Culture

Red Mars

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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

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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.

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[Hat tip: Bryan Alexander.]