Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis
Destination Moon produced by George Pal, is widely considered the first science fiction film to attempt a high level of accurate technical detail. Filmed in Technicolor, based on a book by Robert Heinlein, adapted for the screen by Alford Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon, the film was released on June 27, 1950 in New York and on August 1, 1950 all over the United States. Background scenery and outer space scenes were created by Chesley Bonestell. Actually, the movie Rocketship X-Mwas released 25 days before Destination Moon. Because of the publicity buzz surrounding Destination Moon, with its budget of half a million dollars, Lippert Pictures saw an opportunity and rushed their relatively low budget ($94,000) Rocketship X-M into production, completing the entire film in only 18 days. These two movies were the start of something big.
“This is another one of those big, important movies that dorks like me are always going on about at the slightest excuse. Destination Moon’s importance stems from its being the first of the vast numbers of science fiction films that were produced during the 1950’s. Those were years of unprecedented visibility for science and technology, and the time was surely ripe for an equally unprecedented spike in the popularity of science fiction, provided the writers and filmmakers could find the right approach to tap into the zeitgeist.”
As the subtitle to this volume indicates, Westfahl will venture back almost to the dawn of cinema to examine the presence of spacegear in films as the defining touchstone of a certain sensibility and focus. But before then, in an amusingly named preface, “Pre-Flight Briefing,” he outlines with great clarity the reasons why he feels the spacesuit is the defining motif of a certain serious-minded speculative vision. His insights, I find, represent a very clever and striking perception and distinction not previously noted or vocalized by critics within the field. Westfahl convinces the reader at once that his theme is valid.
Gary Westfahl has writtenan intriguing essay on the science fiction of J. G. Ballard. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:
“The question that should be haunting science fiction is: why did Ballard get it right, while all of the other science fiction writers were getting it wrong? Why did their apparently logical and well-grounded predictions about ongoing advances further and further into space prove to be so flawed?”
“Yes, I know, you undoubtedly think of Ballard as one of those “New Wave” writers who abhorred science and focused all their energies on literary craftsmanship and avant-garde experimentation—and there are works in the Ballard oeuvre that would match that stereotypical perception. But it is important to recall that Ballard spent years at medical school studying to become a psychiatrist, which means that he received a better and more thorough scientificeducation than the vast majority of science fiction writers.”