27 May 2004 | jbrotychoorion
Loved this movie as a child when I saw it in the theatre
I had to beg my mom to take me to see it. Until then (in 1964), the only films I got to see in the theaters were Elvis movies and the occasional Rock Hudson/Doris Day flick. But I always had a penchant for films about space (some people say I have a head full of it). And this film represents much of what I like about a good space flick. Its all about the adventure of encountering truly daunting obstacles in the hostile environments we must face once we leave the sheltering atmosphere of mother earth. The struggle of an astronaut trying to keep his fragile human existence from being extinguished on a distant planet is the ultimate game of survival. And I think the first hour of this film, for its time, realistically tries to depict this. Probably the biggest risk the film takes is that for the first hour its a one man show, and actor Paul Mantee acquits himself well. (I remember all the talk about the movie Castaway , and how they were worried about Hanks on screen by himself for most of the movie...would people accept it? What a bunch of hooey!...if its a good story, of course they would). The second half turns into sort of a pulp sci-fi adventure , with Friday's arrival, and it does liven the film up a bit. Its almost as if you have two separate films....the fairly plausible, fight-for- survival first half, and the sci-fi fantasy second half. Somehow it still works. On repeated viewings, the things I admire most about the film (and what I think makes the film work so well) are the small touches that make the one-man show portion of the film work. The idea of having the unmanned, derelict mother ship periodically screaming across the martian night sky to haunt the astronaut is a master stroke. Not only is it a great taunt, since it has supplies but no fuel left to make a remote control landing. But it also serves as a great segue device between scenes, as are the imaginative aurora-borealis type lights that brings beauty to the nights of this hostile world. Its as if the filmmakers knew that the planet Mars had to be a costar in the film. Which brings me to probably the main reason the film has endured, and thats the brilliant cinematography by Oscar-winner Winton Hoch. A master of scenic shots (The Quiet Man, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), Hoch makes a convincing martian landscape out of Death Valley. Almost every critique I've ever read of the film acknowledges the polished look of the martian scenes. Even recent, expensive films, like Red Planet, don't measure up (even though they may look closer to how the actual planet looks....ugly).....All in all, considering the paltry budget (just look at the old Destination Moon spacesuits used by the Alien slave masters), this is an intelligent space movie (and they are in short supply). Of course, to some extent, I realize that I still see this film through the eyes of the child I was, and I'm glad for that.