Film (1968). Red Ram Productions. Directed by Nicholas Webster, starring Nick Adams, Darren McGavin, George De Vries, Michael DeBeausset, Heather Hewitt, Bill Kelly. Written by Michael St Clair, based on a story by Aubrey Wisberg. 95 minutes. Colour.
Two astronauts – Mike Blaiswick (McGavin) and Duncan (De Vries) – along with geologist Nick Grant (Adams) blast off on America's first flight to Mars, constantly in contact with NASA official Cliff Lawson (DeBeausset). A long and mostly uneventful flight is briefly interrupted by a "meteor storm" and the sight of two dead Russian cosmonauts floating in space, indicating that Russia's mystery-shrouded Mars mission had failed. On Mars, the astronauts first discover a frozen Russian cosmonaut (Kelly), the third member of the flight, whose "heating unit failed". They are also attacked by strange, plantlike creatures with arms ending in plates designed to absorb solar energy and one enormous red eye that emits blinding light. Advised by Lawson to take off immediately, since he fears the creatures are being remotely controlled by a hostile presence, the astronauts find that their Spaceship does not move, held in place by "some force" emitted by a huge sphere that has materialized nearby. This sphere splits open to first blind and disfigure Duncan, then to drag him inside the sphere. Later, when a second effort to take off using a supplemental booster is also unsuccessful, Grant tries to destroy the sphere, then voluntarily steps inside in response to a vocal command, sacrificing himself to save his crewmate, since the sphere explodes after he enters. Blaiswick is then able to take off with the assistance of the Russian, who has surprisingly come back to life, and Blaiswick learns from his wife Edith (Hewitt) that she will be having his baby.
While it is another film released in 1968 involving future astronauts who encounter an enigmatic Alien presence, this obscure, low-budget production falls far short of the standards set by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was released a few months earlier and may have influenced some aspects of its plot. However, this film's unseen alien merely seems to combine mild curiosity about humanity with a certain amount of irrational grouchiness, recalling the reactions of the Martians in The Angry Red Planet (1959; vt Invasion of Mars). The film also wastes a great deal with time with interpersonal conflicts preceding the flight (one wife supports her astronaut husband, while the other resents his decision to risk his life), and it has attracted ridicule for the flimsy spacesuits worn by the Martian explorers, lacking airtight space helmets, though they were reportedly employed because star McGavin disliked the more conventional spacesuits that were originally prepared for the film's Martian sequences. Still, the dangerous Martian plants are strikingly bizarre, briefly providing the film with a genuinely alien aura, and the film is certainly no better or worse than many other sf films of the era which are better known. [GW]