FIRST MEN IN THE MOON
There is no denying it; I am a big Ray Harryhausen fan. There is something very special about the movies in which he produced the special effects because there is genuine magic in Harryhausenís stop motion animation. Because Harryhausen obviously loves his painstaking work, every creature that he has animated over the course of his career has had a distinct personality and a memorable design. Picking my own favorite Harryhausen film or creature would be difficult, since every movie becomes my favorite while watching it and every creature becomes a favorite the moment it shows up on the screen. However, I will acknowledge FIRST MEN IN THE MOON ($25) as unique amongst Ray Harryhausenís film, because this particular movie was his only foray into Ďscope filmmaking. With FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, Harryhausen utilized the Panavision 2.35:1 canvas as adeptly as he did in the 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios. However, the anamorphic Panavision lenses had to have added another layer of complications to the work, which is probably why all of Harryhausenís films after FIRST MEN IN THE MOON were photographed with spherical lenses.
Based upon the novel by H.G. Wells, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON tells the story of a United Nations moon landing that discovers evidence that a previous lunar expedition from 1899. Using the only scrap of evidence at their disposal, United Nations investigators trace the Victorian Era lunar landing to a very elderly Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), who is living in a nursing home in the British countryside. In flashback, Bedford recounts his tale of how a moon landing was possible in 1899, and gives the United Nations team a dire warning about the creatures that he and his party encountered beneath the lunar surface.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON also stars Lionel Jeffries (in a delightful scene stealing performance) as Joseph Cavor, a scientist who invents a compound that is capable of disrupting the force of gravity. Utilizing his compound, Cavor is able to launch a specially designed sphere on a long planned trip to the moon. Through various circumstances, Cavorís neighbor Bedford and Bedfordís fiancťe Katherine Callender (Martha Hyer) end up accompanying the scientist on his lunar expedition. The cast of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON also includes Hugh McDermott, Betty McDowall, Erik Chitty, Laurence Herder, Gladys Henson, Miles Malleson and an uncredited Peter Finch.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made FIRST MEN IN THE MOON available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. Although nearly forty years old, Columbia has provided FIRST MEN IN THE MOON with a very nice transfer that makes the film seem a lot newer. The image is generally crisp and provides a very good level of detail. There are some shots that appear a little softer than others, but nothing too serious. The film element used for the transfer is in very good shape, displaying very few blemished or much appreciable grain. Some of the special effects shots show bits of debris, but they would appear to be printed into the opticals, and not a flaw in the actual film element used for the transfer. Colors are very nicely saturated, plus the picture produces very appealing flesh tones. Neither chroma noise nor smearing are a concern amongst the most vibrant hues. Blacks are accurately rendered, contrast is good and shadow detail is on par with other motion pictures of the era. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts from becoming noticeable.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is presented with a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel sound mix. Although there are certain sonic limitations in recordings from this era, this remains a very pleasing soundtrack. There are some nice channel separations in the forward soundstage and the surround channels engage effectively at the right moments to provide ambient sounds and musical fill. Dialogue is crisply rendered with full intelligibility. I am quite fond of Laurie Johnsonís rousing orchestral score for FIRST MEN IN THE MOON and it sounds pleasant enough in this presentation. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
A bit of Laurie Johnsonís music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplements. Coming from previous Harryhausen DVD releases are This Is Dynamation and the Ray Harryhausen Chronicles. Running about three and a half minutes, This Is Dynamation is a promotional featurette that explains the special photographic process Harryhausen used to create his stop motion special effects. The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles is an hour-long program hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which details Harryhausenís life and career in film. Also included on the DVD is a short photo gallery and trailers for FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is a genuine delight, as are all of Ray Harryhausenís other films. The story is a genuine charmer, as is actor Lionel Jeffries, who gives a wonderfully winning comic tinged performance as the eccentric scientist. Columbia TriStarís presentation of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is quite excellent, making this a must have DVD for all Harryhausen and genre fans.
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