Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


It's 1960 and the Cold War is getting hotter.  So what do the Communists in East Germany do to show the lackeys of the West that they will bury them?  Why they make a sci-fi movie, of course.

First Spaceship on Venus is a joint East German-Polish based on The Astronauts, a novel by great Polish SF writer Stanislaus Lem.  I used the term "based" in its most untrue sense.  Needless to say, Lem was not happy with the result.

The plot is simple.  In 1985, while working to irrigate the Gobi desert, engineers dig up a strange spool, made of material unknown on Earth.  Naturally, they decide that this spool was the cause of the Tunguska explosion in 1908.  It's also determined that the spool came from Venus.  (How?  Don't ask.)  It is decided that a scheduled spaceship flight to Mars should be diverted to Venus to discover the origin of the spool.  At the same time scientists are working to decipher the markings on the spool.  The crew of the spaceship, in true Communist ideology, is international -- we have a German, an African, a Japanese, an American, a Pole, a Russian, an Indian, and a Chinese.

While jaunting off to Venus, the spool is translated.  It reveals a plot to irradiate the earth to destroy mankind, allowing the Venusians to annex Earth.  Rather than heading back to Earth and causing a panic there, the crew decides to marshal on to Venus to see what's up.  What is up is not the Venusians; they have killed themselves off with a very sloppy use of atomic power, leaving only their machines to roam the planet.  One of the scientists accidentally starts the irradiation machine that was to be used to wipe out humanity.  Can they stop the machine?  Who will live and who will die?  Will anyone be able to return to Earth to warn the populace of the dangers of atomic weapons?

The film was directed by Kurt Maetzig.  It took seven writers to adapt Lem's novel for the screen, five to do the adaptation, one for "screenplay collaboration." and one uncredited soul for who knows what.  The nine credited cast members were Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe, Michail N. Postnikow, Kurt Racklemann, Gunther Simon, Tang Hua-Ta, and Lucyna Winnicka.  IMDb lists another 24 uncredited cast members.

The question remains, is the film any good?  It was the most expensive film made by the East German studio at the time.  It sold well over four million tickets in East Germany.  Much of the production work seems laudable.  Keep in mind, however that Lem hated the film.  Also keep in mind that the film was eviscerated by the good folks and robots at Mystery Science Fiction Theater 3000.  Review comments include "impressive but boring,"  "cheesy but watchable." and "at about 13:10 there is a close-up of the newscaster lady...she has a mustache that rivals any of the 3 Musketeers."

Decide for yourself.

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