Monday, April 03, 2006

The Many Faces of Solaris

Stanislaw Lem's most well known novel is Solaris (1961) because it has been the basis of several movies, not because a lot of people have read it.

There are of course the 'Solaris" movies one made in Russia in 1972 by Andre
Tarkovsky and the recent American remake in 2002. Lem has been critical of both. While Tarkovsky can be faulted by Lem he himself has been subjected to the Soviet Censors as Lem has.

earliest film Ivan Rublev has been yet to be released in its full form having suffered the worst excesses of American cut and paste editing as well as Soviet censorship. It is a tale not unlike that of the Wickerman.

But before these two versions of Solaris there were two B Grade movies that were based on Solaris or the theme of Solaris.

The first is
Journey to the Seventh Planet. Which was originally made in 1962 not 1959 as mistakenly listed here;

Journey To The Seventh Planet

Journey To The Seventh Planet

The Company Line

The United Nations sends a team to explore Uranus and they find a "small Danish village filled with voluptuous women!" Behind this set up though is a force that is using the memories of the crew against them so it can take over their ship and fly back to Earth.

1959, 77 minutes, Widescreen DVD

It is an Italian/American/Danish movie that I saw many times in my youth, usually on late night TV Sci Fi film fests. And I must admit a fondness for it.

It clearly was influenced by Lem's novel Solaris, and that maybe since the Writers and Producers are from Italy and Lems work was available in Europe before it was translated into English for UK and US distribution.

It starred B Actor John Agar. It also has a rather unique sound track. Very bubbly and hip sixties type music ahead of its time. You know that futuristic sound.....with crooning.

This cheapie came from low-budget producers/directors Ib Melchior and Sidney Pink who were between them responsible for films like The Angry Red Planet (1959), Reptilicus (1962), The Time Travelers (1964) and Death Race 2000 (1975). Pink and Melchior shot the film on the cheap in Sweden. And it certainly is cheap - the stop-motion animation for the one-eyed monster is atrocious, the actors don't even appear in the same shot as the giant creatures and the raygun beams have just been scratched onto the frame rather than animated.

But despite itself the film succeeds in transcending its limitations by creating an air of intriguing mystery. Some of the images at the opening of the film are quite striking - the apple which has rotted in one astronaut's hand after only a few minutes; the landscape that miraculously appears beyond the spaceship just before the astronauts look out; the great scene when commander Ottosen reminisces about his childhood while in the background behind him first the tree he talks about, then a windmill comes into being; the landscape that proves to be wholly surface in depth with trees that are found to have no roots. It does remind of the Ray Bradbury short story Mars is Heaven - and in turn looks forward to Solaris (1972) - but Pink does create a unique atmosphere of mystery and unease.

Directed by
Sidney W. Pink

Writing credits
Ib Melchior (screenplay)
Sidney W. Pink (story)

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Another Lem novelization that made it to film was First Space Ship on Venus a B Grade Sci-Fi movie from 1959. See Trailer here.

The trailer shows phenomenal special effects for the time. Interesting is that this movie has a Japanese cast while being a Polish East German Production.

Eight curious scientists in the far-future year 1985 try to find the source and meaning of a message disc from the planet Venus. Based on "The Astronauts" by the great Stanislaw Lem (SOLARIS), this SF curio also boasts a multinational cast, as well as beautiful photography and production design. Though Lem disowned the film, it stands on its own rather well and is probably one of the best SF films from the fifties.

I suspect that IB Melchior and Pink ,if they hadn't read Lem yet discovered him after they discovered this little gem. And you can download it for Free here.

And as usual Lem is critical of the Film version of his writing.

Still, the film is too ponderous and un-involving to stimulate the viewer's interest for long. Even the writer, Stainsaw Lem, author of such droll stuff as Solaris, has disowned it.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.First Spaceship on Venus (1959) (Der Schweigende Stern/Milczaca ...

East Germany/Poland. 1959.
Director - Kurt Maetzig, Screenplay - Maetzig, J. Barkhauer, Jan Fethke, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Stanislaw Lem, Gunther Reisch, Gunther Rucker & Alexander Stenbock-Fermor, Based on the Novel The Astronauts by Lem, US Version Produced by Edmund Goldman, Photography - Joachim Hasler, Music - Andrzej Markowski, Music (US Version) - Gordon Zahler, Special Effects - Helmut Grewald, Ernst & Vera Kuntsmann, Jan Olejarczak & Martin Sonnabend, Production Design - Alfred Hirschmeier & Anatol Radzinowicz. Production Company - Defa/Illuzjon Film Unit.
Oldrich Lukas (Professor Harringway), Yoko Tani (Dr Sumiko Ogimura), Tang Hua-Ta (Dr Tchen Yu), Gunther Simon (Robert Brinkman), Michail N. Postnikow (Professor Durand), Kurt Rachelmann (Dr Sikarna), Ignacy Machowski (Professor Orloff), Julius Ogewe (Talua)

Plot: Scientists uncover a magnetic spool at the site of the Tunga explosion in Siberia. This is believed to have come from an exploding alien spacecraft. As all effort is made to decode the spool, it is discovered to have originated from Venus. The planned Mars rocket Cosmostrater 1 is hastily redirected towards Venus, along with a crew of top scientists. But once on Venus the Cosmostrater crew discover a world that has been devastated by atomic war and realize that the Venusians were planning to invade the Earth.

This East German-Polish co-production is a fascinating entry in the frenzy of movie making that greeted the Space Age. Amid the horde of American entries on the subject, this is an effort that quite intriguingly hails from the Communist Bloc

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