The elderly scientist in charge of a rocket project dreams of going into space. Unfortunately, colleagues aren’t convinced that men can survive such a journey and forbid him to go, insisting on further tests. In the end, he launches the rocket anyway, circumstances dictating that he is accompanied by a female colleague and his grandson.
This Soviet silent film shows a surprisingly advanced understanding of the possible difficulties of space exploration than many films produced in subsequent years. The rocket is launched via tracks ascending the side of a hill (the method also favoured in ‘When Worlds Collide’ (1951)) and the cosmonauts enter vertical tubes filled with liquid to counteract the g-force. They also experience weightlessness in flight via some not-too visible wire work. Two decades later some U.S. filmmakers still hadn’t got a handle on that; witness the ‘lawn chairs’ on the spacecraft flight deck in the gloriously stupid ‘Cat Women of the Moon’ (1954).
The crew is somewhat less than credible, though. The old man does have some health issues with the strains of the flight – and no wonder at his age! – but it’s the presence of the brainbox grandson that really stands out like a sore thumb. Indeed, given that he saves the day with a mechanical catapult, is seems likely that the film was aimed at a younger audience, and the ‘factual’ approach may have been intended as educational.
On the credit side, the actors are surprisingly natural, but their actions with a bunch of flowers in the first half are a bit of a puzzle. The model work is variable, but rather good on the initial reveal of the spaceship, aided by some excellent camera movement. Unfortunately, when in flight things are somewhat less convincing with the ship becoming a fizzy ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) firework.
Our brave trio eventually make a somewhat disastrous landing on the moon, and it’s these sequences which saw the film banned for many years in its home country. The Soviet filmmakers give us a much more mountainous moonscape than the Americans did in NASA’s ‘Moon Landing’ (1969), but it was the crag hopping in spacesuits that upset the officials of the party. Not realistic, apparently. To be sure, the animation of those sequences is a little crude, but it seems a bit of a harsh decision!
In order to obtain a level of realism for the picture, director Vasili Zhuravlov consulted with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the renowned rocket engineer, whose ground breaking work over the previous half century has led him to be known as the ‘father of aeronautics.’ He died shortly after the film was completed.
Like many films of the early science fiction era, this isn’t particularly entertaining for a modern audience, but there’s enough going on to make it one of the more interesting, and credible, examples.