Director: Pavel Klushantsev. Starring: Vladimir Emelyanov, Geogri Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov, John the Robot. USSR, 1962. IMDB: 6.5. My rating: 3/4. A naive space travel adventure.
– The world government will rule the world according to the laws of mathematics.
(a cosmonaut gone crazy)
– According to quotes from the Smith corporation, the cost of building a highway to the Sirius is 37 million dollars.
(John the Robot)
(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)
– Inform us on the position of your co-travellers.
– Position horizontal.
(a dialogue between John the Robot and a cosmonaut)
There are several scenes in “Planet of Storms”, for which you can forgive it everything. Yes, all the unnecessary pathos, strained dialogues, mediocre acting and lack of balance between a documentary and sci-fi, the long introduction with 20 minutes of useless dialogues. The movie was made in 1962 in Soviet Union, and there were just few films who tried to do something similar before (most notable examples are “Lost World” and “Forbidden Planet”). The overall style of the movie resembles a little “Forbidden Planet”, but it was typical feel of most space sci-fi of those years. But what makes it different is that here finally we see an attempt to blend sci-fi with some real technology – in fact, the director Klushanstsev’s background is documentary cinema, with time trying to combine it more and more with sci-fi movies and stories (most notable example is Road to the Stars, 1957, where first part is documentary, the second describes an imaginary space trip). Many real scientists were actively involved in the production of the “Planet of Storms”.
It’s easy to see that Klushantsev, in first place, was interested in special effects and technology, kind of a Soviet Michael Bay with simple and stereotype characters – just a background for the visuals and technologies. That’s the main problem of the movie – the cosmonauts here don’t look like real people, but a political party members talking with slogans for the promotion of their ideas. This explains why the film and Klushantsev’s works are largely forgotten now – without bright and memorable characters and with special effects no more so impressive after several decades, the movie slowly faded out. This is a lesson all sci-fi directors should learn – ironically, sci-fi movies are not remembered because of special effects. Yes, they may impress during first visions, but mostly the characters and a good story matter.
If Kkushantsev gave the characters even 10% of the creativity and passion that he devoted for the visuals and special effects, he would have been remembered as one of the brightest directors of the last century.
If we throw away all the unnecessary dialogues – and there are 20 minutes of incredibly boring dialogues before the movie really starts! – it still looks so charming. Klushantsev knew how to build the frame and you can see at a glance his past as a cameraman – the photography is impressive, as well as music, the colours and costumes though. Strangely enough, the robot here is witty and feels alive, while real people speak like robors.
For the first time ever “Planet of Storms” created some incredible scenes and deserved its mention in history only for that. It is by no means a masterpiece, but more a pioneer that prepared the ground for what came later. Surprisingly, lots of things you see here will appear during decades and decades of movies, being explored or developed in different ways – from Kubrick’s “2001” and “Star Wars” to Cameron’s “Terminator 2” and Nolan’s “Interstellar”. The film is a simple prototype of thousands of future movies about expeditions, space travel on unknown worlds and robots. Yes, we had the wonderful “Lost World” before. But it was only about the dinosaurs.
Especially remarkable is the giant John the Robot, who defines himself as “a free thinking machine” (!). 10 minutes later, when the robot is crossing a lava river after the eruption of the local volcano while carrying on his back two cosmonauts, the temperature of lava becomes too high for him to continue. He goes crazy, spawning one-liners like “according to quotes from the Smith corporation, the cost of building a highway to the Sirius is 37 million dollars”, breaks the first law of robotics and tries to get rid off humans. Fortunately, the help arrives and people are saved. The robot is left in the lava, melting and dying there. Hi, Arnie! This is probably the most adult, sensible and intelligent scene of the movie and you could watch the movie just for that.
Other notable scenes include a cosmonaut drowning in the sea (hi, Christopher Nolan), dinosaurs of all kind, the skirmish between humans and monsters, pterosaur’s attack on the aeromobile and its subsequent drowning, the hints about an ancient alien civilization, the attack of a giant spider-plant and much more.
Pavel Klushanstev was without doubt an important figure in popularization of space and science fiction. He was a pioneer of ground-breaking for that time technologies, combining popular scientific cinema and science fiction. The Soviet director, now largely forgotten even in his homeland, was born in 1910 in Saint Petersburg and now is recognized worldwide as one of founders of modern space cinema and science fiction. Klushantsev graduated as a cameraman in 1930 and made movies for 4 decades, mostly documentary and educational movies. His probably best known movie “Planet of Storms” was released right one year after the launch of the first human cosmonaut in outer space, Yuri Gagarin.
“Planet of Storms” deserves a remake with updated characters. The visual part, with some exceptions, can stay the same.
Surprisingly, the movie was re-edited two times in USA with zero credit to the original crew and released as “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” and “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women”. That’s a mystery how the studios dared to do so, but it’s true. All the names were changed for American. Well, it is also a proof that the movie at that time impressed not only USSR viewers.
Worth watching? Of course, Klushantsev is not Kubrick nor Tarkovsky, but let’s remember that he was a pioneer of the space cinema. He had a more technical approach to the movie production (and in fact he personally invented lots of technical stuff) and “Planet of Storms” had a different mission and it deserved its place in history. It’s a very bad drama with bleak characters and horrible dialogues, but visually it shows impressive fantasy and creativity of the Soviet director, very good photography and colours, humour and costumes. This naive and educational film allows you to see how the world and space travel were seen in the middle of the XX century, how much romance surrounded it. Compared to the most space sci-fi released in the USA at that time, the film is remarkable. Here for the first time you will see some archetypical sci-fi scenes. And never forget about John the Robot, who died in burning lava. The world government will indeed rule according to the laws of mathematics.
3/4 for being a pioneer.