Released just five years before Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, First Men in the Moon based on H.G. Wells’ iconic tale, opens in 1964 with the first manned United Nations moon flight, consisting of a three man crew from America, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. They land on the moon only to find a small, faded Union Jack and a note dated 1899, claiming the moon for England’s Queen Victoria.
Back on Earth, U. N. experts track the note to Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), now residing in a Kent village nursing home. When shown a photograph of the tattered Union Jack, he states that the men currently on the moon are in grave danger. Pressed for information, he takes them back to 1899. A writer, Bedford had shut himself away at a beautiful country cottage in an effort to recover from writer’s block. He is visited by his fiancé Kate Callender (Martha Hyer), who is anxious to marry. Bedford explains that he is being pursued by creditors and he can’t afford to marry until he gets his finances in order.
Financial rescue comes in the form of Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), a research scientist who offers to buy Bedford’s cottage, for fear that his experiments might damage the property. Bedford agrees, on the condition that he be allowed to reinvest the money into Cavor’s experiments into an anti-gravity substance dubbed “Cavorite.” Together, the two men scheme to use “Cavorite” to lift a small vessel straight to the moon where they encounter a race of insect-like aliens.
First Men in the Moon feels like two different movies. The first 45 minutes or so, which concerns everything that happened on Earth, is reminiscent of The Absent Minded Professor mixed with a dash of Flubber. The rest of the film is much darker, as Cavor becomes philosophical and and Bedford succumbs to a disturbing hawkishness. Things get very interesting as Cavor, Bedford, and by accident, Kate land on the moon and move from one strange environment to another. This is where Ray Harryhausen’s work really shines. His work is fully integrated with the story and he makes us believe that these creatures—called Selenites by Wells—are real. This really is a showcase for animation. It’s impressive stuff.
While the effects are paramount for First Men in the Moon, it’s wonderful to see the great Lionel Jeffries as the flubberish Cavor is wonderful. Martha Hyer doesn’t get to do an awful lot, but it’s still cool that a girl was written into the adventure. Though director Nathan Juran engages in a bit too much humor in the first part of the film, First Men in the Moon is a solid piece of science fiction that should satisfy fans of the genre.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Twilight Time’s 1080p transfer is excellent. Detail is very strong throughout as is contrast. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is impressive. Colors appear accurate and vibrant. Flesh tones look natural throughout. A nice level of film grain exists, giving the disc a filmic appearance. There are no marks, dirt, or age related issues to be found.
The English 5.1 DTS HD-MA audio is top shelf. Given the amount of action in this film. The surrounds are given plenty to do. Explosions on the moon sound exciting and full. Dialogue is contained in the center channel and is clear and concise throughout. The score by Laurie Johnson sounds as if it was recorded this year.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Ray Harryhausen and FX Artist Randall William Cook: Anytime you get to hear Ray Harryhausen discuss his work it’s fascinating and Randall William Cook provides some interesting information.
- Randall William Cook Introduces First Men in the Moon (HD, 4:54) If you’re a fan of Ray Harryhausen, it’s likely you’ve heard much of what he says, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
- Tomorrow the Moon (HD, 4:33) An enjoyable vintage featurette tying the film into then current “space race” events.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:21)
- Teaser (HD, 1:23)
- Isolated Score Track: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
- Six-Page Booklet: Contains color and black and white stills, poster art for the film on the booklet’s back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s always informative essay on the film.
Only five thousand copies of this new Blu-ray restoration edition have been produced, so those interested in obtaining it should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They’re also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies