It’s these two very different men, and their aims, that make for such a fascinating, and hilarious, watch. Cavor is endearingly idiotic in his naivete and thirst for adventure whereas Bedford comes off as the slightly jaded money~man, whose creativity has failed him. The differences are never more notable than when Cavor demonstrates the properties of his invention, Cavorite (a substance that defies gravity). Bedford sees the “practical applications,” making them “rich beyond the dreams of avarice,” whereas Cavor simply seeks knowledge. Two very different kinds of “hero”.
Countering these British buffoons are the inhabitants of the Moon – named, in advance, as the Selenites. Although the production could be described as “small”, the CG aliens are designed and realised in impeccable fashion with a stop~motion feel. For the most part, the Selenites are an impressive creation, especially in close~ups during conversations. Their voices and sounds are suitably other~worldy and befitting the mood of the piece.
Similarly, the CG landscapes, interiors, “space~ships” and space itself are almost perfect throughout with only one or two effects that don’t quite convince. Without patronising, the homespun feel of the story, with men punching above their weight (as it were), is mirrored in the TV production that looks and feels like cinema (there’s even a remarkably similar reverse shot of the famous Star Wars scene where the escape pod travels through space towards Tatooine when we see their ship leave Earth).
The script from Gatiss contains much warmth and humour for the majority of First Men, with delicious touches like: the men pulling back curtains to look at the Moon from space; comparing space travel to pottering about in a boat; and Cavor’s shock that Bedford hasn’t taken a book with him to read on the journey, for example. But the drama kicks in when the men are separated, and the joy of the opening half gives way to the more serious points raised by the HG Wells novel (man’s violent nature, greed and Empire building).
And this is perhaps one of the only negatives about the production. The latter third is serious and I did miss the relationship between the men (one wishes for a First Men in the Moon sitcom every week). The, it has to be said, quite shocking violence (mainly as it was a surprise), will take you out of your warm fuzzy feelings and remind you of the text being adapted. Once violence enters, everything changes. But, a small point. It’s not “meant” to be a roustabout laugh~fest.
A strong criticism I do have is not of the production itself, but of its transmission. I’m at a loss as to why the BEEB think this outstanding piece of television is fit to debut on an unremarkable Tuesday in the middle of October on BBC Four. The production values (tremendous sets and loactions), magnificent score (from Michael Price) and delightful performances rank this as one of the best things you’ll see on the small screen this year and deserves a bigger audience than all the Only Connect fans who watch the channel. One hopes a festive repeat on BBC One (or Two, at least) bodes for Gatiss & Co.
The First Men in the Moon is pure, unabashed and unashamedly science~fiction from the past, including numerous nods to the both the 1964 version and Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (look out for some interesting cameos in that sequence). A time when reality wasn’t on the agenda; a time when everything didn’t have to be scientifically explained; a time when imagination meant anything could happen; a time when men could walk on the Moon without a space~suit. Most of all, a time you can let yourself go and enjoy.
A rare feat in the current television climate.
9pm, Tues Oct 19 on BBC Four & BBC HD
Thanks to the BBC