Sci-Fi Horrorfest – First Men in the Moon (1964)

2018 Sci-Fi Horrorfest: First Men in the Moon (1964)
Cast:        Edward Judd as Arnold Bedford
Martha Hyer as Kate Callender
Lionel Jeffries as Professor Cavor

Screenplay by Nigel Kneale & Jan Read
Based on the original story by H.G. Wells
Directed by Nathan Juran

Plot: When astronauts land on the moon in 1964, they discover an old British flag and a letter claiming the moon for Queen Victoria in 1899. The shocking news that man had been to the moon some 65 years earlier is confirmed when an investigative team locate the elderly Arnold Bedford, who proceeds to tell the tale of how, his girlfriend and Professor Cavor visited the moon and encountered an insect race known as the Selenites.

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Richard’s Review: First Men in the Moon features special effects from the legendary Ray Harryhausen. However, it rarely gets mentioned and is always overshadowed by many of his other works. There are multiple reasons for this as the movie had several key issues that prevented it from being as good as it could have been. First, the film is too long at an hour and 45 minutes. It takes nearly 45 minutes for our space travelers to actually lift off. There is way too much build-up to the launch, resulting in a very slow pace to the film. 20 minutes or so could have been edited out to speed up the opening. As well, nearly an hour spent on the moon means the action tends to drag on in many places. Again, I think 15 minutes could be shaved off this segment, resulting in a much quicker and more appropriate running time of 70 minutes.

In addition to some editing and a tighter script, it’s difficult to determine who is the true hero of the story. Arnold Bedford comes across as deceitful and less than pleasant towards the Selenites on the moon when he is actually invading their world. Professor Cavor is eccentric but seems self-centered towards the end, which ultimately plays a part in the rushed final scene. The film wraps the story up too quickly and could have used another five minutes to expand on the conclusion.

Finally, Ray Harryhausen didn’t have as much to create for this film. The Selenites are at times Harryhausen creations while actors in suits in other scenes. The “moon bull” was fun and the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, the magic present in many of Harryhausen’s other films is lacking here. I enjoyed it more for what it could have been than for what it was. I would watch the movie again but it’s not the best of Harryhausen.

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Karla’s Thoughts: The movie was way too long and would have been better by cutting out a lot of the opening scenes as well as on the moon. It was hard to like Bedford as he was a scam artist, treated his girlfriend badly and was mean to the Selenites from the very beginning. I enjoyed the premise and loved Ray Harryhausen’s work but I wish the science was a little more fact and less fantasy.

Trivia:

  • H.G. Wells published the original story in The Strand magazine from December 1900 to August 1901.
  • C.S. Lewis once stated that First Men in the Moon was one of the best science fiction stories he ever read.
  • The adventures on the moon in A Trip to the Moon (1902) were inspired by this novel.
  • Composer Bernard Herrmann was originally set to score this film but asked for too much money, resulting in producers Harryhausen and Charles Schneer to hire Laurie Johnson instead.

Availability: The film is available from Twilight Time on Blu-ray but is out-of-print, so expect to pay $60 or more. It’s still available on DVD but is currently going for $30. So the higher price may turn some of you off. Place it towards the bottom of your Harryhausen wish list.

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