Monday, October 15, 2007

The Feral Martians of Venus

Last night at my friend's monthly movie, we saw a 1962 science fiction film from the Soviet Union. The title on the screen was in Russian, which I don't read, subtitled as Planet of Storms. The box had the title Planeta Burg. I don't know which one is a more accurate translation, but you've got to admit that Planet of Storms sounds a whole lot better than Planeta Burg.

I'll say right from the top . . . this was a bad movie. It was interesting from a cultural perspective. How often do Americans get the opportunity to see Communist era Russian flicks? As with the couple of Communist era Czech movies I've seen, the characters all have a sort of glum fatalism. As one of my friends said, "They're all emo!" Apparently, life under Communist rule just plain sucked, even if you were a cosmonaut.

Three ships, with three crew members apiece, went to Venus. Right at the beginning of the movie, an asteroid came from nowhere and destroyed one of the ships. In the aftermath of the disaster, the survivors were supposed to stay in orbit over Venus and wait for another ship to come from Earth, so they could do their mission with a full crew as planned.

Thing is, they got bored. So the five men took their crappy robot and headed down planetside, leaving the only female crew member alone in orbit, where she would struggle with space madness, which looked a whole lot like bipolar disorder.

The guys got separated. One group of three had a nifty hover car that looked right out of The Jetsons. They cruised around and had a grand old time while searching for their companions. They found a crude sculpture of a dragon, which proved the presence of intelligent life on Venus. They did not even consider the possibility that it may have evolved there. No, they came to the conclusion that Martians must have colonized Venus, and the reason the artwork was so primitive was that the civilization fell and the people reverted to savages. Yes, that's right, Venus is populated by feral Martians. Oh, and dinosaurs. Did I mention the dinosaurs? Yep. Venus, home to feral Martians and cheap rubber dinosaurs.

Keep in mind that they never explicitly stated that they had encountered Martians at any point in the history of space exploration, nor even that they had found any form of life whatsoever on Mars. It's just an unstated assumption that Mars was obviously the site of the first great civilization in the solar system. They even hinted at the idea that Earth was also a Martian colony. So we, too, are feral Martians.

Meanwhile, the other two guys, with their clunky, junky robot, had a big bag of suck. A carnivorous tentacle plant tried to eat them, they caught malaria, and then they got stranded in the middle of a surging river of lava. First of all . . . malaria? The guys started feeling a little sick, so they jumped to the conclusion that it's malaria?

As they lost consciousness, the robot made contact with the group in the hover car. The hover car group asked the robot where his masters were, and the robot spouted off that he had no masters; he was a free machine. Unimpressed, the guys told the robot to give medicine to the ill crew members. So the robot got the pills from the pack, spilled them all over the ground, rubbed them in the Venusian dirt, then with no small effort managed to pick one up with its clumsy, stumpy, poorly engineered club of a hand. Then the robot flipped open the guy's space helmet, dropped the pill in his mouth, and poured water all over his face, managing to splash some few drops in his mouth. I'm not sure if the robot was trying to kill him them or just incompetent, but the scene was unintentionally hilarious.

Presumably, the robot repeated this procedure with the other guy, although the audience was spared the spectacle. The amazing thing was, the guys actually recovered from their "malaria." Yes, a few healthy gasps of Venusian air and a pill covered in dirt and alien microbes was just what the doctor ordered.

So why did they put their helmets back on? Seriously? The credibility was ruined at this point.

And the robot . . . it just got worse and worse. With technology advanced enough to build a bipedal robot that would play music like a walking mp3 player and occasionally wax eloquent on philosophy, they couldn't even waterproof it? A little rain, and it had to run off and hide in a cave? Oh, but while a weak drizzle would destroy the robot, it was perfectly capable of strolling through knee-deep flowing lava.

What happened to the robot in the end? Did the cosmonauts meet any Venusians? Or did they get eaten by dinosaurs? Did the lonely woman in orbit die of boredom, or did she succumb to space madness and send her ship--the crew's only hope of returning to earth--careening down to the planet's surface? If you actually care enough to want the answers to these questions, you'll have to watch the movie for yourself. If you love B-movies, especially if you enjoy mocking them MST3K-style as you watch, put it on your must-see list.

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