I first encountered this one in film critic Phillip Strick’s Science Fiction Movies [Octopus Books: London, 1976]
He was quite dismissive of it, saying that it “…appeared to draw its cast entirely from the Olympic weight-lifting team, conducting their conversations while performing back-flips, diving into baroque swimming pools and absent-mindedly flexing their biceps” and “leaves little other impression than that of rude health and an identical group of characters declaiming like opera stars”
And yet, as I later learned, something in what sounds like a totally un-political film offended the Commissars so much that they cancelled a planned sequel!
There is something to be said for the “declaiming like opera stars” line, as a large part of what happens seems to involve a lot of very serious talk. However, there are only a few scenes set in the ship’s swimming pool room so that part at least sounds like an exaggeration.
Most of the film revolves around a spaceship which got too close to an almost invisible “iron star” (the subtitles of the version I saw are among the worst I have ever seen) and no longer has enough fuel to get home. They then try to rescue an alien ship, only to be attacked by invisible flesh eating monsters. So it can hardly be said to be dull, it just moves at a somewhat deliberate pace and spends more time talking than American SF films would ever dare.
I particularly like the strong sense of design in this film, with its dramatic, modernist interiors and that marvelous giant flaming hand statue. That’s probably what the Olympic flame would look like – in Logan’s Run.
But why did it cut short the career of its director, Yevgeni Sherstobitov?
While I am not sure, I have to wonder if it is because, when the heart-broken ship’s Commander is advised to have his memories of the girl he loves removed by superior Soviet technology, he ultimately refuses because that pain is an important part of what makes us human.
Somehow, in the Soviet world, I suspect that that would be too individualistic an attitude to take, and, in fact, one can point to lots of Soviet films where the hero sacrifices his love or life to help build that greater Soviet future.
It’s a bit dry and talky, and the subtitles need a bit of work. But it’s only a little over an hour long, and, even if it isn’t one of the better Soviet era SF films, it does deal intelligently with things American SF never could be bothered to take an interest in.
So, depending on your tolerances for Soviet film, badly translated subtitles and exposition, this one might be worth a look.
(subtitled film available here).