The First Men in the Moon was one of H.G. Well's "scientific romances", originally published in 1901.

Opening in the south of England, we are introduced to our 2 main characters, Mr Bedford an average man, keen to make money from any promising opportunity, and Mr Cavor an archetype mad professor, caught in a world of his own, and unaware of the possiblities his inventions could unleash.

After their initial meeting on a coastal path, the two develop a relationship and as Bedford realises both the goals of Cavor's research and how close he is to making a historic breakthrough, his mind leaps to commerical benefits and he offers the use of his business expertise to Cavor in return for assisting him.

Cavor has created a new substance known as Cavorite. Its unique property is that is can negate the pull of gravity. Wells exploration of the creation of this substance is suitably both logical and vague, and after a couple of mishaps as the potential dangers of cavorite are explained, his protagonists set about creating a craft out of cavorite called the Sphere. After a perfunctory stop for supplies the duo enter the Sphere and set course for the moon.

They land on the moon and they find it to be pretty much as we would expect today, barren, lower gravity than Earth and a longer colder night then we are used to. Luckily for Cavor and Bedford this moon also has a breathable atmosphere (albeit thinner than our own). The moon also possesses trees and plants that explode into life into life when dawn breaks, and then proceed to germinate and seed before the end of the day and the cold lunar night devours them.

Then there are the Selenites. The inhabitants of the moon live deep below the surface, in dark cities that are reminiscent of the Morlocks of the Time Machine. The Selenites display insect traits, and the society echoes that of an ant colony. This is the heart of Wells book, like his other early works it is an examination of another made-up society which he uses to compare and contrast with his contemporary world.

Reading it today, the book may seem a little dated. The characters never flourish, instead they are merely tools to embody differing traits of humanity. There is also little action, no defining moment of confrontation between human and Selenite. However it is still an enjoyable read, the book is at its best with its depiction of the Selenites world, which is a warning against the dangers of imperialism and the restrictions placed on peoples freedom to live as they please. It also deals well with the human spirit to explore, discover and survive to tell the tale. Despite not being as elegant or as well known as The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds, this book can still claim its spot in fin de seicle literature as an early imagining of mans preoccupation with the moon and as a forebearer of the explosion in SF writing in the twentieth century.

H.G. Wells' original novel is two-thirds Boys' Own Adventure and one-third interesting science fiction. That final third remains most compelling; it features one of the first serious attempts to describe an extraterrestrial society, and some still-relevant social satire. The 1964 film adaptation, written by Nigel Neale and Jan Read, and directed by Nathan Juran, largely ignores that portion of the book. It does, however, a passably entertaining job of presenting the rest.

Adapting classic SF to film presents several problems. The more cerebral aspects of any literature are usually the least-filmable, and often get cast aside. With older science fiction, updating the story renders it more commercial and plausible, but at the cost of some of the original's charm. An excellent example of an updated adaptation is the 1953 version of Wells' War of the Worlds. It's a solid film, but not terribly Wellsian. With First Men on the Moon, the filmmakers found a compromise.

The movie begins with a plausibly-portrayed 1960s expedition reaching the moon, and discovering an old Union Jack planted there. This leads reporters to Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), who took part in the flight sixty-some years earlier, when he was a young man. He accompanied Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), who, as in the novel, had discovered an impossible gravity-resistant substance dubbed "cavorite." In the fashion of pulp SF, Bedford's fiancée, Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) stows along for the ride on board the Victorian era ship.

The initial adventures on the moon get updated; the barren lunar landscape replaces Wells's shirt-sleeved romp on a plant-bearing world. Eventually, our heroes find their way beneath the lunar surface, and discover it has a breathable atmosphere. The plot then becomes the novel's, more or less. We meet selenites, the moon-cow, and the Grand Lunar.

Ray Harryhausen supervised the special effects, and where he is allowed to use model animation, they aren't bad. Only two of the selenites receive this treatment, however. Time and budget mean that the rest are children in costumes. These look like extras from an episode of Doctor Who, and clash with the model selenites.


The changed ending, a nod to The War of the Worlds, treats genocide as a spot of humour. Granted, this is genocide of a fictional alien species which proves more malevolent in the film than in the original novel. That concern aside, the final line still feels like a cheat.

Columbia's First Men in the Moon is no cinematic masterpiece, but makes a decent, light romp for SF fans.

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