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Conquest of Space (1955) - A Story of Tomorrow
“This is a story of tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, when men have built a station in space, constructed in the form of a great wheel, and set a thousand miles out from the Earth, fixed by gravity, and turning about the world every two hours, serving a double purpose: an observation post in the heavens, and a place where a spaceship can be assembled, and then launched to explore other planets, and the vast universe itself, in the last and greatest adventure of mankind, the plunge toward the... Conquest of Space!”
Conquest of Space (1955), starred Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy and Phil Foster. It was directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal. Special effects experts John P. Fulton and Farciot Edouart worked on the film's visual wonders and Van Cleave supplied an effective music score.
Pal and Haskin had worked together before on The War of the Worlds (1953) based on H.G. Wells classic science fiction novel, and the underrated The Naked Jungle (1954) which starred Charlton Heston, Eleanor Parker and an army of deadly Marabunta ants.
George Pal wanted to make another space adventure that would take up where Destination Moon (1950) left off, the further exploration of the Solar System. He envisioned an epic movie featuring a trilogy of stories focusing on a giant revolving space station in orbit around the Earth from which missions to Venus, Mars and Jupiter would be launched.
Working with screenwriters Barre Lyndon and James O’Hanlon, George Pal’s epic slowly took shape. Inspired by space artist Chesley Bonestell, Pal bought the rights to his book The Conquest of Space (1949), the book was about the practicality of space travel and contained a series of paintings of our solar system. Pal used the title for his film.
But Paramount studios didn’t like the idea of a lengthy space epic, and considered such a film too expensive, so the screenplay was cut down until only the mission to Mars was left. Unfortunately an inept father-son relationship was worked into the screenplay which further diluted the films potential. An exciting flight to Mars is all but ruined by having the captain suffer space dementia and religious delusions, nearly sabotaging the mission and the film.
Conquest of Space simply isn’t up to the standard of earlier
Pal efforts. Some aspects are excellent, the space scenes were colourful, fun to look at
and impressive for their time. Two sequences are particularly noteworthy, a
giant asteroid hurtling towards the spaceship and the funeral-in-space of one
of the astronauts, who was hit by meteor fragments while out space-walking.
In contrast, the final scenes on Mars are somewhat disappointing, and not nearly as good as the space journey. Chesley Bonestell was disappointed with the film “I painted a big mural for Mars which they never used. Why? Because it looked too much like Arizona. Well you know, Mars looks a lot like Arizona, but it wasn’t acceptable. That’s what you had to fight in the motion picture business.”
In retrospect one can only imagine Conquest of Space the way it might have been, had there been no studio interference and Pal been given the freedom to produce the epic space adventure he wanted. The film was a failure at the box office and George Pal, frustrated and angry with his experiences at Paramount, left the studio.
The Critics Wrote –
"This sober prophecy looks good but very little happens and the result is as dull as it is bright and shiny." (Halliwell)
"Despite an out-of-sync religious tone and the sight of snow falling on the red planet when the astronauts land on Christmas Day, Pal's reverential approach still manages to evoke a sense of wonder." (Alan Jones, Radio Times)
"When Byron Haskin's direction has a chance at action and thrills they come over well, but most of the time the pacing is slowed by the talky script" (Variety)
"The galactic veteran, producer George Pal, has gotten together a spatial excursion that should not bore those who wish to shed the realities of earthly existence for an hour and fifteen minutes." (New York Times)