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Roland af Hällström
I saw "Heaven-Ship" ("Himmelskibet") at the 2006 Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. What a great movie! This Danish steampunk saga is the stirring tale of the first trip to Mars, in an era when wireless telegraphy hasn't been perfected. The spaceship hasn't got a radio, and the heroes are brought back from the landing field via horsecart. Even the intertitles are delightful ... some of them written in rhymed couplets in the original Danish.
The actors' performances are laughable, largely hand-to-brow histrionics. But the sets are astonishing, easily surpassing anything done by Georges Melies a decade earlier (or in "Die Frau im Mond" a decade later). Of course, the plot is simplistic. The spaceship's crew consist of seven thin guys and one fat slob. Guess which one cracks. Interestingly, everyone in this movie (except the dubious Professor Dubius) ardently believes in God. Even the Martians.
Impressively, the scenarists have the sense to acknowledge that a trip to Mars is no doddle: the title cards establish that it takes the scientists two years to build their spaceship (which has an airscrew) and six months to reach Mars. During the construction sequence, there's one extremely impressive set-up which must have been choreographed: dozens of workers all hustle through the worksite in different directions, with no hesitations and no collisions. The Danish scientists christen their ship "Excelsior" ("packing materials"?) and set course for Mars, even though the Moon and Venus are closer. When the ship (which flies horizontally, not vertically) lands on Mars, it is greeted by "Marsboerne" -- Martians -- who turn out to be Nordic blondes, all highly-developed pacifists and vegetarians. (As a highly-developed meat-eater, I resented that part.)
Conveniently enough, Mars turns out to have an atmosphere just like Earth's, as well as equal gravity. In an exterior shot of the Martian landscape, the Sun's apparent magnitude when seen from Mars is the same as it is when viewed from Earth. I also couldn't help observing that all the wise elder Martians are male. In fact, female elders are thin on the ground here: both the Earth-born hero and the Martian maiden are motherless. The Martians speak a universal language, wear ankhs on their robes, and greet the Earth visitors with a globe of Earth ... which of course they hold with its North Pole upward.
That Martian maiden is Marya, played by an ethereally beautiful Danish actress. (Waiter, I'll have some of that Danish!) We see a Martian dance of chastity which might have been twee or ludicrous but is actually quite touching and beautiful. Also, the Martian funeral scene features one shot which reminded me of a sequence in "The Seventh Seal". I wonder if Ingmar Bergman saw this film.
"Himmelskibet" has a few flaws, but its production design and its other merits very far outweigh its drawbacks. The Ole Olsen who is named in the credits (and who appears in a brief prologue) is no relation to Chic Johnson's vaudeville partner from "Hellzapoppin". I would give "Himmelskibet" a 12, but the scale tops off at 10 ... so, a full 10 out of 10 for this delightful trip to Mars, the blonde planet!
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