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Buildings 250 stories high!…traffic on nine levels…rockets that shoot from star to star…airplanes that land on the roofs of buildings…a whole meal in a capsule that can be swallowed in one gulp… No -- this isn't a Jules Verne dream induced by a Welsh rarebit. It's New York in 1980, as foretold in the new Fox picture, "Just Imagine!"
-- '"Photoplay", November 1930
A big budget Science Fiction musical comedy, featuring the most impressive special effects seen up to that time. The animated model of New York was large enough to fill a zeppelin hanger and cost a quarter million dollars to build -- and this during the Great Depression!
Unfortunately it was a complete flop.
In the distant future of 1980 marriages must be approved by the courts, based on ones' value to society. J-21 can't get permission to wed the beautiful LN-18 as his rival, the wealthy and arrogant MT-3, is more socially prominent. J-21 appeals the decision and is given six months to distinguish himself. As scientist Z-4 has just invented a Rocket Plane (e.g. spacecraft) J-21 volunteers to be the first man to fly it to Mars. His anachronistic friend Single-0 stows away on the Interplanetary Voyage in order to provide Comic Relief.
The film has the following tropes:
- Aliens Speaking English: Averted, as communication with the Martians is done via pantomime and body language.
- Big Lipped Alligator Moment: Likely why the film flopped. Yes it's a musical, but Just Imagine is let down by its tendency to stop for songs and vaudeville routines that have nothing to do with the plot. This might be excusable if there were some nice toe-tapping tunes among them, but none of the songs are that good.
- Camp Gay: The Martian king.
"She's not the Queen -- he is!"
- Cold Sleep, Cold Future: Single-0 pines for "the good ol' days" when food didn't come in pills, and babies from coin-operated vending machines.
- Eternal Prohibition: The persistent rumor that Prohibition was going to be repealed 'next year' is spoofed by the fact that it's still going in 1980 (and still rumored to be on the verge of repeal). Note: Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
- Exty Years From Now: The Big Applesauce, fifty years on.
- Evil Twin: Mars has an entire race of these.
- Fish Out of Temporal Water: A man in the present day (e.g. 1930), played by vaudeville comic El Brendel, is killed by lightning on a golf course, and revived by scientists fifty years later purely as an experiment. They give him the name Single-0, then forget about him. Fortunately the kind-hearted J-21 is there to take Single-0 under his wing.
- Flying Car: Everyone has their own personal airplane, all propeller driven. They have horizontal props inset in each wing so they can hover in midair, allowing their occupants to chat or burst into song.
- Hey, It's That Girl!: A teen-aged Maureen O'Sullivan stars as LN-18, before she went on to fame as Tarzan's Jane.
- Prop Recycling: Stock Footage of the cityscape was later used in the Universal film serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, while Z-4's Rocket Plane was recycled as Zarkov's rocketship. Publicity stills appear in countless books on science fiction, where they are sometimes mislabeled as being from Metropolis.
- Fan Service: The Red Planet is populated by scantily-clad showgirls in glittery outfits doing Busby Berkeley Numbers.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Women wear reversible clothes and men's suits have only one pocket.
- Space Clothes
"The Martian costumes could start new fashion trends if this got widely shown. Lightning bolts, spikes and metallic print bikinis mixed with ridiculous wigs and eye make-up are part of the wackiest outfits in film history." (Michael Weldon).
- Take That: In a jab at Henry Ford's anti-Semitism, all the flying cars are made by Jewish manufacturers.
- We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: The only pocket on men's clothing is for their hipflask.
- What Could Have Been: Hollywood assumed from this disaster that "Science Fiction" wasn't a big money maker. It wasn't until The Fifties that they were willing to risk another blockbuster with Destination Moon, and 1975 before another sci-fi musical came out with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- You Are Number Six: In the future people have alphanumeric codes instead of names.
- You No Take Candle: This was part of Brendel's comic routine -- he billed himself as "The Synthetic Swede".
- Zeerust: New York is the standard Mega City with multi-lane elevated roadways, suspension bridges hung between towering megastructures, and personal aircraft buzzing from building to building. Transoceanic airliners are dirigibles. One prediction they get right is that paper towels will be replaced by hot air dryers.