Thursday, November 25, 2010


In Siberia, an extraterrestrial artifact is found to be a recorded message from Venus; when radio signals are sent to the planet, there is no response. Although the translation is incomplete, an international crew (an American physicist, an Indian mathematician, a Chinese translator, a female Japanese doctor, an African technician, etc.) is sent to Venus in a spaceship called the Cosmokrator to find out what's going on. Along the way, the message is discovered to convey plans to attack Earth. However, when the team lands, they find no life except some artificial metallic spiders. It turns out that the Venusians were so warlike, they destroyed each other before they could invade Earth. But the earthlings trigger an automated chain reaction involving a large machine (which reminded me a bit the uncontrollable Doomsday Machine in DR. STRANGELOVE) and a seemingly sentient black sludge which are still guarding the planet, so our crew have a rough time getting back home.

This was produced in the middle of the Cold War by the East German studio DEFA, but its propaganda isn't about Communism as much as about getting along--there is an explicit message at the end about not only the need for international cooperation but also for making progress in space exploration. While the plot has holes and the effects are pretty bad (in weightless conditions, spaceship seat belts dangle in the air on clearly visible wires), the sets and art direction are colorful and imaginative. Weird psychedelic fogs, forests of glass, and the aforementioned robot spiders and icky gunk that tries to eat people are all fairly cool in concept and look. The crew is the most multicultural one ever (even before the term "multicultural" was in wide usage). There are explicit parallels between the Venusian apocalypse and Hiroshima: the Japanese doctor (Yoko Tani) was born just after the bombing, a fact that is brought up occasionally, and the only thing left of the Venusians are burned-in shadows on the wall. There's not a lot of character development among the token cast members. The only ones to stand out much are the widowed doctor (her husband died in an accident on the moon) and the American (Guenther Simon) with whom a romance flares up. She tries to discourage his feelings, telling him, "There's no room for extra baggage on a journey like this," but that doesn't stop him from getting all moony (pun intended) over her anyway. There is also a proto-R2D2 robot named Omega; it speaks, but has no personality. Some of the crew escape, some sacrifice and wind up dead or stranded on the planet. This was released in the States in a cut, dubbed version called FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, which I haven't seen but which was bad enough to get aired on MST3K, but this version is serious (very little humor, intended or otherwise) and is worthy viewing for sci-fi buffs. [DVD]

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