that it looks as if it were produced
expressly for sale: 90 minutes of random Kaiju destruction, ready for a smart producer/editor to add
their own Raymond Burr substitute. Denied normal distribution in the West, Russia's Mosfilm fantasies
ended up completely reedited, revoiced and sometimes re-plotted by the likes of A.I.P.: The Sword
and the Dragon (Ilja Muromets), Queen of Blood (Niebo Zowiet), Voyage to the
Planet of the Prehistoric Women (Planeta Bur) and
The Day the Earth Froze (Sampo) are
just a few.
But news squeaked through about screenings at places like the Trieste film festival, of movies never
shown here: La Poupee, Omicron, Ikarie XB-1. These were serious pictures, sometimes with
adult themes. It would be tough for American producers who specialized in these imports to turn them
into kiddie matinee fare, as had been done with the Czech Karel Zeman's Baron Munchausen and
Vynalez zkazy (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne). Shorn of 26 minutes, Ikarie XB-1 became
the still-fascinating Voyage to the End of the
First Spaceship on Venus appears also to have been a serious Science Fiction epic, something
that most reviewers didn't bother to think about in 1962. The Variety critic lazily quipped that this
colorful Venus was "quite a planet, but no place to spend a summer vacation." Now that's wit.
The book source was the 1951 Astronauci by Stanislaus Lem, a first space novel by the man who would later
find reknown for
Solaris. Director Kurt Maetzig was the founding
rector of the College of Film Arts at the Potsdam-Babelsberg studio in East Germany. It appears that this
German-Polish co-production was made at a studio that was at least partially a film school called DEFA; perhaps the
stunning designs and the bizarre vision of Venus, was the work of students. The film was called
Der Schweigende Stern in German and Milczaca Gwiazda in Polish, both presumably meaning "Silent Star".
An alternate title was Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply. This would seem a play on the title of an early 30's
UFA science fiction epic called Floating Platform One Does Not Reply. The construction had been repeated for
This Island Earth, renamed Metaluna Does Not Reply for its German release.
The latter title is perhaps an important clue. Many of the reviewers who trashed First Spaceship
thought situations like its meteor shower were tired cliches. Perhaps this Eastern-Bloc
space opera consciously intended to restate and transcend all the American space movies they had seen.
There's the planet destroyed by atomic war from
Rocketship X-M. A colossal alien technology outliving
its extinct creators (Forbidden Planet). An EVA to repair the ship
(Destination Moon). An Asian biologist who makes
life grow on another world
Conquest of Space. And a tank-like robot
that goes haywire and injures a scientist (Gog). The original release was never intended for
children, nor as a joke, as can be seen in the beauty of the Polish poster (below).
Of course the dubbing is terrible, with the line, "It's incredible!" repeated to distraction. The music is an
obnoxious needle-drop collection of stock cues that chimes in with a goofy comical tune for the robot and
predictable 'oriental' music for the introduction of Sumiko. Savant knows there are experts who can
rattle off the sources verbatim, but he's pretty sure he heard the 'entering Metaluna' theme from This
Island Earth, and a blip or two from
The Creature from the Black Lagoon. If
Forbidden Planet wasn't the source of some of the sound effects, then they sure sound similar. Only two
original actors, one writer and the director made the American on-screen credit list, but Crown
International managed to include Gordon Zahler and two of his music editors. 2
Savant recommends that for at least one screening you just turn down the volume,
put on your favorite music and pretend its an avant-garde silent film!
There is plenty of editorial evidence to suggest 'executive supervisor' Hugo Grimaldi performed
major film surgery on Der Schweigende Stern. Besides repeating the rocket
launch (what a spoiler) to jazz up the opening, there are enough abrupt cuts to black and forced fades to hide any
number of missing scenes. At the end, a woman in the crowd of greeters (Lucyna Winnicka?) gives Harringway an
emotional hug, implying that some pre-launch personal stories may have been jettisoned. The provocative triangle between
Sumiko, Brinkman, and Sumiko's dead husband is unresolved. Did it have anything to do with Brinkman's constant
volunteering for the most dangerous missions? Were there backstories, jealousies or soap-opera intrigues among the
other astronauts? Or were there perhaps philosophical discussions of issues, slow-paced debates, as filled up the
running time of the later Solaris? This version is only 78 minutes long, and
something substantial had to have been cut - the original is listed as
95 minutes long.
Savant guesses that scientific rationales, especially at the end, were simplified or pulled out
of a hat
by Grimaldi during recutting. Verbally, the English dub repeats almost verbatim the matter-energy gobbledegook
from the 1957 film
Kronos. But things start to get pretty confusing.
Someone kicks a rock into the mud, and that
causes a reaction of some kind? Shooting a ray gun into the blob-monster causes an atomic reaction? This
makes the underground machines increase the gravity? Talua, the only crewmember without a PhD, is the
one who reverses the process? And reverse gravity is what kills Brinkman and expels the Cosmostrator
off the planet? Here's Savant's analysis:(later proved completely false)
The rock leaping back out of the mud, or the reverse action of the blob on the cone walkway, could have been
reverse printing, imposed during Crown International's post-production process. Note that
we never see the trio walking down the spiral path, they just appear clear of the hazard a couple of cuts
later. Savant guesses that the cone episode was unrelated to the chaos at the end of the film and may have had
some other function in a more complicated plot. We see the gravity meter go up and then down, but nothing
seems to be affected by the yo-yo Venusian gravity force field except the Cosmostrator. (Its retro-rockets
are a nice touch, aren't they?) Talua and
Tchen Yu can walk in the 4 and 5 Gs of increased gravitation, and nothing except the Cosmostrator and Brinkman's mini-rocket
seem to be affected when the gravity reverses. Also, we see Talua lowering himself into
the machine cave, and the survivors say he succeeded in doing whatever he planned, but we never see
him do anything. We don't even know how he got out of the hole. Savant suspects that there are more
complicated things going on here, and that details and whole scenes may have performed
completely different functions in the original. And the order of some scenes seems to have been changed.
Look at the scene immediately before the
arrival of American space ace Brinkman - he's already there, standing behind the other crewmembers! At the
beginning of the power crisis, Talua notes that the giant globe is glowing red. Ten or so minutes later,
the crew jumps up at the sight of the globe, as if it had just turned red moments before.
But Savant's betting that Brinkman's being an American must have been an alteration - he makes
his entrance in a Russian MIG, for Pete's sake. The Soviet puppet Germans and Poles make a movie in the
middle of the space race where an American is both the first man on the Moon and Venus? No way, Ivan.
The stunning Polish Poster, courtesy reader G. Knowles. On a Mac, hold your mouse
until the menu choice 'open this image' appears, to see it full-sized. On a PC, uh, Savant doesn't know what you do.
So First Spaceship on Venus is a remnant of an Iron Curtain space opera. We can't
judge it by its script or its soundtrack. Who knows what Andrzej Markowski's original music sounded like? (note: lots of German DVD fans ... again see the revision, bottom of page)
What we are left with are the visuals, which amount to the best-looking space movie made outside of Hollywood
to that date. Virtually everything we see is an imaginatively designed prop or custom costume, and unlike
most space operas very little looks ridiculous or dated. Omega the robot works at least as well as R2D2
on screen (actually yelling 'Danger!' at one point, but not 'Will Robinson'). The Cosmostrator
(Kosmokrator in the original, according to Phil Hardy) appears to be a large model with
convincingly smoky rocket exhaust, that works in a gigantic forced-perspective set. It may be twenty or
thirty feet tall. It's certainly original and beautiful, albeit rather outrageously impractical-looking.
Venus is a wonderful visual creation from its crunchy diamond-coal surface, to the spiky twisted canyons of
alien buildings, to the tunnels and glowing power structures. Superimposed oil-like clouds of wispy color
slide across the screen. The foggy full-sized sets seem to go on for hundreds of feet, and the miniature
landscapes are well-integrated. The 'city' structures resemble the nightmarish hell-scapes of Hieronymous
Bosch, especially the gourd-shaped stilt-buildings. This ambitiously realized Venus impresses because
it looks like the Planet of Modern Art, sort of an extra circle of Hell. What appear to be dozens of telephone receivers
dangle on cords in one setting. And the best scene in the movie, the attack of the black ooze, looks
like a surrealist painting come to life.
Image's DVD of First Spaceship on Venus is a good but not perfect show. The 16mm copies previously
available were simply awful-looking, and this TotalScope 2:35 frame once again restores the beauty of the
compositions (Savant's favorite, the dreamy shot of the Cosmostrator's spotlight circling in the fog). The
transfer appears to have been made from a 35mm positive release print, which may be all that space-meister
Wade Williams possesses, or indeed, all that exists of this release. As such, there are more splices and scratches
than one would wish. But only once is a dialog line abbreviated by a jump cut. The color is bright and
reasonably approximates the Technicolor experience except for the blacks, which clog up to a degree.
Julius Ongewe's face is a blot in many shots, where there is supposed to be more detail in the darker
extreme. The trailer repeats the smorgasbord list from
the original advertising materials: "See! the vitrified forest! ... etc."
Savant is tickled to finally have a DVD of First Spaceship on Venus. Kurt Maetzig, the retired director of Der
Schweigende Stern is listed on the American Cinematheque's International board. Maybe he could help
get some terrific original prints to show in the coming Summer of Science Fiction, 2001.
Sounds like a plan to me.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, First Spaceship on Venus rates:
Movie: Good (visually: the dubbing and replaced music are not)
Video: Good - (contrasty; not 16:9 enhanced)
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: August 19, 2000
REVISION 9/22/00: Savant did indeed receive the reply he hoped for from
the reliable Andreas Kortmann, a name familiar from internet Forums. Herr Kortmann found some
research that is probably the final, (and very positive) word on Der Schweigende Stern - it's not as
long as some sources say, but the original version IS available on DVD - if you have a multi-region
player.Vielen dank, Andreas.
Glenn: I just read your review of First Spaceship on Venus. There is no 130 min. version of that movie.
I have seen two German reference books where the movie is listed. I have a TV-recording of the 80 min.
version. I have never heard of a 130 min. cut outside of Phil Hardy's Encyclopedia.
I just discovered a website of the Mediothek of the University of Oldenburg.
They have a collection of DEFA movies and apparently their copy of Der Schweigende Stern is 94 min. The
It looks like there are a couple of different versions of the movie around. I suspect that the 80/81 min.
version was the cut released here in West-Germany under the title Raumschiff Venus Antwortet Nicht
("Spaceship Venus doesn't answer") and the 94 min. version is the original East-German cut. It would be
90 min. in PAL so that the running time given by amazon.de for the DVD may be correct after all.
If you can play region 2/PAL DVDs you could order the DVD from amazon.de. The price is very reasonable
(about 12$ + shipping). I'm not 100% sure if it's properly letterboxed. - - Andreas Kortmann
Note 1/21/01: Savant did indeed get a VHS dub of
the German DVD late in November, and watching it was quite an experience. First, a lot of
the conjecture in the review above turned out be be bad guesses and wishful thinking. Instead
of revising and tossing out the original text, I've left the errors up and
tinted them green, so that those who read the review initially will not be looking for the old, wrong information ... you get the idea, I hope.
The VHS of the German disc was probably made on one of those code-free PAL-to NTSC Chinese machines, and the only
flaw really in the copy was that the picture is stretched out horizontally about 3 or 4 percent. This might have
something to do with the lines of resolution. Whatever is true, it didn't hurt appreciation of the movie.
The titles go on forever and are simple lettering over a bluish background that doesn't express
anything particularly spacey. The original music on the titles is very good, orchestral
and electronic tension music that promises a lot. Unfortunately, once the movie gets
going, the music settles into automatic pilot mode, and isn't very exciting. It's still better than the
American stock cues that are well cut but dramatically overbearing. The picture looks much better. There
is scarcely a mark on the negative, and the color (a big AGFA logo is in the titles) is much better than
the Image disc. Many more hues can be seen in the clouds of gas; and a lot more detail is visible in the blacks.
When the first cosmonaut sets foot on Venus' crunchy surface, it looks like granular black rocks with shiny
diamond highlights. It doesn't hide some of the effects as well as the American disc, but on the German disc
the art direction is far better represented.
The movie has not been drastically rearranged at all. Savant's radical theories about the menace of the
reenergized Venusian machines in the review above is all wrong; things happen exactly as they do in the
Crown recut. Savant couldn't follow the German track, but the words he did recognize indicate that the same
events happen: They do knock a rock into the black goop (it pops out again, just as we're used to seeing).
The gravity does reverse. The crewmembers go through the same motions .... with the same results. In general,
there are no new effects scenes. The new material Savant spotted is this:
New, longer titles (described above)
More preflight discussion. Here's where the heaviest cutting was done. There is much more milling about on the
tarmac with the ship in the background, both day and night. The lady reporter interviews everyone at least twice.
I think that Talua says goodbye to his girlfriend through the tv camera. Brinkman's mother sends him off, and
also says farewell to Sumiko. We see the other cosmonaut's wife, who only shows up at the conclusion in the short cut.
Two of the Cosmonauts take a last minute jeep ride out of the compound for a casual walk in an alpine field so
green and airy, it looks as if Julie Andrews is about to run out singing at any moment. From the German Savant
knows, the dialogue is typical,"Gee, here we are leaving the warmth and life of Earth for the coldness of space,
There is a new scene where the expedition leader has a heated discussion with some important men behind the
project - businessmen? politicians? industrialists? Savant can't tell whether what's being debated is
technical or what - there are no props and nothing written anywhere. Whatever the outcome, the launch never
seems to be in jeopardy. It's altogether possible that the scene is about the ship being rerouted from Mars
to Venus, just as in the American cut. There's not a lot of dramatic tension that can be detected in any of
this; just the fact that the launch is happening seems to be plot enough for Die Schweigende Stern.
The moment where the crewmembers pile into jeeps to drive out to the KosmoKrator is a bit longer, and reminiscent
of the The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy leaves the Munchkin village. Because they are driving into a
forced-perspective set, they can only go so far without giving away the illusion. The blocking is almost identical,
right down to the crowd of color-coded techies waving goodbye just like Munchkins.
There are perhaps half a dozen scenes en route to Venus, all dialog scenes that seem to differentiate the characters,
but introduce no shocking new material. Sumiko disabuses Brinkman of any notion that they're going to have a romance.
Brinkman fills in the other crew members on the fact that her fianceé lost his life on the moon.
There's more of the typical scenes we're all used to, with doctor Sumiko trying to get the cranky professors to eat
their ketchup, or whatever's in those colored bottles.
On Venus, there appear to be only trims here and there. When they break out the surgery after Omega runs his treads
over a crewmember, there is some added material. Most of the blocking leans to the stiff side; Tchen Yu has more
scenes with Sumiko, but I don't think the relationship is anything beyond professional.
The trip back to Earth is almost identical. The plain static shot of stars that seems to have been tossed in as a
buffer is disappointingly identical in both movies. On Earth, after the speeches are over, the American version
fades abruptly. It is the last shot of the movie, but in the original the take continues, panning left down a long
line of space personnel linking hands in a gesture of solidarity and communal resolve. It's a nice touch that only
a Commie-hater would cut out, as it isn't particularly ideological or anything.
Savant will have to wait for a German speaker to tell me if there is any hot content in the original German
dialogue. I certainly don't see anyone making any obvious political speeches; I would say that any interesting
political content is going to be that 'heated discussion' scene, and for all I know it's all going to be about
fuel mixtures or something. GE (2/21/01)
Note: most of the above is cleared up in Savant's review of
The original THE SILENT STAR.
1. This is an abandoned movie, at least the American cut. A.I.P. released it but
eventually lost the rights; it stopped being shown pan'scanned on TV in 1982. Lippert's Spaceflight 1C1
is an obvious ripoff. If it could be seen now, Savant believes it would be added to
Terrore Nello Spazio and It! The Terror
from Beyond Space as a key source for Dan O'Bannon's Alien.
It's now a totally unseeable title. MGM has a 35mm 'scope print in its inventory, but when Savant
tried to screen it early in 2001, he found that much of it had shriveled up until it crumbled like brittle cellophane.
2. This still happens, if you count Sony/Tristar's dropping the entire end
credits from the DVDs of its '90s Toho Godzilla - Mothra movies. In some cases they've thrown out
important montages that go with them.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 1997-2005 Glenn Erickson
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