Himmelskibet (Heaven Ship) (1918)

Himmelskibet_(1918)The Danes go to Mars!

A young aviator builds a spaceship and flies to Mars, despite opposition from the scientific establishment. As the weeks pass, his crew threaten to mutiny, and when they arrive on the red planet their actions aren’t too clever either. Luckily, it takes more than a few crude earthlings to upset the indigenous population.

At a length of approximately 80 minutes, this Danish picture is quite possibly the first full-length feature ever made that portrays space flight and landing on another planet. Inevitably, the science is pretty wonky with our vehicle looking like a cross between a shed and a sea plane and likewise horizontal flight to escape Earth’s gravitational pull is rather quaint. The interior of the ship resembles a submarine, which is understandable given the technology of the time, and at least there is some effort to make it look functional with various dials and switches.

Our young, ambitious hero Avanti Planetaros (Gunnar Tolnæs) recruits his father to help out with his interplanetary project as somewhat conveniently he happens to be a scientist/astronomer. His sister’s boyfriend is also one of the white-coated brigade, and is happy to come along for the ride. Unfortunately, the rest of the crew are a motley bunch of volunteers and includes Dan the Dane, who’s a big, rough looking chap who likes his ale. I couldn’t help but wonder what his actual duties were on the ship. Anyway, our Earthbound villain is Professor Dubius, who is err… a bit dubious about the whole thing, and doesn’t mind letting people know about it, both at meetings and in the newspapers.

Despite all these problems the expedition finally reaches its goal, helped over the last few yards by the Martians themselves. These prove to be a bunch of insufferable old hippies, who hang around in flowing robes and carry tree branches. Mars is a utopia (’Heaven’ possibly?) where no one actually does any work and the young girls do the ‘Dance of Chastity’ (stop sniggering at the back, it’s actually rather cute). Scenes of this rural idyll are intercut with scenes of life back on Earth, mainly featuring drinking, violence, inappropriate dancing, and other sinful pursuits. ‘Love is what you call God’ the Martians sing, making us quite grateful that this is a silent movie.

But, despite all this loveliness (or perhaps because of it) the crew want to go back home. This Martian utopia looks all well and good, but of course it’s not exactly a thrill a minute. Our hero has fallen in love with the Headman’s daughter (the angelic Lilly Jacobson) which complicates things a tad, until she decides return with him to spread the word of the Martian’s creed of love and peace. Good luck with that!

Himmelskibet_(1918)

‘For God’s sake, reconfigure the lateral sensor array!’

This film is actually most interesting for its pacifist stance. Produced towards the end of the Great War in Europe, the slaughter in the trenches must have had a profound effect on society; so much so in fact that everyone waited a whole 20 years before doing it all over again. But, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve and the Danish filmmakers do it unapologetically here. It may seem a little naive and dated to a modern day audience though.

As a drama this is so-so stuff, but it does have some noteworthy aspects. And obviously meteors had yet to infect interstellar space in the overwhelming numbers that were present during the 1950s.

Worth a look if you are interested in the early evolution of cinematic science fiction.

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