Science fiction gets the deluxe treatment for the first time in history
(except for `Things to Come' and `Metropolis'). This is a big-budget,
technicolor production from producer George Pal and director Irving Pichel,
with Leith Stevens music (`When Worlds Collide', `War of the Worlds' ,
others), Chesley Bonestell matt paintings, and Oscar-winning special
effects supervised by Lee Zavitz. Stop motion animation scenes of the
astronauts walking on the hull of the ship were directed by John S. Abbott.
The fine script was penned by Rip Van Ronkel, James O'Hanlon, and veteran
sci-fi author Robert Heinlein.
The cast includes John Archer as the millionaire industrialist, Warner Anderson as the designer of the rocket, Dick Wessson as the wise-cracking radio operator, and Tom Powers as the visionary general. (Note: this is not the same Tom Powers who stars in `Unidentified Flying Objects' in 1956).
Although many reviewers connect `Destination Moon' with Heinlein's novel `Rocketship Galileo', the film's story has much more in common with Heinlein's novelette `The Man Who Sold the Moon', also published in 1950. The novelette, like the film, spotlights private industry as the sponsor of the Moon trip. John Archer's industrialist is an eerie parallel to Howard Hughes, whose company actually did build the Apollo space crafts!
Heinlein actually published a THIRD Moon-trip story in 1950, a novelette featured in the September issue of `Short Stories Magazine' under the title `Destination Moon'. This version is so similar to the film, it was probably intended as a promotional piece, but it does include one fascinating story element not in the film. The explorers find evidence of previous lunar visitors -- either Russians or aliens, they aren't sure which!
While planning the famous E.V.A . rescue scene (in which an oxygen bottle is used as a makeshift propulsion unit) the film makers considered using a shotgun as the means by which John Archer retrieves Warner Anderson when he drifts away from the rocket in space. Thankfully they changed their minds; a shotgun seems like an inappropriate piece of equipment to take to a lifeless, airless satellite. However, the shotgun concept was used in the final film during Woody Woodpecker's cartoon demonstration of rocket propulsion, which is shown to the millionaire industrialists who finance the Moon trip.
Chesley Bonestell, famed artist of the celestial realm, provided matt paintings and designed the lunar surface (which had not been photographed up close at that time, so the film makers had to make some guesses).
Art director Ernst Fegte added the fractured lava bed feature which resembled a cracked lake bottom. The cracks diminish in scale as they recede from the camera, creating a forced perspective which enhanced the depth of the set.
This blend of technical accuracy and artistic excellence is the key to the success of `Destination Moon'. No wonder it almost single-handedly started the 1950s sci-fi craze of the 1950s. The film has a strong flavor of `The Right Stuff' (brave men doing a tough job). If you appreciated stories which portray heroism and the nobility of the human spirit, `Destination Moon' is your kind of movie.
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