FIRST MEN IN THE MOON
Edward Judd, Lionel Jeffries, Martha Hyer, Miles Malleson
brief sideways step into science fiction for fantasy film maker Ray
Harryhausen, First Men in the Moon remains on of his best-loved
films, and a fine - and remarkably faithful adaptation of H.G. Wells'
groundbreaking 1901 novel. (The script was co-written by genre giant Nigel
UK Harryhausen fans haven't had a chance to see the film in its original
Panavision (2.35:1) ratio. Many TV broadcasts have begun, tantalisingly,
in the correct ratio, but quickly zoom in to crop off 40% of the picture,
and the rest of the film is a sorry mess. The movie has been available in
letterboxed format before (there was a very nice NTSC laserdisc from
Pioneer) but this DVD is the first time it's had a widescreen release in
First Men in the Moon is the only film Harryhausen made in anamorphic
widescreen. Having assessed the extra cost of producing model landscapes
that were more panoramic than usual, and knowing to his cost that a wide
ratio meant having to have more critters to fill the frame, he weighed the
disadvantages against the likely benefits. Put bluntly, would there have
been any fewer bums on seats if the film had been shot in a more modest
ratio? Deciding that the answer was "probably not", he never
used the format again.
film made considerable demands on Harryhausen, who decided that his
traditional method of putting creatures into existing live-action material
simply wasn't up to creating believable moonscapes. Instead Harryhausen
opted to shoot many sequences using model backgrounds, and instead
inserted the live actors into them using traditional matte techniques.
Harryhausen was also reluctantly forced to use children dressed in
Selenite costumes for some shots, realising that otherwise the film would
require more animation than he could cope with.
film is a terrific romp, boasting some of the maestro's most compelling
stop-motion work. The Selenites may not have had the personality of Jason
and the Argonauts' Talos, or even Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger's
Troglodyte, but they're wonderfully designed, and beautifully animated.
Edward Judd makes an excellent Bedford, and Lioned Jeffries is suitably
dotty in a role not 218,658 miles away from the one he would
give in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Martha Hyer is an appealing
heroine, although her presence in the story may give Wells purists
disc offers substantial improvements over all previously available home
video versions. The new 16:9-enhanced anamorphic transfer is much better
than the laserdisc (although still not perfect - it looks like it's had a
fair bit of wear and tear over the years). The pop art colours that
illuminate the moon sequences have never looked stronger, and black levels
are solid. The disc also offers substantially improved sound, this time in
four-channel stereo (discreet right, left and centre channels, and a mono
surround channel, at a generous 448kbps). This adds considerable presence
to Laurie Johnson's Bernard Herrmann-inspired score.
For the dedicated Harryhausen fan the disc scores poorly
on the extras front. It does include the excellent hour-long Harryhausen
Chronicles documentary, and the This Is Dynamation featurette
(about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), but
both of these are on most of Columbia's Harryhausen discs, so they're only
of any real use to someone who doesn't have any of the other discs.
Frankly, they're a waste of disc space which could have been allocated to
the main feature. The disc also offers a shoddy photo' gallery (some of
which are simply frame enlargements), and trailers for First Men in
the Moon and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Although their
efforts have been well-intentioned and generally very commendable,
Columbia should not escape criticism for not adding commentary tracks to
their Harryhausen titles, while many of the key participants are still