Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Film.
Film (1929; vt By Rocket to the Moon; vt The Girl in the Moon; vt The Woman in the Moon). UFA. Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou, based on Frau im Mond (1928; trans as The Girl in the Moon 1930; cut vt The Rocket to the Moon 1930) by von Harbou. Cast includes Willy Fritsch, Gustl Gstettenbaur, Gerda Maurus, Klaus Pohl, Fritz Rasp and Gustav von Wangenheim. Longest available version 200 minutes; several cut versions in circulation. Black and white.
Long ago, when Scientist George Manfredt (Pohl) theorized that there were ample amounts of gold on the Moon, he was ridiculed; but now a young engineer, Wolf Helius (Fritsch), plans an expedition to the Moon, supported by the gold cartels, to demonstrate that the theory was correct. The crew consists of Manfredt, Helius, and four others: a young female astronomer, Friede Velten (Maurus); Helius's colleague Hans Windegger (von Wangenheim), betrothed to Velten although Helius secretly loves her as well; a sinister representative of the cartels, Walter Turner (Rasp), who seeks to ensure that the cartels control any gold found on the Moon; and Helius's young friend Gustav (Gstettenbaur), who stows away on the flight. As an interesting recursive element (see Recursive SF), Gustav is an avid reader of colourful SF Magazines and brings some along on the flight. During the journey, the space travellers experience weightlessness (see Gravity) and gaze through windows at the vastness of space. Then their Spaceship lands on the dark side of the Moon within a deep valley that has a breathable atmosphere, and they begin searching for gold. After gold is discovered and Manfredt perishes in a fall, a conflict with Turner leads to his death and a ruinous loss of oxygen, so one crew member must remain behind so the others can safely return to Earth. Helius volunteers to stay until a rescue mission can be launched, and after the spaceship departs, he is heartened to find that Velten has chosen to stay with him, instead of leaving with Windegger.
Long overshadowed by Lang's earlier film Metropolis (1927), this pioneering classic of the Spacesuit Film may be underappreciated because, for a long time, only severely edited versions were available, rendering some plot points unclear. Contrary to some reports, for example, Lang's space travellers were well aware that the Moon has no atmosphere and brought along functional spacesuits resembling diving suits, one of which is briefly worn by Manfredt until he detects their valley's atmosphere. Also contributing to the film's obscurity is the fact that the Nazis soon withdrew the film from distribution and destroyed the rocket model, afraid that its accuracy would give away secrets about their own development of military Rockets.
It is disheartening that nothing is said in the film about venturing into space to expand humanity's horizons and gain scientific information, the more usual motives for space travel; instead, sheer greed for the Moon's gold is the sole reason for the expedition. The interpersonal dramas on Earth before take-off are addressed at length and become tedious, though they do allow filmgoers to sympathize with the main characters once they interact on the Moon, unlike the stoic astronauts of later films. And even critics of the film acknowledge that the scenes focused on preparations for the flight are meritorious; Lang used the rocket experts Hermann Oberth and Willy Ley as technical advisers, and the model rocket they produced was prophetic in its design – it was even constructed in two stages. The blast-off itself was also impressive, with good camera-work by Oskar Fischinger and effects by Konstantin Tschetwerikoff. The "5 4 3 2 1" countdown sequence preceding the launch of the spaceship, later used by NASA, was introduced in this film. [GW/JB/PN]
previous versions of this entry