Red Mars


Chris Nakashima-Brown watches a Soviet science-fiction flick from 1959, The Heavens Call:

A Soviet state art project directed by Mikhail Karyukov and Aleksandr Kozyr, the film is a kind of Cold War bookend to Destination Moon….Instead of Heinlein's libertarian dream of a private entrepreneurs building the rocket for parallel goals of profit and progress, Heavens Call tells the story of dedicated technocrats


working to propel their socialist utopia into the solar system, with their giant ship "Motherland" bound for the Red Planet.

Unfortunately, their ideologically pure mission is screwed up by a competing American mission that could be operated by the same guys behind Destination Moon—"The Mars Syndicate," selling canalside lots for $10 an acre, with their fast rocket "Typhoon" piloted by astronaut "Mr. Clark" (a Chuck Yeager analog famous for his masterful emergency landing of a wild rocket in El Paso, played by a silver-haired brick of a Russian with actual divots in his face and the tangible gravitas of a hero of Stalingrad) and accompanied by a glib dilettante celebrity broadcaster. When the Americans, in their greedy rush, end up falling toward the sun, the selfless Russians abandon their mission to save the misguided capitalists, then find themselves stranded without fuel on the asteroid Icarus. As they stand in a cubist variation on a Chesley Bonestell spacescape, watching the ripe red planet rise before them, co-pilot Andrei voices the tantalizing frustration of their near miss, to which Kornev replies that the next mission will be more successful because of this "useful lesson in the consequences of useless competition."

The movie now occupies a high spot on my must-see list. Trivia: This is the picture that Roger Corman and Francis Ford Coppola recut a few years later as Battle Beyond the Sun, with the communist and capitalist missions transformed into less politically charged powers: the southern and northern hemispheres. Fans of Soviet Martian visions will also want to check out Aelita: Queen of Mars, which features a revolution on the Red Planet, and which may or may not have been inspired by the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.


[Hat tip: Bryan Alexander.]

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  1. Are those garter belts and fuck-me boots on those spacesuits?

  2. We must get to Mars before the terrorists do. I understand that they have an insidious plan to terrorform the planet.

    They must be stopped!

  3. Blue Guy: Damn that American with his competitive spirit and hot chick.

    Red Guy [voice over]: How can I tell him? His scent is intoxicating. I would just love to cooperate with him in a spirit of real brotherhood.

    Blue Guy: Comrade, are you sniffing me?

  4. Blue Guy: I can has cheezburger

    Red Guy:Moar bucket!

    Unison:OMG! Ceiling cat is watching us masturbate!

  5. Having seen “Aelita, Queen Of Mars” twice (I think), I can say it’s a bit of a mess as SF, and makes its Communist revolutionary points about as subtly they were made in the stage play “R.U.R.” The real attractions of “Aelita” are the wonderful Constructivist sets and costumes. (And I think the blue person in the poster is actually female — Aelita, I’m pretty sure.)

    At any rate, “Aelita” was a whole hell of a lot more fun than Tartovsky’s “Stalker,” which took close to three hours out of my life for nothing to happen.

    Regarding the humanitarian ending of “The Heavens Call” — didn’t the Russkies save our orbital bacon in 1969’s “Marooned?” I never saw it because . . . I guess, because there were no aliens.

  6. So Jesse, I was wondering just this morning: did the Soviet Union produce homegrown versions of the different genres of exploitation films? Nudies, mondos, roughies, slashers, you know the categories. Did they play in some district in Moscow that was the equivalent of the Times Square grindhouses?

    I’d really enjoy reading an article on this. Maybe Cathy Young knows something on the subject.

  7. Are those garter belts and fuck-me boots on those spacesuits?

    Yeah, but what gets me are the Soviet-style industrial strength control-top garter belts.

  8. Filmfax (or maybe its offshoot Outre) Magazine did a long series on Russian SF a few years back.

    Netflix has a few of the East German DEFA sf movies; Eolomea, The Silent Star, and In the Dust of the Stars.

  9. I’m sort of conflicted by the Red/Green/Blue Mars thing. The political/economic system Robinson posited was a weird communalist-libertarian hybrid that I could never quite wrap my brain all the way around.

    Doesn’t help that I just ran out of steam 2/3 of the way through the last book, and dropped the whole thing.

  10. “The light, the heat…”

  11. Timothy,

    While “In Your Eyes” is the official love song of magic ’80s movies, I think the Peter Gabriel song that I would quote here would probably be either “Shock the Monkey” or “Kiss that Frog”



  13. Blue Guy: Is that a bottle of Heineken on that rover over there? Weird.

    Red Guy: The moonlight does crazy things to your hair, sir.

    Blue Guy: God damn it, Carstairs, keep it in your pants. And seriously, Phobos and Deimos are so small that you can’t possibly be seeing their light reflected in my hair. God you’re such a suck up.

  14. I’ll correlate your error term, KOBOLD!

  15. The book “Aelita” that the movie was based on was a very decent piece of work. Remarkably, the martian revolution fails at the end. The overall tone is one of loss, failure and hopelessness – pretty subversive for that time and place. I think the author, Alexei Tolstoy, was ambivalent about the revolution and the Soviet order. Although he also wrote “The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin”, which is more in line with Soviet propaganda.

  16. @lunchstealer

    Doesn’t help that I just ran out of steam 2/3 of the way through the last book, and dropped the whole thing.

    I did that too. Somehow, the trilogy just falls apart somewhere around that point…

  17. I think that’s where it becomes clear that the plot is over. From there on out its just a-bunch-of-shit-that-happens.

  18. “useful lesson in the consequences of useless competition.”

    If only the Soviets had taken that to heart in 1956 rather then waiting until 1991.

  19. So Jesse, I was wondering just this morning: did the Soviet Union produce homegrown versions of the different genres of exploitation films? Nudies, mondos, roughies, slashers, you know the categories.

    Yes, but instead of blaxploitation they had redsploitation.

    So who is Red People’s petrushka
    Who is being a sex machine to every babushka?
    This is pravda, comrade!

    Who is being comrade who would sacrifice himself
    For the ideal of the New Soviet Man?
    Do you have understanding?

    Who is Party stalwart
    When capitalist fascist spies are all about?
    I could not agree with you more, comrade!

    It is said that this comrade Shaftov is very much a formidable Rodina–
    But I was merely conversing about Shaftov

    He is man of great complexity
    But no one is capable of comprehending his actions except farsighted leaders of Central Bureau for Planning of Cinematic Arts Productions

  20. That was brilliant Mr. Darkly.

  21. I second that. Brilliantly done, sir.

    And it seems to require a great big “Hey Yorgi!” shout-out from . . . you guessed it . . . Uzbeks!

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