B-Movie Inspiration: Dark Side of the Moon
B-Movie Inspiration is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.
Perusing my various streaming options, I stumbled on this gem of a B-movie from 1990 – The Dark Side of the Moon. No, this was not something inspired by the Pink Floyd album. This was a very very bad Alien knock-off that was really really hard to watch. It was more like a Walmart version of Event Horizon (1997). The acting was stilted and awkward, special effects and set design were low budget and because of that, the portrayal of space physics was lazy. While all that was bad, the premise was actually kind of interesting and could be a really good one shot tabletop RPG adventure in any near-future sci-fi setting.
The general plot places us in the year 2022 – where in-system space travel is not only common, but starships are big, bulky and have artificial gravity. The spaceship Spacecore 1 is on a mission to repair and retrieve nuclear-armed spy satellites and apparently one wondered around to the dark side of the moon. The best shot of Spacecore 1 I could find on the internet is shown below:
We are then briefly introduced to the crew of seven. The crew includes:
Flynn Harding (played by Robert “Starred In Every 80s show possible” Sampson), a tough, chain smoking bad-mouthed guy who is on-mission and all about the job. While he was alive in the movie, I felt the actor over played him and there was little back story that came out.
Giles Stewart (played by Will “Who?” Bledsoe), a dashing young pilot with a mullet who does not really seem to want to be there. He seems to be full of some kind of angst (it was the 90s, after all) and just mopes around until the end.
Paxton Warner (played Joe “Blade Runner’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell” Turkel, sadly his last role) is a strange science/engineering officer who always seems to have an ulterior motive.
Lesli (played Camilla “Why are you in this movie” More) is the ship’s android AI that does nothing in the movie but sit and state a few plot points. More on her later.
Philip Jennings (played by John “That other guy from Stargate the movie” Diehl) is the technician and token male chauvinist who is hitting on Alex all the time. This actor was so much better as Lieutenant Kawalsky in Stargate.
Alex McInny (played by Wendy “I’m here to show my boobs” MacDonald) is a crewman that has some engineering and tech skills, as well as some bio-med skills. However, other than a few minor over-acted scenes, she was there for one scene and one scene only (referenced in her nickname I gave her).
Dreyfuss Steiner (played by Alan “I’ve seen this guy before somewhere” Blumenfeld) is the ship’s doctor and one of the pivotal characters in the overall story in a very subtle way. In a rare creative moment, this character creates a very creepy scene.
In their search for a rogue nuclear sat on the dark side of the moon, the Spacecore 1 suffers inexplicable power failure and begins to tumble towards the Moon – specifically a point on the Moon called Centris B40. Due to the various failures, the crew realize that they have only 24 hours air and heat left. This is a strong bonus point for me because I like when they emphasize the dangers of space – lack of oxygen and frigid temperatures. The real nightmare however starts when an old space shuttle (Discovery 18) mysteriously appears and docks with them, bringing on board a mysterious malevolent entity that threatens them all.
Over time, the core plot is revealed linking the dark side of the moon, the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil himself. The first clue that it’s going in this direction is Centris B40 – the point on the dark side of the moon they are drifting towards. It’s shaped like a triangle on all the displays on the ship. (see below)
When the shuttle appears out of the shadows of the Moon, it is portrayed like a haunted ghost ship. They find one of the crew dead (body fully preserved, somehow) who turns out to be the source of the evil that haunts the shuttle. The evil entity somehow travels from one person to another, causing a triangular shaped gut wound in some of its victims. Anyone possessed ends up dead eventually. The entity – who reveals himself as the Devil – was trapped on the shuttle and was looking for a way back to Earth.
This movie is a real slow burn with some of the worst script writing I have ever heard. Everyone seemed to emphasize the wrong words or the wrong expressions, long pauses at awkward moments and just a general feeling that there was more story in each character then they were letting us know about. The set design was extremely low budget – I have seen better designs in old Doctor Who. The ship set design did not make any sense and the shuttle set made even less sense. Even though there was two ships from two different eras of space travel, I did not feel like there was any difference between the two. And even though they clearly showed the shuttle as a classic 1980s design, the set designer obviously had no clue what a real space shuttle interior looked like. I realize with a limited budget, there was not much they could do. However, I think the movie could have benefited from the sense of familiarity and difference between the two ships.
Interesting touches in the movie include the shuttle interior being cover in liquid water inside and in fact, there is a cargo bay that is full of water. It is implied that the water is from the Bermuda Triangle because this shuttle was lost over it during an emergency landing attempt in 1992. It kept from freezing by supernatural heat within the shuttle. We learn this because as they board it, they find the interior temperature was 106 degrees after 30 years dead in space. The shuttle serves two purpose. The creepiness factor as well as a last hope for our heroes to replenish energy and air. However, the one question I had was never answered – why does the shuttle have artificial gravity? I know. Low-budget. Zero G simulation is either done cheesy or really really expensive.
The characters were just awful. You would get better character development in a RPG one shot game. The captain is a card board cut out of a character who dies fairly early in the movie. Giles is the typical late 80s/early 90s hero character – the guy with the best hair is the hero. Paxton was just weird. Early on, he was doing weird stuff to make you think he was a betrayer or had some kind of plot behind him but it never manifested. Wasted opportunity. Jennings was probably one of the better characters but there was just something wrong with the way the actor was portraying him – he just seemed off. Alex spends most of the movie in a coma and only wakes up long enough to have a topless scene and then she is done. I really feel like that was a wasted character as well. Steiner was also one of the better characters and the one that reveals to the audience that the crew has been “infected” by the entity to the hero.
Finally there is Lesli. This character made absolute no sense to have. You could have just had a disembodied voice for the ship’s computer and be done with it. But no, the director thought it was a good idea to have a pretty lady in tight leather as the ship’s AI sit in a chair the entire movie and spout out plot points. STUPID!!! Who is this girl? The director’s girlfriend or something? Save yourself a little money by hiring one less actor, let one of the other female actor do the ship’s computer voice for a small fee. Then spend what you saved on better set designs! Again, it was another wasted opportunity.
This movie is like many movies – great idea that was poorly executed. What can you expect from Hollywood? Anyway, there is a lot an RPG GM can draw from this. The entire movie itself is a RPG one shot waiting to happen.
Dark Side of the Triangle
You can easily see the entire plot of this movie playing out in a RPG one shot. Sometime in the near future, a crew recovering lost military satellites finds itself wondering into the dark side of the moon where they begin to experience unexplained equipment failures. I would make the ship tangible with maps or picture or both and really emphasize the isolation and dangers of space. I prefer realism in my sci-fi. Space is damn scary by itself.
The ship would be something different from the one in the movie – something more practical and tangible (like from The Expanse ). Give it character, always having problems, giving the players something to work with at first when systems begin to fail. At first, it may seem like “ol’ Bessy” acting up again, but then too many things begin to happen at once, giving the crew a clue that something is really wrong.
You flesh out the crew better than this movie did and give each one a clear function. Allow the android to walk about and have a purpose. The Captain is a rough and tumble guy, perhaps former military that got dishonorably discharged because of a drinking problem. The pilot is a hot shot pilot hired by the company after his stint in prison for smuggling and illegal orbital racing. The scientists is new to the crew , volunteering to join this mission because of his secret agenda. He has theories about the dark side of the moon and wishes to gather evidence. Continue to flesh out each character and relate them to each other, giving them back story and agendas. There can be a betrayer if you want, but it has to make sense.
Then they stumble across a space shuttle. Today, this would have more impact in the story then in 1990, since they ceased the program. You can make up a shuttle or use one of the real ones. Perhaps the shuttle was actually lost towards the end of the program and this fact was covered up. Either way, give it a good back and haunting backgrounds. Unlike the movie, use the real floor plans and give it a realistic feel.
Other plot points from the movie:
- At some point, they showed the shuttle cargo bay full of moon rock from Centris B40. While they did not make a direct link the supernatural story line, there could be. This could be another route to take so you don’t have to end up where the movie did.
- The movie implied that there was a connection between the Triangle and the dark side of the moon. Was it some kind of supernatural star gate? Wormhole? Or a prison for the evil entity? There are many possibilities.
- For the entity possession, I would remove the idea of the triangular gut wound, and keep it hidden. While they did that with some of the characters, I would make it more consistent.
Dark Side of the Moon for me was a very hard movie to watch but inspiring at the same time. Much of the inspiration came from what they did not do with their inspired idea and less from what they did, but still, it was a cool idea for an tabletop RPG adventure.