To Mars and Beyond

Witness the chubby atomic bulletGlenn Erickson’s DVD Savant is one of my favourite sites because its witty author mixes a great blend of knowledge, experience, and candid excitement for films that blew his mind at some point, and never left his consciousness. His writing’s engrossing, and he often covers classic and cult flicks that have fallen below the radar, or were simply neglected and kicked around like ugly coal before someone cared enough and fought hard to bring them to DVD.

Way back on February 18th, Erickson mentioned a wacky plan by the U.S. Army to send a ship to Mars and beyond using nuclear bombs. The projected, dubbed Orion, involved a brilliant theoretical mathematician named Freeman Dyson, and the declassified details were subsequently covered in a book by son George Dyson, “Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship.”

Savant provided a link to a lecture given by author Dyson, and some of the posted comments by readers mentioned a BBC documentary that soon followed Dyson’s book.

Made in 2003, the doc includes numerous interviews with former project members, both Dyson men, clips from surviving test footage of the small-scale ship that worked (sort of), plus the late Arthur C. Clarke providing a 2001/Stanley Kubrick anecdote. Naturally, the doc’s filmmakers make superb use of Gayanne’s Ballet Suite (Adagio).

We’ve tracked down a copy of the doc, and have a review of To Mars by A-Bomb: The Secret History of Project Orion (2003). It’s funny, shocking, and deserves its own DVD release. Hard to say whether Kubrick would’ve found the declassified details worthy of sharp satire.

A few years later, director Scott J. Gill directed The Mars Underground (2005), and the incisive doc about Robert Zubrin and his Mars Direct Project – sending a team to land, live, and colonize Mars using a more economically feasible plan – made the rounds on European Discovery Channels. It seemed to take a few years before Gill’s doc was broadcast in North America, and when Canada’s CBC Newsworld aired a slightly edited version of the doc (weirdly broadcast in mono) in March of 2008, the chance to catch it couldn’t be missed.

Back in 2006, we interviewed composer James Michael Dooley about his score, and you can read further details HERE. There’s also a CD of Dooley’s Glassian score available HERE.

Coming next: more soundtrack reviews, plus the second of our three-part interview with Monstrous Movie Music’s David Schecter, this time discussing Ralph Carmichael’s music for The Blob.

And thereafter: a series of documentaries on filmmakers, including Lucio Fulci Remembered, from newcomer Paura Productions, plus Disc 2 of Facets’ Free Cinema collection!


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