Directed by the great Fritz Lang in 1929, Woman In The Moon would be the last silent picture that the filmmaker would direct. The story follows Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch), a business man and a veritable captain of industry who, through a series of events, winds up befriending an aging scientist named Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl). There's a reason for this, however. Years ago Manfeldt was essentially ostracized from the scientific community for putting for the theory that the moon was loaded with gold! Of course, his fellow scientists scoffed at the idea but Helius, when he heard about this, figured maybe Manfeldt wasn't so crazy after all.
Helius was also a man of significant wealth and resource, the type of man who could conceivably build a rocket capable of taking a man from the Earth to the moon, and that's exactly what he's done. This will be much easier said than done, however. Not only is there the issue of proving the technology but the men who hold most of the gold reserves in the country are none too keen on Helius throwing the balance of power out of whack. They set out to sabotage him first by stealing his schematics for the rocket and then by destroying the hanger where he was building the first prototype. They wind up agreeing to let him move forward with his project on the condition that their man, Turner (Fritz Rasp), is allowed to accompany him on the maiden voyage. With no other choice, Helius agrees and Turner joins Manfelt, Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his fiancé Friede (Gerda Maurus), and himself in the rocket.
Of course, once the damn thing actually launches, there's no way that this trip is going to go smoothly. Turner has a job to do, after all.
Woman In The Moon isn't as tense or as riveting a watch as some of Lang's other silent pictures. It is longer than it needs to be with a running time only a few minutes shy of three hours in length and it takes a while to really hit its stride. Having said that, the movie is nothing if not impressive. What really stands out here are the lengths that the filmmakers weren't to in order to make the space travel aspect of the story as realistic as possible. Of course, in 1929 no one had actually put a man or woman on the moon yet, so there's still plenty of conjecture involved in how all of this fits together, but Lang's eye for detail and accuracy really pays off in big ways (so much so, in fact, that when the German military started experimenting with rockets in the years to come they confiscated the models used for the movie!). It's hard not to question certain choices made here, the most obvious being that the moon would have breathable oxygen, but everything else… it's pretty spot on. The lift off sequence, the fact that the human's inside the rocket experience the effects of zero gravity, and just the science behind this brought to life in the film, it's all amazing to see.
The performances are also pretty fun. Willy Frit is decent as Helius, the man who puts all of this into motion, but it's Klaus Pohl as Manfeldt that we really like here. His wild hair and crazy eyes give him the look you'd expect a nutty professor type to have but he really runs with it, exaggerating things just enough to compensate for the lack of sound, really making the character a memorable one. Fritz Rasp is delightfully devious as Turner, the heavy in the film. We know not to trust him, his shifty eyes and sneaky mannerisms doing a poor job of hiding his intentions, but it works, it's all art of the character and the way that Lang lets the audience in on what they're really up to. Gustav von Wangenheim and lovely Gerda Maurus in supporting roles are fine too, but it's Pohl and Rasp who really stand out.
If the pacing issues hurt the first half of the movie a bit, the second half completely redeems the film. Sure, it might be the visuals that save it more so than the story itself but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The detail put into the sets and miniatures and effects work that play such a big part in the film is consistently impressive and very much ahead of its time, while the science fiction aspect of the film is entertaining enough. You have to set aside a good chunk of time to get through this one properly, but it's well worth it.The Blu-ray:
The AVC encoded 1080p fullframe transfer of the black and white image is impressive when you consider the fact that this film is coming up on its on hundredth birthday. There is some print damage (and some dirt that was captured in camera and which therefore can't really be eliminated) and there are scratches evident throughout but the detail is definitely there and it's generally a really nice looking picture. Kino's transfer is taken from the 2000 restoration of the film that was done by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stifung from the original camera negatives that were preserved at a film archive in Berlin. The intertitles were derived from the ‘flash titles' found in these negatives. From there, a 35mm master duplicate print was used ‘as the foundation for this 2K digital restoration.' There are some top to bottom scratches in the first fifteen minutes that clearly were unable to be completely eliminated but once you get used to them being there it isn't so distracting. Compression artifacts are never a problem nor is there any evidence of edge enhancement or noise reduction.Sound:
Well, it's a silent film, so obviously there are no sound effects and there's no dialogue but there is a score provided by Javier Perez de Azpeitia and it's presented on this disc in LPCM 2.0 format. It sounds nice and clean with good depth and range. English subtitles appear automatically for the intertitles and credits, which are presented in German text.Extras:
Aside from static menus and chapter selection, the disc includes a featurette called Woman In The Moon: The First Scientific Science Fiction Film that clocks in at fifteen minutes in length and was made by Transit Film and the F.W. Murnau Estate. It's in German with English subtitles and it talks about how the moonscape was built, how the sets were constructed, how Lang's directorial vision made this adventure story into something more than just another adventure story, and how the filmmakers tried to use as much actual science in the movie as was possible given when it was made and what was known about space travel at the time. It's quite interesting and while a commentary from a Lang expert might have been a nice addition to the disc, this still adds some definite value to the package.Final Thoughts:
Woman In The Moon is impressive in every way. Yes, it's clearly not the most accurate depiction of space travel but the scope of the picture and the extent to which Lang and his collaborators went to realize that scope is amazingly ambitious. The performances are a lot of fun and the musical score complements the silent visuals very nicely. Kino's Blu-ray offers up the film in a beautifully restored transfer and with a very interesting, if slightly brief, featurette as its only supplement. Highly recommended.