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Film / Rocketship X-M

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Four men and one woman hold a hasty press conference before blasting off into space in the RXM (Rocketship Expedition Moon). But a miscalculation in the fuel mixture sends the RXM hurtling off at tremendous velocity, knocking the crew unconscious. Upon waking they discover they're near the planet Mars. Deciding they might as well explore that planet instead, the crew land to discover the remnants of an alien culture literally "bombed back to the Stone Age" after a nuclear war.

In 1949 Hollywood was abuzz with the news of George Pal's upcoming Destination Moon. Taking advantage of the movie's long production time (due to its extensive special effects), exploitation studio Lippert Pictures decided to beat them to the cinemas. The result was Rocketship X-M (AKA Expedition Moon and Rocketship XM-1), filmed in only eighteen days, and released in May 1950. It shows. While competently written and directed by Kurt Neumann (with an uncredited rewrite by Dalton Trumbo) and featuring a game cast led by Lloyd Bridges, the movie contains moments of Fridge Logic, Hollywood Science and Special Effects Failure that decades later were gleefully riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Nevertheless, the movie was a great success at the box office and has garnered some staunch fans over the years. One of them — producer Wade Williams — spent six years tracking down a fine grain print of the film which he then restored, even reshooting some of the scenes with special effects models and doubles of the original actors.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

Rocketship X-M includes examples of:

  • After the End: Mars. The Martians nuked themselves back to the Stone Age.
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted in that California's Death Valley doubles for Mars, which is actually quite similar (NASA tested some of its Mars equipment there). But apparently war-surplus jumpsuits and oxygen masks are all you need to walk around on the surface.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The only bright spot is that the Rocketship manages to contact Earth and tell the tale, and those on Earth decide to continue exploring in defiance to the tragedy. Tomorrow they start work on RX-M2 (no, it's not a Sequel Hook).
  • Artistic License – Space: Apparently weightlessness occurs when you get far enough from Earth, and has nothing to do with whether or not the engines are firing or you are in orbit.
  • Crazy-Prepared: It's mentioned during the prologue that the rocket packs a hefty amount of additional fuel and resources, more than would be normally needed for this ship, just in case — which makes an accidental travel to Mars pretty comfortable. Then very painfully averted when it is discovered that the rocket's fuel reserve is not enough to make it to Earth safely and they are doomed to crash.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dr Lisa Van Horn eventually falls into the arms of handsome pilot Floyd Graham, though only at the point of imminent death.
  • Deus ex Machina: None of the plot contrivances would work otherwise. Heavily lampshaded, as various characters question whether God actually is interfering in the mission. Averted at the return attempt, however.
    Eckstrom: " couldn't be mere chance! I don't quite know how to tell you it's so...if I could have even dreamed that an incredible set of circumstances, each precisely and exactly timed...would carry us unerringly though space to our most congenial planetary neighbour, Mars..."
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The press conference scene before the launch. Takes less time than Destination Moon, but they had Woody Woodpecker.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Even for a Golden Age Retro Rocket, the RXM looks unusually phallic.
  • Downer Ending: Several expedition members are killed by the Martians. The remainder return to Earth only to have their rocketship crash because they've no fuel to land, or even put themselves into orbit.
  • Dueling Movies: To the point that the ship only misses the moon because of a nasty letter sent to this movie's producers. And not just at the box office — contrast the anti-nuclear Aesop of this movie with the pro-nuclear theme of Destination Moon.
  • Five-Man Band: Standard B-Movie cast with a serious older guy, a cocky handsome Ace Pilot, a shy handsome guy, the Broadly Accented Plucky Comic Relief, and the chick.
  • Foreshadowing: The reporters are told that the reason Dr. Van Horn was chosen for the mission was because her work regarding rocket fuel made the mission possible in the first place. What causes the rocket to ultimately veer off course is her calculations about fuel being ignored and overruled.
  • Gold Fever: The Fifties version — Dr. Eckstrom notes "immense deposits of pitchblende", more valuable than gold at that early stage of the Atomic Age, though being surrounded by the consequences of nuclear proliferation gives him pause.
  • Government Conspiracy: Turns out those Flying Saucers are just a smokescreen arranged between the government and media to conceal the top-secret moon rocket project.
  • Hand Wave: To avoid expensive zero-G effects, the cabin rotates so the floor is always down (we are given a shot of the portholes being covered and uncovered in the process). They do lose gravity, but only lightweight objects are affected.
  • Hollywood Science: Glaringly obvious when compared to its rival Destination Moon. Rather than using advisors of the calibre of Robert A. Heinlein and Chesley Bonestell, scriptwriter Kurt Neumann took his information from a 1949 Life magazine article which itself contained several scientific errors.
  • Hostile Weather: The Mars landing takes place on a dark and stormy night.
  • Ice Queen: After the doctor finishes his pre-flight medical check, Floyd notes ironically re Lisa: "The weaker sex — the only one whose blood pressure is normal."
  • Interplanetary Voyage
  • Mutants: Though they look like Human Aliens.
  • Red Filter of Doom: Although filmed in B&W, scenes on the Red Planet were given a red-tint, an effect restored by Wade Williams for the DVD release. The trope is appropriate when it's revealed that Mars has been reduced to barbarism by a nuclear war.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • To avoid being sued by George Pal this Moon expedition goes to Mars instead. What the hell — it's only 50 million miles away! The journey from Earth orbit to Mars takes days instead of months and they still have enough fuel, water, oxygen and food to make it most of the way back.
    • The expedition loses radio contact with Earth due to distance, despite them transmitting line-of-sight through a vacuum.
    • Each stage of the two-stage rocket has enough fuel to give them 100% fuel reserves (real spacecraft use around 5% reserves).
    • Sense of Time version:
      • With only 16 minutes to launch, the crew begin a press conference. With 6 minutes to go, they are having a nice chat before being driven to the ship. 2 minutes are sufficient for the drive to the ship and leisurely climb to the control room. Anyone who has followed a real launch on TV will recognise how hopelessly compressed this is.
      • What should be an eight month trip to Mars takes only days.
  • Sound In Space: The obligatory meteor shower goes roaring past the rocketship.
  • Space Friction:
    • Apparently when the engines stop in space, you're stranded and can't move.
      • Justified, since a moonship does move slowest at the crossover point between Earth and Lunar gravity, which appears to be what the dialogue describes.
    • According to the briefing, the rocket will launch, then turn 90 degrees to "gain speed from the rotation of the Earth". You get that initial eastwards push on launch (preferably as near the equator as possible) not afterwards.
  • Space Mask: Warm coats and oxygen masks are all that's needed on Mars.
  • Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: Apparently the boost from the Earth's orbital rotation plus the fuel mistake equals Ludicrous Speed to Mars!
  • Spinning Clock Hands: Both the Ludicrous Speed version and the Time-Compression Montage version.
  • Theremin: The first sci-fi movie to use it.
  • What's an X Like You Doing in a Y Like This?: Delivered entirely straight to the female lead, who chides the line-giver for thinking she should Stay in the Kitchen.
  • Zeerust: Yeah, manually make calculations instead of having one of those electronic adding things, something called a "com-pyoo-tor."