That’s One Giant Letdown

First Men In The Moon (1964)

What It has Going For It: The selling point of this film is not lost on the filmmakers. It has two massive names in the world of fiction and special effects plastered all over the original marketing. The author H G Wells supplies the source material and stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen provides his unique brand of special effects during the film’s final third. That’s some good pedigree right there. Concept wise its not to shabby either. Made In 1964 the film arrives slap bang in the middle of the space race and moon hysteria. JFK had famously marked his intentions to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In this film it’s a UN rather than US space craft that lands man on the moon for the first time (five years before the US would do so for real), or so they think. It transpires that the jolly British had bizarrely landed on the moon some 65 years earlier in 1899. The rest of the film is a flashback of how this feat was achieved. Awesomely eccentric concept.

Why it’s a Letdown: Sadly the tone of the film is horribly misjudged. The first two thirds of this film are more like Mary Poppins than they are sci-fi creature space adventure. Much of the film is set on earth not on the moon at all. The acting is incredibly over the top; Lionel Jefferies leads the scenery chewing in a fantastically geriatric performance, but like the tone of the film as a whole, it just doesn’t fit when it comes down to the serious nature of the film’s final third.., which really feels like a separate film. Once we arrive on the moon the feel good Disney approach goes out the window in favour of a darker tone, but by this point its too late and your already treating it as slapstick clichéd comedy. For some reason Harryhausen’s excellent effects of the moon people (The Lunars) are mixed in with children in absurdly bad moon people costumes. It’s as if they could only afford so much of the effects budget. What effects there are, both visual and practical, are fantastic.., but the film itself is a messy patchwork quilt of styles and tones that just refuse to be sewn together in any coherent manner.

Like Moon Films? Try these: Applo 13 (1995 – I know they don’t get to the moon), From Earth to the Moon (1958), Stowaway to the Moon (TVM 1975), and if your really really desperate; Cat Women of the Moon (1953), Missile to the Moon (1958).

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