space that the Baron had them off to take the ship while they abandon in a lifeboat bound to whatever island nearby.

Of course nothing compares with the last few minutes of the film's conclusion, which I don't think I want to spoil here anyway, just see it!

Also of note, that other film, which was produced 5-6 years earlier by Jean Image called "The Fabulous Adventures of Baron Munchhausen". This one probaby had a little more attention/focus to it than the follow-up, plus a nice music score by Michel Legrand.