The Silent Star (1960)

KURT MAETZIG

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.5

Original title:  Der Schweigende Stern

Alternate title:  First Spaceship on Venus

East Germany/Poland, 1960.  VEB DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme, Künstlerische Arbeitsgruppe ”Roter Kreis”, Film Polski, Zespól Filmowy ”Iluzjon”.  Screenplay by , , , , , screenplay collaboration with Kurt Maetzig, based on the novel Astronauci by .  Cinematography by .  Music by .  Production Design by , , , , , , , , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

This East German/Polish co-production, based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, begins with 1960s Earth receiving a message from Venus in the form of a cylinder containing an audio recording.  The scientific community is immediately abuzz and assembles a team of astronauts to head to our neighboring planet, not realizing until well into their voyage that the message contained was actually a threat of annihilation from the Venusians who sent it.  This means that the explorers must become negotiators when they arrive, bringing up bad memories and feelings for astronaut  as she is still haunted by memories of growing up in post-Hiroshima Japan and the recent tragic death of her husband.  Things go from kitschy to full-on campy when they land on a place full of brightly coloured volcanoes and mechanical bats; on the one hand, it’s interesting to see how much a science-fiction film from a rigorously socialist country has in common with American adventures (the voyage, the aliens) but it’s also worth noting where tastes diverge (in the non-capitalist science-fiction world, it does not boil down to a gun battle with evil beings that cannot be negotiated with).  It’s also notable to see how Lem’s work appears on screen when not adapted by the likes of Tarkovsky, and while the film is often dull it does have enough delightful throwback appeal to be worth checking out.

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