Color, 1950, 92 mins.
Directed by Irving Pichel
Starring Warner Anderson, John Archer, Tom Powers
Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Neither as well known nor revered as high pedigree science fiction classics like War of the Worlds, Destination Moon will always have a place in the history books as the one that started it all. Based on the novel Rocketship Galileo by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein (who co-wrote the screenplay), this film captured the imaginations of many impressionable kids during its initial run and became even more famous when it later, eerily paralleled the actual first moon landing shown on worldwide television.
Forced into a clandestine plan to complete a rocketship for the first exploration of the moon, three men - a scientist (Anderson), an aircraft industrialist (Archer), and a space expert (Powers) - arrange to carry out their dream. A number of obstacles arise along the way, but that's nothing compared to the challenges they face in the cold recesses of space, where the astronauts must face a difficult and life-altering decision in order to reach home.
Alternately fascinating, suspenseful, and quaint, Destination Moon is more than a simple sci-fi artifact of its era. Legendary sci-fi and fantasy producer George Pal first made a name for himself with this title, arguably the most grounded entry in his string of successful entries in fantastic cinema. Not surprisingly, the acting is nothing special but gets the job done, while the special effects pleasingly look like they could have jumped right off the cover of a space age lounge album. Appropriately, the first major space age sci-fi film in America was lensed in eye-popping Technicolor, and the 2000 DVD presentation from Image as part of its Wade Williams line offers the best opportunity to savor its unique charms. Luminous shades of red and blue often suffuse the screen, and the clarity of the image and print quality are well above the dupey video copies circulating for years. As with many '50s titles, the flesh tones have gone a little orange in some scenes, but this problem is easily overlooked considering the overall quality of the presentation. The mono audio fares even better, with none of the usual distortion and hiss associated with films of this vintage. The theatrical trailer is also included.