An elaborate 1972 East German space opera made with a multi-national cast, obviously under the influence of 2001 and Solaris but with a streak of Gerry Anderson in the design and a simplistic vision of transcendence in space. In a utopian-seeming future where no international tensions are ever referred to and there aren’t any travel restrictions on astronauts or scientists (presumably) from the Eastern bloc – the spacegoing hero, Daniel Lagny (Bulgarian Ivan Andonov) and the scientist heroine Maria Scholl (Dutch Cox Habbema) have a holiday romance on the Galapagos – eight spaceships launched from the Margot space station go missing in a far area of the solar system. Veteran space scientist Oli Tal (German Rolf Hoppe) clashes with Maria in a noisy international space congress debate, though the two have a great respect for each other and alarm bells are set off early when Maria realises that Tal knows his own daughter is among the missing cosmonauts before he has been officially informed and furthermore is surprisingly not worried about it. Also on the missing list is the estranged son (Benjamin Besson) of whiskery old senior astronaut Kun (Russian Vsevolod Sanayev), who is cooped up in a two-man base on an asteroid with the slightly rebellious, non-specifically grumpy Daniel.
Years before, based on astronomical observations, a repeating ‘we’re here’ message and debatable scraps of evidence, Tal had proposed an expedition to Eolomea, a planet whose existence is mostly theoretical but stands in as a nebulous symbol of scientific (and perhaps spiritual) knowledge but the funding was cut in favour of more practical space programs. It turns out that Tal has inspired a younger generation of space explorers to mount their own covert program to carry out this mission, and that the reports of missing spaceships are just a cover for the assembly of the fleet needed for this venture. Daniel and Maria work this out, incidentally encountering a near-broken, endearingly box-headed robot that gets treated like an ageing pet (a recurring character in Eastern Bloc space opera) and finally choosing to endorse the mission. Daniel recovers his faith in scientific inquiry and signs up with the conspiracy in a manner that suggests he is turning his back on individualism (not to mention romance) in order to ram home a political message while losing the attributes which made him movie hero material in the first place.
Though it has none of the paranoid edge of American cold war era s-f, to the extent of assuming Eolomea will be a Shangri-La in space, it is torn between its utopian setting and the need to have something dramatic happen. There might be a distant echo of The Shape of Things to Come in the conflict between stay-at-home and out-to-the-stars visionaries, but the story is told from an outside point of view and we only meet the kids (Besson even has a vague hippie look) who are taking up the challenge of exploration late in the day and in a matter-of-fact manner, with little made of their faked deaths or what they might find out there. So, it boils down to a mystery with a benign solution that begs a lot of questions – why bother to pretend to be dead when the Eolomea mission crew are so far out in space they can do what they want without the bureaucrats on Earth stopping them? There’s extensive modelwork (acceptable, but nowhere near 2001 standards) with traditionally-shaped rocketships and Barbarella-look liquid psychedelia (with guitar twangs to boot) to convey the possible magic of the elusive Eolomea. Scripted by Angel Wagenstein; directed by Herrmann Zschoche.
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