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B Entries
Barbara Bain
Gene Barry
Wesley E. Barry
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Chesley Bonestell
Peter Boyle
Ray Bradbury
Adrien Brody
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BONESTELL, CHESLEY
(1888–1986). American artist.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Artistic contributions to films: background paintings, uncredited: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle 1939); matte artist, uncredited: The Horn Blows at Midnight (Raoul Walsh 1945); technical advisor and astronomical art: Destination Moon (Irving PICHEL 1950), When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate 1951), War of the Worlds (Byron HASKIN 1953); moonscape paintings: Cat-Women of the Moon (Arthur Hilton 1953); astronomical art, and film based on book by Bonestell and Willy Ley: Conquest of Space (Haskin 1955); creator of space concepts: Men into Space (tv series) (1959–1960).

Appeared in: The Fantasy Film World of George Pal (documentary) (Arnold Leibovit 1985).

 
For all of its travels to other worlds and distant galaxies, science fiction film rarely pauses to contemplate the strange phenomena and mysteries of outer space. All too often, space figures only as a pattern of dots on a television screen, as in various incarnations of Star Trek, or as a little-noticed backdrop to spaceships shooting deadly rays at each other, as in various incarnations of Star Wars. By so resolutely focusing on cozy interiors and elaborate toys, films avoid conveying just how vast, alien, and incomprehensible humanity's projected new frontier actually is; yet on those occasions when space itself occupies center stage, one detects the lingering influence of Chesley Bonestell.

Despite training as an architect, Bonestell was a better painter, and he eventually obtained regular employment as a matte artist in Hollywood. But he was destined for greater things than anonymously painting French landscapes for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a 1944 magazine assignment to paint scenes of space and other planets for Life magazine would define the rest of his career. As a pioneer in the field of space art, Bonestell insisted upon "getting it right," to use a phrase from a Gregory Benford article on Bonestell; he always sought out the latest and best scientific information available in order to paint astronomical scenes precisely the way they would look to a human observer on the scene. As a result, later photographs and footage from space flights and space probes have not invalidated his work, but rather have spectacularly vindicated his vision and made it even more compelling.

Soon in great demand, Bonestell kept busy with a number of projects, including science fiction magazine covers, paintings for a memorable 1952 series of articles in Collier's magazine advocating an American space program, and a number of illustrated books, including The Conquest of Space (1949) with science writer Willy Ley. So it was than when writer Robert A. HEINLEIN and producer George PAL resolved to make a painstakingly realistic film about space travel, Destination Moon, they wisely sought out the services of Chesley Bonestell.

Heinlein's article "Shooting Destination Moon" establishes just how intimately Bonestell was involved in all aspects of its production, including the choice of one particular crater, Harpalus, as the most visually suitable locale for the film's lunar landing. Due to his skills and hard work, the film's scenes of astronauts venturing outside of their spaceship, and walking across the barren Moon, are both stunning and genuinely dramatic, in contrast to superficially more lively space epics with communist spies and rubber-suited aliens which, one gathers from published reports, science fiction film critics oddly prefer. Bonestell had less to contribute to two subsequent Pal films that were more earthbound, When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds, but the astronomical travelogue that opens the latter film is arguably its most striking sequence, and it isn't Bonestell's fault that cheap, hurried production led to the use of his rough sketch, not a finished painting, as the final alien landscape in the former film. I'm sure that his paintings of the Moon for Cat-Women of the Moon were characteristically impressive, but they were hard to notice with all those silly pin-up girls and giant spiders implausibly cluttering up the stark majesty of the Moon. And while watching Conquest of Space is for the most part a dire experience, those who endure to its concluding scenes can relish Bonestell's majestic portrayal of a forbidding Martian surface. As the science fiction films of the 1950s grew cheaper and less concerned with scientific accuracy, however, Bonestell's talents were no longer needed, and after some work for the television series Men into Space, he retired to his painting career.

Though his name no longer appears in credits, Bonestell's singular presence can sometimes be felt in later science fiction films, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey—featuring meticulously rendered astronomical vistas that were surely inspired by Bonestell (since co-author Arthur C. CLARKE had often praised his work and later collaborated with him on a book, Beyond Jupiter [1972]). One also thinks of the opening track shot of Robert ZEMECKIS's Contact, or the dynamic panoramas of strange worlds and galaxies that launch the credits of the later Star Trek series, promising more sobering dramas than the melodramas and soap operas that usually ensued. Yet it is now the science documentary, more than the science fiction film, that most regularly calls upon the services of Bonestell's successors, like space artist Don Davis, to provide viewers with realistic images of the well-known and newly discovered wonders of the cosmos. Perhaps it is inevitable that films will gravitate towards human drama; but the creators of science fiction film still should sometimes confront the inhuman drama of the vast and unsettling universe which we inhabit. And, when filmmakers take a long and hard look at outer space as it truly is, they are continuing to see it through Chesley Bonestell's eyes.

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