Destination Moon [1950]

When production on Destination Moon began in 1949, everything about the project was state of the art. The great science fiction author Robert Heinlein cowrote the script (based on his novel Rocketship Galileo) and served as technical advisor. The film's astronomical visions were realized by Chesley Bonestell, whose artwork virtually defined the look of space travel at the dawn of the rocket era. Destination Moon is even noted in NASA's official timeline of space-travel history, and almost inevitably won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects. It remains a milestone film, not so much as classic science fiction but--like 2001: A Space Odyssey 18 years later--as an attempt to visualize the reality of space exploration. (To educate the audience on this topic, Woody Woodpecker makes an animated guest appearance, hosting an instructional film on the basics of rocketeering.) The movie now seems quaintly nostalgic, and its depiction of man's first lunar landing is inaccurate on several details. Taken in context, however, it remains impressively authentic, and conveys the same charm and wonder of the later classic Forbidden Planet. The motivation for the lunar conquest remains military: the country that controls the moon will control the Earth, and cold war paranoia fuels the mission of the rocket ship Luna, which blasts off from the Mojave desert carrying four daring astronauts. The stalwart crew consists of noted scientists and engineers, but Everyman Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) is aboard for broad audience appeal; he's the kind of Bronx-born guy who pronounces "Earth" as "oith" and complains that the moon has "no beer, no babes, no baseball." But when a payload crisis threatens the crew's safe return to Earth, Joe rises to the occasion. It's all a bit goofy now, but Destination Moon is still a wonderful movie, bursting with the awe and enthusiasm that would eventually lead to "one giant leap for mankind." --Jeff Shannon

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