As a nine-year-old when the film first came out, I found it inspirational: convinced there really must be such a material as Cavorite, the gravity-defying substance that provided the means of propelling the Sphere all the way to the moon, I spent hours reading chemistry and science books looking for clues as to how it might be created; and the idea of using a metal ball covered in old railway buffers to effect a soft, bouncing lunar landing seemed entirely logical at the time. (Interesting that decades later, a similar principle, but using large balloons instead of buffers, was used to deliver the Rover Sojourner safely onto the Martian surface.)
Our heroes find that the moon is inhabited by Selenites that live under the surface. While Cavor is fascinated by these child-sized, bug-like sentient creatures and wants nothing more than to communicate meaningfully with them, Arnold Bedford and his fiancée Kate provide the obligatory juxtapositions - Kate's terrified and repulsed by them, while Bedford thinks nothing of killing them whenever they get in his way.
As the story unfolds, we learn more about the Selenites' own underlying fears - is an invasion of their secret world underway? What should they do about these strange interlopers? The denoument of the story provides a twist that, while perhaps a little obvious these days, was new and eye-opening back then.
The DVD includes "This is Dynamation" - a featurette of interest more for its curiosity value than for what it actually tells you about the Dynamation process - and, much more absorbing, "The Harryhausen Chronicles" which gives ample background about the life of one of the movie world's greatest special effects innovators. It details the stop-motion techniques he devised as a youngster and how he perfected the painstaking process of bringing his exotic and fantastical creatures to life on the big screen in the Sinbad films, Jason And The Argonauts, One Million Years B.C. and many other classics. Decades later his lifelong friend, author Ray Bradbury, was proud to present him with the Golden Sawyer Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1992 for his contribution to the world of cinema.
The cover notes on the DVD packaging appear confusing. It states: "The film begins with a team of United Nations astronauts planning an upcoming moon mission," whereas the film actually opens with the astronauts touching down on the lunar surface and making a discovery that indicates someone's been there before them. The notes continue: "The astronauts are both confused and intrigued by a man (Edward Judd) who claims he, his fiancée and a scientist journeyed to the moon 65 years ago ... Now it's up to the U.N. team to attempt a lunar landing ..." But it's only after the amazing discovery on the lunar surface that attempts are made back on Earth to locate the man at the centre of the mystery. I guess that for reasons of limited space the notes had to be somewhat truncated, but still, it smacks of a certain laziness on the part of Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment that they couldn't set the scene more accurately.
This little niggle aside, First Men In The Moon provides 99 minutes of excellent movie entertainment, and "The Harryhausen Chronicles" completes a great evening's viewing.
For me, Lionel Jeffries is the archetypal self-obsessed victorian scientist - intelligently played with greater subtlty than at first obvious (the 'such a terrible cold' is almost too subtle), terrifically humouros, and a great comic characterisation. Edward Judd plays an excellent victorian leading man (pity he was so hard to get on with in real life that he didn't make many films), and Martha Hyer an acceptable (if underdeveloped) leading lady - her wail of 'Arnold' will always make me grin. Laurie Johnson's two-part score (he scored the first part of the movie in a different style to the second... and rightly so) is wonderful and Harryhausen's masterful special effects, though not so obvious as in others of his movies are used to better effect in this movie. All his styles from 'Earth vs the Flying Saucers' to the various Sinbad movies in one movie and with greater subtlty. As for HG Wells, this film is as true to the novel as Pal's 'The Time Machine' and much truer than the movie of 'War of the Worlds' - it is my favourite treatment of Wells in the movies.
HG Wells', Lionel Jeffries', Edward Judd's and Ray Harryhausen's finest cinematic outing - and a heck of an entertaining movie to boot - so long as you're not turned-off by an innocent adventure, that is - and I hope you'll enjoy this one as I do.
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