Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Im Staub der Sterne (In the Dust of the Stars) (1976)

My notes on Im Staub der Sterne (In the Dust of the Stars) (1976)

Made a year or so before Star Wars, this East German space opera is an entry in that surprisingly rare form of science fiction in which Earth is never mentioned but the universe is inhabited by humanoid cultures with made-up-sounding names.

A spaceship from the planet Cyrno arrives on the planet Tem 4 in response to a plea for help sent out years ago, only to discover that the Temians don’t apparently want any help. While the stalwart crew, commanded by sensitive Captain Akala (Jan Brejchova), fall under the spell of their hedonistic hosts, suspicions lurk that there’s something amiss and it turns out the apparent native people are in fact exploitative invaders who are forcing the Tiri, the real indigenes, to toil in a huge mine. It could easily be construed as an allegory of the clash between capitalism (with the flabby and decadent Temians as stand-in Americans) and communism (with the Cyrno folk aiding the insurgents in fomenting a revolution), but most Western space opera (Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who) uses similar side-with-the-rebels plotting and there’s nothing as blatant here as the Soviet silent Aelita.

The resources of an Eastern Bloc collaboration (Rumania was a partner in the production) allow for impressive locales like the eroded deserts and huge mines and screen-filling mobs of slave extras. Most striking is its occasional sauciness – the Temians deploy scantily-clad dancers and mouth-spray drugs to seduce the space travellers, and the most appealing blonde on the crew (Regine Heintze) has a discreet nude scene – but the drama revolves around the responsibilities of command, with Akala plagued by feminine self-doubt as she favours accepting the surface situation while her navigator/ex-lover Suko (Alfred Struwe) insists there’s something wrong.

The baddies are kiddie-level menaces, with the ranting, fey ‘Boss’ (Ekkehard Schall) going in for blue- or red-dyed hair and a scarlet-lined white cape, while his chief goon Ronk (Milan Beli) is a stocky, fiendish schemer with a blond bouffant and a trimmed beard. Leon Niemczyk is the comedy crewman most taken with the Temian sirens (they actually come from Tem 3) before settling with Nova-like meek Tiri slave Chta (Aurelia Dumitrescu) and a couple of Romanian women (Violeta Andrei, Silvia Popovici) have more senior positions in the crew than Star Trek would allow until the 1990s. It has its weird footnotes, like the living severed heads in red alcoves in the Tem palace, and often descends into serial-like kitsch, not very far removed from the Italian-made space operas of Antonio Margheriti and others. Written and directed by Gottfried Kolditz.


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