Operazione Vega [Operation Vega] (1962)

It’s true.

I’m always interested in some new oddity when it comes to science fiction films.

I suppose it helps that I’m willing to overlook low production values in favor of writing, inventiveness or even the mere rarity of a film.  After all, I’ve seen an awful lot of the safe SF films out there — the classics, the audience favorites, the popular — and sometimes that just leaves the weird stuff.

Operation Vega definitely has low production values: it was a black and white television production and was mostly filmed on a minimally decorated television soundstage which is meant to be a spaceship (although, to be fair, this is very appropriate, for the fictional future where this one is set).  There are a few simple video effects, a bit of stock footage, a big screen which is used a few times to show things supposedly outside the ship (mostly swirling video effects), and only a handful of practical effects (if that’s the word for something as simple as a rolling set).

In fact, one could almost (almost) have put it on as a stage play (well, except perhaps for that scene aboard the submarine) with only minimal difficulty.

This makes a lot of sense as it started life as a 1954 play from the highly respected Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt called The Mission of the Vega (Das Unternehmen der Wega).  After it was performed on a number of different radio networks, the play was eventually translated and adapted for Italian television.  Dürrenmatt was a prolific author, who wrote plays, radio dramas, screenplays, and even directed a few films.  His work is often rather ironic and decidedly political, which is definitely the case here.

The Vega has just visited Venus with an important Government minister on board, along with two other important officials.  They don’t realize, however, that his secretary is actually from the security division and has been secretly filming them.

The Minister is on a mission to get military aid from the planet Venus to help in their war.  However, all their previous attempts at making contact have failed, and many of those sent have in fact stayed behind on Venus and refused to come home.

And, of course, every mission so far has bombed the planet when they left.

Once the Vega arrives at Venus, the Minister makes contact with the Venusians and tries to open negotiations.

Only what he finds is radically different from anything they could possibly have imagined…

This is a story about ideas.

That will probably scare off most of you who would not appreciate this odd little film.  Dürrenmatt is writing about the Cold War, which in his universe is still going more than a century in the future.

However, I’ll admit I find his version of Venus quite intriguing: it isn’t a perfect socialist paradise, but something radically different, a world so hostile that only a society such as he portrays could survive on it.

And to me, that’s one of the hallmarks of great Science Fiction.

I’m amused by some of the little science fictional touches here, such as the idea that they have controlled gravity now, and the takeoff of their ship is no longer as dramatic or physically uncomfortable, with no G-forces to deal with.

There are a number of interesting little bits of business here — which, I’ll admit, seem like the way this would be staged as a play, like a scene where the Minister paces about the ship’s command deck (which seems too grandiose a name for something so minimal) with the other two lesser ministers following him in step, and making tight military turns to match his.

The only scene which could not have been in a play is that set aboard a Venusian submarine, which uses a set which could only be used effectively in a filmed production.  It is also a very minimal set, without any notable decorations, but that does make sense that there isn’t anything sticking out anywhere when you consider that filming this scene must have involved a certain amount of risk.

This is definitely one of those films that isn’t for everyone.  However, it has some interesting ideas, and offers a wry commentary of the world at the time it was written.  It presents a strange vision of a successful civilization (if that’s quite the right word for it) not far removed from our early history as a nation, and works in a few touches of humor and a deeply ironic twist at the end.

If you can accept that, and if you love the intellectual side of Science Fiction, then it’s worth a look, particularly as it can be found on Youtube.

Although I’ll warn you: in a play which relies so much on dialogue, it can be frustrating to have to rely on auto-translated autosubs.

But don’t worry, it isn’t that hard to figure it all out…



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



WHICH THIS TIME Shows Hollywood how they could have done better…

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