Not Very Good

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H.G. Wells’ First Men on the Moon

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 10, 2015

The beginning parts on the moon are charming, and really benefit from that Ray Harryhausen effect. Of course it’s fake. But not only is it obvious now, it was obvious then. That was part of the point. Special effects can do more than be dazzlingly convincing. They can also delight us with their patent and cheerful artificiality, and with the dedication and imagination that made them possible.

Here, the lunar contrivances are imaginative and audience-encouraging and even sweet. The discovery of the traces of that past moon excursion is exciting. It’s also a nice way to link 1964’s Space Age with the speculative science fiction of Wells’ source novel. And the spirit of Jules Verne to boot. (That trio of very successful adaptations—Disney’s in ’54, Mike Todd in ’56, and especially the delightful Henry Levin, ’59—was not so very far in the past after all. $$, after all.)

But it’s all downhill from there. After that promising open, the period material really starts to feel strained—and star Lionel Jeffries strains to the point of registering on the Richter scale. You appreciate the effort, and the fact that actors really put themselves on the line. But my nose has just started bleeding.

Those two Americans are a drag. This has often been the case throughout the course of world history. There is a very cool space ship, and a clever Wells-devised conceit that allows them to get it off the ground. The take-off is really fantastic. Once they get to their destination all the naked and probably unconscious colonialism that starts happening is actually something to behold.

Movies are generally interesting in some way or another. But sometimes it’s too much of a chore to get there.