Destination Moon (1950)

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Released 12-Nov-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1950
Running Time 90:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Irving Pichel
Studio
Distributor

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring John Archer
Warner Anderson
Tom Powers
Dick Wesson
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Leith Stevens


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Stranger In A Strange Land, Time Enough For Love, I Will Fear No Evil. Some of the most famous and controversial science fiction novels ever written. Robert A. Heinlein's work can be roughly grouped into three categories. The above works are a combination of satire and science fiction. The second group are his 'teenage novels' - pure escapism, and the last are where he is promoting a particular political point of view. Destination Moon falls into the last category.

    As a side note, the two recent films, a low budget version of The Puppet Masters and of course Starship Troopers have absolutely no relation to the novels that Heinlein wrote. Love or hate these two films, they are a universe away from the source material.

    Destination Moon is also supposed to be loosely based on the novel Rocketship Galileo. There are perhaps two scenes that I recognised throughout the film and some of the concepts are similar but other than that, it is a completely different story.

    I personally get the impression that Heinlein was extremely patriotic and also a little worried about the threat the rest of the world posed to America, in particular communism. He was convinced that the country that made it into space and in particular set up a moon base would have an unbeatable lead in the arms race. He even went as far as to campaign against the treaty ban on nuclear weapons testing as he believed that it would disadvantage America. Against this background he wrote several stories and was involved in the production of two films, Destination Moon and Project Moonbase.

    On one level, Destination Moon was the first Hollywood attempt to produce a 'serious' science fiction film. Up to this point, the majority of films were all of the "aliens attack" genre, or the science in them was less than realistic. Throughout Destination Moon, they have kept to real science and physics, at least as far as they knew in 1957. On another level, Heinlein was convinced that the government was not putting enough effort into the space program and he set out to convince the general public and private industry that they must get involved in space research. If they did not then someone else would and America would be in grave danger. This comes across very clearly in the film through a number of set piece speeches, some of which match the fervour of the famous ID4 speech.

    In 1957 they faced a serious challenge. The general public knew nothing about space travel or even basic physics. This would have lead to the film being a total flop as no one would have understood why things happened as they did in the film. People were used to the incorrect science in the alien films and would have been confused. They address this in a very novel manner. Woven into the story at the start is a simple physics lesson presented in cartoon form by none other than Woody Woodpecker!

    Destination Moon won two Oscars, one for Best Effects, Special Effects and the other for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour (note the sub category of 'colour').

    Unfortunately, the story has not stood the test of time. As an entertaining film, Destination Moon is now well-and-truly out-of-date. The parts of the film that would have been fascinating in 1957 are now common knowledge; we know how a rocket works, we know people float in space, we have all seen Apollo 13. The actual story line is simply a hook to hang the new science on. Unfortunately, it does not even have the corny comedic value that many of the other films of this period have. Despite this, Destination Moon is a very interesting film to watch. It is a landmark historical moment in science fiction film making. While you are watching you have a tendency to think 'been there, done that'. While this is true today, this is the film that was first to do these things. You have to keep in mind that this was 1957! Remember the first man didn't make it into space until 1961. While the lift-off countdown was not invented in this film, it did popularise it. They start the countdown at 30 seconds! Thankfully, they only take 20 seconds to actually complete it. This film laid the foundation for an entire sub-genre that is still in existence today. Many of the films that followed borrowed ideas from this film.

    Personally, I think this is a must-own for any serious science fiction collection. It is fascinating to see the values, the science and the politics of the time captured within this film. The producer is George Pal who has brought us some of the best films of this genre, including War Of The Worlds, The Time Machine and a personal favourite of mine, When Worlds Collide.

    The film style is very similar to others of this time period. The talking heads, the acting, the montage of scenes to music that shows time passing. The basic storyline is that a retired general convinces a group of businessmen that it is their patriotic duty to build a rocket to go to the moon. Their rocket is built and four men leave earth for the first time. After a series of scenes that are there purely to demonstrate some principles of physics, we approach the moon. In a scene that is an eerie prediction of the real Apollo 11 mission, there are problems during the landing. Our four intrepid astronauts are now trapped on the moon. How will they get home - will they survive the trip? All is revealed in our nail-biting ending, along with another patriotic speech.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    We have to take into account the age of this film. It is 52 years old and considering this it is in excellent condition. While I will point out the problems below, I would far rather have the disc in my hand than have had someone decide that it was not worth the effort of making the transfer.

    There are lots of problems with the source material and the transfer. The most noticeable is a vertical striation throughout the film. There are a series of light/dark stripes vertically down the image. These are subtle but definitely visible particularly in mid-tone solid colours. A clear example is at 36:22.

    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and of course is not 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was 1.37:1.

    Some scenes are surprisingly sharp, but the majority of the film is about what you would expect for a film this old. Shadow detail is good down to a certain level, then just goes to crush black. There is some low level noise but not nearly what I expected.

    The colours of a film made at this time are instantly recognisable, with reasonable saturation but lacking in subtle graduations. There is some noise in the colours and some dreadful bleed. Have a look at the blue truck at 21:27 to see what I mean.

    There is evidence of MPEG related problems throughout the film. Scene transitions are all fades. Some of these occur over several frames and some only over a few. I could not decide if this is in the source material or is the MPEG encoder struggling to keep up with the transitions. The longer fades obviously are in the source material but I am undecided about the shorter ones. You can see example of this at 21:02. There are also signs of interlacing, not just in the cartoon segment but in other scenes as well. Moving objects have the classic blur behind them. This leads to a loss of sharpness when objects and people move around. One of the clearest examples is at 21:45 and another at 19:28.

    I was very surprised and pleased at the relative quality of the film master. There are spots and scratches to be seen, but not nearly the number I was expecting. There are reel change marks approximately every 20 minutes, the first being at 19:23. The image is not sharp enough to show if there is any aliasing. The image wobbles quite a bit in some scenes, but I am pretty sure this is in the source material.

    This is a single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is a single English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that carries a mono signal. There is some hiss during the film but it is not a real problem.

    The dialogue quality is very good. I had no problems understanding what was being said.

    There were no problems with audio sync during the film. I did notice a real problem during the trailers where the audio is about 1 second out with respect to the picture but only for one scene.

    Like the colour palette, the music of this period is instantly recognisable. For me, this is part of the attraction and feel of these films.

    Obviously the surrounds received nothing and the subwoofer had little to do either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   

Menu

    There is an animated entry into the menus. We zoom in over a 1950s style drive-in and then a simple static menu presented in 1.33:1 appears.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. They really knew how to advertise a film in those days.

Additional Trailers: Coming Attractions

    A presentation of the trailers for other films from the good ole days of science fiction. These are all strung together and run one after the other. Some of these are a real giggle. They are presented on a small screen representing the screen at a 1950s style drive-in and as such are not full screen. There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

    While not a big difference, the additional trailers are quite fun. I have not personally seen the Region 1 version so cannot comment on the relative nature of the transfers but suspect that they will be similar, leaving us with a Region 4 winner.

Summary

    I was very disappointed when I first discovered as a child that the spaceships in these films weren't real, since they look so much better than the ones we have today. This film is really only for those interested in the history of science fiction. If you are looking to sample the old science fiction films for the first time, you might be better starting with a different film.

    The video quality is pretty much as we expected, but still better than the old VHS tape we have all been hoarding since we recorded this film on a Saturday afternoon many years ago.

    The audio is surprisingly good.

    There is a missed opportunity for extras here based on the film and period.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Thursday, November 29, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252Q CRT Projector, 254cm custom built 1.0 gain screen. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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