Sunday, August 02, 2009


This crazy sci-fi film is really two movies in one. Set in a future where space exploration has advanced to the point where men have landed on Mars, the first 40 minutes is an unthrilling political spy thriller in which Eurosec, a European NASA, discovers a previously unknown planet directly opposite ours on, duh, the far side of the sun. In order to get disinterested countries interested, they allow a Russian spy to get hold of secret info, and the Americans agree to help. The last hour of the movie becomes a more traditional sci-fi adventure, albeit one suited more for a Twilight Zone episode: American astronaut Roy Thinnes and British scientist Ian Hendry rocket off to explore this world (and, while in hibernation, experience a B-movie version of the trippy 2001: A Space Odyssey "stargate" sequence) and find out that it's an exact mirror image of Earth, with the same people and the same countries, but with backwards writing. [This is not exactly a spoiler, as the movie's original title was Doppleganger]

On balance, this is a dull movie, though there a few reasons for watching. First, it's a live action film produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, creators of the cult classic puppet TV show and movie Thunderbirds. Most of the exterior and action scenes are done with miniatures--fairly obvious but still fun to watch, especially the rocket launches and crashes and explosions (and a very effective scene of an astronaut, on fire, thrown out of his ship). Second, the plot is, to a point, interesting, though as soon as you give any thought at all to the premise, it all falls apart (i.e., why don't they talk backwards as well?); as one critic has pointed out, it's really more in the realm of fantasy than science. The political intrigues in the beginning have some promise, but play out slowly and confusingly and have little bearing on the rest of the movie. Finally, most of the acting is solid, given that the actors are basically playing Thunderbird-like puppet characters; Herbert Lom as the spy, Patrick Wymark as the head of the project, and Hendry are good, and the very handsome Thinnes (pictured) is more than competent as the stolid hero, making a very convincing astronaut-type, both on the ground and in space. Unfortunately, the only two women in the film give poor performances, though in their defense, their characters are total pieces of cardboard; Lynn Loring (married to Thinnes in real life at the time) is Thinnes' disagreeable wife who believes that his apparent sterility is a sign of his crippled manhood, and Loni von Friedl is his potential mistress who is, however, a complete zero. Thinnes, who still acts occasionally, is best known for the cult TV series The Invaders and had a recurring role on The X-Files. Though too long and clunky, I did wind up with a certain affection for this film, the kind you might have for an ugly 3-legged puppy. [DVD--the print is colorful and spotless, though there no extras at all]

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