Despite the hypnotic effects of the music, strobe lighting, and Jana Brejchová in this movie, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart somehow managed to remember enough about it to write the review.
"Article 23: Take security measures when on unknown planets."
Cosmonauts from Cynro, answering a call for help from the distant Tem 4, are forced by radio waves to crash-land. They are soon taken to the apparent leader, a clownish puppet named Ronk (played with shades of Zaphod Beeblebrox by Milan Beli) who lounges on a futon as he tells the Cynro crew that there's no need to worry; the distress call was a mistake.
Ronk invites the mostly female crew to a midnight party. Who knew that cosmonauts have red leather disco outfits in their official wardrobes? Or that stern captain Akala (Jana Brejchová, Return to Paradise Lost) knows exactly where to put that metallic carnation for eye-catching effect? At the party, male crew member Thob (Leon Niemczyk, Blood of the Innocent) is mobbed by beautiful dancing girls in bikinis and veils, while music and a lavish buffet tempt the female crew members. Just add hypnotic music and a mysterious pinpoint light aimed at their brains to take away their memories of the distress call, and Ronk's worries should be over.
Trouble is, stick-in-the-mud crew member Suko (Alfred Struwe) has stayed behind. When Akala and Miu (Regine Heintze) come back still swaying to the beat and shower him with kisses, he's suspicious. He analyzes the appetizers Thob brought back for him, and takes off in a reconnaissance craft. After he crash-lands, he finds a mysterious door leading underground—and the planet's dark secret lurking in the caves (probably not the same answer you'll see on Lost). He's captured, and treated to some of the music he missed. Can he remember in time to liberate the planet from its imperialist conquerors?
A lot of In the Dust of the Stars (Im Staub der Sterne) should sound familiar to science fiction fans, but you get a special bonus in the form of striking allegorical images: The cosmonauts' first greeting on Tem 4 comes from a woman "bus" driver in mock Native American garb; the 1960s-style music at a party is "hypnotic," causing the cosmonauts to forget their mission; Tem 4's evil Boss with dyed hair that's alternately blue, white, and red (Ekkehard Schall, Wagner) resembles the Roman emperor Caligula, playing games while listening to his subordinates' accounts of the machinations against the Cynro crew; and a snake slithers through the the Garden of Eden of a lush buffet table. Most important to the plot, the Temians have conquered the native Turi to gain control of an unspecified mineral. Consider also some of the dialogue. The Boss chides Akala by telling her, "Only one law applies to me: power," while she tells him, "Your great era is coming to an end." The Temians are not nice guys, and you'd have to be pretty slow not to notice they're us, even if the East Germans' era came to an end first in reality.
What's the meaning of this? In the extras, cameraman Peter Süring sheds some light: "There was utopian material which we could describe vaguely in inverted commas as 'critical,' and which you could bring out without offending anybody." In other words, put in a few references to the West's imperialism and decadence, and you can get away with dancing girls and hints of nudity (a few fleeting flashes of bare bottoms and a suggestive dance in shadows). None of these scenes were necessary to the film, Süring points out. Make sure you check out this extra, along with the text piece on East German science fiction, which provides the Sputnik-era context and explains the government's unkind eye toward SF fan clubs. Two bio pieces on director Gottfried Kolditz (Signals: An Outerspace Adventure) and Jana Brejchová could have packed more into their short space but provide the bare-bones outlines of their lives. Brejchová, who was married four times, was briefly the wife of director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), by the way, and she's due to appear in 2006's The Beauty in Trouble (Kraska v. Nesnazich). A photo gallery of stills from the movie is redundant.
>From a technical angle, the transfer is superb, with the colors of the original shining through. The mono sound does the job, preserving the clarity of the German dialogue and all of the decadent Western-style music. The movie's mostly set-bound, but the few outdoor sequences of sandy plains and the Boss's garden are brightly lit without being washed out.
To maintain the spirit of moviemaking in Communist East Germany, I should probably condemn In the Dust of the Stars—with a wink. Trouble is, Kolditz apparently just wanted to do a fun, cheesy movie, and he succeeded. While I was fascinated by a glimpse of Cold War culture, I enjoyed the titillating bits and silly storyline, and admire him for slipping this stuff past the not-so-fun-loving Communist regime of East Germany. I'll note one more bit that endeared this film to me: Ronk's weapon looked like a ballpoint pen, proving once and for all that some pens truly are mightier than the sword.
Not guilty by any means, even though this has guilty pleasure written all over it. Court adjourned, so you can catch that spaceship that's leaving for Tem 4.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• East German Science-Fiction Literature (text)
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