First Spaceship on Venus. 1960. Dir. Kurt Maetzig. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.
0:20 A rocket takes off. It looks like the Alessi juicer we used to have. It was hopeless as a juicer but looked good on the windowsill. I hope this doesn’t apply to the rocket.
0.37 Loving the film so far. Half a minute in and we’re already zooming through speckly space, which these days you’d worry was space junk.
0:50 The credits fly in like in Star Wars. I wonder if that’s where George Lucas got it from? Everyone steals from everyone else. Sorry – influences. Juicers, credits…
1:19 Voiceovers. Hmm. Why not issue leaflets as the audience comes in?
1:28 Very satisfying lab here. Walter White would love it. A technician with an impressive quiff carefully transfers a sample of rock to a test tube. With his quiff.
1:51 Meanwhile the voiceover talks about an explosion in Siberia back in 1908. We see scientists slogging up a mountain with a weather balloon. A grumpy scientist with an enormous camera round his neck shrugs and waves for everyone to keep going. Maybe he forgot to put film in it. I think he topples into a gully. The other scientists ignore him.
2:19 ‘Shortly afterwards, under the auspices….’ the voiceover says. I lose the thread of it, distracted by the word auspices. Is it cockney? We watch as a scientist makes a tricky calculation on a blackboard, watched by a lot of other scientists. Who knew there’d be so many scientists in the future? Still using chalk.
2:37 Professor Harringway dusts the chalk from his hands and says ‘our calculations indicate….’ I’m distracted by his hair, another brilliantined quiff. He should have a quiff-off with the scientist from the lab earlier. Prof H says that they’ve figured out the explosion in Siberia wasn’t a meteorite but a spaceship. The other thing I’m distracted by is the fact he’s dubbed. Somehow it makes his quiff seem bigger.
2:55 ‘This hypothesis stimulated thought throughout the scientific world…’ says the Voiceover, whilst we watch scientists in pairs gossiping casually about anything other than explosions, flirting with the camera crew or sitting on the stage reading a newspaper.
3:02 Actually – they’re reporters waiting to hear what Professor Orloff has to say.
3:19 Professor Orloff is dressed like a mobster. He tells the reporter that the aliens no doubt recorded important stuff on a ‘spool’ – the rock they found in Siberia. He says they’ll work on the spool. And if you got anythin’ to say about dat he’ll break ya Venoosen legs…
3:40 Another professor works a desk covered in fancy dials and lights so big it MUST be important. It makes a noise like the old dial-up computers as it decodes the spool. One of the professors is not only good with computers, he also specialises in transforming inorganic material into food – which is probably where we get Quorn.
4:15 Actually, the professor working the desk is world famous maths Professor Sikarna. Honestly – I’m lost already. You’d think if they could afford rockets they stretch to name tags.
4:50 Prof Herringbone or whatever (maybe I’ll remember his name by picturing a big fish on his head instead of a quiff) – tells all the scientists in the lecture theatre that the spaceship can only have come from Venus. He points to a dangerous looking display of Venus with moons rotating round it. He’s in danger of knocking it over with his quiff – but I suppose you’d get used to it, like driving a car with a big bonnet.
5:00 We get some scary music and a close-up of the spool, which looks like one of those cola chews you try for a bit because there’s nothing else and you need the sugar hit, but spit out because it tastes like something you’d put down for rats.
5:13 Prof Sikarna says ‘Listen!’ He plays back the spool – which sounds to this untrained ear like a phone recording from a Rammstein gig.
6:20 Prof Sikarna has a tedious monologue to deliver. He sighs and steps out from behind the desk. He tells us how they’ll need to ‘renovate’ the spool to get as much information out of it as possible. We’re going to need a bigger spool.
7:00 First though, we have to train all our radio telescopes on Venus to communicate with the creatures there. So we get a montage of that, with morse code and trombones, which apparently the Venusians might like, being quite techno.
7:28 Next thing, we’re on the moon base (it was mentioned earlier but I was too distracted by he quiffs). They do a lot of monitoring. Which is pretty much all there is to do on the moon, once the crazy golf has lost its novelty.
7:53 Prof H is marching across a plaza with the other scientists around him. They meet some journalists in front of a scanner, which Prof H. keeps batting away with his hair. He tells the journalists they’re preparing a spaceship called the Cosmic Castrator or something (might be wrong about that). He says it’s not going to Mars anymore, it’s going to Venus. ‘Oh that’s great news!’ says a female journalist, thinking of the fun she’ll have with the headlines.
8:44 Prof H introduces the rest of the crew: Professor Sikarna, Professor Durand… and so on. Average age ninety. All male. One of them smoking.
8:50 This is better! Back to the rocket, just about to blast off. It looks like it’s standing on giant blocks of duplo. Which should mean they won’t blow over easily.
9:05 Actually – they were just testing the boosters. Prof H takes his glasses off and turns round. His hair is blasted back by the force of the test. I thought quiffs would be more aerodynamic.
9:42 A Marilyn Monroe impersonator says she has an important announcement to make. I lose track of what she says because she says it so smoothly, like she’s introducing a variety bill from Radio City. ‘Ah! Here come members of the crew!’ she pouts – thrilled to see a bunch of elderly guys shuffling towards the booth bitching about their prostates.
10:12 She spots Professor Durand, the chief engineer. She describes his expertise in robots whilst we watch him flip up his sunglasses and frown at a guy dressed like Super Mario. The guy has a big letter M on his chest. NOTE: If he can have a big letter M on his chest, why can’t the professors? It’d make this commentary SO much easier.
10:28 A guy jogs over from Section A. He has a big letter A on his chest. See what I mean?
10:58 A jet arrives with another hero, I don’t know. (Dr Brinkmann, actually). He asks Prof D about his robots. Prof D. calls one of them over – a ridiculous-looking thing like a mower with an expression on its face like it just cut the lawn and all he flowers, too. You know it’s supposed to be full of character because piccolos are playing. I hope it fries.
11:14 Turns out, the robot is called Omega and is a kind of bullshit Alexa on treads. He asks Omega for a weather report. Omega replies clippily there’ll be a rise in millibars. Great. Thanks, Omega. You’re definitely coming to Venus. We’ll need something to shove under the wheels if we get stuck.
11:45 Back in the glamorous announcer booth, the commentator says that some of the crew managed to reach Urania. Her equally glamorous assistant frowns at her. That’s not how you say Uranus – but I suppose it is a way of avoiding a tedious and unnecessary joke.
11:53 Turns out there’ll be a woman going to Venus with the old guys. She’s the physician of the expedition (very satisfying to say that fast). ‘She’s already spent 2 years on lunar 3’ says the announcer. But got paroled, presumably.
12:13 Dr Brinkmann speaks to the doctor. There’s a frisson between them (naturally). He remembers she used to have hair down to her waist. But he may have her confused with that day he went to Crufts. A guy with the letter M on his chest runs up – hands Dr Brinkmann his lunch. ‘You forgot this!’ says the guy, with such cheerfulness I really hope he comes along too. To make up the numbers. Or letters. And they leave Omega behind instead. ‘Robert Brinkmann! The man who’s always forgetting something!’ says the doctor. So… not the kind of guy you’d want on a space mission, then.
12:25: Violins play. ‘I have a reputation for that,’ smoulders Brinkmann. ‘But there are things I’ll never forget,’ he says. Like hair.
12:37 Dr Sumiko Ogimura is her name. I’m really being tested on the cast list.
12:40 ‘Thirty hours left’ says the Marilyn Monroe impersonator, but they could easily have overdubbed any line from Some Like it Hot.
13:40 The crew are all on trolleys being put down like kids in a nursery for the afternoon. They’ve got a busy flight ahead of ‘em. Brinkmann sits up and gets creepy with Sumiko. She tells him not to speak of it. I wish he wouldn’t speak of it, too. Maybe we could drop him off with Omega.
15:02 Marilyn Monroe says the launch is almost ready. We’re just waiting for the crew – ‘and here they are!’ she says, trying not to sound disappointed. Honestly, it’s like a day out from a Care Home, where they’ve dressed up the residents in comedy incontinence suits.
15:14 All the staff with big letters on their chests wave them off as they get in a jeep and go off to the rocket, which sits in the distance as thrillingly as the Disneyland castle.
15:46 The crew strap themselves into the rocket. In close-up their suits look like monkey onesies, which is a nice touch. ‘Relax’ says Dr Sumiko. ‘Try not to tense up’. (I wonder what her medical speciality is?) There’s a countdown. When it gets to 4, one of the professors (no idea which) says ‘Stand by!’ – completely unnecessarily. It’s a countdown, for God’s sake! We’re at 4. He’d be annoying on a long trip.
17:00 The cosmic castrator is being monitored from earth by big telescopes and from moon base 3 and manufacturers of hair oil.
17:40 Prof D (I think) takes off his belt and floats around. We get an unnecessary shot of his crotch – emphasised by the chaps he seems to be wearing. It gets a big laugh. They all join in. Like I said – long voyage.
19:00 They fly past the moon (sorry – I skipped some frames accidentally and can’t be bothered to go back). ‘That’s the Sinus Roarus crater’ says Prof S, obviously making it up. ‘Yeah – and that’s the Sea Yarlater crater’ etcetera.
19:18 Dr Sumiko looks distressed when they fly over moon base. ‘That’s where her husband fell’ says Prof H. ‘I brought him back to the camp but he was already dead. We were friends. You know – Sumiko is a wonderful woman…’ (This is a creepy crew to be shacked up with on a flight to Venus).
20:17 Lunar 3 issues a meteorite warning. Is it just me, or does every rocket adventure in the fifties and sixties get whacked by meteorites? When they cost out the special effects, it must be: ‘how much for the meteorites…how much for the polystyrene rubble… and so on’
20:23 Prof O pilots the rocket using an old cash register. He desperately punches in pounds, shillings and pence to avoid the meteorites.
21:00 Brinkmann dictates his log and we get a little tour of the craft. I must say it looks pretty crafty. Apparently pilots itself – everyone else can go off and play golf or watch Columbo reruns or something. It’s not going to take long to get to Venus – about 48 days, which is pretty good. I just Googled it and the best so far is 109 days – but this film is set in the future, so maybe they know a shortcut.
21:30 Dr Sumiko keeps an eye on the health of the crew, giving them blood pressure meds, prostate meds, that kind of thing. They drink liquid food, which is niche but the crew seem to like it. The mechanic works on fixing a washing machine or something (they’ll need it after 48 days of vegetable smoothies).
22:05 Meanwhile, two of the profs (don’t ask me which) are still trying to decipher the spool. We get a close up of their space slippers, which seem comfy enough.
22:35 Prof H checks the map. A map? In space?
23:05 Prof O plays Omega at chess. The robot seems to have a robo-stroke, but still wins. ‘That’s the tenth match I’ve lost,’ says Prof O. ‘I should give up I guess.’ Yes. You should. Then put Omega in the waste compactor.
24:19 Suddenly the rocket lurches and everyone gets thrown about. Meteorites! They struggle to switch on the emergency giro. (NOTE: they were warned about the meteorites. I’d have sat someone by the emergency giro at all times. I mean – there’s plenty of profs to go round.) Brinkmann actually has to break the glass to operate it. Seems unnecessary. But what do I know about rocket design? It works though. They stabilise, and make it back to their seats with their quiffs only slightly bent.
25:29 Dr Sumiko sticks a plaster on Talua’s head. Talua is the comms guy, easily the chillest of the crew, which is probs why he’s the comms guy. Sumiko doesn’t do a good job, but head wounds are tricky.
25:50 Brinkmann askes Prof O how much course deviation. O taps away on the cash register. ‘Eleven pounds and ten pence’.
26:40 They need to decelerate but one of the engines is out. Someone has to go outside and fix it. Awkward silence. The crew watch as Prof D reluctantly goes out on a weird grabby thing. It flies up to the holed engine and begins respraying it or something. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew buckle-up as the main meteorite shower approaches. They start the engines to brake the ship as soon as the repair is done (not seeming to check whether that’s okay with Prof D, banging around by the thrusters in the grabby thing. But maybe they thought they had so many profs on board, one more or less wouldn’t matter).
28:49 Venus is just ten days away. Despite the ship’s immense speed, the stars seem to hang motionless. Same.
29:23 Meanwhile, Prof D is making a heart for Omega. What it really needs is a conscience – then when it got plugged in it would do the decent thing and self-destruct.
30:00 Dr Sumiko is doing the rounds promoting her smoothies. No one seems that bothered. Too busy decyphering alien spools (THAT old excuse).
31:34 They decipher the last part of the spool. Turns out the Venusians were preparing an attack on Earth – softening it up with radiation first, then going in with fast food joints & Friends reruns.
33:42 Prof S says if they can meet the inhabitants of Venus they’ll be able to convince them it’d be folly to start a war. They all agree to carry on, but only because it’s easier than going back and trying to explain everything.
35:05 ‘After only 31 days of flight we’ve almost reached our destination…’ So a new record, then. If it hadn’t been for those damned meteorites…
36:00 In orbit round Venus. Brinkman volunteers to go on ahead in the frolic copter (sounds like). Typical Brinkmann.
36:09 CRAWLER COPTER! But it’s too late for Brinkmann to back out.
37:01 Brinkmann buckles-up in the crawler copter, ready to get dropped down to the surface. They have trouble talking to him because of ‘heavy electrical disturbance’ – which is also typical Brinkmann.
38:12 We watch as he descends through smoke and confetti. He sees weird shapes on the surface. Decides to land anyway. Gets out in his bucket helmet spacesuit and starts walking. He’s got Omega with him, at least. So if they meet any chess playing aliens they’ll be fine.
40:32 The structures are elongated with bad mosaics and stuff. A bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but more welcoming. Omega says Danger! ‘Go on Omega…’ says Brinkman. You can see his plan.
41:09 It’s a radioactive, vitrified forest, apparently. Brinkmann still can’t talk to the ship. He does talk to Omega, though – like a dog. ‘Go on! Keep going!’ No wonder Omega has an attitude.
41:23 The Crawler Copter explodes! ‘They’re attacking us!’ says Brinkmann.
42:00 Back on the ship they interpret the flash as typical Brinkmann. ‘We’d better land’ says Prof H, a little reluctantly it sounds to me. You notice he didn’t volunteer to fix the engine, either.
42:18 Brinkmann falls through the crust and lands on a shiny inner surface. Like an M&M, but in reverse. He’s immediately surrounded by little flying coat hangers that make wibbly noises and may or may not indicate Brinkmann is losing his mind. He grabs one of the creatures and puts it in his pocket – to smoke later – then starts climbing out of the hole.
42:56 The ship lands, blowing Brinkmann back down his hole. Typical Brinkmann.
43:10 They look around. See the Copter Crawler wreckage and assume Brinkmann was killed. But then Omega comes bouncing along! Good boy! What are you trying to tell us, Lassie? Brinkmann fell down a hole? Good work Lassie! Here’s a plutonium grenade…
44:30 Actually, Brinkmann follows Omega and tells them he’s okay himself. He shows them one of the boingy things. They think it might be an inhabitant – so maybe not such an interplanetary threat after all. They decide to explore some more, to see where a power line leads, maybe a Venusian attraction or something, because they didn’t come all this way for a vitrified forest and some coat hanger flies.
45:46 ‘There’s something very strange here!’ says Prof O. ‘Something that looks like an immense golf ball…’ The camera zooms in on an immense golf ball. Omega runs straight up to it. Good boy, Omega! Snack on this power line…!
48:00 Where are the Venusians, though? The profs have dissected the boingy thing and decided it’s really just a fancy smartphone or something. Incredible.
48:40 They explore the petrified forest some more. I take back what I said about the Sagrada Familia. It looks more like they’ve somehow entered a painting by Dali.
49:39 ‘The long Venusian night is always preceded by a violent storm….’ NOTE: I had thought we’d be further along meeting the aliens by now. It’s turning into a geography field trip.
50:02 ‘Do you think this vitrified forest is a biological formation?’
Who cares? Gimme the scares! (This is fundamentally why I’m not cut out for a space mission – that, and a hatred of cute robots).
50:43 They figure out that a terrible catastrophe devastated the planet (how contemporary). They decide to do some more exploring to get some answers, particularly in the golf ball, which could be a Venusian visitor’s centre.
52:00 Some of them go for a drive, following the power lines. The environment does look quite blasted. Lots of melted cheese structures. Well I don’t KNOW they’re cheese. It’s just that it’s gone five and I’m hungry.
55:07 The power lines disappear down a big hole. ‘This must be the entrance,’ says Brinkmann, who has experiences with holes.
56:00 ‘Over here! There’s a shaft!’ says Brinkmann. There are flashing lights at the bottom of it so they decide it’s a nerve centre. ‘But who’s servicing it?’ says Talua, the comms guy, who may or may not submit a tender for the contract.
57:00 Brinkmann stumbles, kicks a rock, and starts a polystyrene boulder collapse. They hurry on, walking round and round a gigantic cheese grater. They get chased round the grater by living gloop or lava or chocolate fondue I’m not sure. Sumiko gets her foot caught, screams and has to be rescued. (Meteorites? Tick. Polystyrene boulders? Tick…. Female needing rescuing?…)
58:29 There’s bubbly sticky gloop everywhere, glooping out of the cheese grater, glooping up right and left. It’s like they’ve landed in the middle of a Venusian sewage treatment works (but after 48 days of Sumiko’s smoothies they’re probably used to it…)
57:49 It’s absolutely disgusting! They’re sliding around all over the place! I’m shocked. I mean – this is Venus, not Uranus.
59: One of the profs shoots the gloop (I know – I just read that back and… well … I can’t think of any other way to put it). The gloop retreats. They run back to their crawlers. The whole planet makes a crazy, angry noise. It obviously doesn’t appreciate being shot in the gloop.
1:00:00 They figure out what happened – the Venusians were ready to direct radiation beams at the Earth to neutralise it (but I thought they’d figured that out ages ago…?). Back on the ship one of the profs (honestly – does it matter?) says that the golf ball is glowing red because it’s getting ready to reverse the polarity, which even I know is bad.
1:02:19 The explorer team jump in their crawlers to hurry back to the ship. There’s lightning cracking overhead. Lots of fog, spits and spots of gloop. I keep expecting a big ass alien to chase them but maybe the gloop was it. As aliens go, it’s quite meh. It’s like being terrified when you see a road being resurfaced, instead of just being mildly inconvenienced.
1:02:45 They notice shadows thrown on the walls – created when the Venusians were killed by an atomic explosion. They had three fingers and a thumb, very long legs, and a startled expression.
1:05:30 Back on the ship, the profs realise that shooting the gloop may have started a chain reaction. Even though the Venusians were killed by their own technology, what remains of it has been reactivated and is trying to complete the mission (I could TOTALLY be a professor).
1:06:00 Omega goes crazy and runs over one of the profs. (I told you not to trust that machine – and that’s why I will NEVER have an Alexa)
1:07:50 They can’t take off because the increased gravity or whatever has rendered the ship useless. Two of them have to go back out and neutralise the nerve centre. Meanwhile, Dr Sumiko gets ready to operate on Prof H. His quiff is flacid so it looks serious.
1:11:14 Talua and Prof S get ready at the shaft that leads to the nerve centre. Talua has to lower Prof S down on a rope. Unfortunately Talua’s suit gets torn and he collapses from the shock to his coolness.
1:11:18 Back on the ship, there’s a big number 68 that stays illuminated at the top of the screen. I don’t know what it means. It’s been like that for a while now, so it can’t be a countdown. Maybe it’s a log of how many professors there are on board. If it clicks to 67, that’s bad news.
1:11:54 Brinkmann sets off on the little rocket car to rescue Talua & Prof S.
1:12:58 The rocket is being pushed off the planet because of negative gravity or something. They radio Brinkmann to come back. Come back, Brinkmann! Come back! (Like he’s Omega or something). But it’s not looking great for Brinkmann, Talua or Prof S.
1:14:20 Lunar base radios Earth to say that the Cosmic Castrator is returning but they can’t get a reply. Have they picked up Brinkmann and the others? Or were they doomed to stay on Gloopitur / I mean Venus.
1:14:35 A montage of radar antennae spinning round, which spins the film out some.
1:15:18 The ship lands. All the technicians join hands and run out to meet the crew, their chest letters spelling AAAAAAAA. Which is either cute or horrifying, depending on how you’re feeling at this point.
1:15:43 The moment I’ve been dreading arrives. The door opens, and the professors stagger out onto the gantry one by one, so there’s no excuse not knowing their names. I recognise Sumiko, helping another professor out. Then robot guy. Then Prof H. With his arm around another prof. But then that prof slowly closes the door, which is supposed to be a sad moment, but I’m quite glad, because I’m off the hook naming the profs.
1:17:00 Prof H praises the three who didn’t make it. Prof D gives a little speech about a great civilisation that destroyed itself. (NOTE: if that dumb Omega robot makes a cute last appearance and everyone laughs, followed by a close-up of its characterful grin, I’m going to slap this computer shut and throw myself quiff-first into a vat of gloop).
1:18:00 Closing line comes from Prof D – ‘we’ll fly further and further and explore other planets. It’s our destiny’. (If we can avoid destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons and gloop).
So what’ve I learned?
- Venus isn’t too bad, especially if you like Barcelona.
- Be careful handling atomic energy. It can seriously damage your interplanetary reputation.
- Cute robots are no substitute for dogs.
- Get a juicer. But give the smoothies to someone else.
- Don’t shoot the gloop.