["The Silent Star"] Film (1960; vt Raumschiff Venus Antwortet Nicht; The Silent Star; First Spaceship on Venus, 1962 US; Planet of the Dead; The Astronauts; The Silent Star, 2004; Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply). Deutsche Film. Directed by Kurt Maetzig. Written by Jan Fethke, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Kurt Maetzig, Günter Reisch, Günther Rucker, Alexander Stenbock-Fermor, and J Barkhauer (uncredited), based on the novel Astronauci ["The Astronauts"] (1951) by Stanisław Lem. Cast includes Tang Hua-Ta, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe, Michail N Postnikow, Kurt Rackelmann, Günther Simon and Yoko Tani. 93 minutes, cut for American release to 79 minutes. Colour.
A strange spool containing an undeciphered message is discovered in the Gobi Desert and eventually determined to have come from an Alien Spaceship that exploded near Earth and caused the Tunguska, Siberia, disaster of 1908. When Scientists decide that the spaceship must have come from Venus, an eight-person international crew is chosen to fly humanity's first interplanetary spaceship to that planet. During the flight, a meteor swarm damages the ship Kosmokrator (Cosmostrator I in US edit), requiring one astronaut to don a spacesuit and effect repairs outside the spaceship. Once on the surface of Venus, the astronauts (wearing spacesuits because the planet's atmosphere is "poisonous") discover a ruined City of strange buildings, "metallic insects" that turn out to be devices for information storage, and a large power plant of some kind; this was constructed to launch an atomic attack on the Earth, but there was an accident and the inhabitants of Venus were instead exterminated in their own Holocaust. When an organic, blob-like substance attacks some crew members and one man fires a Ray Gun at it, he inadvertently triggers the device, causing an increase in Gravity and trapping the spaceship on the surface until two crewmen contrive to reverse its process of turning mass into energy, though this forces the spaceship to leave with three crew members still stranded on Venus. The survivors return to Earth to warn against the dangers of nuclear Weapons.
Although Stanisław Lem was displeased by this East German/Polish production, it was for the most part a reasonably faithful adaptation of his novel, although some liberties were taken with the story to make the film more exciting – most notably, the menacing Venusian creature apparently borrowed from The Blob (1958). There is also some dubious science involving the force of gravity, both the "artificial gravity" on board the spacecraft that enables the filmmakers to limit their depictions of weightlessness to one brief scene, and the temporary increase in Venus's gravity that causes the final crisis. Yet the film also has some imaginative touches, including a Robot that serves as a member of the crew and the vehicles that the astronauts bring to assist in their exploration of Venus's terrain; and the deceased Venusians are evocatively represented solely by human-shaped shadows on a wall, recalling similar images created by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Most impressively, the film's special effects make Venus look like a genuinely alien world, a murky blue environment filled with mysterious structures.
Its reputation may have been unfairly diminished by the clumsily cut and dubbed American version, which adds US astronauts to the crew, excises all references to Hiroshima, and became a most unlikely target for the barbs of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Despite this version's defects the Cosmostrator remains one of sf Cinema's best spacecraft, looking much like a Richard Powers painting come to life. In 2004 the uncut version was released by the Film Library at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as The Silent Star. [GW/GFi]
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