Petlya Oriona [Orion’s Loop](1981)

(aka, The Orion Loop)

It’s interesting to note that, unlike some of the Soviet SF films of the Eighties, this one doesn’t seem to have any barely concealed criticisms of Soviet life.  Instead, it is a fairly straightforward story about cosmonauts on a mission to explore a mysterious phenomena known as Orion’s Loop.

The crew of the last ship sent to study it are almost all dead, and it seems to be composed of a strange new form of radiation that clearly had bad mental effects on past crews.

But it turns out to be part of an alien attempt to communicate with us, one complicated by just how different they are from us.

It’s very serious.  Even for a Soviet SF film.

It starts with a series of interviews with various scientists, about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, and the end credits include one for the Kiev Studio of Popular Sciences (which probably provided that footage and may have funded the production). However, the movie itself falls somewhere between a very Star Trek-like space opera and a Tarkovsky-lite exploration of communication with something alien, complete with flashbacks to painful memories.  Somehow, the framed paintings in several of the cabins seem very much like they came from Solaris.

As you might expect, it is a bit slow, and a bit dry, although it also manages some impressive images of the Loop itself, and the holographic visitors.

The strangest element, however, is that the ship’s complement also includes a set of androids who look exactly like their human counterparts.  Only once, however, do they deliberately use this resemblance to fool the viewer.

I have to confess that I particularly loved the mural in the ship’s main cabin:  the ship, specially constructed for their mission is (quite appropriately) named the Phaeton, after the son of the Greek sun god who tried to take over his father’s fiery carriage for one day, but failed and fell to Earth after Zeus blasted him with the thunderbolt.  The mural is stunning:  a wild, somewhat surreal version of the story, reminiscent of a classic Virgil Finlay illustration, or the posters for The End of Eternity.

All in all, it’s a handsome production, perhaps a little hampered by its budget, but still capable of putting some impressively hallucinogenic images on the screen (and I have to admit that I love the design of the ship’s computer).  While nowhere near as epic as Tarkovsky’s work, it does offer an interesting take on a first contact.  It’s not for every taste, but if you enjoy the occasional Soviet SF film, you should find it interesting.

Even if it is dry and slow.

(The movie can be found here)

 

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