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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon (1964)

"Claimed for her majesty, Queen Victoria, in the year of our Lord...what is the year of our Lord?....1899."
- Cavor (Lionel Jeffries)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 02, 2002

Stars: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries
Other Stars: Hugh McDermott, Betty McDowell, Erik Chitty, Laurence Herder, Gladys Henson, Miles Malleson, Peter Finch
Director: Nathan Juran

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some action violence)
Run Time: 01h:42m:58s
Release Date: March 26, 2002
UPC: 043396058453
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+A-A- B+

DVD Review

Attempts to bring H.G. Wells' visionary works often stumble on the way. Usually this is due to trying to bring the stories up to date, such as War of the Worlds (1953) rather than letting them live in their Victorian settings. Columbia Pictures and Ray Harryhausen cleverly combine the two, preserving the Wells outline while relating it to the present day through a framing story.

As a multi-national UN expedition to the moon is exploring the surface, they stumble across an old British flag and a document from 1899 referring to one Katherine Callender. A frantic search by the UN turns up the aged Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) in a nursing home, who tells them the wild story of how the flag came to be there. Over 60 years earlier, he had made the acquaintance of Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), a slightly daft character who has developed cavorite, a paint that blocks the rays of gravity. While Bedford sees this as an opportunity to make money off his stash of Boer War surplus boots by painting their soles, Cavor has a bolder goal in mind: a trip to the moon in a metal sphere he has built. Bedford's sweetheart, Katherine is (Martha Hyer) accidentally taken along on the trip and predictably causes all manner of trouble. On reaching the moon, the trio finds an underground civilization of insectlike Selenites. But when they learn of man's violent ways, the Selenites decide it would be imprudent to allow them to leave.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, was responsible for the effects in this picture. It takes quite a while for them to get going, but eventually they're seen in copious amounts in the mooncows and selected selenites. There's also a brief glimpse of Harryhausen's trademark skeleton, made famous in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Unfortunately, his painstaking techniques were ill-suited for crowd scenes, so most of the Selenites are portrayed by men in rubber suits, which contrast quite unfavorably with the stop-motion versions.

The two leads are satisfactory, if not exactly gripping. Jeffries has more to work with in the character of the eccentric and excitable Prof. Cavor. He's rather played for unfunny comedy, apparently since this was seen as a picture primarily for children. This attitude carries over to sloppiness in other aspects of the production as well. The live-action segments were clearly low budget; when Katherine brushes against a moon crystal, it visibly moves and trembles like the fabric-covered framework that it is, an incredibly cheesy moment reminiscent of Ed Wood-style production values.

Although a certain amount of violence is done to Wells (such as the insertion of a romantic interest, and with an American at that), the picture does surprisingly come across well in its depiction of Well's pacifist and Fabian sentiments. The sympathies are clearly with the Selenites, rather than the destructive humans, a quite unusual perspective for the era of giant bug movies, not to mention the height of the Cold War. There are a few unnecessary anachronisms, such as the use of SOS as a distress call over a decade before it came into use, but these are fairly picky. The story takes a while to get going, between the framing story and a lengthy bit of exposition (largely the fault of the introduction of the romantic interest), but once the group leaves the Earth, the picture is quite entertaining.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Panavision anamorphic widescreen picture looks wonderful for the most part. Color is eye-popping in its brilliance and saturation, and the picture is finely detailed. There's some minor but generally unobtrusive edge enhancement visible. In a few England sequences, there are some difficult compression moments, such as a leafy hedge, which have visible digital artifacting. There is some dirt and speckling visible in the effects sequences, probably part of the film master itself. But these are fairly minor and don't appreciably detract from the presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 4.0 DD audio sounds quite clean, with decent range and depth. Dialogue is pretty much center-oriented, with music in the main speakers. The surrounds really aren't engaged until the Moon sequences, where they really come to life in a highly immersive experience. This is a nifty touch in the sound design and it comes across quite well. The only shortcoming is that the bass is a bit lacking in power. The music is by Laurie Johnson, today best known as the creator of the jazzy theme music for the Emma Peel-era Avengers series.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:24m:39s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo galleryPhoto gallery
Extras Review: Columbia provides a lovely array of extras for a disc not billed as a special edition. Foremost is the 1997 documentary, The Harryhausen Chronicles, which although simply described as a featurette on the case, runs a full 57m:54s. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, it includes interview footage with Harryhausen, his friend and collaborator Ray Bradbury, as well as directors and special effects men such as Dennis Muren, Henry Stelick and George Lucas. This is all well and good, but the documentary is chockfull of the highlights of Harryhausen's animation from nearly every one of his finished films. They don't stop there, however, but add incomplete and test footage from projects that never saw the light of day, including some truly marvelous material, such as the flying gargoyles from the projected picture Elementals. One of the drawbacks of Harryhausen's pictures is slogging through the tedious live action material to get to the good stuff, and this documentary provides copious amounts of the good stuff, making it a true joy for any stop-motion animation buff. The documentary alone is worth the price of the disc.

In addition, the promotional This is Dynamation short (3m:27s) from 7th Voyage of Sinbad is included, as is a photo gallery of 11 color stills (which take up a rather small bit of acreage on the screen). A 1.85:1 trailer for the feature rounds out the extras, together with a full-frame trailer for Golden Voyage of Sinbad and a full-frame re-release trailer for 7th Voyage. In all, an excellent package of extras; the only thing really missing is a commentary from Harryhausen. When, oh, when, is Columbia going to do this? He's not getting any younger.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Wells hits the big screen in full Victorian splendor and in gorgeous color. An excellent documentary and other extras make this a highly recommended release for Harryhausen animation fans.


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