The Bad Movie Report

First Spaceship on Venus

by Special BMR Space Correspondent


America had a strange fascination with space travel back in the 50s. This fact is obviously supported by the large number of films made during that time which dealt with space travel. And what a place outer space was - brain-exposed aliens with long tongues, references to Frank Baum, legions of shapely, feminist ETs and Ray Corrigan in a dumpy suit. Strangely enough, America seemed to be the only country making these kind of films at the time (perhaps due to its major advances in the Space Race at the time). Japan was busy with kinetic monster bashes, Italy had its hands full with sword and sandal fiascos, Mexico had its mind set on creating the ultimate crime fighting wrestlers, Germany was obsessed with penis films, and so on.

But America wasn't entirely alone in its assembly-line creation of such films. In fact, it was its competitor in the space race, Russia, who was the other major in space travel films. And granted, the Russian space missions, according to these films, were as goofy as their American counterparts. Dull, yes, but still goofy.

Science!First Spaceship on Venus begins with the event of the irrigation of the Gobi desert which, as everyone knows, took place in 1985. As we are told by the helpful narrator, a strange rock has been discovered that contains a spool with a strange message inside. Tests on this rock reveal it to be extraterrestrial in origin.

Then, "somebody remembered" (I'm not kidding, the narrator actually says this!) the explosion in Tunguska which was thought to be a meteor. Perhaps it's something else, hm?

Sure enough, the two scientists tasked with translating the message, Dr. Tchen Yu (Tang Hua-Ta) and the awful Dr. Orloff (Ignacy Machowski) find that has a message composing of the elements on Earth, while another scientist, Dr. Hemingway (Oldrich Lukes) confirms the fact the rock originated from Venus. Further analysis by another scientist, Dr. Durand (Michail N. Postnikow ) reveals that it must've been launched from a craft that was about to crash and was, in fact, the real reason for the Tunguska blast.

The Cosmos Traitor prepares for take-offSo, I guess there's no other choice than to go to Venus, correct? Right you are, my friends. So they assemble the scientists mentioned earlier along with a few new ones: French engineer Dr. Sikarna (Kurt Rackelmann), seasoned astronaut (and "First American Spaceman on the moon", I might add) Robert Brinkman (Gunther Simon), radio operator Talua (Julius Ongewe), and the female surgeon and Odious Love Interest, Sumiko Ogimura (Yoko Tani).

So the spaceship designed for the trip, Cosmo Strata (which is hilariously pronounced Cosmos - Traitor in the dubbed version, so I guess I'll refer to it as that) is in the preliminary testing stage. The crew goes about its business - Brinkman and Sumiko have the pedestrian "Why won't you come back to me?" speech, and Sikarna shows off a hideously annoying robot named Omega. It is probably noteful that I point out that at first I thought this was a re-issue of Planeta Burg, which featured a team of scientists landing on Venus and a robot which saved the lives of the crew members during a storm. I now know better, and the rest of you will soon find out why.

Hey look!  Science fiction!After the crew has settled their affairs on earth, they are put to sleep. The scene depicting this features probably the only exploitative shot, that of Sumiko taking off her lab coat before getting into bed, revealing that she wears nothing but panties underneath. Now tell me, how many scientists do you know who wear nothing but their underwear beneath their lab coat? Strange indeed.

Finally, the moment comes. The Cosmos-Traitor is ready for takeoff. The ship blasts off into space and signals the moon base as it passes. This leads Sumiko to reminisce about her husband, who apparently died on the moon.

Flying harness clearly visible?  Check.Now it's time for the wacky on-board antics of the crew members, like Durand and Tchen Yu engaging in some anti-gravity frolicking (you can obviously see the hanging harnesses) and Durand whining because he can't beat Omega at chess. At least HAL-9000 had the decency to thank Dave for a valuable game. So the crew members engage in some horse hockey about giving Omega a heart. Sikarna, of course, is baffled.

Unfortunately, while this engrossing argument continues, a meteorite shower hits and the ship is temporarily disabled. Hemingway figures that they didn't anticipate it because the computer couldn't register a shower that small. However, that was only the preliminary one, and the next one is powerful enough to destroy the Cosmos-Traitor. Fortunately, Sikarna is able to fix the ship's rockets enough that they could blast out of the path of the shower. But that's not the worst news - Tchen Yu and the Awful Dr. Orloff discovered what the spool's message is (yes, they brought it along.) Turns out the Venusians intend to subject us to radiation and take over once the ill effects have faded away. Talua tries to contact the Earth and tell them this Earth-shattering information, but interference from Venus (?) Stops them. The crew, arguing over whether to turn back or go on, unanimously decides to head for Venus.

Omeega and the Wonka-vator 2000.Seven days later, the Cosmos-Traitor finally reaches the outskirts of Venus's atmosphere. Brinkman is sent down because, as Hemingway puts it, "they don't want to take off or land more than once." Brinkman takes of in a Wonka-esque vehicle called the Krollo-Copter * and brings along Omega, for the viewer's explicit suffering. But as Brinkman lands and leaves the Krollo-Copter, it explodes, sending him and Omega running. Brinkman slips and falls into a cave full of what appears to be flying Cooties. He grabs one, climbs out of the hole and runs into the other crew members, who tell him that the explosion was due to the fact that he landed on a power line which may lead to the alien's base. Oh, those coincidental Americans aren't bad for everything, huh?

Inside the terrifying Cootie CaveThus the studies of Venus are made. Tchen Yu discovers that the little Cootie toy is actually a sort of audio record of the alien's record. Wait a minute. Would a piece of equipment that bounces about such as the Cootie Device in such a small space really be a good place for storing energy? The chance of  it colliding with the wall would be more than would be desirable, if you wanted to preserve as fully the information you had. That'd be like bouncing a videotape on a trampoline a few dozen times. Come to think about it, seeing as how crummy the videotape transfer I have is, perhaps the distributors have done this quite often.

The search for the alien life form goes on. The task is tedious because of the long, Venusian nights that are always preceded by storms. Strangely enough, according to the ship's calendar they've only been there two or three weeks, or about 21 days. I thought the Venusian day lasted about 243 days. Whether it's an accidental anachronism or just plain stupid I do not know. But anyhoo the research leads to the discovery of what appears to be a huge golf ball, the purpose of which is unknown. Tchen Yu also discovers what may be seeds in the ground.

Off-season Disneyworld is really a drag.Having searched one end of the power line, the crew sets off to locate the other end. On their way, they gaze upon, for the first time, the Venusian cities. Although the buildings remain, all that are left of the people are their shadows projected onto nearby rocks, apparently from the blast of their nuclear weapons.  It is not long after this that they find the other end of the power line, which leads to a building, most likely an operation center, with a model of the solar system used for tactical purposes. As they search further, Sikarna, Brinkman, Sumiko, and Omega are attacked by a blob-like creature. Sikarna stops it with a well-placed laser blast, but the use of the weapon has a strange effect on the giant golf ball and the petrified forest around it.

Surprise, surprise: the golf ball is an mass/energy converter while the petrified forest is some sort of catapult which launches the energy gathered by the golf ball towards a specific target- in this case, Earth. Sikarna accidentally triggered the conversion when he fired his atomic blaster and now the golf ball is transferring all the energy into the area into a single, gigantic explosion. The crew decides that the process must reversed from matter back into energy before the blast becomes too great. Talua, having studied the nerve center, volunteers to be the one to perform the task. Tchen Yu goes along to help.

Freudian?  You make the call.But time is short - Hemingway is attacked and seriously injured by Omega (now see how I found out this wasn't Planeta Burg?) And must be operated upon immediately. As Sumiko operates on Hemingway, Tchen Yu and Talua enter the nerve center. But as Tchen Yu lowers Talua into the cave, he is hit by a swinging whatchamacallit that punctures his space suit. Losing air quickly, he urges Talua to go on in the crew's behalf. Brinkman heroically dashes off to the rocket plane to get to Tchen Yu with oxygen while Sumiko rants on to a dying Tchen Yu about the germination of the seeds he discovered.

Scientific Implausibility Time again. No, it's not the seeds, but more of the breathing situation. I think I'll take the time to point out that while the space suits the astronauts bear are exceptionally cool, the air tanks on the back are a wee bit small. Imagine three graduated cylinders about three feet tall attached together, and you get the basic idea. Unless the future has some astonishing way of packing oxygen into smaller spaces, this would last all of, about, five minutes at the most. The next thing that bothers me is that Tchen Yu isn't asphyxiated immediately by Venus's poison air. Wouldn't that kill him instantly? Perhaps it would be better if Brinkman brought along some sort of seal to fill in the hole.

But anyway. Talua manages to reverse the process, but it is too late, for the power released by the forest is already strong enough to catapult the ship off the planet, leaving Tchen Yu dead, Talua marooned, and Brinkman hurled out into space for his foolhardy attempts for save the two. So the rest of the crew heads for Earth, lands, delivers speeches about their lost comrades and rushing off into the hands of characters whom were never introduced to us in the dubbed American version. The End.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about the movie involves the last part. About 2/5ths of this movie was cut for American release by Crown International (you can just tell a film is going to be mediocre when its distributor also released The Creeping Terror and They Saved Hitler's Brain!), which leaves us with very little characterization to go on referring to the secondary characters. Heck, the main characters remain pretty ambiguous! The film perhaps might've been less dull, even, if more back plot might've been referred to. As this is, the jarring editing turns the film from amusing to bemusing. And the dubbing, well, when Omega is pronounced "Ah-meh-Gaw", you know English must not be the recording voices' first language. The set design is probably the Piloting provided by the Brains from "Gamesters of Triskelion"thing that holds up best, with impressive Venusian smog and landscape effects that seem to come from Krazy Kat's nightmares.

Still, the film is too ponderous and un-involving to stimulate the viewer's interest for long. Even the writer, Stainsaw Lem, author of such droll stuff as Solaris, has disowned it, which leads now to my main statement in this review: don't think that just because something is more realistic, it's more entertaining. Nobody sings in real life, but in musicals they do. Life doesn't embrace the world for its macabreness, but black comedy does. All women aren't a full DD size in real life, but in Russ Meyer films, they sure are. So the next time you have to choose between a trip to the moon to dump off a bunch of trash or a trip to Mars to be attacked by a giant spider-monkey-rat, go with the monkey. It may seem stupid, but ignorance, truly, is bliss.


Still, better than Solaris

- November 3, 2000