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What's wrong with this picture? This movie is neither highly regarded by
critics nor IMDB voters. Yet, it contains some striking visuals;
comments on the "human" condition; an attractive, multiracial, coed
international cast (daring for the time); and a pretty good storyline, to
Excavators at the site of the 1906 mystery explosion in Tunguska, Siberia, discover evidence that the explosion was the destruction of an alien spaceship. Evidence includes a "memory spool." Scientist determine the alien spaceship came from the planet Venus, and cryptographers and linguists begin to translate the memory spool.
Before translation can be completed, an international crew is assembled and an enormous nuclear powered spaceship constructed (a stunningly beautiful piece of matte work) for a flight to Venus. The ship begins its voyage before the on-board linguist makes a startling announcement. The memory spool contains plans for a Venusian invasion of earth!
The ship lands on a eerie, vapor-cloaked Venus (Striking art direction; just how did they do those strange, microbe-like vapors?). The crew discovers, a burned out, uninhabitable planet. The Venusians, apparently attempting an invasion to escape either overcrowding or an impending nuclear war, have destroyed themselves, leaving only the shadows of their disintegrated bodies. Further exploration discovers a strange, living amoeba-like organism and a damaged, super-gravity beam weapon aimed toward earth. Many members of the crew are lost, and the ship is eventually deflected back to earth by the accidental discharge of the gravity beam.
The movie IS choppy, without a doubt because the American distributor, Crown International, cut the film by over one half hour. I'd certainly LOVE to see the excised footage; however, since the film is East German, I doubt if a complete print still exists. Besides, we Americans are having enough trouble finding obscure fifties and sixties from ENGLISH-speaking countries, including our own.
The amazing imaginative fiction author Stanislaw Lem wrote this
visually stunning East German space exploration film with a dated but
still thoughtful message. The Sets of Der Schweigende Stern are
detailed and beautiful - giving the film an amazingly alien feel. The
cinematography varies from excellent to mediocre, and the visual
effects are cleverly done - relying on actual props and set devices as
opposed to split screen and blue or green screen trick photography.
Lem's plot is poignant and well-paced, but, unfortunately, most of the
acting in this film is a bit difficult to watch. Finally, the overuse
of voice-over narration in the early part of the film detracts from its
otherwise good artistic and technical merit.
The story begins with the discovery that, in 1908, an extraterrestrial space vehicle crash landed on earth. An electronic recording from the ship is recovered and linguists set about trying to decode its message. An international team of scientists, astronauts and engineers who are scheduled to undertake a manned flight to Mars are then diverted to Venus to make contact with the Venusians. On the way, they decipher the electronic "cosmic document" and learn that the Venusians were planning to attack the earth using nuclear warheads. To venture further in the plot would involve spoilers.
This is a film full of mysteries, and a film of its time - near the height if the cold war. A powerful point concerning the proliferation of nuclear arms is well made in this film, though it is perhaps the only truly predictable aspect of the plot. Lem's plot heavy brand of highly imaginative science fiction is very dense reading and often carries similar ethical messages, but rarely translates well into visual media. This is a worthy effort, maintaining the slightly wild and surreal feel of Lem's aesthetics and yet driving forward the film's plot at an entertaining pace.
Recommended for Lem fans, serious sci-fi film fans, and those interested in the connection between film and the social history of ideas. Unfortunately for Der Schweigende Stern, the average movie fan won't be able to handle this one.
Recently shown at the Viennale Filmfestival, this movie (one of only five
East German sci-fi films) was spoken of rather than of a trashy museal
antique stuffed with communist ideology. I had thought it would be about the
quality of Plan 9 from Outer Space, so I was surprised to discover that
First Spaceship on Venus is not at all trashy! A lot of money seems to have
been invested in the design of the mysterious landscape on venus and the
spacecraft. The technical effects look highly professional!
As regards ideology, one can't make out more than a slightly pathetic call for peace in the world (which is perfectly agreeable, really) and a casual remark on how well Soviet astronomy is developed. The crew of the spaceship, though, includes an American and a Japanese as well, so it is openly international.
The moment the spacecraft starts, however, the science-fiction story stands in the foreground. It was written by Stanislaw Lem and is therefore quite interesting, shocking and full of suspense - another aspect I wouldn't have expected to get in a film like that. Of course, the acting is stiff, dialogues are reduced to a necessary minimum and the romantic element in the plot is too weak to be convincing. Probably, the screenwriters have removed most of the depth of Lem's original novel. Nevertheless, the whole film manages to evoke Kubrickesque feelings at times (note that it was made before 2001: A Space Odyssey!) and serves as an interesting historical document but also as good sci-fi fun on a Sunday afternoon.
An artifact from the planet Venus is found buried on Earth, and
scientists learn that the object is the log of an alien spacecraft
which crashed. After attempts to contact the Venusian civilization are
unsuccessful, a multi-national (and multi-racial) flight to Earth's
sister planet is launched.
When the expedition arrives on Venus they find a dead world whose civilization has been destroyed by some kind catastrophe. The story contains good ideas, but the plot seems to race along with no regard for dramatic timing or narrative clarity, undoubtedly because of the thirty minutes of footage which were removed from the American version. The obvious dubbing is a major distraction, and the sound effects are garish and unappealing. For some reason, there are very few shots of the rocket traveling through space during the voyage. Generally speaking, the special effects run hot and cold.
The spaceship itself, however, is a beauty (both the interior and exterior), rivaling the best rockets for the 1950s. The little robot is memorable and well designed (it looks like a miniature tank).
The exterior shots of the strange Venusian surface are imaginative, with superimposed wisps of vapor constantly drifting past. Listen for several segments of music borrowed from "Destination Moon" and "This Island Earth".
If I were going to list my favorite 10 science fiction films, this
would be one of them. It is too bad that the original German language
version is not available (as far as I know), but even though the
American release version has some missing footage, the remaining film
still is first-rate.
The film features an international cast led by Japanese actress Yoko Tani (good eye candy) and actors/actresses from Germany, Africa, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and France. The special effects from the start of the movie to its end are excellent. The effects as they explore the surface of Venus are particularly eerie and thought-provoking. But, best of all, are the philosophical speculations about the role of space flight in the future of mankind. In addition, the film makes a stern warning against the misuse of science and technology in the pursuit of war and aggression and pleads with all men to apply advances in nuclear and space technology to foster world peace.
10/10 Dan Basinger
P.S. One of the other critics stated that this was the first German science fiction film since "Frau I'm Mond" (1929). This may be the first space film from that country since 1929, but there were other films from Germany that would be considered science fiction. One of these was "Gold" (1934) that dealt with atomic power plants in the transmutation of metals to gold. Some of the footage from "Gold" appeared in the science fiction film "The Magnetic Monster" (1953).
This movie suprised me. I thought I was going to see a cheesy old science fiction movie. But this movie, for its time, is actually really good. The special effects are pretty impressive for a film this old, and I love the design of the spaceship. I have no idea what kind of budget this movie was done on, but there are a lot of scenes in this movie that look BIG budget! The sets are very impressive, lavish and expansive. And the enviornment of Venus is detailed, spooky, and bizarre. I didn't care for the little plastic spiders, I thought that was distractingly goofy. I was very suprised to see such a forward thinking and racially diversified cast. For its time, such diversity was totally unheard of. Its a little long and slightly boring, but for good old fashioned sci fi, with cool alien landscapes and bizarre spaceships, this is a must see. Thats why I am rating this movie fairly high, giving it an 8.
FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (aka "The Silent Star") was a collaborative effort between film studios in East Germany and Poland and picked up by Crown-International Pictures for a 1962 US release. Far ahead of its time FSOV delivers the pacifist message in no uncertain terms. An international crew lands on the planet Venus to discover that a war has completely destroyed its inhabitants. Venusian landscapes are surrealistic and wonderous to behold and the spaceship itself gets my vote as the coolest cinematic craft of all time. The late Japanese/French actress and model Yoko Tani leads the cast and is fetching to look at and enjoy. Englewood Entertainment once again has delivered a flawless print of this film and is available in VHS or on DVD and is letterboxed at proper aspect ratio. The film is a bit slow even at its 78 minutes (originally it ran at 130 minutes!) This critic would love to see the uncut version someday. Superior sci-fi from the Eastern Bloc!
Since this movie was covered fairly early on by the MST3000 crew (along
with "Rocketship XM" and "King Dinosaur"), my initial perception of
this movie was something on the lines of 'Ehhhh, pretty cheesy',
although it was clearly one of the better films they covered.
Undoubtedly I saw the chopped up 93 minute version, instead of the
longer, more coherent original version mentioned by other reviewers.
However, I saw a standalone DVD edition on sale at a clearance store and picked it up for a couple of bucks on some obscure impulse, and one fine evening I gave it a spin.
You know...in spite of the dated message and foreign cultural references and the problematic dubbing and "Engrish" translations, "1st Spaceship To Venus" does have a certain quality about it that I've come to respect. There's a certain gravity and solemnity to the proceedings. There's a certain wildness and inventiveness to the art direction and the sound design. And while none of the actors here are going to win any awards (or even by remembered by American audiences), if you pay attention you will see humane, approachable performances (undercut by poor dubbing) that make the film much more watchable than glib junk like "Rocketship XM" or space flight oriented stuff out of the Roger Corman sausage factory.
When I first saw "1st Spaceship", I had the impression that it definitely had an East European vibe to it, and the only Slavic speculative fiction author I was familiar with was Stanislaw Lem (whose best known work is probably "Solaris", although my favorite piece is "Non Serviam"). Sure enough, this movie turns out to be based on a Lem piece from decades back. Lem's dispassionate, Kabbalistic voice and speech rhythms, and his gift for oddly moving plots and characters somehow survived the adaptation to film and the tiny budget and the "Engrish" translation, leaving a dignity and substance to the proceedings that many contemporary American sci fi flicks can't match.
No, this will never be anyone's first choice for a space opera shoot-em-up, but under the crappy dubbing and hacked-up editing, the sympathetic eye can see that there is some good work being done here. A good item to add to the collection of the sci fi completist and archivist.
In the late 50s Russia changed the world by launching Sputnik. This
really was a shock; modern readers may not appreciate it as of the
magnitude (in the US) of 9-11. In terms of national will, there was a
more universal mobilization and commitment of resources than after
9-11, that's for sure.
Both the Russian and American space efforts were at root militarily motivated, but wrapped in more glorious notions or exploration. And both depended on "captured" Nazi scientists. At the time, East Germany was considered the most oppressed of all the communist clients, and the leaders there tried so very hard to establish itself as the center of the communist world for technology (which is how Germans see science).
East Germany as a region was cut out of the space program proper, something they wanted to change. So huge government monies went into this movie, including permissions to use Americanfilm stock and technology.
As it happens, this film proved enormously popular across the communist world and did have a profound effect on the Soviet space program. See my comments on "Planeta Bur" for that background.
The avowed goal was to show Germany as the leader and catalyst of a future international collaboration, peace led by a cleansed nation. So look what we have: a rock from the Gobi desert, a meteor from Siberia, a team mobilized for a trip a team from all continents: American, African, several Asians. And a story from someone widely considered the father of modern science fiction, a sibling through Warsaw Pact.
It really is true that large fortunes, on the order of a trillion dollars, was swung in part by this film, money that could have eliminated all hunger and disease everywhere for generations.
But it has cinematic history as well. Was it the first one to open moving through a starfield as 3D points of light (with titles that recede ahead of us)? A totally fictitious effect that has become necessary since. Otherwise audiences won't think it "real."
The west already had "Forbidden Planet," of course, itself perhaps the most influential science fiction film in the west. In a way, the travel technology was incidental there and in fact the design of the rocket was V2-like. Here, matters of the technology of travel are central.
You have some shades of "Forbidden Planet:" a lost, powerful race. You have some by now staples: lava flows and meteor showers (even in "Star Wars"). There's an Orrery as a model of and control of the attack plan. The black man is less racistly portrayed than Americans would have. That's the point. But he still is the "don't worry, be happy" personality in the group.
They discover a geodesic dome on the planet. In the 60's this was an architectural icon of modern architecture. Interestingly, there is a wonderful sequence where the explorers come upon this thing and are amazed by it. They are talking to the space ship cut to the interior of the space ship and what is the ceiling? Yup, a geodesic dome!
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
An AMAZING film given the year it came out-from a story by Stanislaw Lem, THE ASTRONAUTS... the story seems a little slow and stilted at first, but the ideas and the Special Effects are wonderful, including some of the sets showing the devastated surface of Venus as seen thru their 'chariot'. Maltin claims that a whole lot of this film was cut to be shown in the USA...would love to see a restored version...
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