Monday, July 11, 2011

“What we have just heard are the first words of the inhabitants of a new planet; a cosmic document!”

This next dip into old sci-fi is an interesting case, not because it’s good, but because of its origins. It’s a joint East German/Polish production from behind the Iron Curtain made in 1960 as Der schweigende Stern in German and Milcząca Gwiazda in Polish. It was edited, dubbed, and released in the US as First Spaceship On Venus (the version I saw) in 1962. Let’s find out if it’s an early victory for glasnost, or a bowl of bad borscht.

Story
Remember the Tunguska explosion? Of course you don’t, it was in 1908, well before you were born. But you’ve heard of it, yes? Well, according to this movie, it wasn’t a meteor that exploded, but a Venusian spaceship and some equipment will be recovered in the far future of 1985 and get scientists all in a tizzy. Fast forward a few years after that and SCIENCE is getting around to checking out Venus to see what’s going on. An international crew is assembled (naturally bringing a robot with them) and off they go in the rocketship Cosmokrator. There’s too many characters to really go into them (and they don’t really have too much in the way of personality). On the way to Venus, they pick up a signal and the linguist is able to eventually decipher it, and the astronauts learn that the Venusians planned to attack Earth, but its an old signal.

Instead of going back to warn Earth, they press on, reach Venus and discover that the planet is pretty much uninhabited. They do some exploring, some accidents happen, some scientists die and they learn that the Venusians blew themselves up with atomic weaponry a long time ago. So its basically an anti-nuke message, but coming from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Visuals/Effects
Directed by Kurt Maetzig, the special effects aren’t actually that bad for Soviet Bloc Sci-Fi. Its standard rockets on strings stuff for the space ships, but I’m okay with that. The robot is a bit less interesting, being a squat little thing that looks like it gets underfoot.

Writing
Based on the novel “Astronauci” by Stanislaus Lem (a well respected Polish novelist who’s had works adapted into other films, such as George Clooney’s Solaris). Adaptation by Jan Fethke, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Günter Reisch, Günther Rücker, and Alexander Stenbock-Fermor and Screenplay Collaboration by the director Kurt Maetzig. Aside from giving short shrift to most of the character development, I don’t have much to complain about in terms of writing. It gets the job done and some of the ideas (a hostile and belligerent Venus that screwed itself over with nukes before man gets there serving as an anti-nuclear weapon message) are kind of novel. Still, the adaptation doesn’t really bring anything new to the table aside from a few suspect scientist deaths. They flat out leave the black scientist on the planet when they leave with the fairly flimsy excuse of “being hurled off the planet.” Hmmm…

Sound
Original Music by Andrzej Markowski is your typical orchestral spacy stuff from the rocket age. Nothing fancy or unexpected.

Conclusion
Its not bad, actually. Its not great, but you can tell they actually tried to make a legitimate, somewhat accurate (for the period it was made in) science fiction film. Given the constraints of the time and the fact that it was made in the Soviet Union, they did a pretty good job of it. Still, its value exists more as a curiosity and a look at filmmaking from behind the Iron Curtain than it is a movie that can stand up on its own merits. You’re better off tracking down the MST3K Version to enliven this otherwise dull movie.

2 comments:

Kyle said...

Nice review! I'm rarely one for a sci-fi B movie, and I don't think this one would be a good starting point based on your review. Good work! -Kyle, CinematicMethod.com

Kestifer said...

Thanks for posting!