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Lunarcy!: TV Review

Lunarcy! Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

A winking portrait of visionaries, geeks and wackos that’s diverting but too cheeky for its own good.

Airdate

8 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 (Epix)

Cast

Christopher Carson, Dennis Hope, Alan Bean, Peter Kokh

Epix kicks off a new season of docs with a look at the adventures of four lunar obsessives --from a bonafide astronaut to the self-proclaimed owner of the moon.

Premium cable network Epix kicks off its season of Epix Docs in lighthearted mode with Lunarcy!, a mildly entertaining look at extreme manifestations of moon mania. Focusing on a disparate quartet of heaven-gazing American dreamers, director Simon Ennis vacillates between earnest and arch, with the accent decidedly on the latter. Frustratingly, the documentary -- which premiered at SXSW in March -- orbits its subject rather than zeroing in for a landing. But there are intriguing views from the capsule along the way. 

For most of Ennis’ interviewees, moon colonization is an urgent matter. Some have their feet planted on terra firma more securely than others. Amidst the high (a former astronaut) and low (the self-declared owner of the moon) are interesting historical tidbits, along with passing nods to the pioneer spirit and the age-old poetic pull of the Earth’s satellite. 

Ennis samples vintage cartoons to sprightly effect. He also frames much of his new footage in stagy, comical fashion, with DP Jonathan Bensimon’s camerawork and Christopher Sandes’ needling sci-fi score heightening the farcical spin. Most unwelcome is the needless emphasis of humorous remarks via the repetition of choice phrases as onscreen text.

TV REVIEW: Rogue

At the huckster end of the lunar-devotee spectrum is Dennis Hope, a former ventriloquist who’s capitalizing on a “loophole” in the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty. Not having received a response from the UN to his declaration of moon ownership, he’s been busy selling parcels of lunar real estate since 1980, and claims to have sold more than 2 million acres, at 20 bucks each. He’s also president of the so-called Galactic Government. 

Ennis’ other main subjects have set their sights on the moon in non-mercenary ways. Peter Kokh, of Milwaukee, is the one-man band behind the Moon Miners’ Manifesto, a newsletter he first pounded out on an IBM Selectric. He insists not just on the necessity of space travel but on the need to ensure that moon’s human settlers will be able to enjoy such earthly delights as sports and music. 

A similar selflessness characterizes the documentary’s central figure, Christopher Carson, who thanklessly proselytizes his otherworldly visions wherever he can, from Times Square to school classrooms to the dispiriting drab of hotel conference rooms. A self-described “social pariah,” Carson is a young man seemingly beamed in from another century, a jovial but serious moon-carnival barker who’s eager to be the first earthling to move to the moon permanently. There’s a poignancy to his passion, and the film hits a momentary stride as it focuses on the notion of outsiders searching for a true home. 

Ennis delves deeper into Carson’s character than anyone else’s, but there’s a jokey distance to his affection. Which makes it all the more gratifying when a group of high-schoolers respond enthusiastically to Carson’s spiel (complete with laser show). 

The sincerity of Carson and his Luna Project shine through, even in such obviously orchestrated scenes as when the filmmaker brings him to visit Apollo astronaut Alan Bean. The fourth man to set foot on the lunar surface (and one of the subjects of the superb 2007 doc In the Shadow of the Moon), the gentle-spirited Bean has channeled his experience into painting, making use of NASA keepsakes to add texture to his canvases. In one of the film’s best moments, he confesses that he regrets not taking a break from scientific research to goof around a bit while on the moon. 

There’s no question that Ennis is having fun goofing around with his material. That works, to a point, but as an overall approach, it creates weightlessness. Gravity boots might have been a better fit.

Production companies: A Citizen Jones presentation in association with Super Channel and the Documentary Channel

Director: Simon Ennis

Producers: Jonas Bell Pasht

Executive producers: Ron Mann, Jonah Bekhor

Director of photography: Jonathan Bensimon

Music: Christopher Sandes

Editor: Matt Lyon