In the silent era, Germany
was a movie
powerhouse. The state-owned (until 1921
when it was privatized) studio UFA
released some of the most impressive movies in the years before the
power including The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari, Metropolis, The Last Laugh, Dr.
Mabuse, and The Blue Angel,
among many others.
As Hitler came to power however the studio became little more
propaganda machine and the quality of its output fell.
After WWII, a new studio was set up in the
Soviet controlled East
or DEFA for short. Most of the features
that the studio released were never seen in the West.
That is until the fall of the Soviet Union
and the popularity of DVDs. Now First Run
Features has released a trio of
SF films made by the German studio: The
DEFA Sci-Fi Collection. Are these
seen SF films from behind the Iron Curtain classics or poor quality
jobs? Actually these films fall
somewhere in the middle of the range.
While none of them are the lost masterpieces I was hoping for,
all imaginative, interesting, and well worth watching.
film clearly illustrates that not everyone can be Andrei Tarkovsky. Released 6 months after Solaris,
this film aims high trying to be a major work of art but
fails in most respects.
Several spaceships have gone missing around the space
station Margot. They haven't exploded or
crashed, they've just disappeared. The
Space Council suspends all space travel until an answer can be found,
the same time they receive a strange signal from deep space: the single work Eolomea. Could
this be the mythical utopian society
that was hypothesized years ago? And if
so, how and humans get there.
This trippy 70's SF film could have been much better if the
creators had just concentrated on telling the story (which has some
it) instead of trying to be impressive and outdoing Solaris
and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The narrative plays with time, jumping
forward and back with few visual cues to let viewers know just where or
they are. Added to that are 60's
rock-concert quality special effects that seem more silly than far out. The result is that these devices take away
from the story rather than adding to it.
A strange result from this playing with time is also that it
takes about half way through the film until the main plot is actually
revealed. Usually in a film like this
they start with the action and use flashbacks to fill in the missing
points, but in this case they start before things get interesting and
too much time relating what has gone on earlier.
Still, even with these flaws the film does hold a certain
interest. It is certainly unlike any SF
made in the west at that time, and while the ultimate plot isn't
unique it does unfold in a novel way that makes the film, if not
In the Dust of the Stars (1976): This is a more straight forward SF adventure,
albeit one with an odd slant. The crew
of the Cynro 19/4 has been dispatched from their home planet (also
after receiving a distress call from the unexplored planet Tem-4. As they arrive the Temians send a strong
signal to their ship that almost causes them to crash, but the quick
the captain lands them safely. When the
actually meet the Temians, they claim that the SOS signal was sent by
the result of a failed radio station test.
This is followed by a welcome party where the crew of the Cynro
subjected to a type of mind ray that makes them very pliable. But just what is the secret that the Temians
are hiding, and what will the crew from Cynro do about it.
This is a very colorful and interesting movie. Thought
it's steeped in 70's kitsch, with
strange, nearly nude go-go dancers and snakes sharing the dinner
colorful film has a certain amount of appeal.
The striking sets and unusual visuals make this a lot of fun to
even if it's hard not to chuckle slightly at some (unintentionally)
One of the things that sets this apart from a western SF
film is that the captain of the space ship (as well as the medical
most of the crew) is a woman, and that fact is never mentioned. It comes across as just a natural event
that's not worth commenting on.
Overall this is a solid and interesting SF adventure.
Silent Star (1960):
This earliest film in the set is also the most interesting and
the few that made it over to the US, albeit in a chopped up
version. Released in the west as "The
First Rocketship on Venus" and readily available on inexpensive discs
companies specializing in public domain movies, that version was cut
original 95-minute run time down to 78-minutes.
This full length original version plays much better.
Taking place in far off 1985, a strange rock is discovered
that isn't of Earthly origin. When
scientists examine it, they discover an audio message encoded in the
and determine that it originated from a space ship from the planet
Venus. A team of scientists and explorers
wide variety of countries is assembled and a rocketship built to take
crew to "Earth's sister planet."
On the way to Venus more of the alien artifact is
deciphered, and what is discovered isn't good.
Apparently the Venusians were planning on attacking Earth and
it. Why this plan didn't come off is
discovered when the crew gets to the neighboring planet: a nuclear
wiped out the entire population of the planet.
The only things that are left are the automatic systems which
running. Systems that start to launch
the attack on Earth when the visitors accidently activate them.
This movie, based on a story by Stanislaw Lem (who reported
disliked the film) is part adventure story, part Soviet propaganda. It starts off well with the mystery of the
strange object, and the ending is very good with many creative touches
it above similar films released at that time.
There is a large chunk of the middle that really drags however,
filled with long speeches and not-so-subtle jabs at the West. Americans are only after money and violence,
as where the noble Soviets are interested in advancing science and
humanity. The scenes on the way to Venus
really drag, playing chess with a robot and hypothesizing about the
are going to doesn't make for an exciting film.
The end makes up for it however. The last
25-30 minutes of the film are very
good. The aliens are actually alien in
nature, having many odd an unusual devices and instruments, and the
that the crew faces keep the viewer's attention. The
conclusion is big in scope and well worth
slogging through the boring middle section.
These films are presented in the original German in stereo
with optional English subtitles. The
soundtracks are all adequate, with the sound effects being clear and
having an acceptable, though not impressive, dynamic range. The dialog is easy to hear too.
The audio stays glued to the screen, but
that's not unexpected.
The biggest problem I had with this set is that all three
films are presented with a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 image that puts the
in the black bar at the bottom of the image so that you can't zoom. The colors are brighter than I was expecting,
especially in In the Dust of the Stars,
though they were sometimes a bit uneven.
There was some print damage evident in all three films, spots
dirt, but nothing major. On the digital side of things, there is some
in the background, but no other major defects are present.
These three films come with an assortment of bonus
material. While none of it was terribly
exciting, it was nice to see First Run go to the trouble to include
them. All three films come with an
essay, filmographies of the cast and crew, and trailers to the three
this set. There's also an interview with
the cameraman and costume designer from Eolomea,
an interview with the DP on In the Dust
of the Stars, a pair of newsreels concerning the filming of Silent Star, and a couple of photo
These three films are definitely different from your typical
70's SF fare. While the plots are not
anything new or unique, the productions make up for that deficiency
creative, colorful, and visually interesting sets and designs. Any SF fan looking for something a little
different or apart from the norm should definitely check these out. Recommended.