First Spaceship on Venus

May 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm (4 Heads, First Spaceship on Venus) (, , , , , , )

First Spaceship on Venus – 1960 – Germany/Poland

In the near future, a crystalline cylinder of alien origin is unearthed in the Gobi Desert. Narration attempts to link this to the 1908 Tunguska explosion, but the relationship is poorly explained. The cylinder is a coded message from Venus, so a multi-national crew of astronauts rockets to Venus to investigate. In space, they crack the code and discover the message is a plan for a Venusian invasion of Earth. When the astronauts land on Venus, they discover an advanced civilization destroyed by atomic war. However, the alien machines are still active, and various people are killed by automated security, radiation, and mundane accidents. The surviving astronauts eventually return to Earth, warning the people of the dangers of atomic weapons.

First Spaceship on Venus is Crown International Pictures’ shortened American version of the German/Polish The Silent Star. It is based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Astronauts, but the First Spaceship on Venus is so disjointed, I cannot imagine it is very true to the source material. The original version might not be much better, since Lem was apparently critical of it.

First Spaceship on Venus’ biggest sin is being boring. It is a jumble of ideas that never generates compelling drama. In any case, the speculative elements are interesting. A miniature chess-playing robot and some insectoid Venusian robots suggest the future development of automated drones, as do the completely mechanized Venusian bases. The film’s message of atomic disarmament is a product of its era, and images of humanoid shadows seared into the Venusian landscape directly mirror the bombing of Hiroshima. However, all the moralizing seems pointless since Earth’s future society depicted in First Spaceship on Venus lives in peace and racial harmony.

Narrative shortcomings aside, First Spaceship on Venus at least takes itself seriously. Many of Stanislaw Lem’s novels have been adapted to film in Europe and Russia, and his works are usually treated with respect. As a result First Spaceship on Venus’ acting and production are good. From the astronauts’ rocket and spacesuits, to their lander which looks like a wacky helicopter, the props are distinctively designed. The surface of Venus is especially cool, with tentacle-like trees and bulbous mountain ranges. The killer wave of living slime is also noteworthy.

But First Spaceship on Venus is never much fun to watch. A few brief moments of humor and romance provide little humanization, and contribute to the cluttered narrative. Likewise, the deaths of the astronauts lack emotional impact and feel arbitrary. Characterization is not a strength of Stanislaw Lem’s writing, but in the First Spaceship on Venus, even his remarkable ideas seem watered down.

Rating: 4/10 Shrunken Heads. Once, long ago, people did not know that Venus is a molten hot wasteland flooded with toxic gas.

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