by Brad Nelson
How far is too far? That is the tagline of this movie. The answer: “Oh, just a few hundred thousand miles beyond earth’s orbit…just far enough until General Merritt goes looney and starts spouting biblical doom-and-gloom prophesy.”
This is one of those movies that rates a 1 in terms of quality and a 3 in terms of watchability. It’s got that old sci-fi schtick going for it (look at the gorgeous movie poster art). It’s half plausible (even inventive) storytelling — and half Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
And this movie plays that way, in two distinct halves. The first half is a typical b-grade 1950’s science fiction film, but not without some aspects of quality. However, the latter half goes all loopy. And you’re going to have to see this for yourself to know what I mean. And I do recommend that you do so.
It’s interesting to note that both Paul Drake (William Hopper from Perry Mason) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin from The Wild Wild West) appear in this film. These are two beloved TV characters. Drake has a very minor role, and I’m not even sure why they bother with his character in the film.
On the other hand, Artemus is one of the six or seven finalists who are living on the creatively-named space station known as “the wheel” (yes, it looks like a wheel). Their goal is to go to the moon. And compared to the Right Stuff astronauts of the Mercury and Gemini programs, these Conquest of Space astronauts have double the Right Stuff. They not only are going to the moon but they built the very vehicle that they’re traveling in.
There are some quite good elements interspersed into this movie. The art direction I think is way above average. The sets are quite colorful. One wonders if Gene Roddenberry gained inspiration from Conquest of Space for the look of Star Trek. There’s one cool scene where they’re pulling into Mars and the cockpit walls retract on either side to reveal a large picture window. Very nice.
And the speech that the Asian space cadet candidate gives for why he should be a part of the mission is rather good. It’s way out of place with much of the other dopey dialogue. But that bit is rather good. That’s what this movie is like. You pick out the good pieces here and there and enjoy the camp in between.
Oh, and forget about the moon. The moon’s not good enough for you, eh? There’s been a sudden change of plans and they’re now going to Mars. But General Merritt begins to wonder if that is trespassing on God’s space. Earth was built for man so what right does he have to venture out beyond?
No, I’m not making that up. Space sickness is a major theme in this movie. No one has lived in space for as long as these guys have and one of them has already flunked out because of it. Presumably General Merritt is suffering from the same thing.
The goofy general is the cause of several real laugh-out-loud moments that surely were not supposed to be funny (and don’t call me Shirley). His call home to mission control upon first arriving at Mars might have been the funniest moment in the film. That’s just what mission control wants to hear from its mission commander: “We shouldn’t be here. I should just blow up this ship and stop the sacrilege of god’s universe.” Again, I’m not making that up. And you can just imagine Sir Galahad in mission control saying, “Is there someone else up there we could talk to?” And presumably the excuse for much of the dopiness of the acting, dialogue, and story is space sickness as well.
A tweak here and a tweak there and you could have ended up with something 75% as good as Forbidden Planet. But the story and the actors just couldn’t take them there even though their ship was more than willing. (We built that!)
Part of this movie is good in its own right. Part of it is very MST3K-able. Just consider this movie one of the steps that man had to take until he could progress to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This movie is the equivalent of one of those early NASA test rockets that went up a few hundred feet with gusto but then keeled over and exploded. It’s just part of the process of getting there.
“The wheel” is a plausible enough space station, but the way they rotate it and the way it wobbles when it gets hit by meteors is pure Buck Rogers, not the kind of realism you see in 2001. But elements of Conquest of Space are superbly done and quite imaginative even while much of the movie is about as cheesy as cheese can be. If you can handle the whiplash effect of being jolted between the two, you might enjoy this movie. But you have to ask yourself one question: How far is too far? • (2200 views)