In the near future, a hand-picked group of astronauts run a space station that travels in orbit around Earth. One day, the astronauts receive their first important mission: A small team is ordered to travel to Mars to collect data, but the unprecedented journey is filled with many unexpected complications.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“According to the Bible, Man was created on the Earth. Nothing is ever mentioned of his going to other planets. Not one blessed word.”
Producer George Pal started his career making advertising shorts using stop-motion animation in Europe. He moved to Hollywood in the 1940s, where he developed his famous ‘Puppetoons’ — three-dimensional cartoons using handmade puppets.
Pal later abandoned his famous series of cartoons to concentrate on live-action films. The science fiction saga Destination Moon (1950) was his first attempt at live-action moviemaking, and the success of the film (it won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects) helped him get the clout he needed to further develop other ideas. Pal died in the 1980s, but his great fantasy movies continue to delight new generations of moviegoers.
Conquest of Space is perhaps the least popular of Pal’s space operas. Even back then, the film struggled to find an audience — the movie under-performed at the box office. Critics weren’t kind to the movie either. Furthermore, the failure of the movie ended Pal’s long and productive association with Paramount Pictures.
I have to agree with the general consensus: This is one of Pal’s weakest movies. The screenplay — credited to Philip Yordan, Barré Lyndon, George Worthing Yates and James O’Hanlon — is clumsily constructed. The visual effects are ambitious, but awfully inconsistent. This is, however, space exploration as it was imagined in the ’50s and as such this is a fascinating snapshot of how people imagined the future.
Conquest of Space does look good for the most part. I loved Lionel Lindon’s (Around the World in Eighty Days and The Manchurian Candidate) candy-colored camera work. Lindon makes space travel look fun. The Art-direction (by Hal Pereira, The Greatest Show on Earth) is fanciful, but some of the sets do look cheap.
The visual effects by John P. Fulton (The Ten Commandments) are a disappointment. They are just not at the level of Pal’s previous productions like When Worlds Collide (1951) or The War of the Worlds (1953). Pal definitely “bit off more than he could chew.” He was obviously trying to push the envelope, but the end result wasn’t all that good.
The acting is just fine. Walter Brooke (Yours, Mine and Ours) plays General Samuel T. Merritt. I did think that Mickey Shaughnessy (Designing Woman), who plays Sgt. Mahoney, was a bit too much, though. Film debuts of Ross Martin (TV’s The Wild Wild West) and Eric Fleming (TV’s Rawhide).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Conquest of Space feels like a victim of Pal’s space fatigue — Pal never again made another out-of-space movie. The failure of the movie was a blessing in disguise. After leaving Paramount, Pal moved to MGM, where he quickly regained his footing and made some of his best movies. Color, 81 minutes, Not Rated.