Just try and understand the science here:
"You are there... on man's most incredible journey!"
Starring Oldrich Lukes, Günther Simon, and Yoko Tani
Written by Stanislaw Lem, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Günther Reisch, Kurt Maetzig, J. Barkhauer, Jan Fethke, Günther Rücker, and Alexander Stenbock-Fermor
Directed by Kurt Maetzig
East German, 1959
Where to begin. Well, this movie is an interesting addition to the spaceship trip sort of bad movie that I love so much. Made in 1959 in East Germany, it was dubbed into English. Although the movie runs for only 78 minutes, it seems to go on a lot longer than that. Maybe this is because of the 8 different writers listed on IMDb.com. EIGHT WRITERS?! At least it doesn't come to a complete halt once they reach their destination like many of these movies do.
At the opening of the movie, we see a quick shot of a rocket taking off, and then an oval viewscreen presumably inside the rocket showing the clouds flying past us. This is followed by a starfield. The titles are done in an interesting looking font. The movie stars nobody.
We cut to some cranes and conveyor belts. A narrator informs us that it's the grand futuristic year of 1985. Wow. Hey, it's five better than The Phantom Planet's 1980. Anyway, the Gobi desert is being irrigated, and the workers discover a strange fragment of something. We don't really know what's going on, the narrator is going through the story pretty quickly. Scientists studied this rock. It looks like it's wrapped in saran wrap. Apparently, the scientists discovered a spool inside, "extraterrestrial in origin" and "not of human manufacture." Uh, isn't that a redundant description? Anyway, we get to see the spool being spun around on what could be a lathe, and sprayed with water.
"Then, somebody remembered that in June 1908, in Siberia, an explosion had occurred equivalent in force to a hydrogen bomb, an explosion visible within a radius of 350 miles."Whew, it's a good thing SOMEBODY is working on this important project. As Narrator describes this, we see scientists working in a mountain range. I didn't know there were mountains in Siberia, but never mind. One of the scientists seems frustrated about something, but we never learn what. Narrator continues, saying that a new investigation is launched into this Siberian event, to look for debris. Of note, the narrator's voice seems to suspiciously change as he says the words "seventy-seven years later". Hmm. Here is the dubbing foul-up in context:
Narrator: "At the time, it was thought to have been caused by a giant meteor. Seventy-seven years later, an international expedition tried to determine [...]"Anyway, Narrator informs us the explosion was caused by the "Tungu Meteor" No, no, no. This actually happened, and it's called the Tunguska Event. Looks like the American re-distributors of this movie decided to drop the -ska.
Finally, to wrap this long-winded introduction, we go to a meeting of international scientists from the "World Federation for Space Research", where internationally known Professor Herringway (Oldrich Lukes) is making some sort of statement in what looks like a crowded lecture hall. Herringway stands next to a simplified model of the solar system that we will see a few times in this movie.
Apparently, according to Herringway, calculations indicate that the Tungu Meteor was, in fact, a spaceship that exploded before landing.
Narrator returns, and informs us that some reporters are waiting for a Professor Orloff to come out and comment on this momentous discovery. And, in fact, we do see some reporters waiting around with some massive television cameras. The narration keeps shifting from past tense to present tense and back. It's very annoying. Orloff appears, and I think he bears a resemblance to Ernest Borgnine.
Fig. 1 - Professor Orloff (left) and Ernest Borgnine (right)
Anyway, Orloff thinks that the alien spool discovered in Mongolia was ejected by the doomed ship to save what they thought was important. He thinks it may have information on it, written in an alien language.
We cut to a room dominated by what looks like a computer from the 1950's. Lots of blinking lights, buttons, screens with nonsense flashing over them, all that fun stuff. An older man in a paper hat sits at a large console, interacting with this computer that Narrator informs us is "the world's largest". Since when does a large computer indicate superiority?
Fig. 2 - The computer
This man in the hat is Professor Sikarna, who is a really smart mathematician. With him is Professor Tchen Yu, a biologist who pioneered a process that somehow managed to turn inorganic substances into food for humans. Does this guy have a minor in alchemy too?! Anyway, Tchen Yu is standing around while Sikarna fools around with this huge, noisy computer.
Back at the scientist meeting, Herringway announces that, per calculations, the spaceship was launched from a point interior to Earth's orbit. He automatically rules out Mercury, and that leaves only Venus. He calls it our "sister planet". Oh, if only this movie had the knowledge of 1985.
Back at that silly computer, a crowd of miscellaneous, international people is collecting, and the computer itself is making new, very odd sounds. The spool is being read. We hear strange, distorted sounds, perhaps a highly echoed voice speaking, but I couldn't make anything out. Then, the sounds stop. Tchen Yu somehow manages to understand that, and he points out that the message is an analysis of Earth's own atmosphere. I guess all Chinese are learned in the field of alien languages. More weird sounds follow, and more goofy voices. Tchen Yu is very excited, since they are hearing the first words of an alien intelligence, in what he christens the "Cosmic Document". Sikarna is disappointed, though, because not all of the message can be read due to the damage inflicted upon it. But don't take my word for it:
"It's unfortunate that the magnetic spool was damaged... through the effect of high temperature... which prevailed aboard the cosmic vessel at the time of the crash!"A bit flowery for a scientist, but okay. Sikarna isn't discouraged, though. He wants to "renovate" the rest to decode the remainder of the message. He thinks that if the spool is immersed in a "chemical catalytical medium" and subjected to radiation, the spool can be read. Excuse me? So, if I take my VHS copy of Moontrap, bathe it in some caustic chemicals and irradiate it, the picture and sound will be better?! I didn't think so.
Anyway, Tchen Yu seems to approve this ridiculous idea to fix up the rest of the spool, and thinks that an evolved form of life exists on Venus. No, you don't say! However, the planet is silent radio-wise. Sikarna thinks that perhaps the radio telescopes of the world should be listening to Venus.
So, with heroic music playing, we see a parade of stock footage: Various radio telescope installations, satellite dishes, and spinning radar assemblies. We see men trading papers and walking about in rooms, and judging by the appearances and clothing of the various men, they are located all around the world. Finally, we cut to the Luna 3 base, located way up on the Moon. After all, it is 1985. With some irritating beeping sounds in the background, a woman on Luna 3 reports that no contact has been made with Venus.
We cut to another spinning radar receiver. A gang of scientists, led by Herringway, walks towards the camera but is mobbed by the press who demand to know what is going on. I'd be demanding to know where this movie is heading.
Herringway is happy that a sophisticated rocket, the Cosmostrator, is about to have its mission changed from Mars to Venus. Wait a minute, wait... what does the word "cosmostrator" mean? Did I hear that right? Is that German for something?
Anyway, Herringway says that Venus is still unresponsive, and announces that he, Tchen Yu, Orloff, Sikarna, and others are on the crew manifest. Ooooh, I'm getting excited.
Anyway, we cut to what must be the launch site. A big, sleek, silvery rocket is firing its engines in a test run. It's got three fins and looks very 'Jetsonian'. The crew watches from a bunker. Herringway is there, and tells us that the launch will be tomorrow night. There follows some inconsequential chit-chat between Herringway and Professor Durand, a bald French guy who speaks with no French accent. Well, if you're going to have a French guy there, at least try to give him a snobby, rude accent.
Intervision, which is like CNN I suppose, keeps calling "the world" from its broadcasting center at the launch site. The anchorlady, who looks quite German to me, is going to keep us abreast of the exciting happenings at the launch site.
Fig. 3 - Intervision's anchorlady
She informs us that American astronaut Robert Brinkman (Günther Simon), the first American to land on the Moon, is arriving by jet. She goes out of her way to say "the first American to land on the Moon." That's because it would be counter-revolutionary to assume those bourgeois capitalists would be the first humans to land on the Moon. But I digress. Intervision lady says that since not everyone can be there, they will provide minute-by-minute coverage of everything. Yup, this is CNN.
The crew arrives, and here we see the first instance of something I found odd. Many of the ground workers are wearing red or grey sweaters with big letters sewn on. There are M's, A's, and T's. What can these mean, something in German perhaps? I'm very curious about this.
Anyway, there's lots of people walking around, working, driving jeeps and forklifts. It's a busy place, for a rocket launch. Durand arrives, and here we learn he's a robot expert who will be going on the mission. I think this actor looks like Robert Picardo.
Fig. 4 - Professor Durand (left) and Robert Picardo (right)
Brinkman's jet stops rolling forward, right in front of some equipment. Gee, is that really a safe place for a runway? Anyway, Brinkman climbs out and I thought he looked a bit like Patrick Macnee from The Avengers. A man in a 'T' shirt helps Brinkman climb down from the cockpit.
Meanwhile, one of Durand's inventions arrives. It's called Omega, although throughout the movie, everyone pronounces the name as "AHM-mihga". It's a robot that looks like a miniature silver tank with eyes and antennae. The others seem impressed by the little thing, and Durand asks Omega what the weather forecast for the next ten hours is. The robot replies in a very irritating robot voice that I can hardly make out. Durand explains how Omega works, speaking of electronic brains and the like. Better than the first Mac, I suppose. Judging by the whimsical music of the scene, we're supposed to think it's cute. Orloff wants to play chess against it.
Intervision is on the air, and the anchorlady tells us that there is a total of eight crewmembers. One of them is a woman, Dr. Sumiko Omigawa (Yoko Tani), who will be the ship's MD.
And sure enough, Sumiko (she's referred to by her fist name throughout the movie) is walking through the chaotic launching site when Brinkman rushes to meet her. Yes, they know each other from some prior, romantic relationship. However, whatever happened, happened a while ago. A man in an 'M' shirt briefly interrupts them, and Sumiko chuckles at Brinkman and how he's always forgetting stuff. That's not good for an astronaut, is it? He tries courting her, but she refuses to play along.
"On a voyage of this kind, there'll be no room for excess baggage."Sumiko is then called away, and Brinkman seems disappointed.
We cut back to Intervision. The unnamed anchorlady tells us that there are thirty hours left until take-off, and the crew is going to be put to sleep until then to make sure they are rested and fit for blast-off. Intervision then signs off for the night. Signing off? Whoa, definitely not CNN. CNN would run continuous, second-by-second coverage of the sedated astronauts!
Inside a building somewhere, the crewmembers lie in beds, all asleep. Sumiko is checking on them, and the last person she puts to sleep is Brinkman.
Some sort of television screen attached to a long arm swivels around, and stops over Brinkman's bed. What the hell is this? Sumiko says it will run an image of Brinkman's heart. That wouldn't put me to sleep, but whatever works will work. Brinkman is happy she'll be on the mission, but she sticks to her professionalism and refuses his advances. He quickly falls asleep, and at another doctor's order, she strips and goes to sleep as well. The screen swings over her as well. It's really kind of goofy.
Thirty hours later, Intervision comes back on the air. The rocket take-off is imminent, and just like before, there are men running about, jeeps driving, and scientists talking. The crew arrives and pile on to a car for transport to the rocket. As they drive off, a very noisy avalanche of people chases after them, all waving and saying 'goodbye' for a long 21 seconds. I'm amazed by how loud they are! The anchorlady is there, as well as a great many men in 'M' and 'A' shirts. Very annoying and comical somehow.
Fig. 5 - The ground crew says goodbye
Inside the rocket, the crewmembers wear these very silly suits that, as Tom Servo noted in Mystery Science Theater 3000, makes them look like teddy bears. What a strange, strange movie.
There is an obligatory dramatic countdown sequence. The model of the rocket seems fairly good, perhaps a little stylized looking considering Americans were already launching rockets in the late 1950's that looked nothing like this one. Then again, this is 1985. I still can't believe that.
The rocket takes off, and we see the pre-credit sequence once more.
Fig. 6 - The Moment of Take-off
Everybody on the ground watches, with protective goggles over their eyes. The rocket flies up, up, into the night sky, and we see that shot of the viewscreen (again) with the clouds flying past us.
A telescope tracks the rocket, and we see more stock footage of a large satellite dish.
The people up on Luna 3 report that the rocket looks okay.
So, take-off was good. Aboard the Cosmostrator, the crew is relieved and everybody seems fine. However, there is no gravity so when Orloff undoes his seatbelt, he floats out of his chair towards the honeycomb-pattern ceiling. I must admit, the set for the Cosmostrator interior is nice. Lots of buttons and gauges and things. Some money was put into sets. The only problem might be that it's a bit spacious, but this is a movie, after all.
Anyway, Tchen Yu joins Orloff and laughs in the microgravity. However, on Herringway's order, Durand switches on the artificial gravity and the fun ends. How does this artificial gravity work? Aren't you going to tell us?
They call Luna 3 and the two parties report good communication on both sides. The brief shot of Luna 3's control room is black and white. No colour. WTF? Anyway, their course is good, described as "exactly hyperbolic". Why exactly hyperbolic? Anyway, doesn't the term 'hyperbolic' cover a wide range of escape orbits? Maybe I'm wrong, who knows?
They fly close by the Moon, and we get to see a model of its rough surface roll past through their lenticular view screen. They even spot Luna 3 on the surface, next to a crater. Sumiko seems distressed by all this, and leaves the bridge. In this movie, the bridge is called "the nerve center". Brinkman explains that, when he was on the Moon, Sumiko's husband died there and Brinkman couldn't rescue him. There's general unhappiness all around over that bit of news. So, her husband died and you went back to Earth to snatch the widow, is that it? Huh.
Luna 3 reports that meteors are threatening to cross the rocket's path. Oh boy, here comes some fun! We even get some pseudoscientific babble courtesy of Luna 3:
"Here are the trajectory coordinates and orbital velocities: Alpha X seven degrees, two minutes. Beta epsilon forty-eight degrees, forty-two minutes."What the hell does that mean? I gathered two angles and some Greek letters. Okay. Maybe East Germany uses a very different three-dimensional coordinate system.
Anyway, a black guy reports the meteor warning. You may be asking yourself, as I was, who is this guy? He wasn't properly introduced. His name is Talua. I don't know if he's a professor or anything. He's just there and he seems to have an important job.
On the lower deck, Sikarna is working at another noisy, dumb looking computer. He receives the meteor report from Talua over the intercom and enters it into the bizarre computer. The meteors will reach them in forty-eight hours, if there are no "deviations". Because asteroids are prone to random, unpredictable course changes. Talua acknowledges the message, but the scene fades to black with him still on screen talking. How rude! Who edited this?
Time passes, and the movie continues. We cut to Brinkman sitting in a bunk, talking into a small device that resembles a microphone or something. He basically assumes the role of narrator by speaking into this little log and summarizing the progress of the mission. We learn that the ship is very complex, so complex that no human can operate it. As a result, the ship's computer (which is called the MAREX or something) is actually flying the ship. Uh oh. We all saw what happened when we trusted a ship to a computer, but that's a different movie. He keeps calling the bridge the "nerve center", which to me sounds very European, but there we have it. They've traveled 2.6 million miles so far. Sumiko, being the ship's doctor, is carefully watching over everyone, making sure the crew eats.
Brinkman: "The special liquid food, which can easily be absorbed in a state of no gravity, is proving highly successful with all of us."WTF? What happened to the artificial gravity aboard? Anyway, we get to see some of the crew drinking their food from little plastic pouches.
Brinkman tells us that Durand spends all his time in the machine shop, building "automats" that collectively run the ship. Isn't an automat a 1950's vending machine? Why can't this movie call things by their proper names? I must be wrong.
Sikarna and Tchen Yu devote all their time to the MAREX computer, trying to decipher the rest of the message. Brinkman calls the MAREX an "electronic brain" instead of a computer. Must be an antiquated phrase, along with 'horseless carriage'.
Herringway and Durand are on the bridge (sorry, NERVE CENTER), monitoring the course of the rocket (sorry, COSMOSTRATOR). Hey, how'd Durand get back up onto the bridge and into his spacesuit so fast? Apparently, the rocket made an automatic course correction during the night. Despite this, the meteors are still on their way. Orloff likes playing chess, but he can't beat Omega. Yes, Durand's silly little robot thing is back in the movie, and judging by the whimsical music, we're supposed to be chuckling with mirth at seeing Omega beat the snot out of Orloff on the chessboard. Orloff is very impressed by Omega's abilities, but Sumiko takes Durand aside (man, Durand is everywhere on this ship!) and suggests he build a 'heart' for Omega, a sort of random loser circuit that would dumb down his thinking abilities to let Orloff win once in a while.
Very suddenly, something terrible happens. The set lurches to one side and things go flying and tumbling. The music becomes oh so dramatic. The G-meter goes up to twelve Gs, which I thought would be extremely dangerous. What could this be? Why yes, it's the Inevitable Meteor Storm!
With the crew thrown into a corner of the bridge, Brinkman struggles to reach the emergency gyro, which is a small switch inside a glass dome. He manages to activate the gyro and is promptly thrown back with the rest of the crew. It's clearly seen that the film in this scene is sped up. Meteors still flash past.
We see a shot of a G-meter sliding back down towards normal. Everything is okay again. All in all, the chaos lasted 50 seconds. Everybody gets up while Sumiko tends to the injured. Talua has a cut on his head which Sumiko treats. She wonders why the ship didn't avoid them. Durand says that the ship was too slow to react to the meteors and ended up in the swarm.
Durand: "She didn't react quickly enough. She was regulated to a shower of undermass [unintelligible], that was why we had to switch on the emergency gyros."I assure you, I made no typos in that last quote. Can somebody explain this to me? Can the rocket avoid meteor storms, or can't it? Maybe some clear writing for this movie would have saved it from the meteor storm.
Anyway, Orloff reports that their course is off by over twelve degrees, and their speed is 8.2 miles per second. That must have been some meteor shower to produce a force great enough to move such a fast object that far off course, but never mind. Herringway supposes the main swarm is ahead, still threatening to destroy them. He turns his head while an unnecessary and ill-placed flash of horns on the soundtrack punctuates the tension of the scene. That bit of the soundtrack nearly gave me a heart attack. Herringway feels a deceleration is needed. However, the breaking motors aren't working. Okay, turn the rocket around and fire a brief burst from the main engines! No, no, that's not the answer. Durand volunteers to get into a spacesuit and repair the damage outside the rocket. Apparently, a meteor has damaged "the unit". Brinkman will help him. If you're wondering, Sikarna and Tchen Yu, who were downstairs during the Inevitable Meteor Storm, are fine.
Durand gets into a silvery spacesuit and Brinkman helps him into the airlock. My, there sure is a lot of room on this rocket to walk and move.
In space, there are strange clucking sounds, pigeon-like. Anyway, Durand floats around the rocket while the crew watches from inside with the viewscreen. Durand finds holes ripped in the hull, and repairs the holes by spraying some sort of vapour at them. I guess steam will soften the metal and make it pliable. Meanwhile, the main swarm is bearing down upon them. The music grows tense and Durant's radio goes silent... but everything is okay. The rocket slows down and everything seems okay for now. Durand returns into the rocket, I guess.
We are now twenty-one days into the mission, though it feels a lot longer to me. Brinkman is narrating again. Apparently, the rocket has lost contact with Earth, and this is due to interference from Venus. Is Venus hanging between the rocket and Earth or something?
Let's consider something else. Nobody in the movie said anything about an atomic rocket, so I'm assuming this rocket has conventional propulsion systems and therefore is taking a conventional, energy-saving path to Venus, something referred to as a Hohmann Transfer Orbit (hey, research!). Three weeks out from Earth on such an orbit, and you'd still be much closer to Earth than Venus. Venus is interfering with your communication?
But I'm ranting here.
Herringway and Orloff discuss the coordinates of something.
Downstairs, Sumiko talks to Durand, who has built a heart for Omega. Uh, is the rocket taking care of itself while you do this? Sumiko insists that he drink some food. She then goes up to the computer and asks Sikarna to eat, but he waves her away. You've been sitting at that thing for three weeks and haven't found anything? He resumes typing into the noisy, bleeping computer
She climbs back down and bumps into Tchen Yu, who is looking more and more like Sulu with every moment. He takes the drink and heads up to the computer.
Above, Orloff and Omega are once again playing chess, and that delightful whimsical music is back. Omega seems slower today, and makes a mistake that allows Orloff to win. Sumiko chuckles knowingly, and Durand mutters about Omega having "too much heart". Wow, Durand is everywhere! On the bridge, down in the workshop, watching the chess games... Wow!
And then, Sikarna calls everyone down to the computer. You see how plodding this movie became?
Downstairs, the computer is making weird, psychedelic sounds. Apparently, the whole document is deciphered, but if you think those sounds constitute a 'deciphered' message, you've got some more work to do.
Tchen Yu somehow translates this nonsense, maybe like Dr. Murata can in 12 to the Moon. Apparently, the Venusians intended to bombard Earth with radiation, take over, and exterminate any surviving humans. Sikarna describes it as a "cold-blooded blueprint for destruction."
Debate follows on whether or not to inform Earth about this news. After all, they don't want to be responsible for any hysteria and panic. Orloff suggests they keep it a secret for now, but Herringway finishes the debate:
Herringway: "No. No, Orloff. I'm convinced you're wrong."How conclusive and clinching. I'm in full agreement. Who wrote this? Anyway, Herringway says that knowledge saved humanity from the edge of destruction during the Cold War (a subtle peek at the movie's moral, perhaps?) and he has faith that there will be no panic. He sums up his view with a stirring "hmm?" which is directed at Orloff. Talk about condescension. Tchen Yu even thinks they could negotiate a peace with the Venusians when they arrive.
But the whole debate is pointless. Talua can't contact Earth because of interference from Venus. Herringway asks the crew if any of them want to turn back and return to Earth, and everyone says 'no' except Sumiko, who apparently doesn't answer. Isn't this impossible anyway? Good gravy, get this movie a science adviser!
Venus is three days away. The gamma radiation count is increasing steadily. That's really bad, isn't it? The ship beeps.
And we cut to the next scene, thirty-one days into the mission. WHAT?! Just a second ago, the movie told us Venus was three days away at the twenty-one day mark! Now it's ten days later and they aren't there?! WTF?! Did the rocket stop for a week and go nowhere? You know, it doesn't really matter. This movie is so disjointed, none of it matters.
Venus is finally visible on the view screen, a big glowing bluish ball with swirls of clouds. They are starting deceleration for insertion into an elliptical orbit around the planet.
Tchen Yu reports on the atmospheric composition of the planet: 27% carbon dioxide, and 14% formaldehyde. Oh, sort of like the storage room of a biology classroom? What's the other 59% made up of? No, we never learn that. There is no oxygen on the planet to breathe. Herringway says that they only have enough fuel for one landing on Venus, so Brinkman will scout ahead for landing places in something called the "crawlercopter", a sort of goofy looking flying machine that neither crawls, nor bears any resemblance to a helicopter. It looks like Willy Wonka designed it. Uh huh? With some apprehension, Brinkman climbs into the crawlercopter. The remaining crew assumes action stations. The Cosmostrator enters the atmosphere at an altitude of seven hundred and fifty miles. Yup, in the future, metric still has not overcome the old Imperial system. That's actually not too far off, really.
Brinkman is inside the crawlercopter, and Durand releases it into the atmosphere.
It's a bumpy ride, and smoke and bits of matter fly past the windshield. We don't get to see much, since the camera is pointed at Brinkman from outside and not the other way around. It saves money.
Herringway tries calling Brinkman on the radio, and although they can hear Brinkman, he can't hear them. There are electrical disturbances in the air. Brinkman is alone.
He flies down to fifteen hundred feet, and still can't see a thing. Despite his inability to see, he describes the terrain as very mountainous. The land ahead looks very desolate. He can't call the ship but he's going to land anyway.
Aboard the Cosmostrator, Talua can't reach Brinkman. Their altitude is 24,000 feet.
Brinkman has landed. First the Moon, now Venus? Quite a career. He walks about with tiny oxygen tanks on the back of his suit. He steps into sandy, glistening soil. The landscape is weird, with strange twisted trees and bizarre patterns of green mist resembling elongated amoebas (amoebae?) drifting past in the air. The sky is cloudy and very dark, and everything has a bluish tinge. It's like a fusion of Tim Burton with Dr. Seuss. It's actually somewhat scary, I'll admit. Kudos to the set designers.
Back aboard the Cosmostrator, strange flashes of light surround the ship as it flies through the air. We see this through the view screen. Orloff thinks the atmosphere has become ionized by atomic radiation, and Sumiko suggests it's an attack. Before they jump to conclusions, they must descend to make contact with Brinkman.
Brinkman tries calling, but still cannot reach them. Omega continues forward, well suited to traversing the terrain. It warns of danger around, measuring intense radiation, a reading of eight curies. Omega says that they have a maximum of eight minutes to spend on the surface before radiation poisoning sets in. Brinkman and Omega turn back to the crawlercopter. Brinkman tries again to describe his situation to the Cosmostrator, saying that the "radioactive forest" he is in is blocking his radio signals.
We see the crawlercopter in the distance. As they approach, it explodes. Brinkman hits the deck, wondering if he's being attacked.
High above, the crew detects a flash of light on the surface and think that it could be Brinkman 120 miles away. They're going to land.
Brinkman calls Omega back from something, but as he's running he falls into a somewhat badly hidden pit in the ground. He falls down into a little cavern, and discovers little bouncing insect things that make odd little noises. They look like they're tin foil origami shapes. Brinkman picks one up to look at before throwing it into his bag.
Above, the rocket fires its main rockets and makes a soft landing on the surface. However, the exhaust from the rocket, which is landing near Brinkman, pushes Brinkman back into the pit, among the bouncing, chattering Venus bugs. There, he blacks out. Gee, thanks guys!
Above, the rest of the crew emerges from one of two rovers they have at their disposal. The Cosmostrator is on the horizon behind them.
Fig. 7 - The Cosmostrator on Venus
Looking around at the violently desolate landscape, they take measurements with Geiger counters and discover the wreckage of the crawlercopter. They figure out that the copter landed on top of an underground high voltage line, which is why it exploded. Wait a second... you know what, never mind. I'd better start taking this movie at face value, or else I'll go nuts. Anyway, the voltage in the line mounted or something, causing the copter to explode.
Suddenly, they spot Omega rolling towards them and are relieved to see Brinkman has survived too. Even better, he has one of the insects to study. Tchen Yu will examine it, while Herringway will lead a team to follow the high voltage line. Uh, what happened to the eight-minute limit that Omega measured? Did the radiation clear up? We'll try to ignore this major flaw in the movie. Omega returns to the Cosmostrator.
Aboard the ship, Talua and Sikarna watch the progress of the crew outside. They've followed the power line to a large white sphere that looks like a golf ball, glowing. Orloff and Durand look at it, but nobody knows what it could be. Sikarna wants all the readings for analysis.
The movie begins it's long descent into boredom. Brinkman is aboard the rocket, watching the landscape of Venus through the ship's viewscreen. He thinks it's quiet. Too quiet, maybe? He speculates on the nature of the metal insects.
Outside, the rocket is sweeping a spotlight around and around at the dark, windy surface. There's a building in Montreal that does the same thing.
Tchen Yu works at his station, and announces that the insects aren't really alive. To prove it, he puts one of the insect's "microcrystals" into the MAREX. Of course, their computer is an alien technology reading device. I wonder if it's USB. Anyway, the computer somehow reads information on the crystal and makes more strange sounds that I can't understand. Sikarna says the insects are information storage devices:
"A way of storing sounds in their crystalline nuclei."All together, the insects form a library, and the hole was an entry to some sort of archive. All good libraries have entrances built into the ceiling, after all. However, the Venusians themselves remain elusive. Sikarna needs more data and more insects.
Outside, some of the astronauts wander through weird petrified trees, guided by Brinkman's narration. They work through the troublesome windstorms that surround the planet. Apparently, the power line leads right into the big white sphere. The wind blows. So does the movie. Tchen Yu collects samples of sand carried by the wind. Some of the sand is radioactive, but despite this, Tchen Yu is searching for native life.
Brinkman says that night is falling, but I can't tell. Venus is uniformly dark. The crew heads back to the ship before nightfall. Doesn't Venus have a day that's a few hundred Earth-days long?
So we get to watch the scientists theorize and think. Exciting. Tchen Yu thinks that the vitrified forest outside is an artificial formation. Sikarna expands upon this rather grandiose theory, thinking that it's an energy projector, capable of firing at Earth and wiping out all life. However, the metal insects indicate that something went wrong, though Sikarna can't figure out why. In this whole scene, the dialogue is stilted, overly-elaborate, meaningless, and slooooooowwwwww. COME ON, LET'S PICK IT UP! The disaster that happened must have been enormous. Orloff wants to research the sphere, thinking it's a transformer unit or a force field generator. I love how all these theories can come out of thin air.
Tchen Yu brings up the periodic voltage increases in the line. Herringway thinks that the Venusians may be hiding inside the sphere. The only way to find out is to continue exploring. Okay, OKAY, JUST GO!
So they drive down the power line, past weird bubbly landscapes, trying to find the other, undiscovered end of the power line. After seven hours, they find no signs of current life. They drive, and spot blinking lights ahead. However, now they can't find the end of the line. They drive through strange Dr. Seuss landscapes, past twisted buildings that are coated in ice. Is it cold out now? They drive and drive and drive, blah, blah, blah, and it's hazy and dark. This movie is getting downright dreary. There are indications of high temperatures, enough to kill whatever was in the area. Sumiko is sort of in a trance, thinking about the damage. See, because she's Japanese, she'd be more familiar with nuclear bomb damage than other people. They drive and drive, for a grand total of 2 minutes and 30 seconds (though it seems much longer) before finally leaving the crawler and continuing the movie.
There is a strange cave, into which the power line runs. Omega is with them, and the soundtrack becomes dominated by a theramin.
Inside, deep in the cave, is a model of the Solar System. Didn't we see this model back on Earth? I guess when you've got a neat prop, you've got to use it.
Meanwhile, there's a vertical shaft nearby running down into the ground, an opening into some sort of control room. It doesn't look like much of a control room. I can see lights and shapes down there, but it doesn't even look like a room. Even stranger, it's still being powered... so is it still running?
Elsewhere, Sumiko, Durand, and Omega proceed towards a strange looking building, tall and shaped like a corkscrew. Durand asks Omega what it is. Yeah, like Omega would know. Anyway, Omega replies with a hearty "Beats me." Well, I'm glad Durand programmed it with knowledge of human slang.
Surrounded by weird black bubbling slime, the intrepid explorers approach the building. I must admit, the visual effects aren't too bad. This movie was very ambitious with its portrayal of Venus, and I'd say it paid off... but barely.
During the walk, Durand slips and accidentally kicks a rock into the slime. However, it bounces back in a somewhat awkward looking visual effect, and the action is followed by a larger rockfall, triggering the 2-minute long chase scene. The astronauts run up a ramp that winds up and around the building. However, the slime seems to be rising and following them up the ramp. The music becomes more and more dramatic. Okay, I'm beginning to get tired of all the tension. They run and run. Sumiko stops to look at the slime, but her foot gets caught in it. The only reason she stopped was because the script told her to stop. The men pull her out and she manages to get her foot out. We can clearly see that her foot didn't even look stuck in anything at all... but I forgive the movie. That would be hard to do without having genuine slime on the set.
Anyway, they run up the building until the slime starts pouring out of the side of the building above them. Their suits become covered in it, and the tension spikes as they discover the ramp stops in front of them. They're cornered. The men beg the screaming Sumiko not to panic and Durand shoots at the slime with his raygun. Well, if you're cornered, I guess there's not much else to do but shoot at it. Then again, if I was aboard a sinking ship, I don't think I'd fire a gun at the rising water. It probably wouldn't do anything.
Oh boy was I wrong! The slime starts abating, sliding back down the ramp with a reverse-film effect.
Meanwhile, the others on the ground hear something. Yeah, maybe it's the huge blob of slime chasing your comrades!
The victims of the slime run away towards the crawler.
The others continue to gawk at the model solar system at the end of the cave. The model of Venus starts flashing. Orloff figures the model allowed the Venusians to fine-tune their attack plan, and that the strange 'room', if you can call it that, was their headquarters. The music swells to a crescendo for some reason, and we get to see Omega rove around for a bit.
We get a strange little scene of the astronauts running over a dark plain, with odd objects swinging on long strings all around them. What the hell is this, a funhouse?
Back aboard the ship, Talua reports that the glass forest is radiating energy. Sikarna, also on the bridge, is afraid of this. The final key to his idea is the big golf ball thing they found. It's no longer white, it's glowing red. Somehow Sikarna figures out all these happenings and is able to interpret them for us. It's a good thing he's in the movie because I'm really, really lost right now.
Sikarna: "I am not surprised."Whoa, let's stop to consider this. Did he say that the sphere is simultaneously increasing AND decreasing the gravity of Venus? WTF?!
Ignoring this, let's imagine what this could mean. If Venus suddenly began radiating 'negative gravity' capable of repelling objects around it, the entire gravitational dynamic of the inner solar system would be altered, wouldn't it? Wouldn't the actual planet disintegrate and blow itself apart? My head is going to explode! I guess the movie was too busy spending its money on sets and model rockets to afford a scientific advisor!
Talua is hopeful the situation will turn out okay. Sikarna crawls back down to his basement. I hoped he'd clear up the plot, but he only made my headache worse.
Herringway and company emerges from the cave and finds a windy lightning storm has descended onto their location. Everyone bundles into the crawler and drives back to the Cosmostrator, once again looking at the weird landscapes.
They drive by a wall, and Sumiko sees strange shadows of humanoid-looking creatures. These are the shadows of the Venusians, burned into the wall by whatever disaster killed them. Sumiko seems particularly disturbed. I guess since she's Japanese, she should be more sensitive to death at the hands of atomic weaponry than everyone else. Go figure.
Aboard the rocket, the MAREX is picking up commands from the alien headquarters, an automated transmission. The message is translated into "E=mc^2", but according to Sikarna, the Venusians used an "integration factor that is closed in upon itself." WHAT?!
Tchen Yu and Sumiko are at a microscope, peering into it at something interesting. We don't get to see it. I HATE THAT!! Apparently, there are seeds in the Venusian soil. Tchen Yu hopes they'll be fertile.
Back at the MAREX, the obvious is stated: The Venusians were planning to attack the Earth but a disaster struck that halted their plans and killed them all. Their weapons chain-reacted, but the projector is still partially functional. Even worse, the astronauts accidentally triggered it and started the firing sequence again. Before I can think, Durant starts explaining the story about the slime and how it chased them. Orloff ties it in to the plot for us. You see, it retreated after it was fired upon by Durant's "deuteron ray gun". Oh, the crew is armed with guns that fire deuterium? Mm hm. Anyway, the Venusians were able to not only convert mass into energy, but energy into mass. The slime was their energy repository, and after Durant fired at it, the sphere began converting it all into energy in preparation to fire a beam of radiation at Earth. I'm sure there are better ways to wipe out life on Earth, but never mind. I'm not a screenwriter.
Above them, Omega starts behaving erratically and drives around by itself. Herringway orders it to stop, but he gets run over and injured by the thing. Wow, Omega must be really heavy to hurt a man. It's not that big, after all. Finally, the robot drives into a wall and dies. All of the robots on the ship are failing. Apparently, the glass forest is acting up and interfering in the operation of electrical equipment. Even the MAREX is out too.
As the weather deteriorates outside, radiation levels increase. What's worse, Herringway has internal injuries. They need to take off, but the rocket motors won't work because the gravity is increasing. Why is the gravity increasing? I don't understand what this whole increasing/decreasing gravity thing has to do with the radiation beam!
Orloff figures they need to reverse the reaction and convert the energy back into harmless mass. Tchen Yu volunteers to do this. He'd need the crawlercopter to get to the control center to somehow reverse the reaction. According to Durand, the rocketplane wouldn't work in the increased gravity. WHY?! No matter, Talua also volunteers to go. This is assuming that Tchen Yu can somehow figure out how to work with alien technology.
Meanwhile, Sumiko prepares to operate on Herringway.
Outside, amidst terrible storms, Tchen Yu and Talua drive into the ruined city.
Sumiko and Sikarna operate on Herringway. It's interesting to see how medical technology hasn't advanced much from the sixties in this, the glorious year of 1985. Anyway, Durant works to fix the MAREX.
Talua starts climbing down the vertical shaft that leads to the control center, while Tchen Yu holds the rope. All around him are those bizarre swinging objects hanging from something. Oh, I get it, the vertical shaft is inside the cave! Okay, I wasn't sure. This movie didn't make that very clear. But wait a minute, if they're inside a cave, why is the wind blowing? Never mind. Tchen Yu gets struck in the side by one of these things and gets his spacesuit punctured. The atmosphere is getting in. All that carbon dioxide won't be good, but at least the formaldehyde will ensure an open-casket funeral. Talua tries climbing back up, but is told to keep going to stop the reaction. Tchen Yu falls and drops the rope. We get another shot of the control center.
The sphere turns white again, and the reaction is over. Wow, that was fast. It took Talua the length of a jump-cut to stop it! However, Tchen Yu isn't answering the radio. Brinkman re-joins the film, heroically volunteering to go on a rescue mission with the rocketplane.
The rocketplane takes off.
As Tchen Yu sits on the Venusian surface, dying, Sumiko comes on the radio, almost hysterical as she tells him that the seeds he found are indeed fertile. Yes, there is life on Venus. He's happy about that as he finally dies.
Meanwhile, the model solar system in the cave spins and model Venus starts flashing again.
There is a jump-cut to the rocket, which despite firing its retrorockets, is slowly rising from the surface. The reverse gravity field is pushing them off the planet. The crew aboard urges Brinkman to return, but it's too late.
Brinkman tries calling them from the cockpit of the rocketplane, but is pushed into space by the reverse gravity. He screams and presumably dies. We don't really know if he died or not. I don't see why he'd die immediately.
Finally, we get the worst part of the movie. Talua staggers back onto the surface, staggering towards the camera waving his arms. He begs not to be left behind, but the scene fades out on him. What kind of movie is this?! Poor guy!
We see some stars.
Luna 3 calls the Earth, reporting that the Cosmostrator is returning. However, the rocket isn't replying to their signals.
We see a satellite dish bleeping, and another spinning radar dish.
A telescope slews. This is the same footage that we saw earlier in the movie.
Men in red overalls assemble at the landing pad. The rocket touches down again, while men in 'A' suits keep the spectators away. 'M' and 'T' men gather at the base of the stairs leading to the door of the rocket.
The door opens, and Sikarna is helped out. The crew slowly leaves the rocket, and the music is vaguely nice. Why is Sikarna staggering out like that? It took weeks to get from Venus to Earth. Didn't he recover from the excitement in that time?
Everyone is eager to see the crew again. Herringway makes his way down the stairs.
They make some brief statements at a podium as they leave the landing pad. Sikarna is happy to be home. Sumiko says they've learned much, but they've "sacrificed a lot... too much."
A woman rushes through the crowd to Herringway's side. Um, who is this? If she's Herringway's wife, why wasn't she introduced earlier? Herringway takes the podium and acknowledges the three dead astronauts.
Durant sums up the Venusians, describing what happened to them. Orloff is a bit more optimistic, looking forward to the future and encouraging humanity to continue exploring. Gee, I hope Mars isn't like Venus. If it is, I think I'll stay home.
Very ambitious. That's how I can summarize this movie in a word. Ambitious. It had a high goal, a moral warning us to be careful with dangerous technology lest we be destroyed like the fictional Venusians were. The movie had a lot of support. Filmed in communist East Germany, the production apparently received a lot of financial support from the government. The effects aren't bad. Let's just say there's a lot worse out there. I was also impressed by the racial diversity of the cast. It was filmed in 1959, and despite this, there are two Asians and a black man in non-stereotypical roles. Quite a progressive movie, isn't it?
The main problem with this movie is that the original was much longer than this version. Whoever dubbed it into English also chopped many scenes out of the movie, leaving us with scenes that don't quite fit together and many abrupt jump-cuts that made me scratch my head. Because of this, I can't really blame the filmmakers for making a bad movie. It was made bad after it was finished.
I did a bit of research on this movie. In the original, Brinkman isn't American. He's East German. Durant isn't French. His name is 'Professor Arsenjew' (pronounced 'Arsenyev') and he is a Soviet cosmonaut who "steered the first rocket to the Moon." Hmm, just a little socialist wishful thinking?
Stanislaw Lem co-wrote the screenplay. I've heard of him before and I know he's written some respectable novels like Solaris. However, I can't vouch for the SEVEN OTHER WRITERS who contributed to the movie. Finally, we come to the fictional TV station featured in the movie. Surely, in 1985, Intervision would be more sophisticated. It'd look more like this:
Fig. 8 - If Intervision was more like CNN
Of course, this is mere speculation.
So, if you enjoy pseudoscience, irritating robots, or computer scientists in funny paper hats, you might enjoy First Spaceship On Venus.
Note - Ernest Borgnine photo shamelessly copied from moviestarsmovies.com
Robert Picardo photo shamelessly copied from wikipedia.org, perhaps the coolest site out there!
May 13, 2006
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