First Spaceship On Venus (1960) aka Der Schweigende Stern
In 1970, debris from the 1908 Tunguska "meteor" are found which turn out to be recordings from a spaceship crashed there. The ship's origin is determined to be Venus, and an international team sets out with their spaceship "Kosmokrator" to visit the "Silent Planet", which is shrouded in clouds, and doesn't respond to contact attempts. While the "Kosmokrator" is in flight, the record is decoded and it turns out that the Venusians seemingly planned to invade Earth in 1908. Should the "Kosmokrator" still attempt to get in touch with the Aliens? And why are they silent now?
Yoko Tani ... Die japanische Ärztin / Sumiko Ogimura MD
Oldrich Lukes ... Amerikanischer Atomphysiker / Prof. Harringway Hawling
Ignacy Machowski ... Polnischer Chefingenieur / Professor Saltyk / Orloff
Julius Ongewe ... Afrikanischer Fernsehtechniker / Talua
Michail N. Postnikow ... Sowjetischer Astronaut / Prof. Arsenew / Professor Durand
Kurt Rackelmann ... Indischer Mathematiker / Professor Sikarna
Günther Simon ... Deutscher Pilot / Robert / RaimundBrinkmann
Tang Hua-Ta ... Chinesische Linguistin / Dr. Tchen Yu / Lao Tsu
Lucyna Winnicka ... Fernsehreporterin / Joan Moran (as Lucina Winnicka)
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.
What's wrong with this picture? This movie is neither highly regarded by critics nor IMDB voters. Yet, it contains some striking visuals; thoughtful comments on the "human" condition; an attractive, multiracial, coed international cast (daring for the time); and a pretty good storyline, to boot.
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.
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!
* In the German original version, "Brinkman(n)" isn't American, but East German, and the "Durand" character is a Soviet cosmonaut by the name of "Professor Arsenjew" (Arsenyev), "the man who steered the first rocket to the moon"!
* In the 1962 USA release version, on the film soundtrack, in a scene in the control room of the Kosmokrator rocket, we hear a music track titled "In Outer Space" from Destination Moon (1950) by Leith Stevens, and later in the movie, in the scenes of eerie destruction of the Venusian city, we hear a music track titled "Metaluna Catastrophe" from This Island Earth (1955) by Herman Stein. Both of these uses of music were uncredited and unlicensed, and unauthorized by the copyright holders.
* Released to theatres in the USA on a triple bill with the Italian film "Assignment: Outer Space" and the Japanese film "The Mysterians".
* This large scale East German-Polish co-production was the first to be shot in the Totalvision widescreen process.
* The German version contains a reference to one of professors having his career stalled when he was thrown out of the university by the Nazis. Director and co-writer Kurt Maetzig had his career stalled by the Nazis because his mother was Jewish.
* Although it was a co-production with a Polish company, it was still the most expensive production for DEFA up to that time.
* The writing process involved 3 writing teams and 12 screenplays before a final script was acceptable to the studio and the government.
* This was meant to be a high profile release by DEFA for the 10th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.
* At one point, DEFA intended to establish a co-production with a French company for financing and scriptwriting. Part of the plan was to use French actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Government officials disapproved of DEFA's pursuit of Western partners.
* During principle photography, the first English Film Festival was being held in Berlin. Various British film dignitaries were brought to DEFA to meet the director, Professor Kurt Maetzig, and watch as some scenes for this film were being shot.