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4.2 out of 5 stars45
4.2 out of 5 stars
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"Destination Moon" was the first major science fiction film produced in the United States and is credited with providing the genre with a realism that it had previously lacked. Based on Robert Heinlein's novel "Rocketship Galileo," this 1950 film does a pretty good job of working out the science for a trip for the moon, 19 years before it actually happened. Compare "Destination Moon" to the low budget "Rocketship X-M," which ws rushed into production by Robert L. Lippert to beat George Pal's movie to the theaters by three weeks, and you can see why it is this movie that is the most important American science fiction film before "2001: A Space Odyssey." Granted, with "Destination Moon" the historical impact greatly outweighs the artistic merits of the film, but that is really the only way this film gets a fifth star.
Heinlein's original 1947 novel was about a group of boys who build a rocket and travel to the moon, helped by a mentor who was an engineer (just like the author). Producer Pal optioned the story and insisted on a script that would be as scientifically accurate as possible. Heinlein worked with writers Rip Van Ronkel ("Destination Space," "The Bamboo Saucer") and James O'Hanlon ("The Harvey Girls," "Conquest of Space") and they put together a script that represented up to the moment thinking as to how to get a man on the Moon.
Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) is a rocket engineer whose final test launch of an experimental rocket ends with the ship crashing. Convinced his rocket ship was sabotaged, Cargraves seeks private funding for a new rocket that will use a nuclear reactor for propulsion. Investors are shown a cartoon where Woody Woodpecker provides the basics of rocketeering, and it is pointed out that whoever controls the moon will be able to launch missiles against whoever they want. General Thayer (Tom Powers) and Jim Barnes (John Archer) becomes Cargraves' key partners, but as the date for the launch approaches the bureaucratic red tape increases substantially. So the group decides to launch at the next opportunity, which happens to be in 17 hours (fortunately they have this giant computer to help them with their last minute calculations). Along as radio operator is Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson), who provides a modicum of comic relief as the guy from Brooklyn who does not believe the rocket will ever get off the ground let alone to the moon.
The part of the film where they rocket ship is constructed is interesting enough, and the whole idea of sabotage, red tape, and wives left behind are minor distractions. The main part of "Destination Moon" is the trip to the moon where such things as a space launch, a space walk, and walking on the moon are all presented with an impressive scientific accuracy via some nice old-fashioned wire-work. From the time the space ship takes off the movie becomes rather fascinating, so it is clear the second half is a lot stronger than the first and you just have to make yourself sit through it to get to the good stuff.
The film won the 1951 Oscar for Lee Zavtiz's Special Effects, while the Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color) of Ernst Fegté and George Sawley received a nomination. The panoramic view of the lunar scenery was a massive painting by astronomy artist Chesley Bonestell. Again, this is not an argument that "Destination Moon" is the best science fiction film of the 1950s, an honor that probably goes to "The Day the Earth Stood Still" or "Forbidden Planet" (although it is well known I have a warm spot in my heart for "The Thing From Another World"), but this is a film that is as historically important as Georges Méliès' 1902 "Le Voyage dans la lune," and a lot more accurate from a scientific standpoint. Of course, producer George Pal would go on to make other landmark films in the science fiction genre, including "When Worlds Collide," "The Time Machine," and "War of the Worlds," but it is "Destination Moon" that stands out as the grandfather of American science fiction films.
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on 5 July 2004
The 1950 film Destination Moon was one of the first "blockbusting" science fiction films and is notable for helping starting start sci fi movie craze of the 1950's and also for being George Pal's first successful sci fi movie (pre War of the Worlds, pre Time Machine).
Destination Moon is a gloriously Technicolor movie about the first journey to the moon. A group of scientists decide to convince private US companies to assist to finance the building of a rocket to the moon before the Russians get there first. To show the rocket physics in simple terms a Woody Woodpecker cartoon is used. We follow the journey to the moon with its associated problems and drama.
This sounds very plain and simple today but one has to remember that when this film was made this was total theoretical science fiction. This film was made 19 years before the first Apollo moon landing. When viewed in this context Destination Moon is outstanding in it's accuracy. The concepts of G forces, weightlessness, airlocks, 1/6th gravity on the moon and the physics of space travel would have been totally alien to most of the 1950's audience. The moonscape created in this film is uncannily true to life, despite some forgivable minor errors in the cracked appearance of the moon's surface and the over brightness of the stars in the sky. The first words of the astronaughts on the moon's surface in the film nearly mirror those of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrian in 1969.
Destination Moon is an interesting and enjoyable little film. The special effects are decent enough especially the weightless characters and the take-off of the rocketship. The pacing and acting are more than satisfactory to provide some entertainment for an afternoon. The characterisation is somewhat lacking, and the four astronaughts in the main journey of the movie are almost interchangeable, but that's true of a lot of science fiction from the period. The DVD print is more than adequate, and the vivid Technicolor is bright and clear. It is not going to be the sort of film you watch over and over but it's well worth adding to anyone's sci fi collection. Destination Moon is an interesting film, if only to see how ahead of it's time it was. Dated yes, but remember that this was made 54 years ago, two whole decades before the first moon landing. Viewed in context it is very impressive indeed.
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on 30 October 2011
Destination Moon is a true classic. Although not as widely known today as "The Day The Earth Stood Still" or "Forbidden Planet", it easily stands up beside them as representing the absolute best that 1950's science fiction cinema had to offer.

Destination Moon is also a seminal film in that it represents "hard" science fiction. That is, it is a serious attempt to project into the future based on real science as known at the time of its creation. It's not a fantastical romp with gloss of pseudoscience applied for flavor. Nor is this a movie that spends much time exploring human relationships or emotions. This is pure science fiction for science fiction's sake.

Looking back from the vantage point of the early 21st century, its projections may not all have hit the mark. But even its misses are still thought provoking. In a contemporary context I'd encourage anyone to consider this movie in the light of the writings of astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin, or the actual hardware being built by Burt Rutan. Or the original Project Orion - America's real nuclear rocket program.

Destination Moon is a remarkable film and I highly recommend it.

As for the quality of the print... Well, it's watchable, but it is a disappointment. Especially given that one of the best things about this movie is the lunar landscape backdrop painted by famed illustrator Chesley Bonestell. Even today this work is still eerie and incredible to look upon. Destination Moon is no camp B-grade frolic where the crackles and scratches of aging celluloid are almost part of the charm. This movie deserves better. Incidentally, because reviews do tend to migrate around a bit and appear under versions other than the one they were originally written for, please let me stress that I am writing all this about Destination Moon [DVD] [1950] [US Import].

Hidden away in one of the comments to the current "most helpful" review over on Amazon's US website is the information that a company called "Force Entertainment" in Australia is also putting out a DVD of this movie. Being in Australia myself I decided to chase it up. Unfortunately, judging by this review:

(I did give a web address in the previously submitted version of this review but Amazon decided to censor it)

...the Force Entertainment version doesn't sound like it's any better.

You'll notice I gave this product four stars. I took a star off simply because of the poor quality of the print. Ignoring the print and focusing purely on on the movie, Destination Moon easily deserves five.

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The first of George Pal's sci-fi features, Destination Moon shows that nothing dates faster than the future. Back in 1950 this was hard science, an accurate depiction of how most scientists thought space travel would develop: today, for all the low-key solemnity and semi-documentary approach, it's more interesting for the many aspects it gets wrong as those it gets right. It's certainly rooted in the paranoia of the day, with early failures in America's fledgling space program based on shadowy saboteurs, while subversives rally a fickle population against the dangers of space travel. But never fear, where governments fear to tread there's always good old American industry, rallied to the cause by a Woody Woodpecker cartoon and John Archer's barely veiled hints that a communist presence on the Moon will not only give them a strategic missile advantage but destroy the American way of life and his fellow industrialists' profits. Besides, if they can make a privately produced rocket work, the government will step in and reimburse them...

For all the professed realism they do ensure that they bring along Dick Wesson's comic relief Brooklyn cynic to ensure a full rota of stereotypes on board, but for the most part this is making up a lot of the clichés of the genre as it goes along, including the ever popular repair scene that sees one of the crew break loose from the ship's orbit and need rescuing. Other clichés, like the actors pulling faces to simulate the effects of g-force or finding themselves facing the prospect of not being able to make the return trip, date back to Fritz Lang's silent Frau Im Mond, if not earlier. Unfortunately director Irving Pichel never racks up much tension or manages to humanise the characters, leaving it all a bit dry and academic. Still, the special effects are considerably more than decent for the time though the picture quality hasn't worn so well. Like many independent productions, the negative seems to have gone astray leaving the DVD and TV copies to be sourced from prints which are better than you might expect but still lack the sharpness and clarity they had six decades ago.
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on 6 November 2012
What more can I say?
This is the definitive movie that started Hollywood on even considering doing space exploration movies.
Today, it has an eclectic humour of course but keep in mind, in 1951 space exploration and moon landings existed only in comic books and bizarre short stories. George Pal, was a true visionary and the production was very pain-staking working with what knowledge they had at the time.
The disc copy is excellent considering the source was difficult to reproduce. At the time movies of this ilk were not considered classics and not well cared for.
When you consider how many movies that followed borrowed many aspects of this classic, it becomes apparent this movie is truly a historic first.
Buy it. Own a piece of history.
Not a bad movie to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon either.
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VINE VOICEon 24 March 2010
This is a very exciting movie, and considering it was made twenty years before the actual events took place has a great deal of accuracy surrounding the major pros and cons of a maiden space voyage to the Moon!

Four men take a Space Ship to land on the Lunar surface. Having prepared the Ship, they have to leave at the very last minute at just seventeen hours' notice just as the huge step for mankind is forbidden!

Plenty of suspense and knife-edge moments in this - and some pretty good Special Effects for the time. There's a particularly interesting piece that involves the explanation at how Space Ships take off and are able to travel utilising a cartoon character - pretty neat!

Great Movie!
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on 14 March 2010
i`ve watched this three times since it arrived, this is one of those forgotten classics that only pops up on sky rarely these days, don`t forget this is 60 years old now and won`t look pristine on the screen, sometimes it jumps and the picture quality is not 100per cent and lines appear on the screen , but when you think this was made in 1950 its a good transfer to dvd, the effects (for the time) must have been gob smacking and even now look good and as it was 20 years ahead of the supposed moon landings it was way ahead of the game even then a worty addition to my growing collection of old sci fi , in fact to anyones collection
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VINE VOICEon 11 May 2010
This movie is action packed with all your favorite sci-fi actors. Half of the fun is trying to figure out where you saw the actor before. Even though this film is based loosely on "Rocket Ship Galileo", a 1947 novel by Robert A. Heinlen he had lots of help with by Rip Van Ronkel - Writer (screenplay).

He who controls the moon controls the earth. So it is vitally important that the free world gets the control first. To do this we must take baby steps to get there. Naturally Our Government will not put out the money or man power. According to the premise of the picture, the government is not capable of doing anything and will have to ask the industrial complex to create their weapons. Unfortunately if we wait for the government to ask then it will be too late.

There are may hurtles to pas from public apathy to government restrictions. This rocket launch must be now or never. The crew of course is select from a hand full of the only qualified scientists and generals. To round off the crew is Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) the local dufus added for comic relief, as if they needed comic relief. Joe is sure the rocket will never get off the ground. What do you think?

If it does then the question is will they ever make it back?

First Men in the Moon, The
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on 9 August 2013
I had been trying for months to find this film on region 2. I bought this film with some trepidation as it was listed as a US import, but the price was right so I went ahead. Brilliant! It plays perfectly. A film by George Pal which is years before its time and really quite prophetic. A must have for space fans.
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on 30 November 2012
Destination Moon is accepted as the first serious SiFI movie. While the story lacks excitement, it is nonetheless gripping from start to end. The acting and special effect are of high quality and the nostalga effect is worth the price of this movie.
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