Sexual politics in outer space - Ed Brock

It's strange how time can make a bad science fiction movie turn into a political commentary.

In this case, the movie is "Rocketship X-M" made in 1950 by Kurt Neumann. To sum up the plot, a remarkably young and heroic Lloyd Bridges leads Earth's first trip to the moon in a rocket with a guy from Texas, an astronomer turned navigator, the patriarchal scientist who designed the ship and his lovely female assistant.

As one would expect from most sci-fi stuff from the '50s, the science is horrible. Here are a few examples.

Our astronauts in the movie wear street clothes and fighter-pilot leathers for the entire trip, but they do refer to the presence of a "pressure suit" that bears zero resemblance to a real space suit.

They explore the concept of weightlessness by having various objects that are small enough to hang from a string appear to float around. However, the crew clunks around like they were back home, probably because the movie's makers didn't have the ability to make them appear to float without heavy wires that would be easy to see in the small spaceship set.

A strange mishap with the fuel causes the ship to accelerate suddenly, causing it to overshoot the moon and make it to Mars in about a day or two while our heroes are all passed out from the strain of the g-forces. This despite the fact that we now know getting to Mars takes several months even at its closest approach to Earth, and the chances of getting there accidentally are certainly nil.

And of course, once they arrive at Mars they land, walk around wearing their regular clothes with oxygen masks and discover cavemen (and women) roaming around the ruins of an ancient civilization destroyed by atomic war.

Martian probes Opportunity and Spirit haven't sent home pictures of cavemen yet, but that could be because in the elapsing 55 years they all died off.

But all this shows more the ignorance of the average human at that time, not the scientific community. Back then Hollywood could get away with more, shall we say, "poetic license."

After all, we're talking about the time seven years before the Russians launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite.

Two of the most amusing aspects of the film, however, were its treatment of the roles of women and controlling the press during the Cold War.

The female character, though she is allowed to serve a purpose as the person who came up with the fuel for the ship, this is just an excuse to have her come along and serve as Bridges' love interest. And he woes her in the most cliched way, making cheesy comments about moonlight and urging her to essentially stop being so independent and professional and just give in to her womanly urges.

And speaking of such urges, at one point in a crisis moment of the film the woman starts to panic and shout after which she calms down and apologizes. The patriarchal scientist guy actually responds with something along the lines of "Apologize for what? Being a woman?"

My, my, things have changed since 1950. That guy would be so dead in a modern movie.

As for the movie's take on journalism, at one point some government official is holding a press conference to announce the launch of the ship. He thanks the members of the press for essentially keeping the whole thing quiet and then urges them to "please, stick to the officially approved press release."

No way these days, kids, not at all. But 1950 was five years after the end of World War II, and in the middle of the Cold War, and at that pre-Watergate time people actually trusted their government. Not any more, not to that extent.

And one final bit of trivia that I find interesting. My father was 9 years old when this movie came out and I was 9 years old when "Star Wars" set a new standard for science fiction movies.

It makes me wonder what we'll learn from the latter in 22 years when Lucas' original masterpiece turns 50 years old.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipal governments for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at ebrock@news-daily.com .