Blightyvision: “The First Men in the Moon”

based on the novel by H.G. Wells
directed by Damon Thomas
written by Mark Gatiss
starring Mark Gatiss and Rory Kinnear

Good ol’ H.G. Wells.  Sometimes he makes all the sense in the world, and sometimes he makes precisely none.  What little Victorian faux-science there is behind “The First Men in the Moon” invites your brain to twist around it just long enough to decide you’d rather not, after all.  But the “science” behind it is secondary to the style and ambience, courtesy of Mark Gatiss’s interpretations of Wells’s original story.

There have been several adaptations of the original novel, but the newest goes the extra step of tying the original story into a real-world context.  The movie begins in 1969, a few hours before the moon landing, when a young boy finds himself in the company of an old man claiming he was the first man to visit the moon.  And so it begins.

The old man, Bedford (Rory Kinnear) relates his meeting as a young man with the just-this-side-of-mad scientist Cavor (Mark Gatiss, once again pulling double duty).  Bedford is broke and Cavor is clever, and so they make friends quickly.  Most recently, Cavor has discovered a new substance called Convenite Unobtanium Getter Rays Cavorite, which makes objects float or fly by making the air above it lighter, allowing said object to drift upwards, making room for heavier air to fill the space beneath, pushing the object up even more and you know what seriously don’t worry about it, Cavorite makes things fly, end of.

Cavor, because he is a mad(dish) scientist, decides the best application for his discovery would be to fly to the moon.  So, in an appropriately Cavorized tin box, they set out for worlds unknown.  Fortunately, the atmosphere on the moon is completely breathable, and so their adventures can go on unhindered — until such point as they meet the natives, which they name Selenites.  Said Selenites are CGed within an inch of their life and have very little true interaction with our heroes until the movie approaches its end, but are still quite a sight to behold and do occasionally get some lines to say.

Despite the presence of Selenites and a cute little walk-on by Lee Ingleby (Sam Tyler’s dad Vic in “Life on Mars”), “The First Men in the Moon” is essentially a two-hander, with Kinnear and Gatiss making their way through a variety of CG landscapes and interacting more with each other than their environment.  There is nothing wrong with this if it’s in the right hands (no pun intended), and thus there is nothing wrong with it here.  Gatiss’s script is strong for the most part and allows both himself and his co-star to shine — one thing I’ve noticed in my general viewing is that Gatiss tends to give himself juicy parts while still remaining truly unselfish with the “good lines” and screen time.

My only true complaint is the Selenites.  And not the fact that they were very obvious CG; their look fit in nicely with the whole look of the piece.  Rather, I had a lot of trouble understanding them.  I know Wells described them as “insect-like,” but the sound guys seem to have gone over the top with this, making a lot of what they said completely indiscernible.  I would gladly have sacrificed the creepy alien sound for the ability to know what they were saying without six rewinds.

One of the cleverest things in the show was the occasional recreation of old silent film styles.  Of particular note was Bedford’s dream sequence aboard their little pod, which had a few cheeky throwbacks to the 1902 Le voyage dans la lune (including, yes, that bit).  Also clever, and actually making use of my beloved bendy Victorian logic, was their “Blackadder”-esque historical patching up just at the end, an element obviously not necessary in the original story, when nobody knew anything about the moon anyway.

As is to be expected of a Gatiss-helmed adaptation, “The First Men in the Moon” is lovely and atmospheric (pun totally intended), but mostly the makings of a fun afternoon.  If it’ll ever become classroom viewing isn’t for me to say — but I’d certainly show it on the last day of English class if I had my way.

“The First Men in the Moon” is currently being rerun like crazy on BBC Four, with no plans announced yet for a US airing or a DVD release.  No fear, I’m sure someone will invent something that’ll magically produce Region 1 DVDs someday …

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  1. Written by arkonbey
    on 2010-11-12 at 15:01

    Wish I could check this out. I dig unabashed steampunk stuff.

    It’ll only become classroom viewing if they really got the Well-ian dialog right.

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