(On Cable TV, May 2018) Among Science Fiction readers of a certain age, Destination Moon is famous as “The Heinlein movie”—that is, the movie that famed SF author Robert A. Heinlein went to Hollywood to write. Chapters of his biography are dedicated to his Hollywood adventure, and the episode is greatly enhanced by the recognition that for the time and nearly two decades until 2001: A Space Odyssey, Destination Moon remained the purest hard-SF story ever brought to the big screen. (Well, aside from some truly dumb decisions at the end of the first act that seem motivated by ideology rather than any kind of logic.) Focused on showing how humans could go to the moon and come back, this is a film that eschews aliens, monsters and fantastic situations in order to focus on the nitty-gritty procedural details of space travel. Completed more than a decade before humans went into space and nineteen years before Americans actually landed on the moon, Destination Moon certainly looks dated now, but it remains relatively competent in pure technical details, and its sober treatment of the subject makes it an oddity in the otherwise lurid 1950s SF filmography. A number of legends are found in the credits: Heinlein aside, the film was produced by George Pal and visually informed by noted artist Chesley Bonestell. Much of the film’s heavy exposition is handled through a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, echoing the similar Mr. DNA sequence in Jurassic Park. I’m not particularly charmed by Destination Moon (aside from the film having very little narrative energy, I’m really not happy about the antigovernment pro-business screed at the beginning of the film), but I’m reasonably happy at having seen it at least once.
(On DVD, December 2017) The bad news is that The Time Machine isn’t particularly faithful to the H.G. Wells novel, but the good news are that the film is at its most fascinating when it does diverge significantly from the source material. While the film suffers a partial lobotomy in not really taking an interest in Wells’ social-class parable about the Eloi and Morlocks (instead presenting the Morlocks as straight-cut monsters) and isn’t geared toward the melancholic far-future envoi of Wells’ narrative, it does make up for these deficiencies by strong period content. Diverging from the novel in order to update our Victorian-era protagonist on the evolution of the twenty-first century up to the film’s release, The Time Machine touches upon both World Wars and a nuclear holocaust, inserting them where the original novel could only imagine. The film being from 1960, this means that we get twice-filtered atmospheric content, as we look at the late 1950s look at Victorian England look at the far future. Whew. It may be scientifically indefensible (I rather liked the way our protagonist ends up in 1966 right on time for a nuclear war … and then outruns a lava flow) but it is interesting in its own way. Director George Pal concocts an entertaining blend of SF concepts, then-ground-breaking special effects and intriguing set design. Rod Taylor makes for a likable square-jawed hero, while Yvette Mimieux is fetching enough as promoted-to-love-interest Weena. Special-effect evolution aside, this 1960 version is significantly better than the dull 2002 remake.