B-Movie Inspirations: Moonbase

B-Movie Inspirations is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a big sci-fi fan. I will give just about any sci-fi movie a try if it looks like a good story even if the budget is low. I found one of those types of movies on Tubi which has become one of my go-to apps for streaming. There are so many movies on that app I have not seen – some of which I can’t finish because they are just that bad, and others take me a few days to get through.

Moonbase is a low budget sci-fi movie from 1997 that attempts to tell a good story despite it’s very low budget. It is obviously a direct to video movie that probably sat on more than one Blockbuster video shelf and was watched by many who were probably disappointed by the cerebral story. It is one of those dark future sci-fi movies born of the 1990s angst against corporate greed, environmentalism and greed.

The movie opens New Years Day, 2065, on a penal station L4 – a station I assume meant it was a Legrange Point station but they misnamed Liberation Point. A group of seven criminals, led by Carl Stark (Robert O’Reilly – best known for his role as Gowron on ST: TNG and ST DS9) and his girl Mina (Gretchen Palmer), plan an escape from the L4 station.

From an RPG character perspective, the Criminals included the following. Many were basically unnamed and at least one of them was killed early on – Long Haired Guy – because his usefulness had run out. Not sure why they even had him. The information he provided could have been provided in an other way but I guess he was a friend of the producer or something. For the most part, for reasons of an RPG party, the group can be chiseled to Stark, Mina and one or two thugs. The latter could be NPCs, if need be.

Stark’s Gang escapes the prison in a automated garbage pod which is implied to be headed to Moonbase, a waste disposal plant on the dark side of the Moon. Enter the new party members – the Disposal colony staff, which is made up of way more people than I thought would be needed for this job – six. I found it interesting that it was cheaper to dump trash on the dark side of the Moon rather than recycle as much as you can but that was the 1990s logic for you. Of course, later we find out that it includes toxic waste as well which comes into play later in the storyline.

John Russell (played by Scott Plank) and his crew of sanitation employees work in isolation. Made of several archetypes, you have the unwilling hero, the seasoned old man, the wise-cracking cool guy, and the annoying guy that everyone hates.

The last two do not even have to exist in an RPG party as they die unceremoniously early in the movie. For a movie, let alone an RPG party, this story has way too many characters and could have been simplified a little by dropping a couple of characters.

We learn that Russell has some backstory that has him on some self-imposed exile for reasons that only his seasoned co-worker Will (Stack Pierce) knows. This is later revealed in the movie and honestly does add to the story pretty well. Of the other crew, we know that Deckert (Kurt Fuller) wants to get back to Earth and feels the corporation owes him, Will has been here a long time, and Masani (Randy Vasquez) has a hologram projector for his alone-time in his cabin.

With plans to hijack a garbage shuttle back to Earth, Stark’s gang storm the base and take the crew hostage. These plans are disrupted when they learn that no shuttle would be coming to the the base. We have a scene in some generic galley kitchen where one bad guy is killed by Stark because he has outlasted his usefulness. A new plan had to be hatched.

Earlier in the movie, another plotline was teased in relation to the base’s owning corporation and the military. The corporation is WTI, which stands for something like Workman-Tabashi – they say it real quick, and I could barely make it out. Sound familiar? Weyland-Yutani anyone? Apparently an inspection team is being sent up by WTI for reasons and the crew must accommodate. The Starck’s gang decide to wait for an arriving inspection team, ambush them and take their shuttle home. This is really the crux of the movie – when three worlds collide, what happens? You have to stretch your belief a little to buy into the fact that these two events at this one place would happen over the same time span but in the chaos of life, I suppose anything is possible.

The inspection team is lead by Lt. Col. Caldecott (Billy Maddox) and mission specialist Dana Morgan (Jocelyn Seagrave) who happens to also be Russell’s ex-girlfriend, linked to that shadowy past event mentioned earlier (one more coincidence you have to buy into). Caldecott arrives with a pilot who dies early and 6 heavily armed soldiers. It doesn’t take long for a firefight to ensue between them and the gang. Stark’s gang flee into the labyrinth of passageways in the base interior.

The corporate marine team can be generic NPCs and depending on how you want to run things, you can make Caldecott and/or Morgan as an NPC as well.

It is later revealed the military team is here for more than just an inspection. The government, taking advantage of the sensor-dampening effects of the toxic waste dump the crew maintains, have hidden some Positronic Pulse Warheads in the area of the waste. These weapons apparently were banned by some treaty and where pretty nasty – wiped out part of Cuba, apparently. Caldecott’s team was to retrieve the warheads because their secret was leaked and there was a fear a minor power would try to steal them. They hatch a plan to defend the base against Stark’s gang while at the same time, retrieve the bombs.

Meanwhile, Deckert in a quest to return to Earth at any cost, seeks out Stark and his gang and in an act of betrayal, divulges Caldecott’s real mission. Stark and Mina decide to steal the inspection team’s shuttle and the warheads, hoping to sell them and be rich on Earth.

Secure in the Moonbase control room, Dana, John, Will and Masani manage to contact a rescue team, but as the ship descends toward the base, Deckert now in league with Stark and his gang, routes power to a surface tractor beam and crashes the ship. The criminals then ambush Caldecott’s team, killing them and seize the warheads. Russell rushes to lock Stark out but is too late and is captured.

In the shuttle, Masani and Morgan with the help of Will in the control room, are prepping it for escape. Morgan, however, insists they rescue Russell first. In their discussions about Russell, Will reveals to Morgan the secret he has held for years. Sometime ago, Russell took the blame for an ecological disaster that the company was going to pin on her. Permanent transfer to Moonbase was the penalty Russell paid. With new determination, Masani transfers base command functions to the shuttle so they can retreat there after getting Russell back.

The rescue attempt kicks off a series of action scenes as the movie closes into it’s final act. Will manages to pull Russell to safety but is killed in the process. Russell, Dana and Masani retreat to the shuttle bay but realize because of technical reasons, they can’t leave and need something too happen in the control room. Deckert, in his final moments of redemption, realizes that Stark intends to kill him and perhaps everyone else in his attempt to escape, flips the needed switch just as Stark shoots him.

More technical complications arise preventing the shuttle bay doors from opening. Apparently, the power routed to the surface tractor beam by Deckert earlier is now preventing the doors from functioning (and now we circle back to Deckert being a jerk again). Russell decides to venture out to the lunar surface to restore function to the shuttle bay. Stark, defeated and determined to kill everyone if he can’t leave the moon, arms a warhead and sets a timer to detonate.

Russell manages to get the bay doors functioning, but must battle Stark to get to the shuttle. Our surviving heroes manage to outsmart Stark with Masani’s hologram device and lifts off just as the warhead explodes wiping out the Moonbase and the entire garbage dump, in a final ironic message of weapons wiping out our garbage.

The production quality of this movie is terrible. The locations are very generic and not very inspiring. They are not very other-worldly and most places you can recognize as something in the modern day. The only place that looks remotely constructed is the control center. Even the exterior moon shots look like poorly lit night shots at some kind of quarry or construction site. The spacesuits are nothing but cheap HAZMAT suits that just hang on them like there is normal gravity. The suits the gang uses and the criminals use are even worse – they look like paintball masks and some weird body suit.

The reason I chose the movie to write about is because it is a complex story very suited for a cool one-shot RPG game. I like that it is basically a story about humans – no aliens. I feel it can fit in just about any setting but I envision this in some kind of Alien-like or Bladerunner-like setting. The Earth is struggling to deal with waste disposal and environmental disasters while wars continue to flare up between various national factions. There was some very subtle world-building in this movie that helped me really appreciate it.

For an RPG one shot, one can go the simple route and make on team the player characters while the other teams are NPCs, but I like the idea of conflicting motivations and agendas, so I would spread the player characters over all three groups and get them to roleplay them to the hilt. The plotline revolves around the nukes but they don’t have to be nukes – they could be bio weapons or some other treasure or plot device. The temptation for me would be to introduce some kind of alien creature or tech and while that deviates from what the movie is about, there is nothing wrong with going that route.

This is a story of 3 worlds colliding – chaotic world of insane criminals, the dreary lives of blue-collar workers and the strict no-nonsense world of the corporation/government. This can translated to just about anything. Switching this to fantasy would not be all that hard. The moon location could be an island. Space ships can be sailing ships. The treasure could be some kind of enchanted weapon. The challenge is the location. Everything would have to be laid out, the base and the labyrinth would have to be mapped out.