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First Run Features
1972 / Color / 2:35 flat full frame / 80 min. / Street Date August 23, 2005 / 24.95
Starring Cox Habbema, Ivan Andonov, Rolf Hoppe, Vsevolod Sanayev
Cinematography Günter Jaeuthe
Production Designer Erich Krüllke, Werner Pieske
Costumes Barbara Müller
Special Effects Kurt Marks, Boris Travkin
Film Editor Helga Gentz
Original Music Günther Fischer
Written by Willi Brückner and Angel Vagenshtain
Produced by Dorothea Hildebrandt
Directed by Herrmann Zschoche

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The second First Run Features presentation of an Eastern-bloc Science Fiction film is the 1972 Eolomea, a space drama that is described as 'Utopian' by some of its makers. A clear answer to the thematic and technical challenge of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film tries to strike a balance between humanistic concerns and mankind's dream of conquering the universe. It falls short of its ambitions but counts as a solid effort. Considering its country of origin, it is refreshingly free of propaganda-speak.


Nine spaceships from an orbiting station disappear, motivating space bureaucrats back on Earth to suspend all flights. Program director Professor Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema) suspects that the uncooperative ex-navigator Olo Tal (Rolf Hoppe) is somehow involved, but doesn't understand how his old theory of a distant civilization called Eolomea ties in. Meanwhile, Maria contacts an old beau, Daniel Lagny (Ivan Andonov) from his post on an asteroid in the 'third belt.' Daniel leaves his partner Kun (Vselvolod Sanayev) -- who fears his own son may be one of the 165 lost spacemen -- to help Maria chase a spaceship that has re-appeared. It isn't answering radio calls - yet seems to be under intelligent control.

2001 was a genuine watershed for the Science Fiction film. By upping the bar for technical realism far above the norm, it made efforts like Doppelgänger (Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) and Moon Zero Two suddenly look amateurish. When Douglas Trumbull brought out his Silent Running, its advanced effects were curiously unimpressive, and its reasonably worthy ecological theme came off as trite -- how could one follow an act about man's destiny in the stars with a tale about a guy going nuts trying to save a few gardens?

Kubrick made the first space movie since Destination Moon that allowed hardware and cosmic concepts to be the whole show. In terms of futurism, if 10% of the audience for the George Pal movie walked out in 1950 and thought, "You know, we are gonna go into outer space!", the film was a conceptual success. 2001 confused many but did a lot for futurists who saw no conflict between the search for the secrets of the universe and the quest to discover man's spiritual destiny.

Most European and Japanese science fiction had followed the escapist example of space opera, with conflicts between men and aliens, featuring monsters. But Eastern European filmmakers turned out a steady flow of movies that related space travel to human priorities. DEFA's Der Schweigende Stern used its trip to Venus to support a heavy-handed criticism of nuclear arms (and the U.S.). The Russian Nebo Zovyot (Battle Beyond the Sun (1959) also criticized disingenuous Cold War space competition.

Eolomea's rather slight script is refreshingly less political. There's no mention of ideological strife of any kind. The script's only conflict seems to be that of spacemen chafing against the dull bureaucratized missions they are charged with flying. Old Cosmonaut Kun gets drunk on New Year's Eve with a bottle of champagne he's smuggled into his asteroid station, and talks about the good old days when pioneers like himself and Olo Tal (now a pencil-pusher back on Earth) opened up new frontiers and risked their lives on 'meaningful' missions. Now everything is so slow, the film's navigator-hero Daniel just wants to quit and retire back home where he can play with his mom's cats.

The film's main plot revelation would be spoiled by further plot discussion, so Savant will proceed to other matters. A lot of the film looks quite good, with lived-in space ships and other details. Prominent on one space pilot's control board is a trophy piggy bank, for example. Most of the hardware looks reasonable, with the asteroid station a collection of triangular modules reminiscent of designs in Slaughterhouse-Five. A friendly robot discovered on the space station is a clunky pile of tin, but it subscribes to the same Asimov-based robotic laws as does our domestic-issue Robby the Robot.

The special effects are decidedly not so special. The camera team have mastered reasonable long-exposure model photography but the results (at least as seen on this disc) are a bit on the drab side. The enormous space station looks interesting but other ships lack detail or personality, and just seem like more space hardware. When arrayed in groups, they also look a little indistinct. This is all the more quizzical after seeing the interview docu where the East German technicians explain that the film was shot in 70mm, and show photos of cameras to prove it. So why are the ships so fuzzy and dull?

The filmmakers also cut in substantial pieces of 'spacey' footage that resembles darker versions of concert lightshow oil-projections, of the kind seen in Barbarella. These usually coincide with trippy guitar music and are intercut here and there almost at random. They neither impress nor inspire any particular mood.

The acting is good. Dutch actress Cox Habbema is a credible chain-smoking project manager, decked out in costumes that perhaps try a bit too hard to be far-out. She has some good go-rounds with Rolf Hoppe's contrary professor. Ivan Andonov is the romantic type and does his best to seem disenchanted at his asteroid post. He and Cox share flashback beach scenes (from the Black Sea?) that establish their relationship, and her method of getting him to re-up for one more boring round of space duty.

Director Herrman Zschoche's work in the space stations and offices is fine but his flashback beach stuff smacks of outdated styles, with then- trendy slow motion shots of lovers converging on the beach and arbitrary jump cuts. Most scenes play as static masters, with the characters emoting in front of travelogue-pretty hills and ocean waves. The bland reality of the beach material doesn't mix well with the more claustrophobic space stuff. Since we never see establishing shots of more populated parts of the world, our suspension of disbelief is strained. Perhaps this is what the disc's liner notes mean when they cite Jess Franco as a point of comparison for the film's style.

There are opportunities for some grand scenes and emotional effects in Eolomea, but the director never reaches for them, preferring to stay low-key through the revelations and decisions of the final reel. It's not a bad film, but it's not particularly memorable, either.

First Run Features' DVD of Eolomea is again a flat letterboxed transfer, even though the package lists 16:9. (First Run says the info came from the East German supplier, but DVD buyers really resent misinformation like that.) With this title the loss in picture quality makes it difficult to decide if the film really was all shot in 70mm, or if only the special effects were (as was the case with Close Encounters of the Third Kind ).

The extras are fairly elaborate. There's a still section and brief text biographies of the director and two actors. A text essay praises the soundtrack composers of the three films in the DEFA-First Run release package. And costumer Barbara Müller and special effects technicians Kurt Marks and Boris Travkin feature in an interview docu. She doesn't offer much of great import but the effects men talk extensively about shooting in 70mm and having to send to Moscow for processing and 35mm downconverted dailies. They also lament the fact that the lack of a steady flow of effects-oriented projects caused their innovations on Eolomea to be forgotten. It's the same in studios everywhere. Anything done more than five weeks ago has to be re-invented.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Eolomea rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Good but the packaging wrongly says the image is 16:9 enhanced
Sound: Good
Supplements: text extras, interviews with technicians and costumer, photo gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 21, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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