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Film / Conquest of Space

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Well, maybe in some other lifetime...

Conquest of Space is a 1955 American science fiction film produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin.

Mankind has achieved space flight capability, and built a space station in orbit above Earth known as "The Wheel", commanded by its designer, Colonel Samuel T. Merritt (Walter Brooke). An Earth inspector arrives aboard the station with new orders: Colonel Merritt is being promoted to general and will command a new spaceship sent to Mars. As General Merritt considers his crew, his close friend, Sgt. Mahoney (Mickey Shaughnessy) volunteers, but the general turns him down for being 20 years too old. His son, Captain Barney Merritt (Eric Fleming) volunteers to be the second officer. After launch, Sgt. Mahoney is discovered to be a stowaway, having hidden in a crew spacesuit.

The flight encounters different dangers, and one of them is the general's undiagnosed and growing space fatigue that is beginning to seriously affect his judgement, which combined to his religious beliefs might get in the way of the mission.

The films also stars Phil Foster, William Redfield, William Hopper, Benson Fong, and Ross Martin.

It was released on April 20, 1955.

Tropes for the film:

  • As You Know: Sgt. Seigel has to have things explained to him like he can't fall off the spacecraft going at 20,000 mph because there's no wind friction in space. What's the point of all this Training from Hell if they don't learn anything?
  • Burial in Space: Because his decomposing body would poison the air, a deceased crewman is secured outside the spaceship. Realising the sight of his body drifting outside the viewport is affecting morale, the captain pushes the body off into space after a moving eulogy.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: Possibly one of the oldest examples with "The Wheel", which is basically a space station built in the shape of a wheel to allow the crew artificial gravity. Outside "The Wheel" and on the spaceship, the characters are weightless and have to rely on magnetic boots.
  • Food Pills: The candidates for the Mars mission are pissed because they have to eat these in the same mess hall in which everyone else is tucking into roast beef and fresh vegetables. In a further irony, the sections of the pill dispenser are labelled Roast Beef, etc. One crewman asks for a cup of coffee and is given a pill. "And sugar!" Two more pills. In a Kick the Dog moment, a crewman is informed that he's washed out of a program when a steak dinner is served to him. Everyone watches in envy as he takes a bite...then he rushes from the room to be sick.
  • Future Society, Present Values:
    • While there is some racial equality with the single Japanese crewmember being treated with respect by the otherwise white cast, women still Stay in the Kitchen while the men go into space.
    • What the film also got wrong was assuming the U.S. space program would still be run by the military. Initially experiments in rocketry were conducted by both the Army and the Navy. The problem (which the filmmakers were probably not aware of in 1955) was that both were wasting money and resources competing against each other and refusing to share. The government eventually got fed up with it and instead put together the civilian organization of NASA.
  • Gun Struggle: General Merritt suffers Space Madness and tries to sabotage the rocket and murder his own son (his Number One, Captain Barney Merrit) only to get killed while struggling over the pistol. The general's loyal sergeant witnessed the event and accuses Captain Merritt of murder, declaring he'll be court-martialed on his return, regardless of any feelings Merritt might have on accidentally killing his own father. Fortunately, the sergeant changes his mind by the end of the movie.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Set in the far future of 1980.
  • Let Me at Him!: The wife of the Plucky Comic Relief sends a message via newsreel to her husband on the Space Station. Unfortunately, she inadvertently gives away that she's having an affair. The man has to be restrained from attacking the screen.
  • Ludicrous Speed: When the spaceship accelerates towards Mars, the entire crew pull Narmish facial expressions due to the tremendous velocity. This was an obligatory trope for any space exploration movie of the era.
  • Space Madness:
    • The doctor on The Wheel diagnoses one man who cracks up as having "somatic dysphasia," described in Layman's Terms as "space fatigue." Apparently, everyone working in outer space suffers from it, but the symptoms are usually minor, and easily cured by returning the patient to Earth. For those selected for the first Mars expedition, already under stress through the competitive selection process, the issue is more serious.
    • The commander of the expedition, General Samuel T. Merritt, comes to think of the mission as sacrilegious, with Mankind's presence in God's perfect heavens being an insult to the Almighty. This was actually a real movement that flourished very briefly when the idea of space travel was first mooted as a serious possibility. By the time the movie came out the philosophy was rapidly dying out, and the launch of Sputnik a couple of years later washed the remnants away completely. To modern audiences it just looks like a delusional symptom of the man going insane.
  • Shout-Out: The designs were taken straight from the book Conquest of Space by Willy Ley (particularly those famous illustrations by Chesley Bonestell), and Wernher von Braun's book The Mars Project.
  • Space Plane: The Mars expedition lander is a giant winged spacecraft. For take-off, however, the wings are jettisoned and the rocket section tilted vertically. Problems arise on both landing (thanks to a crewman suffering from Space Madness, grabbing the controls) and take-off (thanks to a quake knocking them off a vertical axis).
  • Space Station: The Wheel. It's the first thing seen in the movie.
    The Narrator: 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!
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: The food stored in the Space Station gets wasted when meteors strike the station invoked (i.e. breaking the strings on one side) and causing it to tilt, sending everyone sliding across the room.