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Overall Rating
3.3

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 10%
Just Average80%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 4 user ratings


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First Men in the Moon
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by Jay Seaver

"Does Wells well enough."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: I suspect that, had I been around 50 years ago, I would have become fairly agitated watching "First Men in the Moon", because there was amazing actual science and engineering going on where that subject was concerned and a bunch of H.G. Wells fantasy was just going to set people up for disappointment. Now, though, it's so much a product of its time(s) that it's easy enough to look at it as just a big Ray Harryhausen adventure and enjoy it on those terms.

Of course, being released in 1964, it has to make a nod to the actual space race, and so it shows a UN mission landing on the Moon, quite perplexed when they find a Union Jack and a document claiming the satellite for Queen Victoria. Running that down eventually leads to Arnold Bedford, an old man who tells of how, in his youth, he (Edward Judd) invested in the crazy anti-gravity experiments of his neighbor Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries). By a sequence of events too crazy to believe, that led to the men flying to the Moon with Arnold's American fiancee Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) along for the ride. They would find that while the surface of the Moon is just a dead field of rock, danger lurked under the surface.

Almost the entire text of that description seems almost comically quaint today, and that's not including little details like how the diving apparatus Cavor uses as spacesuits lack things like gloves. To a certain extent, though, "quaint" is probably a big part of what writers Nigel Kneale & Jan Read and director Nathan Juran are going for - something that will entertain the kids who were the film's main audience while also capturing a certain rural English character. It's silly, and it wouldn't be surprising if a great many of the people involved knew better, but there's something to be said for capturing a specific tone. And when the film does get away from things being charmingly bucolic, there's an argument to be made that it actually stumbles on a pre-punk form of steampunk.

The cast is certainly playing their characters along those lines, too. Lionel Jeffries gives a really charmingly broad performance as a very take-charge absent-minded scientist; his brain may be going in a million different directions, but they don't cancel each other out to introversion, and even when he's impatient or upset, he's not particularly mean or off-putting. Martha Hyer is playing something of a stereotype as well, the helpful modern girl whose practicality is, alas, somewhat limited by her feminine naïveté, but she's still a likeable leading lady. She deserves better than Edward Judd's Arnold, to be sure, although you can't really fault the way Judd dives into the character's rather scummy nature.

And when the party eventually land on the Moon they're dropping straight into Ray Harryhausen's world, and while that may be dangerous for them, it's a blast for us. He and the rest of the special effects crew (small, because he worked alone much of the time) create an beautiful, jagged moonscape, insectoid "Selenites", vast underground chambers, and even a scanner that lets him break out a signature skeleton or two. While Harryhausen does tend to be better when mythological rather than scientific fantasies are on tap, this is a fine example of how his "Dynamation" can certainly be harnessed in the name of science fiction.

It's good-looking enough that it's not hard to overlook that, on more than one level, the movie makes no sense whatsoever. Forget the awful science, even by 1964 standards; it seems like it's almost impossible to fill in the gaps during the second half of the movie when the explorers are exploring the Selenite caverns that has any sort of continuity. Cavor leaves pieces of his suit strewn all over the place, only to have the whole thing in the next scene, while Kate is our is not being held in a cage seemingly entirely by the editor's whim. Plus, it's difficult to imagine a duplicitous, violent jerk like Arnold not getting his comeuppance even given the time in which this film was made unless the filmmakers were going for something much more satiric than this movie is most of the time.

So, although I can enjoy watching this movie now as a collection of Ray Harryhausen special effects scenes held together by Jeffries' entertaining performance, that doesn't make hypothetical-1964-me wrong to have been driven nuts by this movie. It just means that after a while, certain issues sort of become irrelevant.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7852&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/24/14 23:09:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/11/14 EDWARD BENITEZ excellent sci-fi movie. Wonderful special effects by Ray Harryhausen 5 stars
9/02/09 PAUL SHORTT WELL MADE B-MOVIE CHARMER 3 stars
5/15/09 action movie fan well made and fun but story need alot more and so do characters 3 stars
6/17/03 Charles Tatum Fun sci-fi 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  20-Nov-1964
  DVD: 30-Nov-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Nathan Juran

Written by
  Nigel Kneale
  Jan Read

Cast
  Edward Judd
  Martha Hyer
  Lionel Jeffries
  Miles Malleson
  Norman Bird
  Gladys Henson



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