Monday, 22 December 2008

SteamPunk Review: First men In the Moon. Pt.2

Perhaps not one of the best known of Schneer and Harryhausen's works together first men has a sense of humour not always to be found in their movies. This is probably due to Kneale and co writer Jan Reads script and their extensive background in British television and radio. The comedy is not just kept to Jeffries' buffoon, Cavor, but Bedford's attempts to keep Kate in the dark about his finances. They also have a U.N. Investigators say: “ Don't forget, England is a land of eccentrics” when they sceptically seek out the story. The mood is also enhanced by composer Laurie Johnson;s score which is decidedly whimsical, especially for its early scenes in period England. Johnson also had an extensive television background including the Avengers theme tune.

Technically the film is superb with nicely rendered period detail a charming, cluttered mise en scene to Bedford's cottage and Cavor's lab, whilst their spacecraft's interior is all upholstery with mahogany fittings and brass instruments. The cinematography is bright and colourful for the scenes on earth whilst the lunar landscape is beautifully lit in both its sound stage and miniature realisations.
What really stands out, however, is the production design of the Selenite's caverns. Chrystal caverns, a mushroom forest and the awesome, psychedelic oxygen generator this is all lit in garish, primary colours that give the caverns the look of a Mario Bava movie. Bava's classic Blood and black lace was released the same year.

What any review really comes down to is of one of these movies though are Harryhausen's creations. Although we don't see any until over an hour in. The Selenite design's are interesting with their insectoid bodies and hive system of warriors, engineers and best of all the Mekon like overmind we see towards the end. Unfortunately apart from the gigantic moon cow (and bull) this is all we see of lunar life. Admittedly this comes from the screenplay itself and no lack of imagination on Harryhausen's part, the stand out effect is Kate's skeleton in the Selenite's X ray device. The miniature work for the moon itself and the contemporary and period landings are also terrific.

Technically the DVD is presented in 2.35.1 and is a wonderfully crisp transfer with quite muted colours for the rustic scenes in Victorian England and is amazingly crisp for the lunar scenes with solid blacks and the Bava-esque lighting of the interiors shown off in its full glory.
Extras wise we get a neat from the time this is dynamation feature and a Harryhausen documentary which uses many of his fantastic production sketches. Unfortunately other than a photo gallery and trailer there are no extras specific to the movie itself.

Overall first men is a great movie although I doubt its on anyone's favourites list of Schneer and Harryhausen's work together. Nathan Juran ( a workmanlike director with a background in American genre TV and a number of giant monster movies to his credit) handles the direction competently enough although I suspect his experience with effects got him the job.
The movie's real achievements and successes lie with Kneale and Read's script, the likeable cast and, of course, the incredible work of Ray, brought to you in “Dynamation”.

Guest Review by Sir Guy

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