Tuesday, November 25, 2014

First Spaceship on Venus [Der schweigende Stern] (1960)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

It seems that the 50s and 60s produced a few good movies.  Those decades, unfortunately, also produced a lot of really bad movies.  I don’t know if standards were lower or if it was simply that easy to get a movie to market.  I submit into evidence First Spaceship on Venus.  The movie takes place in 1985 and starts with an alien device from the explosion in Tunguska, which was originally thought to be a meteorite.  Instead, it’s some sort of memory device that scientists have somehow determined that came from Venus.  It seems that it was part of some advanced probe.

Since there’s been no contact from Venus in the intervening decades, an expedition is assembled and sent to our sister planet.  No one can figure out why Venus has been silent nor does anyone know what to expect once the expedition gets there, but they must go.  Once they get there, it looks like Venus is desolate.  The atmosphere is thick and unbreathable.  There are no signs of life, but there are structures and things that look like large insects, but turn out to be information-storage devices.

Right before landing on Venus, the language expert decoded what’s on the alien device.  It turns out that the Venusians were planning on wiping out all life on Earth as a precursor to colonization.  The expedition can’t contact Earth; they must either carry on expecting unfriendly aliens or go home without any answers.  The expedition does go to Venus, but soon realizes that everyone is in mortal danger.  Thus, they decide to get off the planet with all deliberate speed.

I’ll admit that the story was very good.  It was based on a book by Stanislaw Lem, who also wrote the book that was turned into Solaris.  Regrettably, the actual movie wasn’t made that well.  A lot of time was spent getting the expedition together and a lot more time was spent actually getting to Venus.  The trip between planets really seemed to drag.  Yes, the people spent time either doing work or getting along, but I thought a lot of it could have been cut out.  Not a lot of time was actually spent on Venus looking around, which could definitely have been developed.

Apparently, there were different versions released.  I got this as part of a ten-movie set; the information on the back of the box gives the runtime as 78 minutes and the year of release as 1959.  According to IMDb, it does look like there were longer versions released in different countries, which leaves me wondering what was left out.

The dubbing was bad, but not distracting.  From what I can tell, it was originally released in German and translated into English.  This explains why the dubbing looks decent in some areas, but totally off in others.  I didn’t notice it in most scenes, but there were a few where it was extremely evident that it was a dub.

The special effects were nothing special.  There were a few scenes on Venus where we had gasses floating around.  If you look closely, it looks like a static image was used.  You don’t notice the gas swirling at all.  The transfer also left a lot to be desired.  The movie is in color, but there were a lot of segments that had a heavy blue tint, almost to where they appeared to be in black and white.

I’ve come to not expect much of science-fiction movies from the 50s.  I’ve found that it tends to be kind of hokey.  The world of 1985 that this movie has shows an international team of people working together.  There’s a black man and a Japanese woman as part of the expedition, which I suppose isn’t impossible.  (After all, we do have an international space station.)

Still, much of the science seems simple by today’s standards.  The ship has artificial gravity and everything, but no mention is made of the fact that Venus’s atmosphere is much denser than ours.  Also, the ending was relatively weak.  I expected some great moral revelation or something.  Instead, when the ship gets back to Earth, it’s just some sad faces and a few words on what happened.

I’ll admit that my perspective is a bit skewed.  This is part of a ten-film set released by St. Clair Vision where the company had to pay little or nothing, meaning that this is the bottom of the barrel.  Still, there had to be better movies out there.  I’d like to think that if I was making this movie, I’d have done better.

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