REVIEW: FRAU IM MOND / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FRITZ LANG / SCREENPLAY: FRITZ LANG / STARRING: WILLY FRITSCH, GERDA MAURUS, KLAUS POHL / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 25TH
Anyone who knows their sci-fi history will know Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s genre-defining dystopian epic. They may be less familiar with Frau im Mond, or Woman in the Moon, released just two years later in 1929, though it too deserves consideration by the genre’s historians – it was the first movie to take space travel seriously.
After the scientific community ridicules Professor Manfeldt’s theories of gold on the moon, his friend Helius determines to prove him right. The opening act is certainly the weakest, as Lang takes his time with a drawn-out espionage plot – as Helius gathers his motley crew, including his colleague Windegger and Windegger’s fiancée Friede, a shady business syndicate threaten and manipulate him into letting their agent Turner on board. It’s over an hour in before we finally get to see the rocket, but from this point on, the film ramps up the excitement.
In a time when Germany was keen on the idea of one day going to the moon, Lang put a lot of effort into getting the details right, employing real rocket scientist Hermann Oberth as a scientific advisor and even funding Oberth’s experiments alongside the film. Sure, not everything’s perfect – they crack open a brandy to celebrate having survived blast-off and wear chunky cardigans instead of spacesuits, but, with the dangers of G-force and the first on-screen countdown to lift-off, it’s an amazingly accurate depiction of space travel compared to what you might expect from the silent era.
Once they reach the moon, however, any accuracy is flushed down the space toilet. Professor Manfeldt discovers a breathable atmosphere and bounds off, Wallace and Gromit-style, albeit in search of gold rather than cheese. By this point, though, tensions have risen among the group, and the characters’ story is engaging enough for these errors to be forgiveable. As Windegger panics and tries to turn the rocket back, Turner puts his evil plans into action. And of course, there’s a love story at the heart of it all – Helius’ real reason for initially not wanting Windegger and his fiancée to join him was his repressed love for Friede, and soon they must deal with the possibility that not all of them will make it back to Earth…
Frau im Mond, though not a patch on the revolutionary Metropolis, is a fascinating piece of cinema history, with a stunning depiction of space travel, impressive set design, and a strong character story, all demonstrating Lang’s artistry as a master of visual cinema. Combined with the superb crispness of this Blu-ray release and the intriguing fifteen-minute documentary that comes packaged with it (analysing the film’s place within real-life rocket science), it’s a purchase necessary for any classic sci-fi aficionado.
Extras: Featurette / Booklet