The Silent Star
Subtitled, Special Edition
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A film by Kurt Maetzig, based on Stanislaw Lem's novel The Astronauts. In this celebrated sci-fi classic, a mysterious object from outer space is found in the Gobi desert. An international expedition, dispatched to Venus to decipher the message it contains, discovers it is a declaration of war-- on Earth!
The first sci-fi film made in East Germany by the legendary DEFA film studio, THE SILENT STAR is a masterpiece in story, art and set design, and technology and was the forerunner of 2001: A Space Odyssey and, later, Contact. Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote Solaris) and made during the U.S./U.S.S.R. space race set off by the Sputnik launch.
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The international crew looks strikingly like that on Roddenberry's initial "Star Trek" series a few years later: no two from any one country, one black, one woman (two different people this time), etc. The woman, Sumiko, is the medical officer - nurse - and is somewhat stuck in the female stereotype. Her makeup is always impeccable, if heavy, and she's the one allowed to have visible emotions. One of the other characters gives her the "you should be having babies" talk at one point, with the clear implication that he's offering the biologically necessary help. And yes, she has to be saved at least once. Outside of that, she has a postive role, and represents an interesting mid-way point between Flash Gordon's ineffectual Dale Arden and the wholly capable Ripley character from the Alien movies.
The movie does have a few cheesy moments, like visible strings bouncing the alien bugs around, wobbly ground carts, obligatory meteor storms, and 50s/60s optical effects. For its day and budget, though it's surprisingly good. This, like the Solaris movies, is said to be a film version of one of Stanislaw Lem's books, but I don't recognize which one. I'll be interested to find out which book it's from and to see what the adaptation did to it. That's just an aside, though. The movie stands by itself, and well above many others of the time.
As far as this film goes, the first problem to overcome is the language barrier, if you don’t speak German (with English subtitles). The second problem is the subtitles. They are yellow in color, one line using the movie as a background, the lower line easily read against the black space below the film. As anyone knows, readability is nigh on impossible when words are plastered against a mix of colors, more often than not in motion. It also doesn’t help that most of the time they are not on screen long enough to read and comprehend. Once you get past that, the next obstacle is the blast of vitriol against the United States. One of the characters, a Japanese doctor (Yoko Tani), will keep mentioning Hiroshima, placed in context with the film’s overall anti-nuclear message. It’s not a subtle message; it’s slathered on thick and often, in a condescending fashion that never lets the viewers forget that they, the communists, are the good guys, while we, the Americans, are the evil people who unleashed THE bomb on poor Japan. Lest we forget, this was an East German production with particular political views. It is a product of its time and sentiment. When viewing this film you have to set that aspect aside to get to the good part, when they actually land on Venus. This is when the film comes alive. The design of the Venus is like viewing a Richard M. Powers illustration in motion. It is eerie and fanciful, aided by the brilliant hues used in the design. It’s for this section of the film only that I am keeping this DVD in my collection. The first part all but put me asleep. It’s not that I mind the message so much as the method of delivery.
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