Film (1959; vt The Sky Calls; vt The Heavens Call). A P Dovzenko Filmstudio. Directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Aleksandr Kozyr. Written by Mikhail Karzhukov, Yevgeni Pomeshchikov, and Aleksei Sazanov. Cast includes Konstantin Bartashevich, V Chernyak, S Filimonov, Ivan Pereverzev, Aleksandr Shvorin and Gurgen Tonuuts. 120 minutes. Drastically cut with added footage as Battle Beyond the Sun (1962).
This unheralded masterpiece of the Spacesuit Film is sadly unappreciated because most viewers have only been able to see the badly butchered American version, Battle Beyond the Sun (1962), which was overseen by producer Roger Corman and officially directed by a young Francis Ford Coppola; to appeal to American audiences, these gentlemen crudely removed half of its footage, distorted its storyline, and inserted new footage of ludicrous Monsters into its realistic narrative. The Russian film's story is framed by scenes of a present-day Russian Scientist, Kornev (Pereverzev), working on the technology of Space Flight; the main story, revealed at the end to be a dream representing his aspirations, shows the same scientist in the future, departing from Earth with colleagues to first rendezvous with a Space Station and then to lead the first expedition to Mars. While at the station, they meet astronauts from another visiting spaceship – clearly Americans, though this is left unspecified – who learn of their plans and hurriedly leave the station in order to reach Mars first, even though they are not fully prepared for the long flight. Later, the Russian spaceship takes off, but upon hearing that the American ship has malfunctioned, threatening its crew, the Russians nobly give up their own Mars mission in order to rescue the Americans. Forced to land on the Asteroid Icarus, both sets of space travellers seem doomed, since they lack sufficient fuel for a return to Earth, but a Russian embarks on an emergency trip from the station to deliver the fuel they need, sacrificing his own life since his spaceship was not designed for human occupancy. After their triumphant landing on Earth, the film returns to the present, with the scientist avuncularly addressing the youthful audience members who will someday travel into space.
Reflecting its era, the film is not without touches of propaganda: the Russian who brings the fuel was originally supposed to be part of the Mars mission, but he had to be replaced because he was injured by the Americans' hasty departure; their Martian journey is attributed to the greed of their corporate masters, as one scene shows an unattractive future America filled with garish neon signs promoting space-related purchases (see Advertising); and the American astronauts are unhappily forced to read commercials during their abortive flight. Yet this magisterial portrayal of astronauts in the Near Future ultimately promotes friendly cooperation between the superpowers, a viewpoint that Kornev consistently advocates and the Americans endorse upon returning to Earth, and it surely inspired the American television series Men into Space to unusually adopt a similar position in its episode based on the film, "Mission to Mars" (1960), and another episode featuring Russian astronauts. Yet the only virtue Corman saw in the film was its strong special effects, the one feature of the film one can still appreciate in its reprehensible American version. [GW]
see also: Planeta Bur.
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