Film (1950). A George Pal Production/Eagle-Lion. Directed by Irving Pichel, starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, Dick Wesson, Tom Powers. Screenplay Robert A Heinlein, "Rip" Van Ronkel, James O'Hanlon, based loosely on Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) by Heinlein. 92 minutes. Colour.
Destination Moon, the first of George Pal's many sf productions, has great historical importance: its commercial success initiated the sf film boom of the 1950s after a decade that had contained almost no sf Cinema at all. It has interest in hindsight, too, in the partial accuracy with which it anticipated the actual Moon landing of 1969. To this day, Destination Moon stands as a film obviously made by people who knew about science: along with the German rocket expert Hermann Oberth, Heinlein himself acted as technical advisor. The special effects are relatively convincing: astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell provided the backgrounds for the scenes on the Moon, working with art director Ernst Fegte. The film's biggest predictive error was political, not scientific: it predicted that the first Moon landing, described as "the greatest challenge ever hurled at American industry", would be a truly capitalist affair conducted by private enterprise. Destination Moon is an austere film, semidocumentary in nature and, aside from a sequence about fuel shortage near the end, rather placid and unexciting. But, despite its colourless script and its low-key performances (except for some ill-judged comic relief from the blue-collar radio operator, played by Wesson), Destination Moon is a film with considerable dignity and, in a quiet way, a genuine Sense of Wonder. Its final message – THIS IS THE END OF THE BEGINNING in big block letters – can be seen, in retrospect, as an entirely justified claim. [PN]
see also: Moon; Rockets; Space Flight.
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