Teens In The Universe/Otroki vo vselennoy (1975)

Teens In The Universe (1975)‘Who can tell a pulsating homunculus from a twinkling octosaur?’

An expedition from Earth lands on one of the planets in the Cassiopeia constellation to investigate an emergency distress signal. The ship was expected to take 27 years to reach its destination, but an accidental diversion through hyperspace means that the crew are still the teenagers they were when they left Earth, rather than the adults they were supposed to be…

Rather than a sequel to Russian science fiction film ‘Moscow-Cassiopea’ (1974), this is instead essentially the second half of that story, no doubt filmed at the same time.  Boy genius Sereda (Misha Yershov) and his half dozen crewmates are now approaching their destination after the hardcore trials and tribulations of the first film, most notably establishing the identity of the girl who passed him that romantic note in class before they left. Of course, the whole point of having such a young crew in the first place was they would be in their early 40s by this point, but due to hilarious madcap stowaway Lobanov (Vladimir Basov MI) sitting on the main control panel by mistake, they’ve taken a diversion through hyperspace and arrived 26 years early.

Back home Earthside, crew member Aleksandr Grigoryev’s family are busy holding his 40th birthday party, which is promptly gatecrashed by the mysterious A.S.A. (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy). Like in the first film, he seems to have the ability to materialise and dematerialise at will, something which doesn’t seem to faze his hosts in the slightest. It’s also convenient for the audience as we get a recap of the story so far and an explanation of Einstein’s theories on time dilation.

Teens In The Universe (1975)

Buying glasses over the internet wasn’t always a great idea…

Eventual planetfall finds Lobanov suggesting a game of football (he’s so wacky!) while Grigoryev and Olga Bityukova carry out more serious enquiries. A couple of the locals make the scene; strange grey men in black PVC with very large flares who communicate by whistling. These are representatives of the planet’s robot overlords whose only aim is to make everybody happy.

So everything seems tickety-boo for our trio of space pioneers. They get to laugh hysterically while sitting on bouncy chairs and get free fruit juice. All a bit of a change of pace for the uptight Bityukova who wasn’t even happy earlier when Yershov decided to name the planet after her! It all seems great, except what they don’t know is that the robots’ plan for their permanent happiness involves robbing them of all human emotions and desires. Meanwhile, the last few survivors of the robot’s final solution contact the rest of our heroic crew to explain what’s going down and mount a rescue mission.

There’s far more going on in this second film than in the first part of the story, and so far less time for inane romantic complications and painful comedy. Yes, it’s still a little juvenile, but it was aimed at young teenagers so some of the lamer plot developments can be forgiven. These include robots that find riddles a fatal pastime, and a ‘nanny bot’ complete with apron and pram. On the plus side, some of the visuals are quite surreal, although the silliness of certain aspects do make it hard to take the drama seriously. A strange climax sees the reappearance of the mysterious A.S.A. Who exactly is he supposed to be, and why does no-one ever seem to question his presence? The character’s name seems to differ according to various sources as well! Something lost in translation perhaps.

It would be easy to take a hard line against this project; it’s dumb, a little puerile and never properly explores any of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the storyline. But it was designed as an entertainment for kids and, although that’s not a sufficient reason to forgive all its shortcomings, it does serve to mitigate criticism a little. The greatest point in its favour is that it’s far less aggravating than the first instalment of the story.

Not the finest example of 1970’s Soviet Science Fiction though…

 

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Moscow-Cassiopeia (1974)

Moscow Cassiopeia (1974)‘Why is Ira putting porridge into my shorts?’

Mysterious radio signals are detected emanating from the constellation of Cassiopeia. The Russian authorities decide to mount a manned expedition to investigate and adopt the science project of a 15 year-old genius as their mission plan. As it’s a 52-year round trip, they decide to send children instead of adults, and the budding Einstein is chosen to captain the ship while some of his classmates are recruited as crew.

Mention Russian Science Fiction films of the 1970s and you immediately think of the works of director Andrei Tarkovosky, who raised the bar for serious, philosophical work in the genre with the iconic movies ‘Solaris’ (1972) and ‘Stalker’ (1979). This project, however, takes the total opposite of such an approach, being a lightweight, vaguely comic, family orientated vehicle targeting adolescents as its intended audience. Yes, it’s ‘Tweens in Space’ and it’s exactly as hideous and tiresome as that sounds.

Our main man is teenage egghead Victor Sereda (Misha Yershov) whose brilliant ideas for a ‘annihilator relativistic nuclear starship’ and a deep space expedition to investigate the source of the radio signals impress the adults at his class presentation so much that they immediately start making it happen. I guess it’s lucky that they were the leaders of Russia’s space program, rather than the teachers you might normally have expected to attend. Also lurking in the wings as a facilitator is the mysterious lnnokently Smoktunovskiy, whose identity is never established and whose presence no-one ever questions.

Once our young crew are on their way, the main thrust of the drama centres on an anonymous, romantic note that was passed in class during Yershov’s original demonstration! Who was the author? Could it be Yershov’s dream girl (Olga Bityukova), or might it be nerdy intellectual Nadezhda Ovcharva? Perhaps it was even perky Irina Panfyorova, although she seems to have thing for his best mate Aleksandr Grigoryev instead. Yes, it’s the sort of hardcore science fiction speculation that Stanley Kubrick could only have dreamed of! Unfortunately for Yershov, he’s distracted from this riveting mystery when it turns out that troublesome classmate Lobanov (Vladimir Basov Ml) has stowed away on the spaceship. And what a jolly japester he turns out to be; pushing every random button that he can see, launching himself into space through the waste disposal system by mistake and then sitting on the main control panel and sending them all into hyperspace, something previously thought impossible! How I laughed at his antics.

Moscow Cassiopeia (1974)

Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1974…

Technically, the film is acceptable with the model work and other SFX proficent, if unimaginative. There’s also a holo-deck on board the ship for recreational purposes, a good 13 years before the crew of the Enterprise got one on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ On the debit side, it only seems to consist of a stretch of empty lakeshore.

The main problem with the film is that there simply aren’t enough laughs for a comedy or thrills for an adventure or action movie. Instead, we’re left to sink in the mire of Yershov’s overactive hormones and other even less than riveting romantic complications. In fact, the plot develops in such an unconvincing, infantile fashion that I fully expected Yershov to wake up at the climax and discover that it was all a dream (groan!) Instead, the film ends in the middle of the ‘action’ with ship and crew approaching their destination. Why? Because there’s a sequel (double groan!) It’s called ‘Teens in the Universe’ (1975) and it came out a year later, although it was undoubtedly shot ’back to back’ with this effort.

A real chore to get through.