I rented Conquest of Space because–according to IMDb, Kubrick credited it as a 2001 influence. There are a handful of visual elements I noticed, one as obvious as the rotating space station, one I might be making up (repairing of the antenna tower). Besides looking for these visuals, there’s not much else to engage with. Conquest of Space is ludicrously bad for most of the film. Until William Hopper showed up, there was no one in the cast I recognized. While director Byron Haskin has done good work, he doesn’t have a good way of placing people amid Conquest’s technological surroundings. The sets seem confining, but the shots are wide open. There a number of terrible, distracting edits in the film, all to and from close-up, and I don’t know if it’s Haskin’s fault for not shooting right or the editor’s fault for not being any good.
The writing, however, eventually makes Conquest mildly interesting, at least as a historical document, which is what my greatest hopes were for it once the terrible narration began after the Paramount logo. It’s pre-Space Age, so there’s the space station before there’s a moon landing. There’s not even a moon landing, because they go straight to Mars. The film actually has some sophisticated ideas working–it doesn’t do much with them of any interest. For example, if God makes a tree and Mars is treeless, God stops at Earth while man continues on. I’ve actually never heard it laid out as such and it gives the feeling Conquest wasn’t a completely doomed idea. When the astronauts are stranded on Mars, played right, it could have been good.
The special effects, which must have been cutting edge back in 1955, aren’t good. There’s one good shot of the spaceship approaching Mars, otherwise, the model work is too two dimensional and the matte work, marrying the actors to the models, is too. No perspective in these moments. Some of the miniature work is nice though, but I was expecting more from the special effects. They just added to the film’s rushed feeling… but if it weren’t for the writing, directing, and acting, Conquest of Space might be all right.
Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by James O’Hanlon, based on a book by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley, adaptation by Philip Yordan, Barre Lyndon and George Worthington Yates; director of photography, Lionel London; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Van Cleave; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Walter Brooke (Samuel Merritt), Eric Fleming (Barney Merritt), Mickey Shaughnessy (Mahoney), Phil Foster (Siegle), Benson Fong (Imoto) and William Hopper (Fenton).