Image Entertainment presents
Destination Moon (1950)
"Cargraves has spent the last two years on it. He not only designed it, he's tested it. His scale model ran for an hour and twenty-three minutes before it blew up."- General Thayer (Tom Powers)
Stars: John Archer
Other Stars: Warner Anderson, Tom Powers
Director: Irving Pichel
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 1h:31m:04s
Release Date: 2000-02-29
DVD ReviewDestination Moon is one of the seminal science fiction films of all time. Its influence can be seen in later films, popular culture and even in real life. The famous countdown to launch was apparently inspired by this film, one of the earliest to take the science in "science fiction" seriously.
The film concerns the attempts of an industrialist, Jim Barnes (Archer), egged on by discredited General Thayer (Powers), to form a consortium to build a rocket to the moon. Various obstacles appear, with hints that they are intentionally created; the unnamed threat of the USSR in the Cold War then taking shape looms large in the background. The (communists') use of lawyers and courts as dupes and pawns to shut down the rocket project forms the impetus for the main characters in essence seizing the rocket and taking off in it for the moon.
At first glance, this film doesn't have much to recommend it. The acting is by and large wooden and unbelievable. The direction is pedestrian and straightforward. The special effects by and large are crude, clunky and uninspiring. The script is unfortunately bogged down by the need to dumb down the subject matter and to explain the science in excruciating detail. This is best demonstrated by the infamous Woody Woodpecker cartoon that is a centerpiece of the film, in which Woody is convinced to build a moon rocket. Somehow, one can only attribute the applause of the watching industrial executives in reaction to this cartoon as an expression of extreme naivete on Heinlein's part. The other problem with the script is Dick Wesson's incredibly lame comic relief character, Joe Sweeney, who ends up aboard the ship expecting that it will never take off. His presence is pure annoyance and he degrades the film all by himself.
What makes the film work is the imagination and joy in the subject matter, which is evident throughout the movie. Chesley Bonestell's matte paintings of the moonscapes in particular stand out as the most memorable part of these proceedings. While the special effects (Academy-Award©-winning in their time) now seem laughable, they are brought off with panache and seriousness. The takeoff sequence is notable for its believable recreation of the g-forces and other factors (including "space-sickness") inside the ship. Once the ship reaches the moon, the boyish gee-whiz attitude of the pioneers becomes infectious and you can't help but take pleasure in their explorations.
Despite all the listed shortcomings, you should make no mistake; this is a highly influential film. Take 2001: A Space Odyssey as an example. Its spacewalk sequences are clearly inspired by the similar episode in this film (as if to telegraph the homage, Kubrick makes the reason for the spacewalk the same: problems with an antenna). Kubrick also adopted the color-coded space suits introduced in this film, down to even using the very same colors. Even the comic-book origins of the Fantastic Four are clearly inspired by the motivating impulse behind the rocket launch in Destination Moon.
The film is probably most relevant as an historical document of its times; it absolutely set the world on its ear by convincing the public that a trip to the moon was feasible. It is sometimes hard to recall that just 50 years ago in 1950, when this film saw its initial release, my mother was being taught in high school science classes that a trip to the moon would take years and was utterly impossible. Viewed in that context, the film still has a certain power to it and it certainly has an importance both to the history of film, and to the history of the 20th century as well.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Image's print of the film suffers from a number of problems, including jumpy splices, frequent light spotting and frame damage. The full-frame transfer is in the original Academy ratio, in Technicolor. The color appears dated but is generally bright and satisfactory. In particular, the color-coded space suits are bright and colorful without being oversaturated or smearing. Fleshtones tend to be a shade on the reddish side, but not annoyingly so. The Bonestell paintings in particular are beautiful and clearly seen. The transfer is generally clear and sharp, with good detail. Bit rates are around 5 Mbps. While the source print is less than perfect, we should be grateful that it is as good as it is, concerning the fate of other films which have fallen into Wade Williams' hands-including extensive recutting and replacement of titles. No such tampering is evident on this print.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is a hissy and thin mono. The music is tinny and has almost no bass extension. During the moon sequences, there is a fair amount of crackle and pop to the sound. The racket of the takeoff is brought off well, however, considering the limitations of the mono soundtrack. Dialogue is almost always clear and easily understood, except for occasional mutterings by Wesson in a thick Brooklyn accent. These would have made me long for subtitles, except I really didn't want to know what he was saying.
Audio Transfer Grade: D
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The extras on this disc are limited to a beaten-up theatrical trailer and liner notes on the snapper case. Not even subtitles are provided.
The trailer is dark and in considerably rougher shape than the film itself. The efforts of the producers to sell a romantic angle to the movie are quite laughable, as they question what woman ever sent her man on such an exploit. The "woman" referred to appears in the film for about 30 seconds in total!
The liner notes are interesting and tell of the difficulties that were had in finding a producer for this film. Finally, George Pal, who would later become well known for classic fantasies such as The Time Machine and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, took the picture under his wing. While brief, the notes are certainly better than nothing.
As noted above, this film has a significance both within film and outside of it. The short shrift given to the extras is highly disappointing for a film of Destination Moon's importance. Perhaps one day we can look forward to a restored special edition; this disc is not satisfactory in this respect at all.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThis film will not please those looking for bone-rattling computer-generated special effects or massive walls of sound. It is, however, essential for students of science fiction films, even they may be disappointed in the print condition. This is, however, better than this film has looked in a long time. This disc is an acceptable stopgap, but hopefully is not the definitive presentation of Destination Moon.
Mark Zimmer 2000-05-03