Film: Destination Moon

That's one long ladder climb for Man...

Seven years before Sputnik, and nineteen before the Apollo 11 landing, this production by George Pál was the first major science-fiction film produced in the United States that dealt seriously with the prospect, problems, and technology of space travel.

Frustrated by his failure (implied to be the result of sabotage) to successfully launch an artificial satellite, a scientist approaches US private industry with a grander project: to build a nuclear-powered rocket to land upon the Moon. Sinister forces try to stop the launch via public protest and legal action, and the rocket has to take off ahead of schedule to avoid a court order. After a spacewalk and the obligatory mid-mission crisis, the rocketship lands on the Moon but uses too much reaction mass doing so. Even after stripping their vessel of every spare component, the only way they can get back to Earth is if someone stays behind...

Oh, and did we mention it has Woody Woodpecker (briefly) appearing in it?

Not to be confused with the Tintin story which also depicts a version of the first moon landing with a strangely similar prescient scenario.

The movie contains the following tropes

  • Audience Surrogate: Sweeney.
  • Bold Explorer: The enthusiastic General Thayer is the clearest example of the archetype. To a lesser extent, Dr. Cargraves and Jim Barnes also fit the bill, as all three set off for the moon.
  • Character as Himself: Woody Woodpecker, but only in the movie poster.
  • Cold Equation
  • Color-Coded Characters: Invoked with the spacesuits.
  • Deus Ex Nukina: None of this would be possible without the atomic drive. And the motive for landing on the moon isn't national pride, commercial interest, or even For Science!, but purely and simply to stop those Dirty Communists from setting up a lunar missile base from which they can control the Earth!
  • Dirty Communists: Well, the unseen agents of a foreign power, but we all know who they are. They try to stop the project through sabotage, organising public protests, and legal action.
  • Exposition: By Woody Woodpecker, no less. Joe Sweeney also serves as a Mr Average the scientists have to explain things to.
  • Foreshadowing: After a rocket test fails at the beginning of the film, Sweeny un-hesitantly attempts to go outside to find out what went wrong. He's stopped, but this foreshadows his later attempted Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Hard Work Montage: Several of these.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While the three main characters are arguing over who's going to stay behind, Joe Sweeney quietly slips out the airlock and laconically tells the others to return to Earth without him. Of course as the comic relief never gets killed the others figure out a way to save everyone.
  • Hollywood Science: Averted as George Pal went to great lengths to make everything accurate, with advice from Robert Heinlein and space artist Chesley Bonestell.
  • Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: An oxygen tank is used to rescue someone adrift in space.
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted with no lights in the helmets, though the faceplates are clear. Instead coloured spacesuits are used to tell everyone apart.
  • Interplanetary Voyage
  • Mundane Dogmatic
  • No OSHA Compliance: Check out that ladder on the Luna. When was the last time you climbed a ladder that was eight stories tall (while wearing a spacesuit)? It also leads right past the radioactive exhaust vent for the atomic engine.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: When one of the original crew falls ill, Flight Engineer Joe Sweeney is reluctantly convinced to come along as radio operator. His general lack of enthusiasm for the project is a Running Gag, which is later subverted (see Heroic Sacrifice).
  • Retro Rocket: Along with Chesley Bonestell's artwork in the illustrated book The Conquest of Space, this movie could well be the Trope Codifier.
  • Science Hero: Good 'ole American industry, determination and ingenuity conquer all obstacles.
  • Sound In Space: Mostly averted (there's a hissing oxygen cylinder in the man adrift scene) however the trope is lampshaded, and grand orchestral music is used to cover the lack of ambient noise.
  • Space Clothes: Each spacesuit is a different color so the audience can tell who's who. The suits were recycled for later (and cheaper) sci-fi including Flight to Mars (1951), the TV series Space Patrol, and the spoof Amazon Women on the Moon.
  • Tim Taylor Technology: What does a Science Hero do when facing public concern that an atomic rocket will explode on take-off, spreading radioactive debris over hundreds of miles? Take off, of course!
    "How do you test a machine of this type? It either works or it doesn't."