Destination Moon (1950)

Destination Moon (1950)

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The United Colors of Benetton, Moon Edition.
The United Colors of Benetton, Moon Edition.

Twitter Plot Summary: 20 Years before the Moon landings, this film attempts to demonstrate, as accurately as possible, a trip to the Moon.

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

Director: Irving Pichel

Key Cast: John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson.

Five Point Summary:

1. Woody Woodpecker! And he was culturally relevant at that time!

2. American industry: best in the world?

3. Go on a date or go to the Moon? And with only a day’s notice? Tough call.

4. So we’re going to the Moon whilst strapped into bunk beds?

5. The space suits have fish bowls for helmets. Funny.

The main triumph of Destination Moon is using Woody Woodpecker to explain how travel to the moon could be achieved. Ignore the real science being used, it’s all about Woody’s chucklesome inability to understand the basic concepts of space travel. The cartoon not only explains the process to the sceptical backers who will be involved in the project, but to us the audience as well. Obviously with 60 years of hindsight it’s a rather quaint method of explaining the science, but still makes a certain amount of sense. Based on the outfits they wear to reach the Moon everybody would most likely be crushed by the G-Forces involved, especially given that they start their journey strapped into a pair of bunk beds.

Typically of this period of cinema, almost every character spouts exposition at every opportunity, constantly needing to explain to last minute replacement Joe (and by that I mean – the audience) what’s going on, why they’re not going to fall off the ship whilst doing a spacewalk, and how to swallow pills and water in a zero-G environment. I expect, somewhere offscreen, they’re also explaining to Joe how to make toilet on a shuttle. Based on all my other observations of the character, there is absolutely no way he’d get onto a space mission. Giving all of the characters their own uniquely coloured space suit, whilst practical as far as audience recognition goes, smacks of using four colours just because they’re using Technicolor. I love some of the classic 50s directorial flushes used by Irving Pichel. Crash zooms on the ticking clock or turning the camera on its side so it looks like the actor is either upside down or on one of the walls.

You could make a huge cocktail with this helmet. Or put fish in it.
You could make a huge cocktail with this helmet. Or put fish in it.

There’s a background motif of pioneers heading into the great unknown, similar to those who first traversed the United States back before there even was a United States. At one point Joe (ahh, ever reliable Joe!) busts out a harmonica and kicks out a tune. All we need is a tarpaulin and wagon attached to the rocket and the homage, however ludicrous, will be complete.

One scene tickled me in particular. Joe’s incredulous when he’s asked to go along, at the very last minute, after one of the crew ends up in hospital due to appendicitis. His reaction when he realises Barnes and Cargraves are serious about him going along (and about them making it to the Moon) is priceless. You know that look Father Dougal does when he’s surprised or alarmed? Yeah, he does that. It’s even funnier when they’re taking off and the G-Forces are squishing his face. He looks like the victim of a plastic surgery killer.

As far as the science goes, I can’t fault it. Yes, some of the ideas about space travel and landing on the Moon are dated even by 1969 standards, but on the whole it does at least have then-current scientific research behind it. The script is the key thing that lets it down, but that’s more indicative of the era it was made in over anything else. Most science fiction films were as clunky as this in the 1950s, even Forbidden Planet. Yes, I went there. Even so, that had an engaging story (even if it was half-inched from Shakespeare) whereas Destination Moon has no other purpose than “we need to get to the Moon before the Russians!” Actually, it works as a 1950s science lesson as well. A fantastical one certainly, but a science lesson all the same. Lucky for us Joe went along for the ride, otherwise we wouldn’t have a clue.

Favourite scene: Well, Woody Woodpecker, of course.

Quote: “The race is on and we’d better win it, because there is absolutely no way to stop an attack from outer space. The first country that can use the Moon for the launching of missiles will control the Earth.”

Silly Moment: Doc Cargraves detaching his boots from the hull whilst on a space walk. Like a moron.

Score: 3/5

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