(Mild Spoilers ahead!)
For no particular reason, I seem to have spent my weekend on a Soviet SF binge, watching this film, The Witches’ Cave and Inhabited Island (made long after the fall of the wall).
First off, ignore the title. I know it sounds like the title of some Anime kiddie princess show with magical unicorns. It isn’t.
Second, while some Russian sources will tell you this one is a classic SF film, you probably won’t agree. However, for those willing to accept it on its own terms it is undoubtedly an interesting and worthwhile film.
But what exactly are those terms?
As I’ve noted before (see, for example, my reviews of Mechte Navstrechu, Andromeda Nebula, Konets vechnosti, Amphibian Man or The Star Inspector) Soviet SF tended to be far more intelligent than American SF – and spent a lot more time talking. And I do mean “a lot.”
And, for a Soviet SF film, Lunnaya raduga is very talky.
As this is subtitled talk, that makes this a somewhat difficult film to watch. But what makes it even more difficult for the average American viewer is that it simply isn’t the film that a bare summary of its plot – an investigation into the strange, almost supernatural events surrounding a group of astronauts following their encounter with something unknown on Uranus’ moon Oberon – would seem to suggest.
In fact, the film gives little attention to the events on Oberon: the astronauts refuse to talk about them – and, as we eventually learn from a flashback, they actually saw very little and have no real idea what happened.
Instead, the emphasis is on the fear caused by the seemingly random interference with electronics and mysterious “black marks” that surround the astronauts (and “surround” does seem very much to be the right word, as it is far from clear whether this is a psychic power, or merely some strange influence that has somehow attached itself to them). It is this fear that drives the investigation – and this fear that makes the astronauts so reticent.
The theme here is that, as much as we may think we know the universe around us, venturing out into space, away from the little we know, may mean that we may encounter things beyond our understanding. There is a nice disclaimer about how we will someday understand it all perfectly, but ultimately what we are talking about here is very similar to the old Christian notion of Religious Mystery.
Which makes it no great surprise that this film has been compared to Andrei Tarkovsky’s SF films (Solyaris and Stalker) as the idea of Religious Mystery is central to his work.
The film does have some very nice imagery: I particularly liked the shots of the titular spaceship, which is black silhouetted against a nearly black sky, but beautifully lit by all its lights, with the intense, glowing neon blue of Uranus in the background.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is an interesting and intelligent film, even if it lacks the extra something which would have made it a classic. But if you can’t accept a film that is interested not in psychic powers or space travel but on the effects, physical and psychological of those things, then this isn’t for you.
Just don’t come around whining to me about how little attention SF plays to the people at the heart of its stories, okay?
(Subtitled version available here.)