In The Dust of the Stars/lm Staub Der Sterne (1976)

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)‘Akala, l am going to blast the pilotron.’

After a six-year journey, a spaceship makes a crash landing on an alien world. The crew’s mission is to answer a distress call but the planet’s inhabitants deny making such a broadcast. This seems a little odd and tensions increase when the expedition discover that their emergency landing was no accident…

Science fiction from the Eastern Bloc in the 1970s is generally remembered for a cerebral approach that considered the psychological ramifications on humankind of future technological developments, and similar issues cut from the same cloth. So, it is rather unusual to find an East German space opera from the same period. But here it is; a band of heroic brothers (and sisters) travelling the universe and encountering a despotic ruler (the flamboyant Ekkehard Schall), his dastardly lieutenant Ronk (Milan Beli) and squads of their faceless guards and soldiers. There’s also a peaceful alien race, represented by Mikai Mereuta and Aurelia Dumitrescu, who are being forced to mine something or other in dark caverns at the point of a ray gun.

Commander Akala (Jana Brejchová) and her merry band from the planet Cyrno have travelled across the galaxy to Tem 4 on their mission of mercy, aided by comfortable couches and paper readouts from their onboard computers. After a narrow escape on landing, they are met by a slightly odd-looking truck and are taken to meet the bearded Beli. This conflab takes place in a highly impressive great hall where everyone gets their own comfortable couch (obviously, essential furniture in the silvery space future). Unfortunately, Beli and his flunkeys just find their visit highly amusing. Rather miffed that they’ve come all that way for nothing, Brejechová and co retire to their ship, but science officer Suko (Alftred Struwe) is more than a little suspicious of the locals.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

🎵 Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha 🎶

Aware that they need our heroes to leave on good terms (or further visitors may follow), Beli invites them to a party and this  provides the film’s highlight as it revealed that Tem 4 is actually Planet Glam Rock! Yes, it’s the super ’70s version of the future, where everyone wears sparkling silver, facepaint and very wide flares. And women do vaguely suggestive things with snakes.

Unfortunately, it’s back to the plot all too quickly, as Struwe goes on a secret reconnaissance mission, discovers that the real native population are working in the mines and the inevitable rebellion ensues. The only surprise is the fairly downbeat conclusion, although it’s hard to be that bothered by it, given that we’ve been given very little reason to have an emotional connection with any of our protagonists.

Although the story is predictable and generic, that would not be a dealbreaker if director Gottfried Kolditz delivered it with a sense of style and humour. Unfortunately, save for wonderfully over-the-top villainous turns from Schall and Beli, everything else is pedestrian at best. Our brave heroes are faceless ciphers and the action scenes are flat and lifeless. The only sequence with any real merit is when Brejchová first meets Schall in his den; a mirrored room with disembodied heads and yet more snakes. It’s vaguely unsettling and a glimpse of what the film could have been if a less conventional approach had been adopted.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

‘A secret agent on Mars? Sign me up. asshole!’

Kolditz, who also co-wrote, went on to direct science-fiction obscurity ‘The Thing In The Castle’ (1979). Brejchová was a Czech actress, who had already enjoyed plaudits earlier in her career but when on to her greatest success with comedy-drama ‘Beauty In Trouble’ (2006). She was also once married to muti-award winning director Milos Forman, who is best known for ‘Amadeus’ (1984) and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975).

It’s always tempting to draw a political parallel with films originating from the Eastern Bloc at this time in history, but this just appears to be an attempt at delivering a slice of popular entertainment, albeit lacking in the necessary swagger and fun. Not all of the story’s threads are neatly tied at the climax so it’s possible that a sequel was planned but it’s little surprise that one failed to appear.