Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
First Men in the Moon (1964)
"What are your plans for this wonderful invention?"
"Oh, nothing practical I'm afraid. Something like...a trip to the moon?"- Bedford, Cavor (Edward Judd, Lionel Jeffries)
Stars: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries
Other Stars: Miles Malleson, Norman Bird
Director: Nathan Juran
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:41m:12s
Release Date: 2003-05-27
DVD ReviewIt is my considered opinion that very few films have ever managed to capture the brilliance of writer H.G. Wells. Typically wont to wander far off the subject, films based on his work often lose the spirit of the literature. This is not so in the spirited, well-produced, and plainly fun adaptation found here in this 1964 Charles Schneer/Ray Harryhausen production. Often forgotten in the history of that duo's productions, it may not feature the trademark stop-motion monsters and effects we expect form Harryhausen, but it has the same feel and professional quality that only comes from people who earnestly love the work of fantasy they're creating.
Co-written by popular British author, Nigel Kneale, the screenplay takes H.G. Wells' original vision and faithfully transports it to the screen with a few minor but creative changes. The story, set in 1899, centers on an eccentric scientist, Joseph Cavor, and his down-on-his-luck neighbor, Arnold Bedford. Cavor believes he's found a substance that will repel gravity, thus allowing for space travel, while Bedford's desperation to get away from bothersome creditors and debts leads him to trust Cavor's inventions as a source of fame and fortune. The two of them, along with Bedford's betrothed, Kate Callender, wind up bumbling their way into a space adventure when they travel to the moon in a metal sphere, only to win up discovering that an advanced civilization exists there already, and it's not too friendly. The film here takes a fun turn by adding in a 20th-century angle in which the world thinks that modern space explorers are indeed landing on the moon first (just as they did in the 1960s). That is, until they discover evidence of Mr. Cavor and his journeys, and learn his story firsthand from the only survivor.
Without question, this old-fashioned romp is primarily driven by extremely good production values (most of the special effects are amazing for the time period—forgiving the rather clumsy costumes of the moon monsters, the Selenites), and a fantastic cast. One could easily mistake the early portions of this film for a period drama about the lives of these three people, were it not for the extraordinary turn their lives take. Rather than overwhelming things with action and special effects, the story takes its time even getting to the whole space travel element, which doesn't even come into play until beyond the halfway point. Instead, characters are the focus, so that we then care more about them once the outer space weirdness occurs. The technique of having the modern-day flashbacks adds a lot to the charm of how everything is told. The film also marks a wonderful, directorial high point for Nathan Juran, who seems doomed to be remembered for stinkers like The Deadly Mantis when, in fact, with the right budget and crew, he's capable of expert work. He wonderfully mixes the elements of suspense with the often comic relationship between the three main characters.
Like curling up with a good book, First Men in the Moon really captures the essence of the traditional adventure of such bold sci-fi works to come from masters like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It is a journey into the truly fantastical and unknown, casting off any hope of being scientifically accurate so that it can be more entertaining and involving. Sadly, it's the kind of movie that couldn't get made today because of its relatively slow pace and insistence on characters above everything else. However, the formula works wonderfully in one of the best of the Schneer/Harryhausen/Juran collaborations, proving their passion for sci-fi and fantasy over and over again.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: I'm definitely impressed with the overall look of the film in this transfer, which has restored the image to the original 2:35:1 aspect ratio. While the source negative has some scratches and other visual issues, it's still very impressive in its clarity and brilliant use of color, which is an important element of the photography. There's very little digital error brought on by the transfer, and the clean image that results makes the film a new experience.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The discreet Dolby 4.0 remix of the original soundtrack is quite wonderful. The mix contains discreet front/left/right channel material, as well as a mono surround channel, all of which are used to impressive extents in a new presentation of the original sound work. There's lots of ambient surround effects and the front soundstage is incredibly theatrical and expansive thanks to generous mixing between dialogue and effects. This is definitely one remixed soundtrack that, I feel makes a dramatic improvement over the original versions, although a mono or 2.0 surround version is not presented.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Extras Review: As with all previous "Harryhausen Collection" discs from Columbia, the special features include the originalThis is Dynamation featurette and the Harryhausen Chronicles documentary, narrated by Leonard Nimoy and hosted by Joe Dante, which features information and biographical material on Ray Harryhausen. The presentation is simple, but definitely satisfying, and up to the task of allowing the movie's theme to sink in.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsWonderfully filmed and performed, First Men in the Moon is solid entertainment based on one of the great classics of adventure literature. The team of Ray Harryhausen, Charles Schneer, Nathan Juran, and Nigel Kneale turns out to be a solid one, capable of creating a very human tale of exploring the unknown.
Dan Lopez 2003-07-07