An exploratory interplanetary mission is caught in the attraction of an ‘Iron Star’ and has insufficient fuel to effect an escape, leaving the astronauts stranded. Back on Earth, senior scientists and public officials wait for news of the mission.
Slow paced and talky Russian science fiction based on a novel by Ivan Efremov, who also adapted his work for the screen here. The results are curious, although a little on the dull side. For a start, the audience is thrown straight into the story, with no context for the future society we see portrayed, or even a basic explanation of what is going on. Although this is quite refreshing in a time when films tend to provide over-exposition as a standard, it does mean that some incidents are rather baffling. What is ‘The Ring’ they keep talking about? What are those signals coming from Satellite 57, and why did they consist of lots of dancing girls shown in brightly coloured silhouettes? Search me.
The main thrust of the story concerns our interplanetary pioneers. They’re rather a glum bunch, especially when they find out that capture by the ‘Iron Star’ probably means hanging around 25 years for a rescue mission to arrive from Earth. Unfortunately, the lack of any kind of setup to the action doesn’t assist with audience investment in their problems.
However, we do get an emotional focus with pretty, young astro-navigator Tatyana Voloshina and her love for crusty commander Nikolai Kryukov. He doesn’t seem to reciprocate, but we suspect he’s weakening. The discovery of a derelict spaceship on a nearby planet offers hope, but the rock isn’t unoccupied, and the residents are not particularly friendly. Back on Earth, we get some underdeveloped romantic complications concerning a couple of the officials (Sergei Stolyarov and Vija Artmane), and some bloke who wants to ‘collapse time.’
One of the main issues with the film is that the two disparate halves never come together. The film runs less than 80 minutes, but several important threads of the plot are left dangling after the final credits. The explanation for all this is quite simple. This was the first of an intended series of films based on Efremov’s work, but the rest were never made after its poor reception. It’s a pity, because it would have been interesting to see how the story was going to develop. Seeking out the novel is probably the only way to get any closure.
There are some pleasing aspects, nevertheless. The difficulties caused by the immense distances involved in interstellar travel are a recurrent theme, and that’s unusual. Obviously, it’s usually ignored in fiction because of the dramatic problems it creates. There are also some halfway decent visuals and practical effects, and the interior of the spacecraft is fairly credible for a change, even if it does have a pool!
As a whole, the film is not particularly satisfying, but it feels wrong to regard it too harshly. That would be like judging a book after only reading the first half.