|The Silent Star/First Spaceship on Venus|
|Directed by||Kurt Maetzig|
|Based on||The Astronauts|
by Stanisław Lem
|Edited by||Lena Neumann|
|Music by||Andrzej Markowski|
|Box office||4,375,094 tickets|
Milcząca Gwiazda (German: Der schweigende Stern), literal English translation The Silent Star, is a 1960 East German/Polish color science fiction film based on the 1951 science fiction novel The Astronauts by Polish science fiction writer 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, running 93 min. Variously dubbed and cut versions were also released in English under other titles: First Spaceship on Venus, Planet of the Dead, and Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply.
After finding an ancient, long-buried flight recorder that originally came from a spaceship, apparently from Venus, a human spaceship is dispatched to the Morning star. The crew discovers a long-dead Venusian civilization that had constructed a device intended to destroy all life on Earth prior to invasion. Before they could execute their plan, they perished in a global nuclear war.
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. Tschen Yü. When radio greetings sent to Venus go unanswered, Harringway announces that a journey to Venus is the only alternative. The recently completed Soviet spaceship Kosmoskrator, intended to voyage to Mars, is now redirected to Venus, a 30-to-31-day journey. During the voyage, Sikarna works diligently 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 their invasion. Rather than containing a "cosmic document", as had been expected, the spool bears a cold-blooded message of destruction. With this new information the crew decides to transmit this information to Earth, believing that the information would be of service to mankind. Harringway, however, convinces the crew to press on towards Venus rather than return to Earth with revelations that could panic mankind, leading to unknown consequences.
With the ship's robot, Omega, German astronaut Brinkman pilots a one-man landing craft through the Venusian atmosphere. On the surface, he comes upon an industrial complex and finds small information storage devices that look like insects. Brinkmann's landing craft is destroyed in an explosion when it accidentally lands on high-tension power lines. The rest of the crew lands Kosmoskrator to investigate the explosion. The crew splits up, some staying near Kosmoskrator to study the storage devices. The others follow the power line to try and find the Venusians, but they find no life forms. Instead, they discover a large golf ball-like structure that Arsenjew suggests may be a giant transformer or a force-field generator. Following the power lines in the other direction, they find the remains of a deserted and blasted city centered around a huge crater. There are clear signs of a catastrophic explosion so intense that the shadowy forms of the humanoid Venusians are permanently burned onto the walls of the surviving structures.
The Venusians are gone, but their machines remain functioning, including the radiation-bombardment machine intended for use against the Earth. One of the scientists accidentally triggers the weapon, leading to a frantic effort by the team to disarm it. Tschen Yü lowers Talua, the ship's communication officer, into the Venusian command center. When Tschen Yü's spacesuit is punctured, Brinkmann ventures out to save him. Before he can reach Yü, Talua succeeds in reversing the weapon. Unfortunately, this also reverses Venus' gravitational field, flinging Kosmoskrator out into space. Brinkmann is also repelled off-planet, beyond the reach of the spaceship to save him, while Talua and Tschen Yü remain marooned on the devastated Venus. The surviving crew members must return to Earth, where they warn humanity about the dangers of atomic weapons.
- Günther Simon as Raimund Brinkmann (Robert Brinkman 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
- Oldřich Lukeš as Professor Harringway Hawling, the American commander
- Ignacy Machowski as Professor Sołtyk (Durand, a French engineer, in the US release), the Polish chief engineer
- Mikhail Postnikov as Professor Arsenjew (Orloff in the US release), the Soviet cosmonaut
- Kurt Rackelmann as Professor Sikarna, an Indian mathematician
- Tang Hua-Ta as Dr. Tschen Yü (Lao Tsu in the US Release), a Chinese linguist.
- Lucyna Winnicka as Joan Moran, television reporter
- Eduard von Winterstein as a nuclear physicist
- Ruth Maria Kubitschek as Professor Arsenjew's wife
Julius Ongewe was a medical student in Leipzig from Nigeria or Kenya. He was the first black actor to be portrayed travelling in space.
The story is based on the 1951 science fiction novel The Astronauts by Stanisław Lem. Lem was approached by Kurt Maezig from DEFA with an idea to make a film adaptation of Lem's novel, possibly because Lem was widely known in Poland and abroad at the time. The Astronauts was likely chosen due to the recent advancements in rocket technology and the popularity of space travel in science fiction. The story also expressed many socialist ideals, appropriate for the state-owned studio.
The DEFA director Herbert Volkmann, responsible for finance, as well as other officials of the GDR, were strict with the project: they had ideological concerns about the script, and new writers were brought in to work on it. Eventually, twelve different versions of the script were created.
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 Wrocław, Poland. The spaceship mock-up at the airfield became the subject of a hoax in the newspaper Der Kurier: the front page presented the spaceship 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.
In a retrospective on Soviet science fiction film, British director Alex Cox compared The Silent Star 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".
Stanislaw Lem, whose novel the film was based upon, was extremely critical of the adaptation and even wanted his name removed from the credits in protest against the extra politicization of the storyline when compared to his original. (Lem: "It practically delivered speeches about the struggle for peace. Trashy screenplay was painted; tar was bubbling, which would not scare even a child".)
- 1964: Festival of Utopian Films, Triest (Utopisches Filmfestival Triest): "Golden Spaceship Award" ("Das goldene Raumschiff")
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. All references to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima were edited out. The American character Hawling became a Russian named Orloff. The Russian character Arsenjew became the American Herringway, while the Polish character Soltyk became the Frenchman Durand. The spacecraft used for the journey was referred to and spelled as Cosmostrator.
Two differently cut and dubbed versions of the film were also shown on the American market at the time, Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply and Planet of the Dead.
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 1990, First Spaceship on Venus was featured in the second national season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and was released on DVD in 2008 by Shout! Factory, as part of their "MST3K 20th Anniversary Edition" collection.
- MILCZĄCA GWIAZDA, filmpolski.pl (Retrieved 2017-09-22)
- "FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 23 January 1963. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- List of the 50 highest-grossing DEFA films.
- An entry about Der schweigende Stern and DEFA film database (retrieved 27 October 2018)
- Turner Classic Movies
- "MILCZĄCA GWIAZDA (1959). Adaptacja pierwszej powieści Stanisława Lema". Film.org.pl. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
- "Der schweigende Stern". Astron Alpha - Science-Fiction-Besprechungen (in German). Retrieved 1 May 2020.
- Allan, SeDn; Sandford, John (1999). DEFA: East German cinema, 1946–1992. Berghahn Books. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-57181-943-7.
- "RAUMFAHRT - Die Ost-Venusier", Der Spiegel, 24 June 1959 (Retrieved 2017-09-22)
- Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, p.11
- "DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst". Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- Cox, Alex (30 June 2011). "Rockets from Russia: great Eastern Bloc science-fiction films". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
- "Filmowe światy Stanisława Lema", citing Lem's interview from the book Thus Spoke... Lem (Wayback Machine archive of the relevant section)
- DVD Savant Review
- Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema, p. 27
- "The Silent Star (Der schweigende Stern)", DEFA Film Library
- MST3K: First Spaceship on Venus|RiffTrax
- MST3K: First Spaceship on Venus (Preview) by RiffTrax on YouTube
- MST3K: 20th Anniversary Edition (Standard Edition) - DVD :: Shout! Factory
- "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 978-3-929470-23-9)
- 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 978-3-453-52261-9.)
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies, Vol II: 1958–1962. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1986. ISBN 978-0-89950-032-4.