Saturday 13 November 2010

The First Men in the Moon (BBC TV)

This is a new adaptation of the famous 1901 novel by H.G.Wells, made for British television in 2010. It is remarkably faithful to the original (judging by the book's Wiki plot summary - I read it too long ago to recall anything about it), with few changes. One of them is evident from the start, which is set in 1968 at a fête to celebrate the imminent Moon landing. A boy wanders into a tent in which a very old man is showing an early film, purporting to be of the Wellsian story; for the old man is Bedford, who really was the first man in the Moon.

The scene then switches to Edwardian England and follows the plot of the novel very closely. We see Bedford, then a young, failed businessman, meet the brilliant and eccentric Professor Cavour and learn of his invention of cavorite - a liquid which, when it cools and dries, shields the force of gravity. They construct a space capsule which can be steered by rolling and unrolling blinds coated with cavorite, and arrive at the Moon. There they find that a local atmosphere, frozen in the long nights, forms in the heat of the lunar day, and they leave the capsule only to be captured by Selenites, large intelligent insects. One change from the book, necessary for even minimal acceptability, is that the fast-growing surface plants described by Wells are missing: the Selenites live entirely underground in a huge system of deep caverns with a permanent breathable atmosphere. In their attempt to escape, Bedford and Cavor split up. Bedford manages to reach the capsule and return to Earth but Cavour remains behind, working with the Selenites who learn his language and are very curious about the Earth - and cavorite. The ending differs from the original, in that the film neatly explains why the Moon is lifeless and airless today (although the very last scene rather spoils that).

There are some technically shaky aspects - BBC4 doesn't exactly have a Hollywood budget to work with, after all. While the initial action on the Moon's surface features the obligatory low-gravity slow-motion antics we are familiar with (plus an amusing Edwardian version of Armstrong's first words), this gets forgotten underground, with some vague hand-waving about gravity being stronger there. Despite this, it's an entertaining production, rich in period flavour, and well worth seeing.

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