Paramount Studios presents
Conquest of Space (1955)
"We'll have no unnecessary floating aboard this ship!"- Gen. Samuel T. Merritt (Walter Brooke)
Stars: Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy, William Hopper
Other Stars: Phil Foster, Benson Fong, Ross Martin, William Redfield, Vitto Scotti, John Dennis
Director: Byron Haskin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence)
Run Time: 01h:20m:28s
Release Date: 2004-10-19
DVD ReviewOne wonders whether there might have been the necessary public support for the American space program and the Apollo moon flights, had the space science fiction film boom not been sparked by Destination Moon in 1950. This interplanetary adventure follows in that film's tracks, courtesy of imaginative producer George Pal. Very loosely based on a 1949 nonfiction book by Willy Ley and master space artist Chesley Bonestell, this picture nonetheless has some serious credibility issues.
In the farflung 1980s (oops) an orbiting space station, the Wheel, has been established to serve as a stepping stone to the Moon. A rocket is being built adjacent to the Wheel to take man to the Moon for the first time. Samuel T. Merritt (Walter Brooke) is the commanding officer, while his son Barney (Eric Fleming) has doubts about following in dad's footsteps and applies for a transfer back to Earth. Gruff Sgt. Mahoney (Mickey Shaughnessy) is training a select crew of men for the Moon when Dr. George Fenton (William Hopper) arrives at the Wheel with new orders: for ill-defined reasons, the ship is to be taken not to the Moon, but directly to Mars. The balance of the film follows the crew as they make their way to the red planet.
While such space operas can often look goofy in hindsight by their misjudgments of the future, this one had to have seemed silly in some respects even at the time. When training for a mission to the Moon is stated to take over a year, the probabilities of going to Mars instead on less than 24 hours' notice would seem exceptionally low. Add to that Sgt. Mahoney stowing away on the Mars rocket and one can hardly conclude anything other than he has doomed at least one person on the ship to starvation, since it's unlikely a rocket to Mars would carry sufficient extra supplies. Luckily for him, that becomes moot when not everyone makes it to Mars alive. The supposedly well-trained crew also has to look stupid so some exposition can be provided. On the other hand, thanks to Ley, the use of segmented ships with discardable stages and glider-type space shuttle landing are anticipated nicely.
The characters are pretty unsatisfactory and wooden, with a multitude of clichés populating the Wheel. Things get somewhat better in the last third, especially as the senior Merritt develops a dangerous religious mania, and a Lost Patrol trope sets in when the men become trapped on Mars. As the crew gets whittled down the tensions increase, though the obligatory Odious Comic Relief, Sgt. Siegle (Phil Foster), manages to be anything but amusing. Suspense is increased by the ship falling out of contact with Earth and the Wheel, though the reason for this is never explained in the film, making for something of a headscratcher. But that's nothing compared to the inexplicable presence of the musical number Ali Baba Be My Baby. Could this possibly be padding?
The effects work is crude at best, though the production does manage to get some decently credible weightlessness sequences. The ship is an obvious small model that doesn't move in any sort of realistic manner, and the Mars landscape is wholly unconvincing as anything other than a closeup view of small rocks. Director Byron Haskin made some interesting films, but this is not one of them. Little artistry is on display in the filming or in the production. In all, it's pretty much reserved for devotees of 1950s sci-fi and uncritical children.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer has good detail, texture and color throughout. The men's five-o'clock shadow is plainly discernable throughout. Edge enhancement is not noticeable. However, frequent speckles of dirt and nicks to the print make this a less-than-wholly-enjoyable viewing experience. Though not constant, such damage can become distracting at times. A bit of restoration work could have made this look first class.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track is reasonably good, with modest hiss and noise but it's not problematic. Music has reasonably good range, though low bass is of course absent. Dialogue is clear throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: There are no extras. Chaptering is decent, though not overwhelming.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA weak piece of Golden Age sci-fi that does manage some good moments. The transfer is quite acceptable though the source print could stand restoration.
Mark Zimmer 2004-10-19