In the near future, the human race has established permanent space stations and planetary bases in its own galaxy. Panic strikes when a number of spacecraft disappear in quick succession, and the leading scientist involved begins to suspect that one of her colleagues may know more about events than he is saying…
East German science fiction drama which strives for a serious tone and the same philosophical insight as Russian examples of the period, such as Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic ‘Solaris’ (1972). The story comes from the pen of Angel Vagenshtain, a Bulgarian writer who first found recognition with his screenplay for ‘Stars’ (1959), which won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. A number of his scripts were produced over the years, and he enjoyed recognition later in life as a novelist, so it’s strange that the weakness of the film lies in its lack of story development. The solution to the central mystery is pretty much given away around the halfway point and, although the film may have been intended more as a rumination on mankind’s future among the stars than as a space age thriller, it might have helped to keep the audience in suspense a little while longer. As it is the final third falls flat as events unfold on lines that are entirely too predictable.
It’s a shame as we have a decent setup. Space station Margot falls silent after a number of ships disappear in the area, prompting a complete ban on space travel, much to the disgust of chain-smoking head scientist Maria Scholl. She determines to investigate and soon targets colleague Professor Tal (Rolf Hoppe) and a long-abandoned exploration project that never received official approval. Simultaneously, her sometime lover (Ivan Andanov) endures a dead end posting on an asteroid with only crusty old Vsevolod Sanaev for company. His isolation is contrasted with fairly random flashbacks to his romance with Scholl, which seem jarring at first, but are designed to provoke an emotional payoff at the climax.
Unfortunately, the film never grips either emotionally or intellectually. The notion that space exploration might actually be very boring is intriguing, and well realised in the scenes where Andanov and Sanaev get drunk to deal with it. But there’s little insight elsewhere, beyond a consideration of man’s urge of explore at whatever the personal cost.
The SFX are fairly basic, with the crew apparently shooting their spacecraft models upside down, and at night. The inversions were to eliminate wires showing on the screen, and the midnight schedule was to eliminate vibration caused by daytime traffic passing outside the studio! Apparently, there was some involvement from Russia’s famous MosFilms and from a Berlin-based company, but this can have only been minimal, as the film only received a theatrical release in East Germany, eventually surfacing on home video over 25 years later after German re-unification.
It’s not entirely without merit, and worth a watch if your taste in science fiction runs to the more studious, prophetic aspects of the genre.