Saturday, November 20, 2010

#365: First Man into Space

(Robert Day, 1959)

First Man into Space is one of the movies in the collection that is included not because it is great or especially relevant, but because it is not exceptional. Sure, it's made with a certain indefinable confidence, born not out of ambition but out of love for film. And yes, it is really astonishing that the filmmakers were able to pull off a fairly believable (if you ignore the now-cheesy slow-moving monster) sci-fi thriller with what probably amounted to a couple thousand dollars in finds. But there have been so many movies like First Man into Space made over the years that it's hard to really get excited about it. Finally, the movie is a bit of a drag, as it doesn't really get going until about an hour in (the movie is less than 90 minutes long) and you never really care that much about any of the characters.

When people talk about movies like First Man into Space, they often speak of the genre as a dead one, first made popular in the 1950s and dying out somewhere around the early 80s when Hollywood tightened up the distribution racket and films got more and more expensive to produce (especially films like this when audiences began to demand more and more sophisticated effects). But taking a look at recent sci-fi fare reveals that there are still movies being made in a somewhat similar fashion - the recent dud Skyline is a solid example of this. This makes films like First Man into Space interesting viewing for anyone who loves film history, but it doesn't improve their quality.

I'll freely admit I am not the audience for this kind of movie. The closest I probably come to loving a film like this would be either John Carpenter's remake The Thing or Brad Bird's homage The Iron Giant. But I can't imagine kids who would love a film like Skyline or something like the recent not-totally-terrible Pandorum would be able to sit through this movie, which is dated by its glacial plot and focus on morality tales in the name of pioneering science. It's not the special effects in the film that seem most dated, it's the style of entertainment.

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