Directed by Nathan Juran. Starring Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd, Martha Hyer.
I recently re-read H. G. Wells’s 1901 classic The First Men in The Moon, and that combined with reviewing The 3 Worlds of Gulliver made me eager to re-watch the Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer film version of The First Men in the Moon. Like The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, it hasn’t received as much attention as some of Harryhausen’s other classic stop-motion animation pictures; it must have been at least a decade since I sat down to watch the whole thing from first frame to last.
Harryhausen, who is also credited as Associate Producer along with his effects work, wanted to do an H. G. Wells movie for a number of years and did some development for a possible version of The War of the Worlds. But it was Wells’s deeply satirical tale of two Englishmen—a classic absent-minded professor and a greedy, myopic lout—who journey to the Moon and discover an underground civilization of creatures they call “Selenites” that really seized Harryhausen’s attention. When great British SF screenwriter Nigel Kneale (also responsible for The Abominable Snowman) came aboard as a writer, the project got the rights for the novel from Wells’s son Frank and funding from Columbia. Nathan Juran, who had directed The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and 20 Million Miles to Earth took the director’s chair for his third outing with Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer. Schneer insisted on Panavision, and the anamorphic process ended up causing Harryhausen numerous headaches. According to Harryhausen’s biography:
I argued against its use, knowing there were going to be major complications for the Dynamation sequences. Charles simply reminded me that I’d resisted colour for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and that scope was simply another technical advance audiences expected. In the end I had to give way to the commercial arguments and began redesigning the Dynamation process…. When the picture was completed, even Charles conceded that “the extra time we took to do it didn’t seem to merit the use of the process.”They were both right. Because of the Panavision switch, many of Harryhausen’s planned animation sequences were eliminated in pre-production, and only three major ones ended up in picture. Later classics like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans didn’t require an anamorphic screen size to tell a great yarn—it just wasn’t a necessary technical step for this series.