In the near future, NASA has managed to build a space station that travels in orbit around Earth. A hand-picked group of astronauts run the station. The courageous cosmonauts fight space flight fatigue and all sorts of maladies associated with space travel. One day, the astronauts receive their first important mission: a small team is ordered to travel to Mars to collect data, but the trip is filled with many unexpected complications.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Fans of fantasy films owe George Pal a great deal of appreciation, including many filmmakers (like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) that have acknowledged Pal’s influence in their body of work. Pal started his career making advertising shorts (using stop-motion animation) in Germany and Holland in the 1930s. 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 more on the development of live-action films. Destination Moon (1950) was his first attempt at a fantasy film, 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 film ideas. Pal died in the 1980s, but his great fantasy movies continue to delight new generation of moviegoers.
Conquest of Space is perhaps the least famous of Pal’s space operas. Even back then the film struggled to find an audience — the movie underperformed at the box office. The critics weren’t kind to the movie either. The failure of the movie ended Pal’s long association with Paramount Pictures.
I have to agree with the general consensus; this is one of his weakest movies. The screenplay — credited to Philip Yordan, Barré Lyndon, George Worthing Yates, and James O’Hanlon — is clumsily constructed. Director Byron Haskin’s (The War of the Worlds) work lacks zest. The visual effects are ambitious, imaginative, 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 really saw the future.
The film does look terrific. 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 elaborate sets are playful. But, as I said before, the visual effects, by wizard 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 and The War of the Worlds. Pal definitely “bit off more than he could chew.” He was obviously trying to push the envelope, but end result is not all that good.
The acting is serviceable. I did think that Mickey Shaughnessy (Designing Woman), who plays a cliched Sergeant, was a bit too much, though. Film debuts of Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon in TV’s The Wild Wild West) and Eric Fleming (Gil Favor in 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 he left Paramount, Pal moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he quickly regained his footing and made some of his best movies. Conquest of Space is flawed, but not bad, bad — it’s worth a look. P.S. Some of the sets were redressed for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Color, 81 minutes, Not Rated.