First Men In The Moon

First Men In The Moon (1964)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd
Extras: Documentary, Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailers

To fans of classic science fiction and fantasy cinema few filmmakers are as revered as the great special effects master Ray Harryhausen. While he certainly wasn’t the first to use stop-motion effects in movies, Harryhausen mastered the technique and imbued each of the films he worked on with his own unique style. A Ray Harryhausen creature never seemed like a miniature — the sense of scale was always spot-on and the creatures moved with real weight and inertia. They may seem quaint by today’s standards but I’ll take Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures over the vast hordes of CGI-generated monsters that grace (or plague) modern movies.

"First Men in the Moon" was Ray Harryhausen’s first and only opportunity to work in the 2.35:1 <$PS, widescreen> format and for that reason alone the film warrants a look. Fortunately, the movie itself is a wonderful piece of vintage sci-fi that would be enjoyable even without Harryhausen’s contributions.

Based on an H.G. Wells story, the film opens with a United Nations expedition landing on the moon. To the surprise of all, they discover evidence that a British team had landed on the moon in 1899. Back on earth, they discover Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) living in an old folks home and only too happy to tell his incredible tale of adventure.

It seems that all those many years ago, Bedford and his fiance Katherine Callender (Martha Hyer) discovered that their neighbor Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) had invented a gravity-defying compound and was planning a trip to the moon. Weaseling their way aboard, the three ventured forth on their lunar expedition.

Upon landing on the moon, the trio discover a system of crystalline caverns populated by the insect-like Selentites. Before too long, the brash Bedford has angered the natives thus souring them on Earthlings in general. While Cavor decides to stay and try to smooth things over, Bedford and Callender hightail it on out of there and never mention their unbelievable trip to anyone. Now the U.N. team must find out exactly what the Selentites have been up to.

"First Men in the Moon" is a wonderfully entertaining romp full of fearsome creatures, intentionally humorous dialogue, and, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s great special effects work.

"First Men in the Moon" is presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and features a wonderful video transfer. The image is fairly sharp with only a handful of softer scenes. Colors are wonderfully vibrant with surprisingly good black levels. In addition, there are only a handful of minor physical defects on the film elements, some very slight film grain, and no noticeable compression artifacts. This is a great presentation for a film going on 40 years old.

Audio comes in an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 4.0 mix and is generally quite good. Dynamic range is understandably a bit constrained but the soundstage is nice and wide with good surround usage. Dialogue is always clear and the rousing musical score comes across very well. At very high volume levels some slight distortion is evident but it never becomes too distracting.

Extras on the disc include the wonderful hour-long documentary "The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles" and the 4-minute "This is Dynamation" featurette that have appeared on previous Columbia TriStar Harryhausen DVDs. The documentary is narrated by Leonard Nimoy and covers Harryhausen’s life and work. This is a great piece and features numerous interview snippets with the man himself and many of his admirers. The featurette offers a brief overview of the signature Harryhausen stop-motion special effects style.

Also included on the disc is a short photo gallery as well as trailers for "First Men in the Moon," "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad," and "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad."

I suppose I’m part of the last generation to come of age while the Saturday morning creature features were still a staple of the pre-cable television era. It was from those countless hours spent plopped down in front of the tube that I learned to appreciate the classic Universal horrors, Hammer films, Godzilla flicks, and Ray Harryhausen adventures. While that delightful weekly ritual was long ago co-opted by infomercials and other lame programming, DVDs have filled the void and now provide the avenue for people to discover and rediscover the world of classic sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films.

Columbia TriStar’s new release of "First Men in the Moon" continues in the tradition of their previous Ray Harryhausen DVDs and presents the film with wonderful audio and visual quality as well as a handful of solid bonus features. Fans of Harryhausen will certainly snatch this one up but it’s also an easy recommendation for fans of good old-fashioned adventure films that don’t take themselves too seriously and focus instead on providing 90 minutes of sheer unadulterated fun.