Sunday, 19 May 2013

First Men in the Moon (4 Stars)

This is an eponymous film adaptation of a novel by H.G. Wells that was written in 1901. The novel has been filmed several times from 1919 to 2010, but this version, made in 1964, is the most famous. Why? Because it features special effects by Ray Harryhausen.

The film begins and ends in the near future, i.e. shortly after 1964, and features the first manned flight to the Moon. When the astronauts explore the surface they find a UK flag and a document dated 1899. The astronauts radio the names on the document back to the Earth. The space agency visits an old man in a nursing home who is considered mad because he claims to have walked on the Moon. From that point on the majority of the film takes place in the 19th Century as he recounts what has happened.

In 1899 a petty conman called Arnold Bedford met an eccentric scientist, Joseph Cavor, who had made a ground breaking invention. He had discovered a liquid which, when applied as paint, shields objects from the effects of gravity. The two men, together with Arnold's fiancee Kate, used a painted metal sphere to fly to the Moon. It's interesting that the sphere had no controls, mechanical or otherwise. They just looked up, saw the Moon and aimed at it. Luckily they didn't miss. The three explorers found that the Moon was inhabited by a colony of highly intelligent giant ants who lived underground, thus escaping detection from Earth telescopes. At first the explorers considered the creatures, who called themselves Selenites, to be hostile. As they got to know them they realised that they are peaceful but scared, since they knew about the warlike nature of human beings and feared a full invasion.

I enjoyed the film throughout, apart from the final five minutes which were an anti-climax. There is relatively little work done by Ray Harryhausen, none at all in the first half of the film, but what he does is excellent.

Nowadays a lot of people prefer to watch films online, legally or otherwise. It's said that this is the future of watching films. I find that a shame. It's true that DVDs take up a lot of room. I own thousands of them, and it's difficult to store them all. They're in bookcases, in boxes and lying around loose. I try to keep order, but only two days ago I flew into a panic when I couldn't find a DVD I wanted to watch. Nevertheless, look at what you get. After watching the film on my shiny silver disc I clicked on "Special Features", and what did I find? There was a 60-minute documentary on the life of Ray Harryhausen, loving narrated by Leonard Nimoy. I enjoyed this documentary more than the film itself. Apart from words by Ray himself, we see actors and directors giving their opinions of the great man. I was particularly moved by Tom Hanks telling us that "Jason and the Argonauts" is the best film ever made. People who watch this film online will miss out. Whatever else may come in the future, I plead that DVDs, Blu-rays and other hard copy versions will never be abandoned completely.

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