Saturday, 1 March 2014
First Men in the Moon (1964)
I've seen this film a couple of times before, but not for a while. I picked it up on DVD mostly just due to the fact that Ray Harryhausen worked on the effects.
The film begins with a UN mission landing on the moon (the actual moon landing would not occur for another five years after the film was made). Upon arrival, they discover a Union Jack flag and a scrap of paper claiming the moon in the name of Queen Victoria. The reverse side of the paper gives them a clue which they follow to a nursing home in rural England. The elderly man there tells them of the strange voyage he undertook 60-some years before. Frankly, this is a terrible framing device. It has the nice sting of 'oh wow someone was here before!' yes, but it sacrifices any sort of tension as to the fate of two of the main characters of the resulting film. A few seconds of impact to rob the whole film of drama is a bad call.
The old man's tale begins and one thing I hadn't remembered about the film was what a jerk the young version of him was. He lies to his fiancee about his financial situation, then lies to her again so she will put her name on a contract to sell a house he doesn't even own. Nice guy.
The man he's selling someone else's property to is an inventor, and our narrator wants in on the invention in question: a substance that is immune to gravity. The inventor, Dr Cavor, plans to use this to go to the moon. Our narrator intends to go along and somehow make it rich from the journey. By contrived circumstances, his fiancee is also brought along. After some mishaps, they reach the lunar body ... and discover it is already occupied!
There is one set of decent creature effects in the film where Harryhausen's stop motion really gets a chance to shine, but most of the rest of it is guys in suits, and much less fun. There's also rather a lot of talking. Even the climax of the film is basically narrated for us.
All in all, a disappointment.