First Spaceship on Venus
|First Spaceship on Venus|
|Directed by||Kurt Maetzig|
by Stanisław Lem
|Music by||Andrzej Markowski|
|Edited by||Lena Neumann|
Progress Film (East Germany)|
Crown International Pictures (USA)
79 minutes (US)
German Democratic Republic|
Polish People's Republic
First Spaceship on Venus, (a.k.a. in German: Der Schweigende Stern; in Polish: Milcząca Gwiazda; literal English translation: The Silent Star) is a 1960 East German/Polish color science fiction film based on the science fiction novel The Astronauts by Stanisław Lem. It was directed by Kurt Maetzig and stars Günther Simon, Julius Ongewe, and Yoko Tani. The film was first released by Progress Film in East Germany.
In 1962 the shortened 79-minute dubbed release from Crown International Pictures substituted the title First Spaceship on Venus for the English-speaking market. The film was released theatrically in the U.S. as a double feature with the re-edited version of the 1958 Japanese Kaiju film Varan the Unbelievable.
Some other versions of the film, differently cut and dubbed, were on the American market at the time under various titles as well: Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply, Planet of the Dead, Silent Star.
In 1985 engineers involved in an industrial project to irrigate the Gobi Desert accidentally unearth a mysterious and apparently artificial "spool". When found to be made of a material unknown on Earth, the spool is circumstantially linked to the Tunguska explosion of 1908. The spool is seized on as evidence that the explosion, originally blamed on a meteor, was actually caused by an alien spaceship.
Professor Harringway deduces the craft must have come from Venus. The spool itself is determined to be a flight recorder and is partially decoded by an international team of scientists led by Professor Sikarna and Dr. Tchen Yu. When radio greetings sent to Venus go unanswered, Harringway announces that a journey to Venus is the only alternative. The recently completed Soviet spaceship Cosmostrator, intended to voyage to Mars, is redirected to Venus, a 30- to 31-day journey. During the voyage, Sikarna works furiously to translate the alien message using the spaceship's computer.
When their spaceship nears Venus, radio interference from the planet cuts the crew off from Earth. By then, Sikarna's efforts lead to a stunning discovery: The spool describes a Venusian plan to irradiate the Earth's surface, with the extermination of mankind being the prelude to an invasion. Rather than containing a "cosmic document", as had been expected, the spool bears a cold-blooded message of destruction. Harringway convinces the crew to press on towards Venus rather than return to Earth with news that would panic mankind.
With the ship's robot, Omega, American astronaut Brinkman pilots a one-man landing craft. On the ground, he encounters an industrial complex and finds small recording devices that look like insects. The rest of the crew follows when Cosmostrator lands, but they find no Venusian life forms. Journeying across the planet, they find the remains of a deserted and blasted city centered around a huge crater, signs of a catastrophic explosion so intense that shadowy forms of humanoid Venusians are permanently burned on to the walls of the surviving buildings.
The Venusians are gone, but their machines remain functioning, including the radiation-bombardment machine intended for Earth. One of the scientists accidentally triggers the weapon, leading to a frantic effort by the Earthmen to disarm it. Tchen Yu lowers Talua, the ship's communication officer, into the Venusian command center. When Tchen Yu's suit is punctured, Brinkman ventures out to save him. Before he can reach Yu, Talua succeeds in reversing the weapon. Unfortunately, this also reverses Venus' gravitational field, flinging Cosmostrator into space. Brinkman is also repelled off the planet, beyond the reach of the spaceship, while Talua and Tchen Yu remain marooned on Venus. The surviving crew members must return to Earth, where they warn humanity about the dangers of atomic weapons.
- Günther Simon as Raimund Brinkman (Robert in the US release), the Kosmokrator's German pilot
- Julius Ongewe as Talua, the African communications officer
- Yoko Tani as Dr. Sumiko Ogimura, the Japanese medical officer
- Oldrich Lukes as Professor Harringway Hawling, the American commander
- Ignacy Machowski as Professor Saltyk (Durand in the US release), the Polish chief engineer
- Michail N. Postnikow as Professor Arsenew (Orloff in the US release), the Soviet cosmonaut
- Kurt Rackelmann as Professor Sikarna, an Indian mathematician
- Tang Hua-Ta as Dr. Chen Yu (Lao Tsu in the US Release), a Chinese linguist.
- Lucina Winnicka as Joan Moran, television reporter
- Eduard von Winterstein as a nuclear physicist
- Ruth Maria Kubitschek as Professor Arsenew's wife
In the film's original East German and Polish release the Earth spaceship sent to Venus is named Kosmokrator.
The film was shot mostly in East Germany. The outdoors scenes were shot in the area of Zakopane, Poland and the airfield of Berlin-Johannisthal and special effects in Babelsberg Studio and in a studio in Wroclaw, Poland. The spaceship mock-up at the airfield was a matter of a newspaper hoax in Der Kurier: the front page presented it as a failed attempt at spaceflight in the Soviet occupation zone.
The film was noted for early extensive usage of "electronic sounds" on its soundtrack. Electronic music and noises illustrated the work of the computer that deciphers the alien message, the message itself, and the eerie landscape of Venus devastated by the nuclear catastrophe. Markowski, who produced the musical score, was assisted by sound engineer Krzysztof Szlifirski from the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio, with some sound effects added at the laboratory of the Military Academy of Technology in Warsaw and with post-production at DEFA.
When first released to European cinemas, the film sold 4,375,094 tickets.
In a retrospective on Soviet science fiction film, British director Alex Cox compared First Spaceship on Venus to the Japanese film The Mysterians but called the former "more complex and morally ambiguous." Cox also remarked that "Silent Star's images of melted cities and crystallised forests, overhung by swirling clouds of gas, are masterpieces of production design. The scene in which three cosmonauts are menaced, halfway up a miniature Tower of Babel, by an encroaching sea of sludge may not entirely convince, but it is still a heck of a thing to see."
For its U.S. release, the film was retitled First Spaceship on Venus, trimmed to 79 minutes, and distributed on a double bill with the re-edited Japanese Kaiju film Varan the Unbelievable (1958). All references to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima were edited out. The American character Hawling became a Russian named Orloff. The Russian character Arseniev became the American Herringway, while the Polish character Soltyk became the Frenchman Durand.
The original, uncut version of the film was finally re-released in the U.S. in 2004 under its original title The Silent Star by the DEFA Film Library of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In other media
In 1980 a short sequence from First Spaceship on Venus was used as a "film-within-a-film" in the low budget feature Galaxina.
- MILCZĄCA GWIAZDA, filmpolski.pl (retrieved 2017-09-22)
- "FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1963-01-23. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
- Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, p. 27
- Allan, SeDn; Sandford, John (1999). DEFA: East German cinema, 1946-1992. Berghahn Books. p. 80. ISBN 1-57181-943-6.
- "RAUMFAHRT - Die Ost-Venusier", Der Spiegel, June 24, 1959 (retrieved 2017-09-22)
- Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, p.11
- List of the 50 highest-grossing DEFA films.
- "Filmowe światy Stanisława Lema", citing Lem's interview, published in book Thus Spoke... Lem
- Cox, Alex (June 30, 2011). "Rockets from Russia: great Eastern Bloc science-fiction films". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
- "DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst". DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Cinema Insomnia". Cinema Insomnia. Archived from the original on 28 March 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
- "First Spaceship on Venus DVD". Apprehensive Films. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
- Ciesla, Burghard: "Droht der Menschheit Vernichtung? Der schweigende Stern – First Spaceship on Venus: Ein Vergleich". (Apropos Film. Bertz, Berlin 2002: 121–136. ISBN 3-929470-23-3)
- Kruschel, Karsten: "Leim für die Venus. Der Science-Fiction-Film in der DDR." (Das Science Fiction Jahr 2007 ed. Sascha Mamczak and Wolfgang Jeschke. Heyne Verlag, 2007: 803–888. ISBN 3-453-52261-3.)