Classic Sci-Fi: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Classic Sci-Fi: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON

Matthew Kresal blasts off.


The release of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954 set off a wave of new films inspired by the works of Jules Verne. They ranged from the Oscar-winning Around the World in Eighty Days to the Vincent Price fronted Master of the World. In the midst of all that, RKO decided to make a cinematic adaption of one of Verne's most iconic works. From the Earth to the Moon had, more than a half-century before, been the inspiration for one of the earliest science fiction films, and this newer version should have been first-rate. Sadly, it wouldn't work out that way.


Not that it didn't have plenty going for it. The cast list, for one, offered plenty of promise. Joseph Cotton was perfect casting for the industrialist Victor Barbicane, the man who sets the Moonshot in motion, bringing all of his charm and intelligence to the role. Indeed, the first half is the strongest of the film, abundant as it is of fine period sets and costumes presented in wonderful Technicolor. It's here too one can see the influence of the Disney 20,000 Leagues upon the filmmakers, particularly in the interior design of the Columbiad capsule and how the film handles the science fiction elements, including one created solely for the film.


Unfortunately, once they head out into space, the film falls apart. The lack of special effects budget is evident, from the model shots of the Columbiad in flight to the meteor shower afflicted upon it mid-flight. None of which are effective. In fact, they're laughable even by the standards of the time the film was made. Just as problematic, the script dumps much of Verne’s narrative from Around the Moon (which detains the lunar voyage, while the book that gives the film its title details the lead up to the cannon’s firing). Instead, screenwriters Robert Blees and James Leicester bolt an entire sabotage sub-plot onto the Moon voyage where one wasn't needed. Worse, it leads to conversations between Cotton's Barbicane and George Sanders as Nicholl (in a performance that manages to be downright comical at times) that rift off Nemo in the finale of the Disney 20,000 Leagues, something which leaves the film wearing its influence a little too heavily. All of which ultimately sink the film beyond repair.


All told, 1958's From the Earth to the Moon lacks the charm of the Disney Leagues, or even of the later (and equally low budget), Vincent Price fronted Master of the World. Something which makes it a shame that it’s the only screen version of this Verne work, given the cast and how good this should have been. Perhaps someone will rectify that one of these days?

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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