12 to the Moon

Tagged: Film

Film (1960). Luna. Directed by David Bradley. Written by DeWitt Bodeen, based on a story by Fred Gebhardt. Starring Ken Clark, Michi Kobi, Tom Conway, Anthony Dexter, Robert Montgomery Jr, Philip Baird, Roger Til, John Wengraf, Anna-Lisa, Tema Bey, Richard Weber, Cory Devlin. 74 minutes. Black and white.

An international crew of twelve astronauts embarks upon a flight to the Moon, which is uneventful except for a threatening encounter with "meteor clusters". But strange things begin happening once they land on the Moon: a male and female astronaut find a cave with breathable air, then vanish when a wall of ice blocks them off; a man sinks into "pumice dust" functioning like quicksand; and when they return to their Spaceship, they find that all communication with Earth has been cut off. They soon receive a message in symbols, which Dr Hideko Murata (Michi Kobi) translates as a statement from "the Great Coordinator of the Moon": the unseen inhabitants of the Moon, because they fear that human emotions will "contaminate our perfect form of harmony", order the visitors to "Return to Earth at once", asking only that they leave behind the two cats that they brought because the animals "interest us". When the returning spaceship approaches Earth, crew members see that all of North America has been immobilized by a chilling "Big Freeze", evidently the work of the lunar inhabitants. The astronauts attempt to end the freeze by building "atomic bomblets" and sending two men in a shuttle craft to drop them into a volcano, but the men are killed, the attempt fails, and the spaceship finds itself being frozen due to contact with the Earth's "frozen atmosphere". Fortunately, the lunar inhabitants have a change of heart, explaining in a new message that they "have seen your human strength in the way your people have sacrificed themselves to save the others" and have learned that "all your Earth emotions are not evil and warlike." Hence, they tell the astronauts that "when you come back" to the Moon, "you will be welcome." The "Big Freeze" is somehow undone with no harm to Earth's people, and the surviving astronauts safely return to Earth.

Few if any sf films march so steadily and solemnly from scientific verisimilitude to risible nonsense in the course of 74 minutes, as an accurate plot summary demonstrates. Yet no one can accuse its creators of being derivative, inasmuch as the film is filled with unique touches, including space helmets without faceplates (astronauts' faces are instead protected from the lunar vacuum by tiny force fields) and lunar inhabitants who despise people but love cats. These vastly superior beings are also unusual in that they cannot figure out the English language, communicating instead via printed symbols which Murata can fortuitously translate because of her familiarity with Japanese characters (presumably, in the eyes of the filmmakers, all non-phonetic alphabets are necessarily similar). One cannot begin to summarize all of the oddities in this remarkable film, such as a lunar rock that inexplicably bursts into flames during the return flight to provide a frisson of excitement, or the British broadcaster that the astronauts listen to who, having announced that the entire North American continent is apparently frozen, concludes by saying, "We now return to our regular programming," deeming the apparent deaths of hundreds of millions of people insufficiently important as to warrant further disruption of his station's scheduled programmes. As another bit of accidental incongruity, an unidentified stagehand can be briefly observed in the background of the purported lunar surface, evidently never noticed by director Bradley or anybody else. There is even some political commentary tossed into the stew, as the crewmen whose joint attempt to unfreeze North America inspires the Moon beings to spare the Earth are a surprisingly paired Israeli and the son of a German war criminal. Still, one must admire an American sf film made in 1960 that included an African and a Muslim in its spaceship's crew, and the filmmakers were singularly energetic in striving to keep their audience constantly entertained, succeeding in both anticipated and unanticipated fashions. [GW]

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