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Eolomea Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 August 2005

distributor: Ice Storm/First Run Features
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Cox Habbema, Ivan Andonov, Rolfe Hoppe, Vsevolod Sanayev, Peter Slabakov, Wolfgang Greese, Holger Mahlich
director: Hermann Zschoche
film release year: 1972
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Two and a Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren
During the Cold War, movie companies behind the Iron Curtain went ahead and made movies without much hope of selling them to the West. East Germany’s DEFA studios was especially busy, and occasionally made reasonably elaborate science fiction movies. One of these, a Polish coproduction entitled “Der Schweigende Stern” (1960; The Silent Star), was cut a little, redubbed and released in the U.S. as “First Spaceship on Venus.”

Now, a complicated grouping including a company called Icestorm, the University of Massachusetts and First Run Features is releasing three of DEFA’s science fiction efforts, including “Der Schweigende Stern.” That and “Im Staub der Sterne (1976; In the Dust of the Stars) will be reviewed here next month.

Clearly showing some influence of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,”, “Eolomea” is an intelligent, thoughtful piece intended for adults. However, the story is very thin, resulting in a slow-paced talky movie which will be of interest primarily to film scholars and dedicated science fiction lovers. It’s not at all a bad film, but the slow pace and unfamiliar movie “grammar” can make it slow going.

One of the great myths about movies originating behind the Iron Curtain is that they’re doctrinaire political tracts in a “boy loves tractor” vein with a lot of criticism of the “decadent west.” Actually, very few Soviet Bloc movies were like that; “Eolomea” is completely free of any kind of propaganda, and instead deals with such undated concepts as human curiosity, a desire to see what lies beyond the next hill (or in this case, star) and the value of love.

Director Hermann Zschoche, working from an elliptical script by Angel Wagenstein, tells a story that would be ideal for, say, a half-hour “Twilight Zone,” but which at eighty minutes seems discursive and attenuated. In the near future, space researcher Prof. Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema) is understandably concerned that several spacecraft from Earth have disappeared on routine flights between planets of the Solar System. Even though his daughter was on one of the missing ships, at a large meeting, Olo Tal (Rolfe Hoppe) tries to brush off the disappearances as nothing to be worried about.

We also meet Daniel Lagny (Ivan Andonov), one of two people at a base on what seems to be an asteroid. He’s fond of his older partner, “Pilot” (Vsevolod Sanayev), who longs to show his son the beauties of Earth, but the son, whom he hasn’t seen in years, is on yet another base. Daniel remembers his tender encounter with Maria on the Galapagos Islands; they fell in love but drifted apart, though he still keeps a small turtle to remind him of happier days.

Tal, we learn, was head of the “Eolomea” project. A strange light was detected in the Constellation Cygnus, repeating every 24 years. Soviet scientists came to believe it originated on a planet, which they dubbed Eolomea. Pierre, from another base, visits Dan and Pilot, but doesn’t enter, because he fears he’s dying from the black patches covering his face. He leaves a cylinder with information, then departs.

The story is occasionally confusing. There’s an elaborate scene of costumed celebrants (some of which dance by hopping up and down) at what seems to be a huge New Years Eve party, but why we are shown this is unclear. Tal disappears and supposedly registers at a hotel in Majorca also called Eolomea.

Eventually, Maria and Dan reuinite at an abandoned space station where they encounter a boxy-looking robot, 0/560, which operates under the basis of what sounds like Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. There are also sequences of a large group of people making mysterious plans, but until nearly the end, we don’t know this gathering is on the same space station Maria, Dan and others are exploring.

It’s a slow, puzzling movie, but any film that includes a lead character wryly declaring “I’m off to find a new civilization in socks full of holes” has something to offer, if only a new viewpoint.

The movie is peculiarly flat in all regards; evidently the director was trying to shy away from sentimentality, but this results in the scenes of Maria and Dan on the Galapagos Islands of looking playful rather than romantic. Also, the climax of a fleet of ships leaving Earth in search of Eolomea should by almost any standard be exciting and feel like a climax, but instead it’s merely observed in a dry, detached manner.

The special effects are satisfactory for the period and occasionally imaginative, as in a shot of a ship leaving the ground at an angle, coming straight at the camera. The robot, however, is as childish and irritating as any in an American production. There are occasional shots of colorful oils swirling about; these don’t have any identifiable content, and may be there simply because Kubrick used a few such images in the 2001 “trip” sequence.

This DVD presents the film in a crisp, clear image with satisfactory subtitles and chapter stops. There are a few extras and an introductory essay, but they aren’t particularly interesting. The most appealing part of the film is simply to see how other countries dealt with concepts usually treated melodramatically in movies released in America. It’s a drama rather than a melodrama, well acted and produced.

Even if this is not an outstanding film, First Run Features deserves many thanks for making such previously inaccessible movie available to American movie and science fiction buffs.

more details
sound format:
aspect ratio(s):
16x9 (enhanced)
special features: Essay, interview with effects cameraman and costume designer; photo gallery; director & cast biographies and filmographies
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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