Due to a communications failure, an exploratory deep space mission is presumed lost. However, the five surviving astronauts arrive back in Earth orbit ahead of schedule, only to find they cannot contact anyone on the planet. They re-enter the atmosphere with an emergency manoeuvre and ditch in the sea, ending up on a rocky, inhospitable coastline…
Serious-minded West German science fiction that bases its spacecraft and mission procedure on existing technologies to convey a realistic and believable scenario. Our astronauts are a glum bunch led by mission commander Horst Frank. Initially he remains icy cool in the face of adversity while his men seem lacking in the sort of personal qualities that you might have thought essential for the job. It’s a wonder how they got past the original psychological evaluations, let alone get back from Jupiter after the mission went south! But eventually everyone’s on the same page, and we’re in for a gritty tale of survival as our heroes try to reach civilisation across a barren wasteland.
Unfortunately, for all the plausibility and a committed cast, there’s an unmistakable feeling around the halfway point that, just like our stranded crew, things really aren’t going anywhere. Flashback montages of their mission training serve little purpose other than flagging up what we already knew about certain characters, and there’s a suspicion is just a matter of padding out the running time. There is an extended flashback to exploration on Ganymede too, and it’s important to the story, but the sequence unfolds at a deadly pace and has a very predictable outcome. The final twist in the tale isn’t exactly overwhelming either, although there is a pleasing sense of ambiguity about it.
Director Rainer Erler had most of his experience in the TV arena and there’s an unmistakable feel of an episode from a half-hour anthology show boosted to feature length. Horst Frank was mostly known for playing villains, particularly in the Western genre, but had a prominent role in Dario Argento’s ‘Cat O’Nine Tails’ (1971). Veteran character actor Dieter Laser later found fame – or perhaps that should be infamy?! – as the mad scientist who creates ‘The Human Centipede’ (2009).
Crew member Jürgen Prochnow became a star in epic World War 2 submarine drama ‘Das Boot’ (1981), went to Hollywood and took major roles in David Lynch’s ‘Dune’ (1984), ‘Beverley Hills Cop 2’ (1987), ‘The English Patient’ (1996), ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2006) and many others. His career even survived an appearance in Uwe Boll’s ‘House of the Dead’ (2003)!
It was going against the trend in the late 1970s to make a reality based science fiction film, although perhaps production had already begun before the global impact of films such as ‘Star Wars’ (1977) and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977). This effort simply needed far more plot and a livelier cast of characters to attain a decent level of entertainment.