A private businessman arranges for an expedition to the moon before the Russians get there first. The American astronauts fly there, establish a base, but are not certain they have enough fuel to return to Earth.
John Archer ... Jim Barnes
Warner Anderson ... Dr. Charles Cargraves
Tom Powers ... General Thayer
Dick Wesson ... Joe Sweeney
Erin O'Brien-Moore ... Emily Cargraves
Director: Irving Pichel
Runtime: 92 mins
Codecs: DivX 3 / MP3
I can go for quite a while listing the movie's weaknesses-script, actors, et cetera. But with an idea by Robert Heinlein, Chesley Bonestell handling the astronomical artwork, George Pal as producer and a special bit of animation by Walter Lantz starring Woody Woodpecker done just for the movie, what else matters? Anyone who recognizes all those names and appreciates them understands just what I mean. Since everyone coming here is likely to know Pal and Woody, I won't say any more. For the rest, gather round my children and attend.
Rober Heinlein was the dean of Science Fiction writers. He spun off enough ideas as throwaways to do another writer proud for two careers! As for Chesley Bonestell, quite simply, he was the greatest artist ever when it came to astronomic art. Paintings he did look so real, you'd swear that they were photographs and so accurate that you'd swear he'd been there. Not only did he have no equal, he lapped the field two or three times over. If I ever strike it rich, the first extravagance would be a Bonestell. Genius strikes rarely. Greatness with only somewhat more frequency. This film, flawed in many ways, is shadowed by greatness and touched by at least one genius.
Most science-fiction films are actually raw fantasy, with a disregard for reality that commonly borders on pure contempt. This isn't always a bad thing, since I really like fantasy. But techno-babble and flashy gadgets are too often only gimmicks favored by dumb producers, ignorant directors, and lazy writers who get themselves into of a jam. "Destination Moon" is rare and different. An enormous amount of time and effort were expended to make it as technically accurate as was possible in 1950. Even Kubrick wasn't this consistent in "2001"; he often let gravity appear where it shouldn't be. They never made that mistake in "Destination Moon". So it's unfortunate they didn't spend as much effort on the story and the acting, but both cast and crew were so wrapped up in creating a real moon trip they skimped on these aspects of story telling. The result was surprisingly impressive visuals for the time, but characters who are shallow, trite, and dull, and crises that arise and are solved while leaving us indifferent.
But there is real drama here, the drama of people trying to imagine what was virtually unimaginable back then -- how to actually get people to the Moon and back -- using real physics and engineering. And if it doesn't measure up to the story of "Apollo 13", another technically accurate film about a REAL trip to the Moon, it still stands out as unique among 1950s films and remains almost as unique among all science-FICTION movies ever made.
I saw this film when it came out in 1950 along with my cousin - I was carried away with the absolute beauty of the graphics. I was too young to realize the hamming of the script and actors. I must have seen the film 3 or 4 times in 1950. I now have it on DVD - at my 63 years of age it still brings back wonderful feelings as it did in 1950. The scenes of the lunar landscape were incredible (painted by Chesney Bonestell). The actual way of getting there and back would not have been possible - Apollo program showed the way by a lander launched from an orbiter. Destination Moon also was in brilliant Technicolor which was a treat to see in 1950. It also used some real footage of what may have been USA captured German V2 rockets in flight.
The 1950 film Destination Moon, based on the Heinlein book, is incredible for it's accuracy of what was to come 19 years later. To show rocket physics in simple terms a Woody Woodpecker cartoon is used. Unlike some of the sci-fi films of the era (Ed Wood comes to mind), there is very little cheesy about this (unless you believe what they say about the moon).
A small group of scientists have decided to get private US companies to finance the building of the rocketship to the moon. I'm sure they had McCarthy breathing down their necks enough to use this line: "Whoever gets to the moon first will be able to hit anywhere militarily on Earth and rule the world." In spite of the meglomaniacal military mentality of this, the rest of the film stays off of this track.
It's interesting to compare this with the actual Apollo missions. First they show the weightlessness pretty accurately with decent weightless FXs, and when they walk on the spacecraft and someone drifts away they utilize something the first Galileo spacewalkers didn't even think of; using an oxygen tank as a jet to maneuver (after the first spacewalkers found it too difficult without them the spacewalk jets were later used). They ate bananas and coffee (as opposed to tang and baby food), and they never showed how they used the bathroom (in Apollo it was with great difficulty).
And the idea to land the rocket whole on the moon was the original concept of Apollo until the main designer found it was much easier to create a Lunar Module. The FX of Earth from space was pretty accurate even if the colors weren't quite right, and most striking was how the moon looked in this film. Check it against the Apollo footage and you'll know they were accurate. I mean in 1950 they did have telescopes powerful enough to see the lunar surface up close and they utilized this. And most impressive is the science, being accurate with the airlocks, 1/6th gravity, and even the crisis where they must lower the payload.
And compare the words of what the 2 astronauts who first step onto the lunar surface tell the world via radio: "First impression is one of utter barrenness and desolation...most intensely brilliant stars anyone ever dreamed of". Buzz Aldrin said "Magnificent desolation." And "I claim possession for the United States for the benefit of all mankind." Neil Armstrong planted the American flag and said the mankind bit.
Remember this was all theoretical and a decade before anyone had even entered space. The stars I guess is what turns people off here, as they are too bright and looked more like lightbulbs. I guess the technology wasn't good enough back then to use actual star footage, but even on the Star Trek TOS intro they use fake stars.
And considering all the B films about space travel since (the one with James Caan in '68, The Stowaway in '74, Capricorn One '79, Mission to Mars '99), this stands out for it's being dead on in many ways, even using 4 astronauts (opposed to 3). I'm wondering if the Apollo planners took some cues from this film.
No, it's no 2001: Space Odyssey, but it's great for 1950. And one other point: they even predict the Space Shuttle, as the rocket is designed to "glide to a landing". I'm wondering when mankind will once again venture to the Moon, establish a moonbase, then onto Mars and beyond. We have the technology now, so let's do it!
* The Woody Woodpecker cartoon used in the movie was updated and then used by NASA to explain space travel to the public.
* The panoramic view of the lunar scenery was a Chesley Bonestell painting 13 feet long, mounted on wheels and rolled past a stationary camera. To make the stars appear brightly luminous, 534 holes were punched in the painting and illuminated from behind.
* This marked the first time that Grace Stafford (cartoon producer Walter Lantz's wife) did the voice of Woody Woodpecker.
* A massive campaign was undertaken to create public awareness of the film during its production. This campaign also attracted the attention of independent producer 'Robert L. Lippert ' who rushed a low budget space travel film, Rocketship X-M (1950), into production to capitalize on this campaign. Legal action forced Lippert to modify the campaign for his film. Material sent to exhibitors for "Rocketship X-M" carried the disclaimer "This is not 'Destination Moon'." Lippert was able to have "Rocketship X-M" into general release more than three weeks before this film had its preview engagements.
* In order to make the space suits appear to be in a vacuum they were padded to make them seem inflated. The padding and the studio lights made the suits so hot the actors could wear them for only a few minutes at a time.
* The cracked surface of the moon is reminiscent of a dried lake bed. Bonestell knew this was scientifically inaccurate, but used it to give a sense of perspective to the lunar panorama.