Savvy Jabootuists are aware that I generally waste everyone’s time with a lame introductory section to my articles. These are on whatever the current subject inspires me to write about. It might be the work of a certain actor or director, or the history of some sub-genre, or whatever. Doomsday Machine (a.k.a. Escape from Planet Earth), however, stumps me in this regard.
There are certainly other ‘space exploration’ flicks, and plenty of bad ones at that. Still, many of these fall into the ‘Lost Society of Man-Hungry Women’ mold, which this one doesn’t. Most of the rest feature the exploration of other worlds. These tend to feature the cast fighting weird, usually goofy, monsters and/or alien races. This doesn’t. So I guess I’ll just get right into it.
We open with the credits. These are set against a ‘star field’ that, while short of spectacular, is hardly the worst we’ve ever seen. This is misleading. It implies that perhaps this film won’t be one of the most logic impaired and haphazard efforts ever to be committed to film. Which it is.
Given the amount of stock footage later utilized, I’m thinking that the current background is ‘borrowed’ too. Probably from some Russian space epic. At the time, the rights to many of these were bought by cheapo American film producers, like Roger Corman. Not, however, with the intention of dubbing and releasing the movies outright. Instead, they’d be cannibalized for FX footage, which was then inserted in their own productions (see Queen of Blood , for example). Additional evidence for this theory is provided later in the film.
The experienced Turkeyologist will begin preparing the cranberry sauce as soon as the theme music kicks in. Why? Because it is instantly manifest that said music has been stolen from the classic film Forbidden Planet (!!). This ‘electronic’ music is surely one of the most famous scores of any science fiction film. Using it displays a chutzpah, as well as a naked contempt for the audience, that will become all the more evident as we proceed.
Our ‘story’ opens, in a film that will jump all over the place, with a type of Cold War spy sequence. We see an Asian woman skulking around a wall, carrying a cat. On the other side of the wall is a Chinese soldier with a guard dog. Sure enough, the cat ends up being tossed over the wall. The guard, apparently not finding anything odd in seeing a cat come arcing over a six foot concrete wall, indeed accompanies the dog in chase.
The seemingly impenetrable security apparatus thus breached, our heroine scales the wall. On the other side is what appears more like the campus of a small community college than a top secret Communist military installation. But what do I know? Spy Chick spends quite some time skulking about in a suspicious fashion. This despite the fact that’s she’s outside in plain view, and that she’d be better off just walking directly into her target building. Luckily, she does make it inside before the apparently lone guard returns.
Inside, she enters an unsecured (the door’s wide open, for heaven’s sake!) locker room, procuring a lab jacket for camouflage. She’s interrupted (Wow. The suspense.) by a female staff member, but manages to dispose of her by strangling the woman with her own pig tales (!). This is accomplished (in roughly five seconds) in a manner so awkward as to do fellow distaff spy Chesty Morgan credit.
This way suspenseful sequence by the boards, Spy Chick proceeds to an elevator, run by an elderly gent in a Red Army uniform. They go up to the fifth floor, whereupon a compatriot of Spy Chick enters the elevator and helps to disable the elevator guy. Then they relieve him of his special key, which allows one to access the secret upper floors of the complex.
Up on the eighth floor, they face what appears to be a door (hatch, really) from a submarine set. This, like the earlier locker room door, isn’t locked either. (If this is the level of security the Chinese use at their Top Secret Installations, one wonders that they were still around in the late ’60s, much less now). They enter, and proceed to investigate a rather unconvincing mechanism sitting inside a barred circus cage.
“Only Chairman Mao has the key to that lock,” Spy Guy notes, pointing at the cage. “All we can do is to warn the rest of the world.” (If they really wanted to be useful, they’d have warned the world not to watch this movie. This might have saved literally dozens of people from wasting ninety minutes of their lives. Well, OK, maybe not dozens, but still.)
Learning that there’s ‘less than seventy-two hours,’ Spy Chick begins to photograph the device. This largely resembles a Pop-o-matic dome from a ‘Sorry’ game, but one that has become embiggened after being exposed to atomic radiation. After taking photos of the device from a single angle, she rather unconvincingly notes that “I have all that I need.”
Spy Guy removes a vent cover from the wall, allowing Spy Chick to make her escape. (Uh, are they still on the eighth floor?) This is somewhat less silly than corresponding scenes in American films, as Chinese people are quite wee, and thus wouldn’t require a very large air duct to make their way through. In fact, they’re apparently smaller than I thought. In an amusing moment, once inside the ‘duct’ we can see that Spy Chick has fully stood up and is just walking away. Still, why doesn’t she just stroll out the front door? They’ve already taken care of the entire three people who apparently guard this place.
We cut to a conference room back in the States. Here guys in extremely bad late ’60s suits, ties and haircuts are examining photographic slides of the device. These shots, needless to say, in no way correspond to the distances and angles from which we saw the photos taken. “The device,” Spy Chick clunkily spits out, “is suspended several hundred miles below the control unit.” Presumably deep in the molten core of the planet.
After the slide show, and whatever they could have learned from it, one fellow speaks up. “We are certain the force of this detonation will rupture the faults of the Earth’s surface, and set up a chain reaction of explosions when the Earth’s tension is broken.” Uh, ye-ahh. “There are only fifty-one hours left,” another guy notes. “We’d better notify the president.” Hmm, yes, that’s probably a good idea.
OK, can someone tell us what’s going on here? It seems likely (given the film’s title, anyway) that the Chinese possess some sort of Doomsday Device, i.e. one that can destroy the Earth. Now, this idea was perhaps more deeply explored in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. There, the titular character, played by Peter Sellers, points out that the political advantages of having such a device are somewhat negated if NO ONE KNOWS YOU HAVE IT!
One potential reason for having such a device is that you could use it to blackmail the rest of the world. This, however, requires that they believe that you’d actually destroy the planet if you didn’t get your way. This seems unlikely. Such a line of thinking would have invalidated the Mutual Assured Destruction policy pursued by the US and the Soviets during the Cold War.
MAD, after all, was formulated on the principle that no one wanted to start a nuclear war that would result in their own total destruction. And while some people found the policy unseemly and non-Star Trek-y, the fact is that is was a spectacular success. For roughly half a century, two hostile superpowers failed to directly war upon each other. Such a respite is rare in the history of our species.
Furthermore, the arms race actually kept military spending down for both countries. Nuclear weapons are cheaper than maintaining gigantic standing armies. Indeed, the fall of the Soviet Union was largely the result of President Reagan’s advocacy of the Star Wars anti-missile technology. The mere threat of rendering their nuclear capability even marginally less effective pushed the Soviet economy over the edge.
The Soviets historically spent a far greater percentage of GNP on their military than the NATO nations did. A conventional buildup, which would have been painful for the Western Powers (except for France, as it would have given them something else to be annoying about), would have proved fatal to the USSR. Ultimately, even the prospect of such a buildup was enough to destabilize their government.
So let’s pass over the blackmail idea. A more likely purpose, and the basis for the device’s existence in Dr. Strangelove, was that it was, in fact, the apotheosis of the MAD concept. Should the Soviet Union (the developer of the device in Strangelove) be attacked with nuclear weapons, the device would automatically destroy the Earth. It was, again, the MAD policy taken to it’s logical (or, some might argue, illogical) extreme.
However, as Seller’s Dr. Strangelove points out, if no one knows about the device’s existence then it wouldn’t deter an attack. That logic applies here. Or it would, if the film didn’t take place in what is apparently an anti-logic universe. The fact that they keep talking about a time limit seems to indicate one of two things. That the World is facing an ultimatum from the Chinese government, or that the Evil Communists are just planning to fire the thing up and destroy the Earth.
The first idea is made unlikely by various factors in the film’s, er, plot. Mostly, if Mao was using the device to threaten the world, he’d himself provide the evidence of its existence. You’d hardly need to send in spies to gather such verification. The blackmail threat would require that everybody believe that the device was real.
The second possibility, however, makes no sense either. Why would even Communists want to destroy the world? I mean, perhaps if Mao was in Hitler’s position at the end of WWII, facing the utter destruction of his regime by his enemies, he might be insane enough to use this thing. This is, after all, a dictator whose agricultural policies resulted in tens of millions of his own countrymen dying horrible deaths by starvation. But Mao and his government never faced such ruin, so again, why would he use this thing?
Enough of that. We cut to an American military base, helpfully sporting a sign that informs us that this is “Space Flight Center”, “Project ASTRA” and a (duh) “Restricted Area”. We cut to a control room, one rather more modest that that used for, say, the Apollo moon missions. Then we cut to a Press Conference. Project ASTRA, we learn, is a manned mission to Venus, shortly to commence.
Colonel Price, mission commander, comes in to answer some questions. The first reporter to speak up is played by actor Mike Farrell, who later played B.J. Hunnicutt on TV’s M*A*S*H. This is not, I assume, a big item on his rÃ©sumÃ©. He asks, Why a mission to Venus? Maybe it’s just me, but you’d really think this sort of question would have been addressed prior to, you know, the day of lift-off.
Amongst the various expository info we glean is that the astronauts will be in space for two years. Oh, and that the film takes place in the futuristic year of 1975. Yeah, that is about when we went to Venus, wasn’t it? We are also reminded of the Moon Base, established “several years ago.”
Another reporter asks why the crew will take an indirect route, instead of using the Sun’s gravity to drop down directly to Venus. Price explains that it’s because the planets don’t travel aligned, but rather in their own orbits. (Hey, Americans didn’t become that ignorant about the sciences until the ’90s, over fifty years after this film was made. I think. I’m afraid my knowing of history’s not so well.)
The Base Commander suddenly tells Price to keep it short, and then runs off (yeah, good non-suspicious behavior to exhibit before the Press). We hear Price say “This is our starting point,” but don’t see where he’s pointing on the planetary chart. I’m thinkingâ€¦I don’t know, Earth? He gives a techno-babble explanation of how the ship will travel to Venus, leading Farrell to ask, “And it’s as simple as that?” Yep. You skim through a Robert Heinlein novel, copy a couple of buzz words, and Presto! (Actually, I think I’m giving the guy who wrote this too much credit.)
Price makes to go, but notes first that leaving their loved ones behind for two years is the hardest part of the mission. (Wow. The Pathos.) We cut back to the Control Room. There, a soldier (since when does the Military control space missions?) being played by Casey Kasem (!!) is giving instructions over a microphone. “And now, topping the countdown of the Worst Science Fiction Films of 1967â€¦it’sâ€¦Doomsday Machine!”
Meanwhile, the crew members are being given a final medical exam. To our horror, we learn that one of the crew, Danny, is being portrayed by ‘comedian’ Bobby Van. This represents a major career downturn for Van. He last appeared in the crappy Navy vs. the Night Monsters, which was still much better than this flick. Oh, well, at least Mamie Van Doren was apparently unavailable. Fulfilling our greatest fears, he’s soon engaging in ‘comical’ hijinx, like pretending that a looped instrument is a monocle.
Another team member is Dr. Perry, an old coot perhaps in his sixties. He’s spewing some expository dialog to explain why he’s going on the mission. This is summed up by another character: “Your technical knowledge gives you an override on the computer data to the contrary.” Uh, ye-ahh. Apparently, this fellow is the only guy in the country who possesses this particular ‘technical knowledge.’ Or maybe he was fitter than the only other candidate, Stephen Hawking.
We also meet the mission’s designated dickhead, navigator Kurt Mason. To our dismay (and, no doubt, his), he’s being played by Grant Williams, the star of the sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man. This is even more of a comedown than having appeared in Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Anyway, his initial complaint is that they’re including ‘a clown’ on a ten billion dollar mission.
This fails to establish Mason’s ‘jerk’ credentials on two grounds. First, who wouldn’t be horrified at being forcibly exposed to Danny’s (i.e., Bobby Van’s) tired schtick for two years? Second, referring to Danny as a ‘clown’ is such a kindly exaggeration of his comedic talents that Mason more comes off as insanely generous than as mean and prickly. However, more than sufficient evidence of his bellicosity will be provided later.
This charming scene halts when a PA announcement is made that “first stage fueling” has begun. Everyone looks startled, allowing us in the audience to intuit that something unorthodox has occurred. We also, roughly twenty minutes into the movie, can now intuit that whatever it is, it will probably be both illogical and boring.
It turns out that things are mysteriously running ahead of schedule. (I guess I was right about both the ‘illogical’ and ‘boring’ parts.) Then a Red Alert kicks in. Mason, of course, acts like a big jerk about the whole thing. He’s obviously the film’s Dr. Smith Character, the guy who will consistently endanger the rest of the cast while fomenting general discontent.
Following formula, no one else will, at any time, suggest that the Dr. Smith Character be killed (even when the necessity of sacrificing some of the characters is raised). He’ll instead cause various deaths, perhaps even commit murder, until the time when his venal, self-serving actions bring about his own demise. Think, as an example among the hundreds of possibilities, of Paul Reiser in Aliens, or Miguel Ferrer in DeepStar Six.
“Red alert?” Danny japes. “Are they kidding?! This is 1975! Khruschev went out with mini-skirts!” (You know, I really think that Mason has a valid point where Danny’s regarded.) Mason figures out that it might have something to do with the Chinese. We next hear that the base is now closed off and operating under (*gasp*) “martial law.” (This resulted in my fantasizing that Sammo Hung would make an appearance, leading to something entertaining happening. Needless to say, this didn’t occur.)
The PA spiel goes on for while. All ‘minor’ checks have been cancelled, yada yada. OK, already. We get it. Something big is happening. Outside, the crew meets up with Colonel Price. Price notes that there’s a “military crisis” of some sort going on (yeah, thanks for the update). Following ‘standard procedure,’ all aircraft are being scrambled, including their “big bird.” Hmm, my understanding was that a ‘scramble’ alert covered only warplanes, not spacecraft. But what do I know?
Mason starts bitching again. Oh, yeah, this is a guy I’d want to spend a couple of years traveling through space with. Suddenly, a car sporting diplomatic flags for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union (?!) drives up. Out pops some brass, who inform our protagonists that some members of the mission crew are hereby being replaced. As you’d imagine, this information is met with a degree of consternation.
Unsurprisingly, these replacements end up meaning that, that’s right, chicks are going. Amazingly, despite the fact that roughly half the original team is being replaced, the remaining members still include the sociopathic Mason, old fogey Dr. Perry, and the excruciating comic stylings of Danny. Holy smokes, what kind of losers didn’t make the cut here?
Anyway, there’s no time for argument (or logicâ€¦or actingâ€¦or good scriptingâ€¦). (My favorite line is when they are informed of who is being replaced. “Dr. Brown, Flight Surgeon.” “Why, that’s me!” a perplexed Brown gasps. You know, just so his fellow crew members knew who that is.)
There’s also a mystery container that they will be taking along, about the size of an ice chest. Price worries that this will violate the mission’s carefully calibrated weight restrictions. (Wow. Science.) We learn, however, that this has been calculated: Since the three women weigh less then the men they’re replacing, it’s all covered. (Man, these screenwriters thought of everything, huh?)
Nowâ€¦let’s meet the ladies! Dr. Marion Turner is a Flight Surgeon and Microbiologist (yep, there’s two skills that go right together). She’s the ‘normal,’ ‘competent’ one, who will obviously end up being the love interest for the heroic (if stolid) Colonel Price. Danny, providing further evidence for his fitness to be an astronaut, immediately whistles at her. The fact that he does this while she’s about two feet away from him doesn’t help either.
Next there’s Lt. Katie Carlson. She immediately starts casting come-hither glances, informing us that she’ll be the film’s Designated Slut. Finally, we meet Major Bronski. “Bronski?!” Danny stammers. “The Russian?!” (I guess her full Soviet military uniform didn’t give this away.) We learn that Bronski was “the first woman on the moon.” That apparently occurred when the Soviets went there. Which happened in, uh, you know.
Actually, it’s pretty progressive for the President or whoever decided to send these dames up to include a Russian. Considering the whole Cold War thing. Especially with, you know, another Communist power threatening to destroy the planet and all.
Price notes that there are “no special accommodations on that ship.” Uh, yeah, not to get gross, here. Still, given women’s, uh, divergent plumbing, wouldn’t ships have to be pre-designed to have women aboard (especially for a two year mission)? It’s not like rockets just have regular bathrooms and toilets and such. Actually, though, that’s not what Price had in mind. “There’s no privacy at all,” he continues. Marion replies hotly that they’re not looking for any special privileges.
After some more bellyaching, meant to provide ‘verisimilitude,’ the characters finally accept that the women are coming along. Price apologizes to the guys who’re getting cut. Dr. “Hey, that’s me!” Brown reacts by shaking his head. “Three years preparation”, he notes, with all the horror of someone who’s just learned that today’s staff meeting has been cancelled. The other two conceal their disappointment with the kind of stoicism that exemplifies either those with the Right Stuff or those who can’t act. That’s right, lads, stiff upper lip.
We cut to the interior of their spaceship. Here we get our first real taste of the not-really-scientifically-rigorous antics to come. The control chamber is big enough for four, uh, Space Chairs. These prove to be bolted down Lazy-Boy style leatherette recliners with seatbelts attached.
The walls, meanwhile, feature your patently bogus ‘scientific equipment’ with the obligatory randomly flashing lights. Finally, in a truly special touch, the lighting is provided by multicolored bulbs; yellow, green, violet, etc, all overlapping. Notably, the main control panel is bathed in red and blue light, which probably makes it look neat-o keen if you’re wearing 3-D glasses.
You probably noticed that I said ‘four’ space chairs. Well, there’s a connecting chamber. (This rocket is very oddly, in fact, one is tempted to say impossibly, laid out.) This second room contains three more space chairs, single file behind one another. (Don’t worry, plenty of room!) Needless to say, the four men get the good seats and the chicks ride in the back. Also odd is that the women are all wearing custom tailored space togs, cinched in at the waist for that feminine look. Where did they get those on such short order?
At lift off, we cut to stock footage of your typical NASA rocket blasting off. And again, unless this thing is constructed like a TARDIS, it’s impossibly roomy inside. Every chamber sports an utterly unfeasible amount of empty space. The actors, meanwhile, sit back in their recliners, protected by their space motorcycle helmets. Price speaks to Mission Control in a mildly belabored fashion, the only indication that perhaps they are being effected by gravitational forces.
Mission Control (Casey Kasem) notes that “we don’t like Dr. Perry’s pulse, here.” Man, that’s quite a set-up they have! We get a quick shot of Perry sporting an uncomfortable expression, like Yogi Bear dreaming about a pikinit basket that remains just out of his reach. “You’ll have it made,” MC continues, “if you can only take the second stage into Earth orbit.” Does anyone else get the idea that they didn’t do gigantic amounts of research before writing this script?
After an appalling, audience insulting shot of a spurious ‘Earth’ below them, Marion jumps onto the comm link. “Clear the line, Dr. Turner,” Price orders. (Man, chicks are always gabbing on the phone when there’s Man stuff to do!) However, she muddles on, hell-bent on showing that women can spout unconvincing technobabble with the best of ’em. “How much time do we have before second stage cut-in?” she asks, rather unconvincingly.
Price, apparently annoyed at being ignored (being the Commander and all), huffily repeats his order that she clear the line. Since Marion is ignoring him though, Bronski decides to join the fun. (Damn Commie!) “Doctor, you will have several minutes at low gee before the second booster takes us into Earth’s orbit. The ship’s gravity control is on.”
Bronski, it should be noted, recites these lines in a robotic fashion. This honors the Bad Movie convention that Communists should act in an unemotional and Vulcan-like fashion. (Nazis, on the other hand, should always be portrayed as jaded aristocrats.) Also, and science isn’t my strong point, but why would you have ‘low gee’ when you are pulling away from Earth’s gravity, only to gain gees when you enter orbit? Second, what the heck is a “ship’s gravity control”? How would that work?
Mission Control joins in, noting, “Roger that. Dr. Turner has a point. Before second stage cut-inâ€¦” Then, in a sparkling display of bad editing, MC is cut off in mid-sentence. Perhaps this explains why he doesn’t reprimand Marion for ignoring a direct order from her superior officer. Meanwhile, Dr. Perry continues to look (mildly) bad.
The other three guys return their seats to a forward position, so as to engage in astronaut stuff. “Sequence your checkouts,” Price commands. “We’ve got two minutes before cut-in.” (What is this ‘cut-in’ everybody keeps talking about? Is it like modulating your phase variance?) “Give me half-gee on the Gravity Neutralizer,” he continues, now obviously just making it up.
Danny asks what to do about Dr. Perry, who’s still acting like he’s in an antacid commercial. “He’ll have to chance it,” is the somewhat nonsensical reply. Then, after just sitting there for the last minute, Marion starts up again. “Dr. Perry must have pure oxygen,” she blathers. “Ask Aero-Medical for its reading!” (Don’t spacecraft normally have a pure oxygen atmosphere? I thought that was why they’re such a fire hazard. And if this need were likely, wouldn’t the ship’s designers have equipped the Lazy-Boys with oxygen masks?)
Meanwhile, Mission Control continues the gobbledygook. “Control to ASTRA, your flat attitude is fair, roll sequence is programming in, changing asmic [or something] to 75° Northeast.” Boy, that’s a relief. Here we get a shot of their ship from the outside, just kind of tumbling around in orbit. Oddly, their craft now sports four landing fins, despite the fact that the take-off sequence was of an ordinary rocket.
This all proceeds for a while, with the patently bogus jargon flying hot and heavy. Finally, the engines are engaged, and something happens, don’t ask me what. Then more cretinous editing occurs. Marion struggles with her recliner’s seatbelt in a panicked fashion. Mission Control notes, “Dr. Turner, the Aero-Med readings on Dr. Perryâ€¦” before being cut off again. Then Price angrily says “Dr. Turner, you must let me run this ship!” This despite the fact that she hasn’t said anything, and that he can’t see her futz with her seatbelt because she’s in another room.
Somewhere from the ship emanates a voice noting “You have one minute before second stage.” Noting that Marion is inexplicably trapped by her advanced Space Seatbelt, Bronski exits her chair. Next she walks into the control room (hey, no girls allowed!) with a portable oxygen tank, which was apparently quite handy. Good thing that, after spending twenty minutes on the ship (an American ship, at that), she knows where everything is.
Mission Control asks for their “fire commit data”, which is apparently to come from Dr. Perry. Price turns around to see why he hasn’t responded, and is annoyed to see a girl getting her cooties all over the control chamber. (Danny, sitting next to Perry, had kept mum so as to keep her out of trouble.) Price orders Bronski to return to her seat before they ‘fire.’ (Actually, we already saw a shot of their ship with the engines clearly engaged). Bronski, however, coolly continues to strap the oxygen mask onto Perry.
To add suspense (oh, brother!), the twist valve on the oxygen tank is apparently stuck (or maybe it’s just something women can’t do, like opening pickle jars). Sure enough, Danny pops out of his seat and runs to Perry’s other side to work on the valve. This despite the fact that he could have stayed in his chair and done the same thing. No offense, but if these women can’t operate seatbelts or twist valves, then maybe they shouldn’t be going along after all.
Price and Mission Control bandy about more laughably fraudulent terminology. I’m not going to bore you with it all, although I like the line “Throw the automatic tanks on manual.” Meanwhile, Danny mimes that the tank is finally working. Perry recovers in the same hammy style that he indicated his distress with. Then, luckily, Bronski and Danny get back to their seats mere seconds before second stage cut-in. Man, good thing they made it back before that happened! Whatever it is.
In case you’re wondering what the point of all that was, it firstly was meant to show how brave and helpful the chicks can be. Man, they’ve definitely got the Right Stuff! (Other than the disobeying direct orders and struggling to operate seatbelts and oxygen tanks.) Secondly, now that Danny and Bronski have worked together under pressure, they can start falling in love.
Perry, now back with the living, makes his report. “Commit the sequencers on the Gas Generators.” (The what?!) Then the second stage cut-in finally occurs. This turns out to be the jettisoning of the second stage of their rocket. (Why is that called a ‘cut-in’?)
Now, I don’t want to be pedantic. Still, the rocket ship FX (stock) footage they showed earlier clearly portrayed their vessel as of the Sci-Fi movie ‘finned’ variety. (Although this, in turn, violated continuity from the prior lift-off stock footage.) In other words, it was a one-piecer, and had no separate sections that could be jettisoned. Still, this is only the beginning of those sorts of shenanigans.
They are now in orbit. Speaking of ‘those sort of shenanigans,’ they now cut in a quick shot of a space station-type thing, with a central hub. Is this supposed to be our guys’ ship? Or some space platform that they’re going past? One that has nothing to do with our film, and no reason for making even a momentary appearance? Who can say? I can’t. In any case, as I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear, Perry reports that the “gas generators are at full pressure.”
Meanwhile, although the Commander hasn’t given any kind of signal (meaning either he or they are negligent), the women start unbuckling. And, I just noticed, the room with their space chairs is also their three-bedded bunk room. (Huh. Three women – three bunks. What a convenient coincidence.) Marion praises Bronski for saving Perry’s life. Bronski points out that Price was concerned for all their lives. This is, presumably, meant to show that the women are actually suitably subservient, and no threat to the ship’s male power structure.
While the sleeping chamber is (quite oddly) directly off the command room, it does sport a door. So I guess that Price was somewhat misleading when he warned them that there’d be no privacy. Of course, it’s possible that the bunks are supposed to be shared in shifts. Still, throughout the movie we’ll see the girls congregated in here, with no indication that the guys are sharing the quarters.
Back in the command room, the guys are engaging in yet more bogus techo-jargon. In better movies, such dialog scenes are included to lend authenticity. Given the overtly ludicrous nature of the palaver here, however, one is led to assume that the drawn out dialog sequences are instead intended to (*gasp*) stretch out the running time in an inexpensive manner.
The guys get to mulling about why their mission was rushed so far ahead of schedule. During this, more of the film’s weird editing occurs. We suddenly cut outside to a quick, meaningless shot of some planet or another. It’s orange, so it’s not Earth (although what other planet would be so close to them remains a mystery), and in any case really has nothing to do with their conversation.
It’s pretty much like someone snuck in late at night and randomly inserted shots from a variety of other space oriented movies. This creates a bizarre effect. Imagine watching, for instance, Pulp Fiction, and that during the opening conversation between Timothy Roth and Amanda Plumber, the film just cut away to a shot of a tree or something. In fact, just imagine watching Pulp Fiction. Mmmmmmmâ€¦â€¦â€¦
Oh. Sorry. Back in the Girl’s Room, Bronski is helping Marion out of her Space Chair. Bronski asks her if Katie knows “why we’re here,” and Marion replies “No.” (Which makes her much like the film’s audience.) “I hope she’ll never have to find out,” she ominously continues. Presumably, what the film’s getting at is that, should the Earth be destroyed, wellâ€¦you know, Adam, Eve and all that.
There are many, many problems with this idea, obviously. The main one being that people could live neither in space or on Venus, a planet incapable of providing any of the essentials of human existence, for any real length of time.
Sure, they’re supposed to set up some sort of habitat on Venus (as the original mission members were meant to spend over a year there before returning). Even given this, however, the idea that their ship could support our cast throughout the remaining decades of their lives is ludicrous. Toss in the idea of generations of children, and the inherent problems multiple exponentially. And then to include crew members who aren’t even briefed on this expectationâ€¦
We cut back to the, well, it’s not a rocket, anymore, it’s definitely a space station sort of thing. Apparently, when you dump the second stage cut-in from a one piece finned rocket after it transforms from a regular Apollo-type rocket, then what you have left is a space station thing, which is much larger than the ship was in the first place. OK, do we all have that, now?
We cut to the command room. The guys, now wearing matching blue sweat outfits, are walking around with clipboards and looking at stuff. This is supposed to look ‘scientific.’ Or something. Price has Mason look at the ‘Dopplerscope,’ which we learn “has been throwing out a good spectrum.” Peering into it, Mason looks out into space through a grid that (I swear!) contains markings to indicate North, South, East and West (!!). In space!!! Gee, how about ‘up’ and ‘down’ while you’re at it?
Price tells Danny to contact Asto-Control, so as to speak to “Dr. Hanes”. (Maybe he wants to ‘brief’ him. Get it?! Hahahaha!!) Danny notes that he’s “picking up a bomb of static” (a ‘bomb’ of static?) and theorizes that it may be due to the Van Allen Belt. (Yeah, OK, whatever). Dr. Perry, however, postulates that it may have something to do with the Chinese’s Doomsday Device. (Duh.)
They immediately drop this literally Earth-shaking idea. Instead, Price asks Perry how he feels. When he answers that he feels better, Price informs him that the credit belongs to Bronski and Danny. Danny responds by pointing to Perry (or he might be indicating Bronski in the next room; you can’t really tell which) and quipping, “I didn’t know they made ’em that way anymore!” Alright, does anyone have any clue about what that could possibly mean?
In the Women’s quarters, the gals are changing into their own (much tighter) sweats. For some reason, theirs are all differently colored. (Well, you know how women get when somebody comes in wearing the same thing).
This provides for some very low grade cheesecake. Bronski is fully dressed, while Marion is wearing a bra (gee, hubba hubba). Meanwhile, Katie is in the foreground, apparently topless (va va va voom, huh). Don’t get excited, though. This is one of those deals where her back’s toward us, and she moves in an awkwardly choreographed manner to ensure that we don’t actually see anything.
Price and Mason walk in, without knocking. (I guess that when Price warned that they’d have no privacy on the ship, it was because he and Mason are really, really rude.) The script’s excuse is that they have wires embedded in their torsos, which transmitted their vital signs to ‘Aero-Med’ during take-off. Now they want Flight Surgeon Marion to help remove them. This despite the fact that all three women have apparently proven capable of removing them without assistance. But then, they can probably knock on doors, too.
So the guys come shambling in, Price with his shirt hanging over his shoulder. Scrambling to cover themselves up, Marion hotly notes that they could have knocked. Price responds by saying that “I thought the proprieties were out.” (This guy is a trained professional?)
Katie replies with “What’s in?” while wearing a slutty expression, although that remark’s erotic connotations remain somewhat vague. (Yeah, I know, but it’s still no “Is that your Space Gun, are you just happy to see me?”) Still, she and Mason immediately start darting ‘sexually’ charged glances at one another.
Let’s look at this again. The President of the United States (presumably), fearing that the world would be soon destroyed, sends a last vestige of Humankind into space (where how they are expected to survive remains unanswered). These seven, on whom rest the very existence of our species, are to include: One old man, well past this prime, and with a bad ticker (or something). A Russian Communist (why?). A violent, sex-crazed nutcase. (Really, don’t they do psych screens on these guys?). A seemingly talentless woman who likes to flirt and then withhold sex (as shown later). And Bobby Van. Yep, that’s the best Mankind has to offer, alright.
Bronski notes Marion’s reaction with some wry lines about the “false modesty” of Americans. “In Russia we are more mature,” she smugly asserts. (Again, this is that ‘Soviet as coldly logical Vulcan’ thing.) Katie responds by flouncing around in front of Mason, whose thermostat is clearing rising. Price ruins the ‘fun,’ though, by leaving the room, with Mason reluctantly following. Marion reproves Katie on her behavior, but with little effect.
Back in the control room, everyone’s still doing the ‘standing around with clipboards’ thing. This isn’t a good idea, as it involves long static shots of the set. These allow us plenty of time to note just how un-spaceship like the whole thing looks.
A frustrated Mason starts going off again about women on the ship. “What are we supposed to do for the next two years?” he grouses. “Breed?” Dr. Perry opines that Mason may be on to something. “Those Pentagon computers are pretty sharp,” he notes. Whatever that means. He finally explicates the whole Noah’s Ark idea. (How long did it take for these Brainiacs to think that up? And these guys represent our future? Yea gods!)
Danny replies with lines that sound like they were rejected by Bugs Bunny. “C’mon, Doc, you’re Space Happy. You’ve been reading the Pulps again! Doomsday! Get him!” (At least he doesn’t call him a ‘maroon’.) Still, Danny is quieted (unfortunately, a rare condition) when he sees the others taking the possibility seriously.
A side note. Dialog like ‘reading the pulps,’ or using ‘hayride’ to denote a romantic or sexual situation (see IMMORTAL DIALOG) seems somewhat antiquated even for 1967, much less in the ‘futuristic’ year of 1975. And I’m not even going to comment on Danny’s referring to the Chinese as “chopstick jockeys.”
Perry, however, wants us to know that the filmmakers aren’t trying to be jingoistic. (This was already signaled by the, shall we say, odd inclusion of Bronski on the mission.) “It doesn’t have to be the Chinese,” he moralizes. “Accidents can happen on any side.” Yeah, any side that built a Doomsday Device, anyway.
Admittedly, military guys are known to grouse in a cynical fashion about their superiors. Still, this really doesn’t seem to be the type of situation where they’d be getting all philosophical. A totalitarian political regime is literally destroying the planet. Is this really the time to engage in Moral Relativism?
Making sure that they don’t miss any Space Movie clichÃ©s, we now get the ‘object floating around due to low gravity’ bit. In this case, it’s a ham sandwich. (Inevitably, this ‘wacky’ item belongs to Danny). “Increase the gravity!” Price commands. Now that the rocket has miraculously turned into a space station, I guess rotation could account for their ability to create gravity.
Is it possible not to notice gravity so weak that sandwiches would start flying around? Also, it seems, well, strange, that nothing else appears to be affected. For instance, maybe the clipboards are too heavy (by a couple of ounces anyway) to float, but what about the paper clipped to them? Wouldn’t the free ends start rising?
In any case, we now cut to another pointless shot of the outside of the ship. In fact, it’s less than pointless, because you’d have to be really nonobservant not to see that the rocket/space station has again utterly changed configuration. It now sports a rather circular shape, rather than the earlier squared off form.
Now, really. Think about the raw contempt for your audience required to use shots of a half dozen radically different vehicles/structures and not care. As lame as it would be, wouldn’t it be less insulting to just use the exact same shot of the same ship over and over again? In fact, since these shots don’t even have much purpose (not even as segue indicators, since they often appear mid-scene), why even use them?
Next up: The obligatory ‘awe of the majesty of Space’ scene. Bronski’s standing in front of a (never shown) viewscreen. She explains that “This is the first time I’ve seen the Earth and the Moon together from space.” Then she notes that, of course, her country’s probes have photographed most of the solar system.
Mason reacts with a knowing chuckle. See, this is the “Russian Hubris” bit. Remember? Like Checkov on Star Trek? (Well, OK, not exactly like Checkov on Star Trekâ€¦) Miffed, Bronski starts engaging him in a Space Race pissing contest. “I speak the simple truth, Comrade Mason,” she asserts.
“So do I,” Mason oddly responds, given that referring to a chuckle as ‘the simple truth’ seems a trifle strange. This is followed, inevitably, by his grimly sneering “And don’t call me ‘Comrade’!” (Note the ‘subtle’ ploy of having the ship’s designated jerkwad be the ‘patriotic,’ i.e., jingoistic one. Inevitably, the others will take Bronski’s side.)
Bronski to raise the stakes. “First into space, first to set the record for manned orbital flightâ€¦” “The question isn’t what you did,” Mason returns, “but how.” When she stiffly asks what he means, he mentions the Soviet’s much poorer safety record in getting their people up and back down in one piece. “Perhaps we’re more dedicated to science,” she responds. Danny tells him to lay off, and a pouting Mason takes off.
OK, now it’s getting annoying. We cut to a shot of the rear of the ship traveling through space, and it’s a rocket again. Perhaps they thought we wouldn’t notice.
We see Katie enter her room, wrapped in a towel. (I don’t know why. Her hair’s completely dry, and there’s no other indication that she’s been taking a shower.) As she changes into a bathrobe (by which I mean she dons a bathrobe, not that she transforms into one – given the fluid configuration of their ship, I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea) we have time to notice that some really, really bad jazz music is playing.
She pretends to dry herself (because she’s just been taking a shower – get it?). Right on cue, Mason walks in. Guess that ‘knocking’ thing still hasn’t caught on yet. From the sly look on Katie’s face, she’s obviously anticipated his presence. (Perhaps they are sharing the bunks on a shift basis, and it’s his scheduled sleep period, andâ€¦oops, I’m putting more thought into the movie than the screenwriter did. Better stop.)
Of course, she starts flirting with the guy, toweling her bare legs in a provocative fashion as steam starts escaping from his collar. She asks where the previously alluded to awful music is coming from. (Uh, a speaker? Hell?) Oddly, it’s supposedly from a radio signal from Earth than from a pre-recorded source.
“Our latter day Marconi seems to have broken through the static,” he quips. “Who?” she asks. (I’m getting really, really upset that this chick is going to be one of the only three remaining women in the universe.) Finally figuring out that he’s talking about Danny, she mentions that “I think he’s cute.” As apparently it was designed to do, this remark gets Mason’s blood to boiling.
He moves closer, asking her if she has a ‘specialty.’ (Yeah, those are helpful on a space mission.) Yes, she responds, “meteorology.” Hmm, the study of atmosphere and weather. Now, it seems like this skill would have a somewhat limited application once they reach Venus. At least, it will after she warns the others “Hey, don’t go outside! There’s no air!”
Here the, um, actress playing Katie, through a combination of mumbling and (apparently) walking away from the microphone, becomes mostly unintelligible. Not that you understand her when you can make out what she’s saying, either. Apparently she’s talking about how she’d like to come on to all the men. Except for Dr. Perry – she’s afraid he’ll have a heart attack.
Mason gets tired of her vamping, and puts a move on her. However, she pulls back. (Look, I know sexual politics have changed since 1967, er, 1975, but still, this woman’s behavior is kind of obnoxious.) Mason, however, doesn’t intend to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Responding to his, uh, forceful manliness, she acquiesces to his embrace. (Hey, there’s a good message for all the kids.) After some sophisticated romantic repartee (see IMMORTAL DIALOG), she breaks off, telling him, more or less, that things come to those who wait. Yeah, this woman’s presence is a real boon to the mission members’ emotional stability.
We cut to another shot of the rocket that, of course, in no way matches any of the previous rockets or space stations. (This really must be a Bad Continuity record of some sort.) Then we’re in the ship’s laboratory (or something). Marion is wearing a hideous mesh Space Smock over her blue sweats. She’s looking into what appears to be a periscope from a submarine movie set. Then she makes notes on her clipboard. (Said boards must have won a Most Ubiquitous Prop award here.)
Next she walks across the room and opens an orange, transparent hatch mounted on the floor. It’s too small to be a personal access hatch, so you got me as to what it is (it’s a personal access hatch). Then she walks back and looks into another scope, looking back at Earth (or an unreasonable facsimile thereof.) Now I can see the ‘periscope’ better. My mistake. It’s instead a stove pipe with a bunch of doohickeys stuck on it.
We see Price squatting next to that hatch, closing it. I think that he was supposed to have climbed out of it, but it’s fake (i.e., it’s just a prop mounted on a solid floor.) Oh, and it’s still too small. Still, the brilliant dodge of showing him after he’s come through allows us to imagine that it is, in fact, an access hatch. (Wowsers!)
Price sneaks up on Marion (hey, is she acting all sort of shy-like around the big lug?) and asks what she’s come up with. “I’m finding a high DNA distortion rate,” she notes. (Uhm, is that as bad as I think it is?) “Due to hard radiation. Probably the Van Allen Belt, or solar flares.” Wow, that’s the kind of thing that turned a small group of astronauts into the Fantastic Four! Of course, there’s nothing fantastic about this movie, so forget that.
Now, personally, I would have shielded the ship against radiation. But what do I know? Price looks through the scope at Mother Earth, wondering what happened to the whole ‘war’ thing. Then he gets Marion to admit to the entire ‘Adam and Eve in Space’ thing. Turns out it was suggested by the “National Security Committee [the what?] and the Scientific Advisory Board.” Hmm, what about the Egg Council?
Having made fun of her, Price now notes “You know, without your glasses, you’re a very pretty doctor.” Marion is apparently attracted to extremely corny clichÃ©s, given her resultant smile. However, the mood is broken when Katie enters (through the door). She’s again wearing a bathrobe. (?) Does she do any, you know, work on this mission? “Oh, sorry,” she says. “I came to see about supper.” Hmm. Yes, that explains the walking around in her robe thing.
“Well,” Price responds, “it’s the altitude. It works up the appetite.” The what? In space? And this is the guy in charge?! Sweet fancy Moses! Meanwhile, Doc Perry and Bronski are yakking it up in the control room. Danny enters, bearing dinner trays. (Jeez, buddy, why don’t you put on an apron while you’re at it?) Perry asks Bronski about rumored Russian “ghost ships.”
Bronski, looking evasive, replies that she knows of no such thing. Perry mentions a supposed Russian Venus probe, one too sophisticated not to have had a human pilot. Bronski demurs. It was, she maintains, a robot probe. Perry asks about a famous Russian cosmonaut who mysteriously disappeared around the same time. Bronski isn’t buying it. “They would have told us,” she believes. (Hel-lo!) Anyway, this dialog has ‘Plot Point’ written all over it.
This fascinating conversation (fascinating in that it furthers our understanding of how much boredom human beings can experience before their heads explode) is interrupted by a static laden radio message. This begins coming over the ship’s speakers, then stops. Down in the lab, the others are wondering what it (*gasp*) all means. Mason is looking through the scope at Earth. Price asks him what he can see. “Nothing,” he replies. “It’s still there.” Gee, thanks.
Suddenly, little bursts of light appear on the “Earth.” Then, hilariously, we cut to some cheap Disaster Movie footage. We see buildings destroyed by marauding tidal waves, and wonder, Are they supposed to be seeing this on their little scope? From Outer Space? Does the image automatically go from “Entire Globe” to “A City Block Somewhere?” And why does the shot keep changing to different sections of the city? Does the scope have built-in fuzzy logic software that causes it to edit its images for a ‘cool’ effect.
“My God,” Mason notes. “They did it.” This doesn’t have quite the emotional impact of the similar Charleston Heston speech in Planet of the Apes, but hey, they’re trying. Price, who isn’t even looking into the scope, mutters “It happened. Nuclear war.” Actually, I’m not sure if the detonation of a planet busting Doomsday Device constitutes nuclear war, but I guess that they wanted to be sure that the audience was getting what was going on here.
Mason moves away in, I don’t know, horror, I suppose. Price quickly moves in with a ‘let me see!’ maneuver. Oddly, his first view is again of the entire, uh, Earth. Apparently, the scope resets for each viewer. The actress playing Katie, meanwhile, is giving one of the all time worst ‘freak out’ performances ever committed to film.
First she tries to play it nonchalant, with a couple of ‘we all knew this would happen’ lines. At this point, you can only come to the conclusion that this woman is meant to be a complete idiot. Seeming somewhat confused by everyone else’s borrified, er, horrified reactions, she begins, “Two years from now when we get backâ€¦”
Even then, when she seems to get it, she doesn’t get it right. When nobody answers her, she says, “If we get backâ€¦.NOOOO!!!” Lady, the point isn’t that you might not make it back. It’s that there’ll be nowhere to get back to. Really, I know we’re looking at a small gene pool here, but they really mustn’t let this woman reproduce.
In the command room, Danny, Bronski and Perry are watching on the (still offscreen) viewscreen. Their dismayed reactions seem more appropriate for someone who’s bet fifty bucks on a favored football team, only to see them throw for an interception on the first play.
“It’s the one thing we feared,” Perry gasps. He’s presumably referring to the utter dread an audience feels upon realizing that it’s watching a film that can make the apocalyptic destruction of the entire Earth boring, and that there’s still roughly forty minutes of it left to see.
This scene lasts just long enough to make us wonder who deserves the Jabootu Worst Acting Awardâ„¢ here. While it’s truly a battle of titans, I’d have to go with Bobby Van. He acts like someone who ate a bad bologna sandwich and is just starting to cramp up.
Back in the lab, looking through the scope, Price’s eyes are affected by the increased light that the dying planet is giving off. (I think. Mason had just mentioned radiation. That would make no sense, butâ€¦oh. Sorry. What was I thinking?) Price tells Mason to “Get me the filters.”
Mason nonchalantly shuffles over to a drawer (presumably their ‘junk drawer’) and removes, not a filter that would fit over the scope’s viewing area, but a pair of goggles. These, we note, don’t even come with an elastic string – you instead have to hold them up to your face, like binoculars.
We hear a big explosion. Sound carries well in space, I guess. Then there’s a very cheesy burst of flame, and the planet is simply gone. Uh, I’m not really hot at science, but doesn’t light have a greater speed than sound? By which I mean, if they’re some distance from the Earth, wouldn’t they have seen the explosion and then heard it, rather than the other way around?
Price manfully comforts Marion, but Mason wigs out on the hysterical Katie. (Yeah, this guy is astronaut material, alright.) He does get her to shut up, though. Then we cut to another shot of the ship, which actually matches an earlier shot. This is about the best ‘continuity’ moment the film has to offer.
In the bunk room, Marion is giving Katie a hypodermic shot. Unfortunately, I think it’s just a sedative. Perry walks in with a big portable Geiger counter. You’d really think this would be built into the ship’s machinery. Perhaps it could come equipped with an alarm that would go off if radiation started reaching dangerous levels. But what do I know?
Perry notes that there are big “Earth fragments” heading their way. (Yeah, you’d think.) “We’ll have to change course if they get any closer,” he warns. Now, I’m not a scientist, but the Earth was round, right? And it didn’t implode, it exploded.
Soâ€¦wouldn’t that mean that fragments would be flying outward in pretty much all directions? How the heck would ‘changing course’ help? Wouldn’t trying to outrun them be the better plan? Yet, wouldn’t any local body, the Moon (assuming it’s still around) or Mars or (*gasp*) Venus be subjected to a pretty brutal pounding in any case?
And what does he mean, ‘get any closer’? There’s no air resistance in space, so the fragments aren’t going to slow down until they hit something. If they’re catching up, then they’re traveling faster than the ship. Shouldn’t they be able to calculate the fragments’ speed by noting what distance they’re covering in what time? Wouldn’t this inform them if their ship can be sped up enough to out-race them?
Price tells Perry to fetch Mason and “get the radiation shielding up.” (How would that work?) Upon finding him, we witness Mason’s own, extremely poor, oh-I-can’t-take-the-horror moment. But actor William’s Oscar Clipâ„¢ moment isn’t over yet.
Mason tells Perry that “I want to live.” When Perry seems bored by this assertion, Mason grabs him by his shirt and yells “I WANT TO LIVE!!” Perry tells him to get a hold of himself, which would be good advice for either the character or the actor playing him.
In the control room, Danny is (I think) supposed to be in a staring, catatonic state. However, this is pretty similar to your normal Bobby Van performance, so obviously I’m just guessing here. Or perhaps he’s imitating the appearance of someone listening to a Bobby Van comedy routine. (Although in Van’s case, the term ‘routine’ somewhat overstates things.)
When Bronski can’t get a reaction from him, she calls Marion’s attention to the matter. “It reminds me of my little brother, years ago, when he fell from the roof of the barn,” a worried Bronski sagely notes.
Marion feels his pulse and tells Bronski that he’ll be all right (?). Then she lightly slaps him a bit and yells, “Danny!” This wakes him from his coma. (Longtime Jabootuists will be reminded of the scene in The Swarm where Michael Caine cures the hallucinating Paul by telling him, “There’s no bee here.”)
We quickly relearn the validity of the old bromide, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” Marion wisely flees the room. Unfortunately, we are left stuck there, listening to Danny and Bronksi have a ‘character’ moment. Danny asks Bronski why she became an astronaut, being a chick and all. This provides Bronski with the opportunity to trot out “Soviet ClichÃ© #11,” you know, that there are no artificial sexual barriers in the Worker’s Paradise. (Except in the Politburo. Oops, sorry.)
However, we then learn the Dark Side (*gasp*) of the Soviet Union. Bronski relates that she was good at science, so it was only natural that she join the space program. When Danny asks if she actually liked it, though, she responds that it “never occurred to me to question. I followed the advice of my superiors.” There you have it. The Soviet Union was like graduating from high school. Only when the guidance counselor told you what you would be doing, you didn’t have any choice in the matter.
Bronski continues. “I was proud to be the only woman in a class with six men.” (Uh, isn’t that very pride out of place in a society where gender differences are supposed to be non-existent?) Danny then asks a question that I thought went out of favor circa 1955, much less 1967, er, I mean 1975. “But, uh, don’t you miss being a woman?” She probably does now, you charming devil!
“You know something, Danny?” she asks. At this point, the audience crouches down, hoping to avoid being sprayed by Danny’s flying bodily fluids and entrails. Oddly, though, she continues merely verbally. “I like you.” Even more oddly, she doesn’t conclude that statement by noting “That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Instead, she apparently really means she likes him. Personally, I think she’s Space Happy.
Enough of this burgeoning romance. We cut to a ‘ship shot.’ Astoundingly, this is of a rocket that’s already appeared twice. However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it’s being bombarded by red lightning of some sort. (In space??) I guess this is supposed to be ‘radiation,’ as Mason and Danny are hanging some ‘radiation shielding.’
This is literally a shiny silver tarp that they hang on a wall in the lab. However, there’s no indication that they’ve hung up any other ‘shielding’ anywhere else in the ship. Now, is it just me, or is that like a person ‘shielding’ themselves from radiation by sticking a small lead square in their breast pocket? Still, though, I must be wrong. Perry looks at the Geiger counter afterward and notes “That’s a lot better. That curtain cuts the radiation to about 5%.” Gosh, now I’m embarrassed that I even brought it up.
Up in the command room, Price sees a cartoon circle appear on the Dopplerscope (you remember, with the directional markings). This is accompanied by a ‘whistling-through-the-atmosphere’ type noise. This seems somewhat inappropriate, given that there isn’t any air in space. Price gasps “Meteors!,” so as to keep us informed. Then he contacts the Lab and warns the others to get to their Space Chairs.
Price tells the other guys (when they arrive) that there’s no time to don their spacesuits. There is some good news, though. “I’ll hold the cabin pressure at point nine atmospheres.” Whew. Thank goodness.
Mason worries about what’ll happen if they get hit. Danny, attempting to reassure him, reminds him that they’ve got “emergency patches” aboard. “Without spacesuits, we’d never get a chance to use them!” Mason replies. (Uh, Danny was apprised of the whole ‘vacuum’ thing during Astronaut training, wasn’t he?)
Setting a new record, we see a fourth shot of a same spaceship. This time, however, it’s dodging meteors which have cleverly disguised themselves as cartoons that look absolutely nothing like meteors. This causes Navigator Mason to start freaking out (he might be a total creep, but at least he’s bad at his job).
Price asks Perry how much fuel they can waste. This leads both Perry and Danny to point out they won’t need any of the fuel meant for the trip back to Earth. (Soâ€¦Price, the commander of the mission, needed to have that pointed out to him, huh?) Anyway, they’re now clear of the cartoons, er, meteors.
Now, however, they’re off course. Mason is still freaking out about the wasted fuel (why?), not to mention what they’ll have to use to get back on track. Then Marion and Bronski enter with a wilted looking Katie. Danny gallantly gives up his space chair so that she can sit down. Price ascertains that she’s OK, and then issues his next order. “Alright, let’s run a playback on this whole thing from the beginning.” At this I felt a sudden pain in my chest, thinking that he meant to start the whole movie over again.
Instead, it turns out that he’s just explaining the entire ‘Noah’s Ark’ thing again. Just in case, somehow, there’s still someone in the audience who hasn’t gotten what’s happening here. (Say, for instance, they just woke up, andâ€¦) Katie, providing further proof that she’s not the sharpest rock in the sack, expresses shock at this. At least, however, she comes up with an appropriate metaphor to describe their situation. “I’ve got myself railroaded into a stud poker game!” (?!)
Marion tries to get her to cool down, but Katie responds with further inane dialog. “Not bad, ‘ey kids. Who’d have thought of it? Katie Carlson, the girl who thought she had everything going for her. Now the future mother of a nation!” Uh, yeah. I guess that about sums it up. Yep. Future mother of a nation. Neatly said. Anyway, Katie runs out, with Marion following close behind.
Dr. Perry now has his big Oscar Clip® moment. “May an older man offer something,” he asks. Sure, Doc. Boredom? Tedium? Monotony? Ennui? Oops. It’s worse than that. He’s going to give a half-assed philosophical speech. “The Past is gone. Every second brings us closer to a new untouched world. Our world. [A world, incapable of sustaining human lifeâ€¦ Oh. Sorry.] We’re the lucky ones. At least, we have a Tomorrow.” Yes, but we’re the unlucky ones. We still have twenty five minutes of this movie left.
Later, Price and Mason are expositoring that they’ve succeeded in getting back on course. Dr. Perry enters, and asks if he can speak to Price alone. (Uh-oh.) Price asks Mason to leave, but he petulantly refuses. “Uh-uh,” he says. “Rank has no privileges anymore. And no secrets.” Well, maybe Rank has no privileges anymore. But what about a big Ass Kicking, ya jerk!
Unfortunately (and inexplicably), this scenario fails to play out on the screen. Price instead tells Perry to go ahead. Perry informs him that, instead of four months, they’ve got to make it to Venus in two. This is a little hard to follow, so pay attention. You see, the Earth’s explosion has tripled the radiation in space. (Why?) And it’s “non-directional,” so hanging the sheet on a strategic wall won’t help. (When is radiation “directional”?)
Price notes that the radiation is too soft to endanger their lives, forcing Perry to spell it out for him: Four month’s exposure will leave everyone on the ship sterile. (What Price fails to ask is why making it to Venus would make a difference. Does the Earth have a treaty not to irradiate its immediate neighbors?) Mason replies by laughing it up, finding an innovative new character trait to annoy the hell out of everybody else.
The problem is that using more fuel to increase their speed won’t leave them with enough to land on Venus. (How could they possibly be that short of fuel, even after dodging the meteor shower? They had the entire fuel supply necessary to return to Earth at their disposal. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have had a micro-meteorite puncture a fuel tank, reducing their supply that way? Oh, sorry. Thinking more than the screenwriter again.)
Perry, however, notes that landing the ship would be possible: But, first, only by stripping it of gear (since humans wouldn’t require much to live on Venus, I guess). It would also require that the ship’s crew, er, get smaller. In other words, not everyone would be making the entire trip. (Boy, I know who I’d toss out first. All of them. But I guess if I were a character here, I’d start with life-of-the-party Mason.)
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Perry continues, “to say that the weight of a few people could effect the safety of a fifty ton ship.” I’ll tell you what sounds ridiculous. Fifty tons?! Why, an M-1 Abrams main battle tank weighs more than that, almost 55 tons when battle ready! Admittedly, that’s a heavily armored vehicle (while this one, as we know, lacks even radiation shielding). Still, it’s hard to believe that it weighs less than a single tank. What’s it made out of? Fiberglass?
Bronski’s secretly listening to all this, standing in a shadow by the door. (I guess a bulb must have gone out, because there’s never been a shadow there before.) This apparently makes her invisible to the others in the room, who are standing ten feet away from her. Eventually the lunkheads notice her, but she acts like nothing has happened (as opposed to acting like nothing interesting has happened).
She fiddles with something, then leaves. Perry and Price wonder about how much she heard. Marion, in the next room, notices the tears in her eyes. Bronski, however, ignores her questions and continues on into the Lab. There she raises the hatch in the floor that’s too small for anyone to squeeze through. Then we immediately cut to her coming down a ladder in the room ‘below,’ bypassing the hatch issue entirely.
This is some kind of instrument area, and we see Danny working on something. Noticing her distress, he rises, and they embrace. Meanwhile, Mason apparently has decided that enough’s enough. He enters the Lab, where Katie is working solo. He puts his hands on her, but she rebuffs him. This time, however, he’s not taking no for an answer.
Somehow, though, either accidentally or on purpose, he gets burned or cut with an instrument she’s holding. Enraged, he strikes her down. Meanwhile, a squatting Danny and Bronski have miraculously appeared next to the hatch that’s too small for anyone to climb through. Amazing how people only use that thing when they’re offscreen, isn’t it?
Danny runs over to help Katie up. Mason angrily tells Danny to get his hands off her. (You know, I’m starting to think that Mason has some ‘issues’.) As further evidence that he’s now completely psycho, he starts wailing on Danny. The effect of this is somewhat ruined, though. After all, while we know that this is supposed to be bad guy Mason beating on our jocular buddy, Danny, what we see is someone finally shutting up Bobby Van. No, Mason! In the mouth! The mouth!!
Danny finally gets a lick back, but Price enters and breaks things up. (Meanwhile, of course, the girls just stood there gawking. Why didn’t the super-competent Bronski pick up a wrench or something and wallop the guy?) Price is finally, finally, tired of Mason’s antics, and threatens to lock him up for the rest of the trip. But for now, he tells everyone to assemble in the command room for a general announcement.
We cut to the middle of Dr. Perry’s ‘someone has to go out for a walk and forget his way back’ speech. “So, you see,” he explains, “the omni-presence of all this radiation leaves us no option.” (Does he really need to modify the word ‘presence’ here?) Then it’s down to brass tacks: We’re talking only three people who will get to enjoy the entire trip to Venus.
“So four of us will have toâ€¦” Danny begins, having evidently done some quick mental calculations. (Man, it’s like he’s some kind of human computer!) Mason, of course, starts making a ruckus. (I have a feeling he’s not going to be among the final three.) Price, rather than making a command decision or anything, says that the computers will figure it out, as they “have everyone’s XL Files.”
I don’t know why you’d need a computer to figure this one out. Mason’s too much of a nutcase to be chosen. (And what if the computer actually picked him? Yeah, that’d be a great situation.) Perry’s an old man with a bum ticker. Danny’s Bobby Van.
So even if Colonel Price is so stiff that he makes Al Gore look like Jim Carrey, he’s the only possible male candidate. And, needless to say, since the whole idea is to re-propagate the species, you’re going to want two females. Katie’s the youngest, and Marion’s a doctor (which would be a useful talent in any case.) There. That took me about thirty seconds.
That night (or whatever) we see Bronski and Katie fitfully sleeping in their bunks. In the lab, Danny sits and Mason paces, both waiting to hear the response. In the command room, Price and Marion look at Venus on the scope. “A few days, now, and we’ll be entering into orbit around it,” Price mentions. (So this is at least two months later? And they still don’t know who’s going to be among the lucky three?) Then he and Marion have a romantic moment.
Now wait. Apparently, as they are radically short of fuel (as unlikely as that would be), the ship will only have enough juice to land on Venus if the ship is now stripped of all non-essential gear and four of the seven passengers as well. And this is because, we were told, that they needed to speed up the trip before everyone became sterile.
Now, and I’m not being modest, my knowledge of science is embarrassingly slight. But here’s the way I think that this would work (of course, the film utterly fails to explain any of this). First, to speed up the ship, you’d have to ignite the engines until enough thrust was generated to increase the ship’s speed. Then you’d turn the engines off. As there’s no air resistance in space to slow the ship down, there’d be no need to keep the engines on once the proper speed was attained. Good enough, so far. (We’ll ignore the fact that every time we see a shot of the ship, its engines are engaged.)
However, once you approached Venus, you’d have to use fuel to slow the ship down. Otherwise, you’d fly into the atmosphere like a dart and burn up. Finally, with the last of the fuel, you’d enter the atmosphere in a controlled descent. OK, everyone with me so far?
The thing is, that the film will show that they haven’t stripped the ship of all non-essential gear yet. We know this because there are still scenes to come in which they do so. In other words, they don’t strip the ship until just before the third stage, when they’re preparing to enter the planet’s atmosphere.
Now, I know there are (lots of) people (much) better than I am at this stuff, and I’ve no doubt that someone will correct if I’m wrong. However, if they had stripped the ship of all non-survival oriented gear before the first burn, wouldn’t they have burned up less fuel in speeding up the ship? And then used less slowing down the ship also? That means that if they hadn’t waited until the beginning of the third stage to strip down the ship, that more than three people could have made the trip down. Right?
Or am I showing my ignorance here? After all, the ship would be weightless in space. (Or would it? They have a gravity generator of some sort. Does that change the rules? What then if they went weightless during the speed up and slow down? Man, my head is starting to hurt.) So, does all the extra weight get a free ride during the speed up and slow down, and only become a factor as they prepare to enter the atmosphere?
Somebody, help me here!
Back to our film. (Stupid movie, doesn’t explain anything, gives me headaches.)
Katie’s alone in the Lab when Mason enters. (You’d really think, with only three regular rooms and seven people on board, that they could work it so Mason was never alone with Katie.) Katie’s apparently in a romantic mood. “When I started this trip, there was a whole world to choose from,” she ruefully notes. “Now there’s just me, huh?” Mason replies. “You and me.” He grabs her for a kiss, and she responds. They’re interrupted, however, by Perry, who we see squatting next to the hatch that’s too small for anyone to squeeze through.
Perry has the computer’s selections for the three survivors. (Finally!) Mason grabs them. “You’re out of order, Captain!” Perry responds, which is odd, as Mason is a Major. (Maybe Price gave him a demotion, but to what purpose?) From Mason’s reaction, it’s obvious that Perry made the cut (!!), while he and Katie didn’t (at least I think Katie isn’t on the list). Katie, however, quietly accepts her fate.
None of that for Mason, needless to say. He continues with some of the film’s typically logic-bereft dialog. “It’s almost Biblical! A patriarch Adam, fatherly, kindly!” (Why do I get the idea that Mason was never a lay minister?) Katie, however, replies that “I think it’s a fine choice.” At that, Perry continues on to tell Price the results.
Katie, again proving herself a doofus, waxes philosophic over Perry’s selection. “It’s amazing. The wisdom of an unemotional machine. That man represents a million years of knowledge for tomorrow’s generations.” Yeah, if he makes it. Good lord, he’s an old man. What if he has a stroke while attempting to foster ‘tomorrow’s generations’? Heck, he barely survived lift-off. What if the stresses of landing do him in? Then what?
Mason, meanwhile, comes to a different conclusion (naturally). He thinks that Perry rigged the data. Not that it matters anyway. Mason’s the Dr. Smith Character, so he’s obviously not going to sacrifice himself quietly. “Well, I don’t care what that damn computer says. There’s only going to be one decision, and I’ve made it. You and me, baby. You and me!”
Mason’s decided, also, that he’s “waited long enough” for Katie to put out. (What, after all that flaunting she did early in the mission, she’s still got him on a string all these months later?) “No one else is going to get their hands on you,” he sneers. (So maybe she is one of the three designees. I don’t know.)
Katie, as usual, responds with retreat. (Look, I’m not arguing that she deserves to be raped or anything, but why does she keep encouraging him when she knows what a psycho he is? I mean, play with matches, you know what I mean.) As Mason is apparently extremely serious this time, she accompanies her refusal with a sharp kick in the shins.
Now, I admit, there aren’t many places to hide in the Lab, and Mason’s blocking the door. But still, there’s one place where I probably would never choose to hide, and that’s the Air Lock. Mason, of course, follows, closing the door behind him. Inside, they struggle. (Three guesses where this is going.)
Up front, the others are discussing the decision. Price is taking it manfully, while Marion is comforting Bronski. (So, yes, the computer at least got the women right.) Bronski, not surprisingly, takes it manfully also. Danny, however, suddenly objects to a machine being allowed to make this most vital of decisions.
Price argues that the computer “doesn’t make mistakes.” “It’s manmade,” Danny replies, “so it can make errors. We’ve become machine worshippers! Don’t you see it? What’s the use of flying on instruments, we don’t know solid ground when we’re standing on it!” (??)
Price, understandably, asks him “What are you trying to say?” Dr. Perry takes a stab at translating. “He’s saying that you and Marion are very much in love. You’re young and vital. Essential ingredients for an infant humanity.”
I’m not really sure that that’s what Danny was getting at. Still, and it pains me to say this, but I agree that it would be horrifying to rely on a computer to make such a momentous decision in Human destiny. (Especially when it made such a mess of it.)
Meanwhile, Katie and Mason are still struggling away in the Air Lock. (See how that very sentence seems intrinsically wrong?) Katie finally breaks free, but hits the exposed wall button that opens the Air Lock. This despite a clearly posted sign.
WARNING! OUTER DOOR RELEASE DEPRESSURIZE DO NOT ACTIVATE WHEN RED LIGHT IS ON
(I’m no engineer, but I think I’d at least start with a cover for that button and build on from there.)
Let me add another charge to the long list against this film. And that is that this scene is way, way too unpleasant. I mean, yuck!! Because of when the film was made, in an age with less sophisticated f/x and greater limits on how graphic you could be, Mason and Katie don’t explode like tomatoes hooked up to an air compressor, like in Outland.
They are instead shown floating around the compartment (obviously on strings), gasping like fish pulled from the water. Charmingly, to make the scene even more unpleasant, they are both shown in close-ups as blood spills from their eyes and noses. Yep, That’s Entertainment, alright! In factâ€¦Maestro, if I may have a musical cue?
“When the air, rushes out of the room,
And these two, are left facing their doom,
‘Cause you can’t, breathe when you’re in a vacuum,
It’s amazing, in a way. Death by exposure to vacuum is so intrinsically gross that even this film can effectively nauseate you by using it. Then there’s the queasy ‘punishment’ aspect. Mason, of course, was designed so that he had to cause his own horrible death. But this horrible? And as for Katie, yes, she was pretty irritating. Still, there’s no possible stretch of even harsh movie morality that would call for her to die this way.
Of course, they also get things wrong. For instance, Katie and Mason aren’t immediately blown out into space by explosive decompression when the big hatch opens. (Hey, Engineer Guy, how about letting the air leak out, so as to equalize pressures in a smooth fashion?)
Back in the control room, Price gets on the PA to call Mason and Katie up front. When they don’t instantly respond, everyone looks worried. For some reason, Price reacts by turning on the viewscreen, even though there’d certainly be no reason to suspect that they’d be outside. Still, in a dramatically implausible (and implausibly dramatic) shot, we see that Katie’s corpse is conveniently drifting right in front of the camera.
This leads to a great scene, featuring a bunch of really bad actors try to outdo each other’s ‘horrified’ reactions. Then we cut to another shot of the ship (still the same, so apparently its shape has stabilized). This clearly shows that the engines are engaged.
That makes the shot of Katie seen on the viewscreen even more unlikely. Their corpses would have been hundreds of miles behind them by the time they turned on the camera. The only thing I can figure is that Katie got caught on something right by the camera and is now permanently attached to the ship.
We see the remaining characters stripping the ship. Marion and Danny are literally heaving stuff into the Air Lock chamber. (Hey, don’t hit that button!) Danny begins to hand Marion the mystery chest from the beginning of the movie. (Remember? Well, don’t sweat it.) She and Perry tell him to save it. “What is it,” Danny asks. We all lean forward – finally, the mystery will be solved!
“A five year supply of food concentrate,” comes the answer.
WOW!!! MAN, MY MIND IS BLOWING!! Whew! Sorryâ€¦but whoa! Was that worth the wait! And I thought the ending of Murder on the Orient Express was a corker! Food concentrate! Now it all makes sense!
“Boy, they think of everything, don’t they?” Danny responds. (Yeah, except for what they will do for food on Venus when the supplies runs out.) In any case, with a huge pile of junk still waiting to be tossed into the Air Lock chamber, Perry stops them. “There’s enough for this load, anyway.” Given the circumstances, what does that even mean? They’re tossing the stuff into space. Why do it in small batches?
Later, Perry warns that they must land soon. Price asks Perry why he’s giving up his spot. “Doc, we didn’t reject the computer’s decision. Why should you?” (Actually, Danny rejected it all of about two and a half minutes ago.) Perry’s made up his mind, though. It’s to be Price, Marion and Bronski. Danny cheerfully concurs with another low-grade quip.
Apparently, they’re going to bail out now. Danny leaves ‘to get his gear,’ and he and Bronski share some heartrending (well, brainrending) ‘romantic’ glances. “It’ll be alright,” he tells her. “‘Cause it has to be!” Well, at least he doesn’t try the one about the troubles of two sentients not amounting to a hill of space beans in this crazy universe.
This is the final straw for Price, who finally (finally!) makes a command decision. Screw science. They’re all landing or none of them are. Perry protests, but an order is an order. This is followed by more uncertain technobabble. “In less than ten minutes, the last stage will blast free and we’ll begin deceleration.” Again, I can only point out that, except for the initial shot of their rocket, it’s always shown to have a solid, one piece body. There’s nothing to ‘blast free.’
They head for their space chairs. Since Mason’s dead, Bronski actually gets to sit up with the guys now. Unfortunately, disaster soon strikes, when there’s a “misalignment in the booster connector.” Danny bravely demands that he be allowed to “get it.” Apparently, from the shocked expression of the crew and the ominous music cue, this is dangerous. Colonel “we all make it or none of us make it” Price quickly nods his agreement.
Marion has to have it explained to her: After Danny (somehow) gets the final stage free, he’ll tumble away from the ship with it. (I guess this is before they invented ‘rope.’) Apparently, live people can’t match the velocity of a moving ship, unlike decompressed corpses.
Danny enters the Air Lock Chamber with a silly plastic bazooka kind of thing, that obviously weighs all of maybe six ounces. (Hmm, almost like it’s hollow.) As to what he intends to do with it, don’t ask me. We cut to outside, where Danny is somehow pulling himself along the outside of the ship. Oddly, when he applies pressure on the rocket’s outer surface to do so, he doesn’t float away from it.
Even more oddly, given the apparent circumference of the outside of the rocket, it must have a diameter of about seven feet. Danny’s spacesuit doesn’t look so hot either: The air tank seems to be contained in a cloth backpack. The legs are just tucked into his regular, leather, non-magnetized boots. Oh, and his gloves, rather than being attached, appear to be just pulled over the sleeves of the suit. As well, it’s plainly not insulated. (Brrrrr!)
He gets to the ‘top’ of the spaceship, where he just sits upon it. (Did anyone explain to these guys how ‘no gravity’ works?). He then wedges the space bazooka between his legs and unveils a (I swear!) crowbar (!!). He inserts the clawed end into the rim of the section that’s supposed to come off. Apparently, it’s just stuck. Oddly, when he applies pressure to the crowbar, he doesn’t float away from the rocket.
Danny radios in, asking if they’ve got a green light. Price replies that they do, but it’s not steady. Marion, meanwhile, reenters the room and asks where Bronski is. Price asks Danny what the problem is. Danny replies that he doesn’t “have the mass to swing it.” (Wow. Science.) Probably the fact that he’s got zero leverage ain’t helping either.
Well, as I’m sure you guessed, Bronski comes climbing up the side of the rocket to help Danny. With her ‘mass’ to help, they succeed at their task. Although, oddly, they don’t float away into space when they push down on the crowbar. At this, Price radios them that the problem is fixed. Danny and Bronski move off of the stage that’s going to disengage, and hunch down further up the rocket.
Inside, the others are strapping themselves into their space chairs, soon setting them on ‘recline.’ Outside, we see a few sparks and some smoke behind Danny and Bronski, and then cut away to stock footage of a real rocket disengaging an expended stage. Strangely, in this shot we can see what appears to be a blue planet. Must be Venus.
OK, we clearly saw that Danny and Bronski weren’t on the part of the rocket that separated. Now they are. Just go with it. Believe me, it’s easier in the long run. So they’re drifting around in space. Danny asks Bronski why she did it. “You needed help, didn’t you?” she replies. But gee, I think it’s really because she loves the big lug. So she probably was making sure that he wasn’t sneaking off to a poker game with the boys without telling her.
Danny starts babbling in an ‘amusing’ manner. (Note: The parentheses around the word amusing are meant to signal the reader that the referenced babble is not, in actuality, amusing.) Danny says it’s like being in Central Park on a warm summer night. This confirms that he’s a New Yorker. But then, we knew that already. It’s a hard and fast rule in Space Movies that the obligatory Goofy Crewman is always from New York. In fact, I’ll go even farther. If Danny’s Goofy Crewmen antecedents are any indication, he grew up in Brooklyn.
Man, if they thought the tagline for Alien was scary, try this one: IN SPACE, YOU CAN HEAR BOBBY VAN. Just then, though, Danny spots something and points to it. It looks to be a space capsule, floating around in space. Perhaps we should just ignore the fact that Danny points directly in front of himself, while Bronski looks in a completely other direction.
“It’s a miracle!” Danny shouts, and that’s not the half of it. The odds against finding an object, one roughly the size of a micro-bus, while floating around in space are, literally, astronomical. Still, all of that earlier dialog about a mysterious Soviet Ghost Ship is paying off now, huh? Bronski and Danny (both rather obviously on wires) ‘leap’ over to the capsule.
Back in the main ship, it looks like everything is proceeding towards a safe landing. Having checked in, we cut back to Danny and Bronski. Here the film’s utter disregard for any sort of continuity becomes truly grandiose, perhaps even epic.
In order to save money, all the rest of the footage following Danny and Bronski is stock footage, presumably taken from that Soviet sci-fi film I posited earlier. This, in spite of the fact that the spacesuits from this film in no way match the ones that Danny and Bronski were wearing earlier!
That’s right. The earlier suits were silvery, the new ones are dark gray. The original helmets featured transparent faceplates, these (of necessity) are opaque. The new suits sport raised stitching along the shoulders. The ‘air tank’ backpacks don’t match. Etc. Let’s just say that there is no way that anyone in the audience could fail to see that the suits don’t match, and that there is no way that the filmmakers could have believed they would. They just didn’t care.
And that’s not all. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. After all, if the suits don’t match, why should the voices? Yep, right again. They were so cheap that they didn’t even pay Van and the Bronski actress enough to get them to loop in their dialog here. And as with the spacesuits, the ‘match’ isn’t even close. ‘Danny’s’ voice is quite a bit deeper, ‘Bronski’s’ equally higher.
Danny and Bronski, now in the capsule, remove their backpacks. These aren’t hooked up in any way. Instead, they’re just looped over their shoulders, like regular packs. What are we to make of this? If they are, in fact, there to provide oxygen, you’d have to expect them to be attached in some manner to the suits. Which, by the way, clearly have no independent air supply.
Of course, they are also walking around the capsule in such a way as to indicate that they somehow have gravity (also indicated in that the removed backpacks stay on the floor). So why ask why?
“It’s Russian!” the new Danny notes, just in case we aren’t ‘getting’ the whole Ghost Ship deal. “She’s got solar cells, that means we’ve got electricity,” he continues. (Shouldn’t Soviet cosmonaut Bronski be making these observations?) Of course, the presence of solar cells only indicates that they have power if everything is working. And since this is a ‘ghost ship,’ that seems a less than perfect supposition. I mean, if all the systems are functioning, why is it drifting around in space?
Also, I don’t see how this appreciably improves their situation. Are we to believe that they can land this thing? That it has an air supply? Food? Water? (Of course, it does, magically, have gravity, soâ€¦)
They enter into the main control room. Hilariously, we can see that Danny isn’t wearing a glove on one hand. I’m no scientist, but this seems like a bad idea. Inside, they find a dead fellow astronaut. Danny, still the card, refers to his corpse as “excess baggage.” What a quipster! You can see why Bronski’s attracted to him. Especially since she indicated earlier that she had been friends with the missing cosmonaut.
I’m not a medical doctor, but the fact that this guy’s helmet lacks a faceplate might have something to do with his demise. In any case, they remove him from his command chair. Then Danny (Danny, mind you, on a Soviet capsule) sits down to get their systems back online. Knowing that the audience has given up on logic long ago, we learn that the ship does have some oxygen left (!), as well as electrical power. Heck, why not a hot tub, while you’re at it? Or a round, rotating bed with a fur bedspread, equipped with a wet bar?
Despite the oxygen, the twosome leave their helmets on, for obvious reasons. This leads one to deduce that in the original Russian film, there wasn’t supposed to be any air on board. Hmm, I knew we shouldn’t have let the Russians get so far ahead in the ‘Logic Gap.’
This scene goes on for a while, with not much apparently happening. Presumably, there was originally dialog over this scene. Here there isn’t, so we end up with nothing to watch and nothing to listen to. (Nothing new there, of course.) Finally, Bronski hooks up something to Danny’s helmet. (Good thing they changed into Soviet spacesuits before boarding this vessel.) Why? I don’t know.
We waste even more time watching Danny futz with the knobs. Finally, power is reestablished. “We’re going to live,” Bronski exclaims, perhaps somewhat prematurely. Proving again that the screenwriter steeped himself in extensive research into Astronaut jargon, Danny notes, rather technically, “Those systems ought to come on now like crazy!”
He further states “I think I can milk a hundred and eight megs out of this rig, even in Russian!” (?) While this is all going on, Bronski (a Russian) just stands there, looking over his shoulder. Maybe he’ll get the oven or washing machine working, and then she’ll have something to do. (It’s interesting that a film made in the Soviet Union, where they had supposedly done away with gender roles, features a man working to fix a situation while a woman stands idly watching him do so.)
It’s then confirmed that they somehow expect to land this thing, and presumably hook up with Price, Marion and Dr. Perry. (Although if the ship is fully functional, I’m not sure why the original occupant was dead.)
Price seems somewhat surprised to get Danny’s radio transmission. (Yeah, so you’d think.) Even more miraculously, though, he somehow recognizes Danny’s voice, even though it’s now completely different. Danny asks for “guidance for entry,” which luckily Price seems to understand, since I don’t. Danny then notes that the Astra’s signal is faint, but that they can “beam in on it.” Apparently, we’re heading towards a happy ending after all.
Ah, but that assumes that we’re going to have an ending. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans may remember a little flick named Monster a Go-Go. This movie, to the amazement of the viewers, ended when the filmmakers apparently ran out of film. They instead inserted a narrated ending that directly contradicted everything we’d seen for the last hour and a half. You’d really think that no other movie would sport an even remotely similar ‘ending.’ Well, guess what.
Suddenly, Danny and Bronski lose all track of the Astra. (This all happens very slowly, with lots of dead, pointless footage.) We see a few last shots of a spaceship, presumably the Astra. This fails to match the shots they’ve consistently used for the last while, although I do think it’s one of five or six different looks for the ship we saw earlier. I guess they figured at this point, all bets are off.
Then we cut to a shot of a galaxy. (?) Next a ‘cosmic’ voice begins speaking to Danny and Bronski. “Last of Man, listen,” it intones. Then we get five or six more seconds of dead, silent footage. “The craft you are attempting to communicate with,” It finally continues, “no longer exists.”
“Your sister craft no longer exists,” The Voice continues, proving that even Cosmic Entities can be redundant. “The signal you are following is a warning. Had you been able to decipher its meaning, you would not have attempted to trespass on our world.”
Presumably, they are being lectured to by god-like beings living on Venus. Given their fuel supplies, however, one wonders where else these guys thought they would go. I mean, at this point, it’s pretty much Venus or bust. (Also, would it be petty of me to point out that this ‘scram, we’re gods’ ending appears to have been ripped off from The Angry Red Planet?) Danny asks who they are. After another ten seconds of soundless footage, the Voice continues. “We are the collected minds of this world your craft now orbits.”
Remember when the Simpsons were being similarly lectured by aliens, and Marge noted that for “superior beings, they really rub it in.” Ditto here. “Be it enough for you to know that, during the span of our evolution, our civilization has witnessed the birth and death of worlds and suns untold.” Pause. “But enough (you’d really think space gods would know better than to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’), your time is short.”
“You may not enter our world,” the rather verbose Voice continues. “We have witnessed the self-destructive powers of the Green Planet you call Earth. We have no malice towards you. You have destroyed your place in the Universe.”
Long Pause. “Last of Man, listen. Of this we will tell you. Your journey will continue. [Let’s hope he’s not suggesting a sequel to this mess!] Something very strange, and very great [well, that leaves out the sequel idea] awaits you beyond the Rim of the Universe. Now, Last of Man, your journey will begin.”
With that, a stock footage shot occurs, which looks almost exactly like the ‘exploding rocket’ shot used in the opening credits of The Six Million Dollar Man. I guess it’s supposed to be their engines engaging, although I’m not entirely sure that these would get them to the ‘Rim of the Universe.’ Then we get a static shot of space for about a minute, and, finally, the words The End appear.
Last of Conscious Audience, turn off the TV.
The Astronauts react to the news that three (eeew!) women are going to join them on the mission (see if you can spot the clue that this film was made in 1967):
Mason, group jerk: “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it!!”
Danny, group optimist: “Well, there must be a practical side to having women along.”
Dr. Perry, group cynic: “You mean like having your socks washed?”
Designated Slut Katie reveals a talent for the erotic bon mot:
Uptight Marion: “Katie, this isn’t a hayride. We’re here for a serious purpose!”
Katie, arching her eyebrows: “What could be more serious than a hayride?”
Wait, are you telling me the screenwriter didn’t win an Academy Award® for the sparkling dialog in this scene?:
Katie, coming out of a clinch with Mason: “You’re very forceful, aren’t you?”
Mason: “Do I, er, need force?”
Katie: “I was talking about vibrations.”
Mason: “Oh. How are yours doing?”
Katie: “What do they say?”
Mason: “I’m not sure, but I like them.”
Katie, pulling away: “And they like you. In time.”