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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Dream Come True

This soviet sci-fi, entitled Mechte navstrechu (MN) ("A Dream Come True"), came to American audiences in 1966 as Queen of Blood. MN is another member of that distinctive sub-genre of foreign sci-fi bought cheaply, dubbed in to english, some new footage inserted and re-edited. MN itself is mixed bag. On the one hand, it has some very captivating visuals. On the other hand, it is a potentially fascinating story told very weakly. Queen of Blood makes good use of MN's powerful visuals, but tells a very different story. MN is a much more romanticized view of space travel and first contact. Hence the need to put down here, in this 1963 survey, the original story line.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Several characters of a space research facility are introduced and developed at some length to emphasize their warm humanity. Tanya is a radio astronomer listening for "first contact". Andrey is an engineer who dreams of life around remote stars. Andrey likes Tanya, so shows her his "Crystalphone" which plays a song he wrote about exploring space. Far away, on the planet Centuria, they pick up Andrey's song. Intrigued, the Centurians launch a crew to travel to earth. En route, they encounter trouble. The Centurians launch a recording capsule to earth. Dr. Krylov discovers that the capsule is a video log of the Centurian ship, capturing their distress and probable crash on Mars. Soviet scientists urge a assembly of a rescue mission. The rocket ship "Ocean" is finished and a crew launched. En route to Mars, they encounter a massive solar burst. Powering their shields at maximum drains their energy. They can land on Mars, but not take off. This, they do. They find the Centurian ship, but only one dead alien aboard. A second ship, the Meteor, is sent from moon base to help. It cannot land on Mars, so launches the supplies as satellites and lands on Phobos. Andrey and Ivan find the Centurian escape pod on Phobos, with the alien woman barely conscious. The emergency ship can only carry 2, so Andrey stays behind. Ivan takes alien woman to Mars. They all meet up and the Ocean is now able to blast off. They return to earth, triumphant at a friendly first meeting with aliens (a successful rescue), even though it cost dearly (Andrey). The actual ending is ambiguous. Andrey and Tanya (at the lake on earth) are called by Paul to report for launch. Was it a flashback of Tanya's about good ol' days with Andrey? Or, was it all actually a fanciful dream conjured up by Andrey's romantic space song? (You decide.)

Why is this movie fun?
The sets and models for the Centurians have a luxurious quality. They're great fun to look at. The wild-eyed optimism about space travel and first contact, is so very different from the paranoia of the 50s, and later in the 70s and 80s (e.g. Alien).

Cold War Angle
The writers take a few digs at the West via the Dr. Laungton character, the American colleague of soviet head astronomer Dr. Krylov. Laungton frets that 'first contact' will be hostile and suspects invasion. His fixation on the evil intent of the "others" is a blatant counterpoint to soviet idealism and fixation on friendliness.

Notes
Poets & Lovers -- As is typical of propaganda, the hometown folk are cast as benignly human. They're artists, poets, playful, good with kids, and of course, engage in chaste courtship. They are do-ers and dreamers of grand peaceful futures. It is those dark-hearted politicians and technocrats in the west who rain on the bucolic parade.

Proto-iPod -- Andrey's "Crystalphone" invention plays music, and looks amazingly like the modern iPod Nano. His design is a bit rounded and made of dark brown plastic, but Tanya holds it and looks at it just like people today do with their iPods. All that's missing are the earbuds.

Customary Sacrifice -- Soviet films liked to glorify sacrifice. Someone is lost in the otherwise successful mission. In Nebo Zovyot, Somov dies of radiation bringing fuel to the marooned ship Rodina. In Der Schweigende Stern, the crew of the Capella die when a meteor hits their ship. Later, Chien Lu dies of a torn spacesuit. Talua is left behind to die. In MN, Tanya's love interest, Andrey, nobly gives his life (staying behind on Phobos) so the alien woman may be saved. This brave acceptance of losses is not very Hollywood, but somewhat similar to the Japanese ethos.

Texas on the Volga -- One striking theme amid the visuals is that the Russians, like Texans, like things BIG. Huge statues (matte art) decorate Gagarin Square and the Congress hall. A 5-story jumbotron brings news to the masses. Only the Soviet Union has the space program developed that can mount a rescue mission. Russians think Big.

Weak Delivery -- As a film, MN has a bland and amateur feel. Perhaps the director did not think his audiences could piece together the story from mere dialogue. Instead of letting the characters tell their story, the narrator is constantly interrupting to tell us what is going on. Instead of one cosmonaut saying to the other "Hey, we're low on fuel," the director just has them look at each other with mildly concerned expressions while the narrator blathers on and on about the lack of fuel.

Bottom line? MN may not be easy to find, but a hard core 50s-60s sci-fi fan will be rewarded. The sets and models are well worth it. As a propaganda piece, it is interesting too. For viewers accustomed to action films, the pace will seem slow and talky. Even so, the pace picks up in the last third of the film.

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