Retrospective: DESTINATION MOON (1950)

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Mark Leeper

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Jul 12, 2021, 9:40:06 AM7/12/21
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DESTINATION MOON (1950), the film that probably should have led off
the Fifties science fiction cycle actually is still an enjoyable
adventure film even if parts are a little dated. It is colorful
and fairly realistic-certainly taking into account that it was
released in 1950. Not that some of the information known then was
handled as well as it might have been. The acceleration of takeoff
is made to look more of a horror than it is in real life.
Certainly details of weightless flight look more realistic than
they did similar effects in ROCKETSHIP X-M. The script calls the
moon a "planet" not once but twice. Of course because of its size,
very unusual among moons, some astronomers have been tempted to
call it that also, and to say it and Earth form a double planet.
Somehow this film's color captures a Fifties feel better than the
black-and-white Rocketship X-M. The color shows off better the
baggy post-war clothing fashions. Somehow talk of going to the
moon in an early Fifties film still has excitement that NASA
footage of the actual moon launch lacks. It is much the same sort
of thrill one gets from Jules Verne, even if he is describing an
1866 submarine that has long-since been surpassed by fact. It is
the fact that this submarine is around in 1866 that is exciting.

What does seem somewhat dated is the Cold War paranoia that is
present through most of the film. The nasties have sabotaged a
rocket at the beginning; the main reason given for going to the
moon is to beat the enemy; the enemy tries to use political
pressure to sabotage the mission, and finally the important reason
for returning to Earth is to tell the world how vulnerable it is
from the moon. Meanwhile, when the Americans get to the moon, they
claim it for the good of all mankind. Once they get to the moon it
turns out to be a pretty place to look at, but somehow the film
makes lunar exploration itself seem dull. The script writers have
no way of engaging the viewer in the actual exploration process.
What does save the film is a clever little engineering puzzle that
becomes the last treasure of this film. It is one that would do
credit to a Fifties science fiction story and it has a reasonably
nifty solution. What is dramatically lacking is the return to
Earth.

There are some interesting similarities between DESTINATION MOON
and ROCKETSHIP X-M. Both use obnoxious, harmonica-playing comic
relief characters, both have Texas humor, and both use stock
footage of V-2 launches, though this film uses it more
realistically.

George Pal uses the Chesley Bonestell paintings that he would make
use of in later films, especially in the prologue to WAR OF THE
WORLDS. The integration of the paintings and the forced
perspective sets really gave the feel of being on another world,
where ROCKETSHIP X-M had alien landscapes that did not look at all
alien. Even at the time people knew that showing the surface of
the moon as a cracked, dried riverbed was wrong, but it made it
much easier to use forced perspective to make the lunar landscape
seem much bigger than the set on which the scenes were shot.

This is a much more enjoyable looking film than most space travel
films of the Fifties. The ship itself is not a V-2, and that in
itself is something of a novelty. Pal designed a nice streamlined
ship that looks a lot better than the real thing. The simple fact
is that this is just a nicer film to view, both prettier and less
downbeat, than is ROCKETSHIP X-M. If there are some technical
problems with the rescue in space or in how weightlessness is
shown, we can forgive them and still find this film good to watch.
The biggest complaint most people have with the script is the
incredibly dense character of Sweeney. Perhaps he is overly
stupid, but the writers felt the need to explain the science and
needed someone to whom people could explain what was going on and
could serve as a sounding board.

Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Film Credits: <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042393/reference>

What others are saying: <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/destination_moon>

--
Mark R. Leeper

Jack Bohn

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Jul 13, 2021, 9:33:10 AM7/13/21
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Among the things Mark Leeper wrote:
> DESTINATION MOON (1950), the film that probably should have led off
> the Fifties science fiction cycle

Are you comparing it to "Rocketship X-M"? I thought accepted wisdom was that although that film was finished first, it was started in response to "Destination Moon."

"Captain Video" did precede them both on television. It was earthbound (at best, airbound) in its early years, but still sf. And, of course, the Ley/Bonestell book _The Conquest of Space_, I could probably argue that it was more an adaptation of that book than _Rocketship Galileo_.

I've been watching a lot of "classic" movies, and in that context I think I would put "Destination Moon" among the biopics of the era. It's essentially constrained by facts from getting too exciting, and the audience knows at least the broad strokes of the story.

--
-Jack



T987654321

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Jul 14, 2021, 8:49:01 PM7/14/21
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The best part about movies from this era are the characters behaving like actual people.
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