SXSW 2013 Review: ‘Lunarcy!’ Points and Laughs at the Crazy Moon People

By  · Published on March 11th, 2013

It’s not uncommon in this life to encounter a few strange people. There are strange people just about everywhere you go. Here at the South by Southwest Festival and Conference film, interactive, music, comedy, what have you you’ll always undoubtedly run into a few of humanity’s oddities. Much of which exists in the kingdom of geekdom. The throngs of the obsessed, often overwhelming in their need to tell you about their most passionate pursuits. It’s not hard to have a love/tolerate relationship with some of the most extreme examples. Because after all, everyone has their thing. In the past few years, with the rise of “geek” culture attributed to the democratization of information by the Internet, a number of documentaries have put lenses in front of some of these most impassioned members of society.

One notable example would be the 2007 doc The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. On his quest to find the nerdiest of classic arcade game fans, filmmaker Seth Gordon certainly found some interesting characters. Luckily, he also found a great rivalry story good guy vs. bad guy, the “normal” school teacher from suburban Washington who takes on the crazy evil empire. Such a find made that documentary simultaneously sweet and funny. It wasn’t a b-roll freak show of exploitation, making fun of the “nerds” and their “little video games.” It had heart, so much so that it has now found a passionate fan base of its own.

Whether they intended to or not, the filmmakers behind Lunarcy!, a story about our collective human obsession with traveling to, living on and selling real estate on the Moon, have done something slightly different. Director Simon Ennis’ film starts with similar ingredients. The guy who travels to the country’s most prominent sci-fi conventions attempting to collect support for his mission to fly to and colonize the Moon. The man who’s been writing a newsletter about how man will live on the moon since the early 1980s. The crafty, shifty gentleman who has made millions selling “Lunar Real Estate” to the people of Earth and forming his own Galactic Government. It’s all there. But there’s more…

The problem is that in the delivery of these off-kilter characters, Ennis’ film also seems to devolve into making fun of its subjects. To the extent that title cards are used to highlight some of the more odd statements of its subjects, the film seems unable to avoid pointing a finger at these otherwise earnest folks and encouraging us all to have a good laugh. For a time, it works. But when Lunarcy!, as aptly titled as any doc we’ve seen in a while, never finds its heart or better yet, never finds its audience-unifying thread it becomes an exercise in just plain feeling bad for the subjects on screen.

In such a case, gauging a filmmaker’s intent is always difficult. It feels like a movie that is poking fun at some deeply passionate people. It’s hard to imagine that was what they were going for, especially as the film, in its last act, begins to move toward a worthwhile message. This idea that the Moon, and our society’s race to reach it in the middle of the last century, can be seen as a symbol of human achievement. At one point we all got behind the drive toward one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in the history of man, and it moved the world as a whole forward. For a few moments, Lunarcy! moves toward delivering this message. But putting a picture of Elon Musk at the end of your movie and saying, “hey, we should do this again sometime,” doesn’t quite make up for two hours of wading through the sideshow.

Is Lunarcy! a mean-spirited documentary out to get the weird kids who sat in the front row of science class and collected moon rocks? I don’t believe it wants to be that. But unintentionally, on a very palpable level, it accomplishes just that. So even when it spends time with Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, who has since gone on to create wonderful moon-related art, it all feels a little disingenuous. That’s disappointing to see. Because it’s addressing an important element of humanity’s relationship with the cosmos, in a time when we could use a lot more talk about shooting for the stars.

And while there is some fun to be had in the world of space nerdism, it should not end up the butt-end of a joke.

The Upside: The film comes dangerously close to making some great points about the state of science and exploration in modern society, but never quite commits to it.

The Downside: Too often the film seems to be laughing at its subjects, even after the audience has stopped being in on the joke.

On the Side: Astronaut Alan Bean, one of the film’s subjects, was portrayed (wonderfully so) in “That’s All There Is,” the Apollo 12-focused episode of the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, by Dave Foley.

Lunarcy! will premiere on EPIX on April 3rd.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)