I recently had the questionable pleasure of watching Syfy Original Movie HIGH MOON, which was actually a repackaged pilot for a nixed TV sci-fi drama. I watched out of curiosity because it was developed by Bryan Singer (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) from 1969 sci-fi novel The Lotus Caves by John Christopher. It was totally insane, and not always in a good way.
The source material concerned two moon-based teenagers discovering a flower impossibly growing on the dead lunar surface, which led them to discover an alien intelligence in a network of underground caves.
Fuller's would-be series takes scant inspiration from Christopher's idea (just the setting and discovery), to instead posit a future where various Earth nations are competing in the mining of Helium-3 across a Sahara-sized area of the moon. There are the flashy Americans (with their Star Trek-style aesthetics), an unseen Mexican-Brazilian alliance, the Indians (who build lunar bases in the famous Mughal style!), the Japanese (who have created a mechanical dinosaur for transport, of course), and the Russians (who are back to being Cold War-style subtitled villains).
The story gets underway when two spacemen—Marty (Jake Sandvig) and Leon (Toby Hargrave)—discover a luminescent flower sprouting on the moon, before fleeing an inexplicable moonquake. Marty narrowly survives being spat into near-orbit, discovered shortly after his brother Ian (Chris Diamontopoulos) arrives to head an investigation into the incident.
There's nothing wrong with making a TV show that's conceptually mad and stylistically bonkers (Sleepy Hollow, anyone?), but High Moon tests the limits of what's enjoyable pulp nonsense and purely ridiculous trash. To be fair, I quite enjoyed discovering the workings of this universe, set 50-years in the future, but only on the level of something from an episode of The Jetsons or Futurama.
It was ridiculous fun for awhile, and I also liked much of the production design—from the space-helmets with purple translucent force-fields, to a Russian antagonist with removable robotic hands. Oh, and the aforementioned metal T-Rex that works as the Japanese colony's ostentatious lunar transport. Don't ask. There was also a pleasing style that felt like something 1960s futurologists would dream up while high on weed.
The biggest problem High Moon had is one of tone and intention. One never knew how much of this to take seriously, or if it was designed to be goofy comedy throughout. Sadly, it didn't work particularly well as either, so just seemed to wobble between the two.
And yet, it was so different to anything else on television right now that I'm disappointed Syfy didn't take a risk, while asking for some changes. Instead, they'll finance stupider projects like Lavantula (an upcoming film where Police Academy cast members fight giant spiders released from a volcano). How is that fair?
Bryan Fuller's High Moon at least managed to see the light of day as a late-summer event for Syfy, and while it's easy to understand why the network passed on making a full series (which may have lost the novelty value of this pilot very quickly), it's a pity there won't be more hours to chew on... because, frankly, it's been a long time since there was a space-based sci-fi relying heavily on zany imaginings and colourful silliness.
written by Jim D. Gray (story by Bryan Fuller, based on the book by John Christopher) • directed by Adam Kane • starring Jonathan Tucker, Charity Wakefield, Chris Diamontopoulos & Dana Davis • 90 mins. • 15 September 2014 • Syfy