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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Destination Moon

Destination Moon isn't technically a B-movie. It was in color and it won an Oscar. But it's a worthwhile starting point for a trek through 50s B movies because it was one of the first 50s science fiction flicks -- a topic which the B-movie industry jumped into with gusto. Unlike a lot of later movies, Destination Moon has no monsters or alien civilizations. Instead, it presents a fairly serious story of a manned expedition to the moon.

Why is this movie fun?
A rocket into space was not new to movie screens -- Flash Gordon had been rocketing around since the 1930s -- but Destination Moon was the "Star Wars" wow-movie that really touched off a decade of space-themed science fiction movies. Sure, the pacing is slow by modern tastes, and the special effects are hardly special by today's standards, but set all that modernist elitism aside. Destination Moon is fun to watch for knowing that it was the Star Wars of its day.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Private industry moguls decide that men must reach the moon as soon as possible. They build a rocket which does, indeed, make it to the moon. Due to landing trouble, the crew burn too much fuel to take off from the moon and return. After lightening the ship of all non-essentials, the ship is still 160 pounds overweight. One of the crew must stay behind. With some ingenuity and desperation, everyone does blast off for the return to earth.

Cold War Angle
Like a great many 50s sci-fi films, anxiety over the Soviets and nuclear war is woven into the plot. When several industrialists question the need to risk their millions on the outlandish moon project, the General Thayer character says: "We're not the only ones planning to go there. The race is on! And we'd better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the moon for the launching of missiles will control the earth."

Even though those sinister "others" are never mentioned again during the movie, the urgency driving the whole plot is the space race to beat the Soviets for national security reasons! -- ten years before that actual race really started.

Destination Moon is quite naive on what it really took to get men on the moon. (A dozen industrialists build a rocket within one year, and launch a crew to the moon on their first shot.) But in 1950, just five years after the end of WWII, audiences didn't know all that. Destination Moon showcases American optimism about the future in space. Some industrialists' deep pockets, a few clever engineers with slide rules and some talented aircraft workers can get the job done! You have to admire their spunk.


Anonymous said...

Notable guest star: Woody Woodpecker!

Darci said...

Destination Moon's script was based on a story by Robert Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo, from 1947. Heinlein was forgotten in Hollywood for decades, until someone decided to make a film based on his Puppet Masters and another based on his Starship Troopers.