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Not quite Imperial, but certainly a jolly noble and charming effort
on 2 June 2011
"I claim this satellite in the name of King Edward the Seventh, Emperor of India, king of the British Dominions, and for all mankind. What is this for us but a tiny footfall?"
Mark Gatiss' 2010 BBC version of The First Men in the Moon manages the twin feats of being a charming adaptation that's a little closer to H.G. Wells' intentions than the Ray Harryhausen film but still feeling a little thin at 87 minutes. Like the Harryhausen version, this uses NASA's first Moon shot as a framing device, with Rory Kinnear's ridiculed old man showing a wide-eyed young boy his kinematographic films and telling, for the thousandth time, the story that no-one believes: of how he and the eccentric Professor Cavor were not only the first men on the Moon, but the first IN it as well (albeit arriving in what Cavor takes for "some desolate outlying district - like Wales") almost a lifetime earlier. And, naturally, they soon found out they were far from alone...
It's very much a period piece, the low budget giving it a less than naturalistic look and feel that compliments it surprisingly well, the film at times reaching back to silent cinema, whether it's using the same means of testing whether the Moon has an atmosphere as Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond/Woman on the Moon or throwing in a gorgeously delirious dream scene in the style of Melies' Trip to the Moon. Even the computer-generated Selenites have a bit of the feel of Harryhausen's stop-motion creations while the film is dedicated to Lionel Jeffries, who played Cavor in that 1964 version and died eight months before this first aired.
Good as Kinnear is, he doesn't stand much of a chance against Gatiss, who makes a marvellous Cavor, whether he's ermming away and adding a belated `probably' to his every scientific pronouncement or exploring the surface of the Moon in his cricket cap. More than that, he manages to make Cavor's final decision genuinely sad, a defeat not just for the Moon's inhabitants but for everything that he stands for. Not everything works quite as well - there's not enough interaction with the Selenites while much of the Grand Lunar's dialogue is inaudible, losing a couple of important plot points in the process, the less said about Kinnear's false beard the better and the final shot is a bit of a mistake - but there's enough genuine charm and enthusiasm to carry it over the rough spots. Not quite Imperial, but certainly a jolly noble effort.