The Great Ones!
LIMITS OF PERIL!!
It was in the mid-70s to early-80s, more like mid-70s, I’m sure, when Ray Harryhausen came into my life. It’s too bad I don’t have a definite memory to recount when I first saw his First Men In The Moon, or many of his other flicks, but I do have a memory of seeing them in this movie monster book, one of many I loved to read back when I was a kid. I have tried countless times to remember the exact title of this particular one, but I just can’t. And it wasn’t a monster book per say, but a science fiction movie book, soft-back, thick, with the first few pages, perhaps more, of nothing but posters of science fiction movies, the remaining part of the book was dedicated to, stop-motion and practical, big screen and small screen, movies monsters of all kinds.
It was a grade school library book, one I took out many times, and when I did my brother and I used to sit somewhere secluded, put the book on our laps and thumb through it, pointing out movies we had seen and ones we’d love to. Back before horror flicks and fiction came into my life we were into science fiction movies, mostly monster movies, and Harryhausen’s flicks were high on that list. My brother never made the added bonus move into horror movies, to this day he cannot stand to watch them, but he still loves a lot of those scifi’ers were grew up on.
Based on H.G. Wells’ 1901 novel the movie version starts out in modern times with a United Nations rocket heading to the moon for what they believe is the first time, but once they get out onto the surface they discover a British flag and a note dating back to 1899, leading everyone to now believe mankind’s first visit to the moon already happened.
Back on Earth an investigation is launched using the one clue they have to go on, the name of Katherine Callender (Martha Hyer) from the note. U.N. investigators manage to track her down but learn she died a decade prior, but there’s another name they discover, Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), her ex-fiancé, who as luck would have is still alive and in a nursing home. Off they go to talk to him and what he tells them segues perfectly into the rest of the film which is a flashback…
In 1899, Bedford was living on the outskirts of London trying to make a living writing a play, but hard times have been pushing him to sell his family cottage. His American fiancé, Callender, hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, comes to visit and it’s during this same visit we meet Bedord’s next door neighbor, Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), a scientist/inventor interested in buying Bedford’s cottage due to the possible dangers of his work. He wouldn’t want anyone else getting hurt, so buying the cottage would be a rather sane idea.
Kate takes it upon herself to broker the deal, but when Bedford hears she took matters into her own hands he goes off to tell Cavor it wasn’t her place to sell the house and this how the two men become “friends” of a sort. Cavor lets Bedford in on his Cavorite, a liquid invention of his that cuts of the effects of gravity. Why would he want to invent something like that? Well, my good man, Cavor has got plans to visit the moon, and he’s been preparing for this journey for a long, long time, even building a huge sphere he plans to coat all the outer panels with thus propelling it into space.
Bedford’s ideas are more grounded, he thinks he can make a lot of money by selling the product to others, namely on boots allowing the wearer to make extraordinary leaps. But when he learns of Cavor’s moon trip he gets on board pretty quickly. Wish I could say the same for Kate, who doesn’t believe any of what Cavor is doing and even threatens to leave Bedford if he fully commits to sink all their cottage money into Cavors “scheme.”
A visit from a town official reveals how underhanded Bedford was regarding the selling of a cottage he doesn’t own, this angers Kate and gets her motivated to confront him over at Cavor’s moments before they are set to launch into space. This is how Kate gets included in the journey. Either pull her into the sphere or let her get killed when the Cavorite dries and the lack of gravity takes over.
When they get to the moon the real fun begins. Deep sea diving suits are used to navigate the airless atmosphere, but apparently they felt no need to wear any type of gloves. It’s important on this movie to suspend your disbelief as much as possible for the science of taking this trip just isn’t there.
Cavor and Bedford discover an insectile society has been residing on the moon for God knows how long. Cavor quickly dubs them Selenites, and this is where if a remastered movie has any kind of downside it’s with certain special effects, here the creature FX, namely the “costumes” used to create the smaller, child-sized Selenites. Something I never noticed before on previous TV airings or the previous DVD but with this blu’s pristine picture you can now see how “artificial” the FX, pretty much putting them on level with any classic Doctor Who created alien. Those scenes and lingering close-ups are brief but I could still see the fabric used to mimic their alien skin and how sometimes rubbery their heads were.
Harryhausen’s stop-motion finally gets their money shots when Bedford and Cavor run into what’s essentially an immense caterpillar with lethal looking jaws. Two of them actually, but only one proves to be dangerous. It’s this scene I remember seeing for the first time in a TV commercial for the movie. Yeah, that just came to me last night when I was watching the movie.
Later on we meet the in-charge Selenites. If the smaller ones looked more like alien grasshoppers the stop-motion ones who seem to run the colony reminded me of humanoid wasps. While Cavor introduces the aliens to man’s curiosity and benevolence, Bedford introduces them to our penchant for violence. His first reaction to having an alien spear prodded at him is to throw as many of the smaller ones he cann of this bridge they get cornered on, and then later when Cavor is conversing with their “supreme intelligence” he breaks up the proceedings by telling him he’s really on trial and begins shooting the place up with the elephant gun Kate insisted they take along.
Whatever friendship the two once had it’s now gone amidst their entanglements with the aliens of the moon. Against all reason two of of or leads ctually manage to make it back to earth in the sphere. Cavor insists on staying, and in the modern day epilogue old man Bedford watches on TV as the U.N. astronauts find the Selenites’ underground base but it’s now a dead world. Cavor had a cold and Bedford reasons they contracted it and were all killed off in a nice War Of The World’s homage.
This film first hit DVD back in 2002 from Sony and thanks to boutique distributor Twilight Time it finally gets the blu-ray treatment. It officially streeted back on March 10th and as usual with Twilight Times the pressings are limited, but for this particular title the typical 3,000 was beefed up to 5,000 units, and as far as I know, at this moment, they have not yet sold out. Twilight Times sells their discs solely on Screen Archives Entertainment‘s website.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Isolated Score track 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0—English SDH subs only
The picture quality is pretty much an embarrassment of riches. This film is beyond colorful and vivid. Certainly the best it’s ever looked.
- Audio commentary with Stop motion FX Artist Ray Harryhausen, FX Artist Randall William Cook, moderated by Archivist Tony Dalton
- Randall William Cook Introduces First Men In The Moon (4:54)
- Tomorrow The Moon (4:33)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Isolated Score
The commentary was great but I was mostly blown away by the Tomorrow The Moon extra where there’s actually some very brief behind-the-scenes footage of the filming. That was really sweet to see.
This makes my fourth review of a Ray Harryhausen movie. The previous two were The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (1973) blu, also from Twilight Time, and the 20 Million Miles To Earth/It Came From Beneath The Sea (Double Feature) blu from Mill Creek Entertainment last year. All three of which I reviewed on this page. And I dedicate this latest review to the late Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) who made my childhood that much brighter.
(Note: The Harryhausen Chronicles doc that was included on Sony’s 2002 DVD was not ported over for this release, so if you’re a fan of it like I am you might want to keep it. Me, personally, I turned this blu into a double case and moved the DVD into it).