2015-03-28

It Has Always Been So

I was watching the silent science fiction epic "Woman in the Moon" (Frau im Mond) from 1929.  I'd heard of and watched "Metropolis", also by Fritz Lang, but never this.  This is by far the better of the two, even if the effects and such are grander in the latter.  This one is more realistic, with no demonic man-eating machines and evil shaky-bitch robotic psychopaths set against a Wellsian Eloi vs Morlock class-warfare-nonsense backdrop.  Instead, we have a normal society launching a rocket to the moon.

In the opening credits, my jaw dropped when I saw the name of one of the film's technical consultants, Hermann Oberth.

And indeed, the film clearly benefits.  The completed multi-stage rocket is rolled out from a massive hangar on a rolling gantry platform (using rail instead of treads), and the launch plot revolves in part around the issues of escape velocity and the rocket's acceleration effects on those aboard.

The state of lunar science at the time included Hansen's notion from the 1850s that there might be atmosphere on the far side of the moon in a great depression in the surface.  This, plus the idea that they were going there to find gold, are the silliest points to modern viewers, along with the divining rods being used to locate water in the form of muddy lunar soil.

But if we focus on the rocket, we see something all too familiar in the form of unrealistic special effects.  Both the launch from the peculiar water bath on Earth and the launch from the moon's surface show the rocket suddenly zipping away at a constant, abnormally-high velocity.  After all the talk of acceleration and the long, luxurious scenes of the rocket being rolled into place like a space shuttle, the warp-speed departure was jarring.

Reminds me of more than a few sci-fi scenes where the FX work, supposedly done a certain way for for audience benefit, just doesn't work for smart audiences.


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