Friday, December 14, 2012
Movie Review: DESTINATION MOON
1950, Corinth Films/Image #ID8754CODVD, DD-1.0/+, $24.95, 90m 58s, DVD-A
Reviewed by John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #63
When the government pulls the plug on his rocket satellite program, Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) receives new financing from industrialist Jim Barnes (Jim Archer), who believes that landing a man on the moon is of paramount importance in maintaining America's military superiority. With additional money from several of Barnes' equally well-off compatriots, a rocket is constructed and preparations for the mission commence. The government tries to block the launch of the ship, for fear of radioactive contamination to the surrounding countryside, so Barnes dramatically moves up the timetable and heads off into space with Cargraves, General Thayer (Tom Powers), and Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson, as the requisite comic relief bonehead), the latter a last-minute stand-in for an ailing technician. Everything proceeds smoothly until the ship develops a malfunctioning antenna. However, the real dilemma lies ahead: the craft has burned up too much fuel during landing and the crew is faced with having to possibly leave one of their number behind, in order to reach home safely.
Produced at a cost of approximately $586,000, this George Pal production went on to gross almost ten times that amount and won an Academy Award for its special effects. Unlike the barrage of space exploration pictures that followed in its wake, DESTINATION MOON concerns itself with scientific accuracy to a surprising degree and takes pains to make sure the audience (most of whom probably knew nothing about the moon and space travel, aside from what they had read in the various science fiction magazines of the time) fully understands the mechanics of the voyage. To that end, we (and the potential backers of the trek) are served up a Woody Woodpecker cartoon that patiently walks us through every aspect of takeoff, acceleration and landing! Loosely adapted from the Robert Heinlein novel "Rocketship Galileo" (by Alford Van Ronkel and Heinlein himself), the screenplay lacks suspense and director Irving Pichel (the veteran character actor who also helmed Pal's first production, THE GREAT RUPERT, released the same year) presents the various wondrous events in routine fashion. DESTINATION MOON's enduring appeal for science fiction buffs lies principally in the ambitious effects (some of which still look good today) and the way in which the film inaugurated a new, more mature look at the possibilities of space exploration than had been apparent in American cinema up to that point. The movie also turned out to be a surprisingly accurate depiction of just what the actual moon landing in 1969 would be like.
The presentation is crisp, moderately detailed, and pleasingly colorful (those famous candy-colored spacesuits look great). The sound is a little thin, as befitting a recording of that era, but generally clean. However, the source material contains a handful of small splices and the reel change points tend to be in rough shape. There is usually a light dusting of wear, even at the best of times, but nothing short of a restoration will make the film look better than it does here. The disc comes with a theatrical trailer (2m 4s) and the snapper case includes a good essay by Tom Weaver detailing how the project had to overcome a great deal of scepticism from studio heads, who found the idea of a man walking on the moon just as preposterous as the moneymen in the movie.