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Monday, October 26, 2009

Nebo Zovyot (The Heavens Call)

This Soviet film never made a clean debut in America, simply dubbed into English as so many Japanese sci-fi films had. Perhaps this was because the story had pro-soviet messages and disparaged America. Nonetheless, Nebo Zovyot (NZ) was too grand and impressive to simply ignore. NZ was a "hard" sci-fi on the order of Conquest of Space ('55). Roger Corman bought the American rights to the film. He had it edited, dubbed and some new footage added. The result was his oft-maligned Battle Beyond The Sun. Footage from Nebo Zovyot also showed up in a couple of later 60s American B movies. As such, it seemed fitting to make note of this original, in its own time.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A reporter interviews a Dr. Kornev about his work in space travel. While writing his story, the reporter daydreams about such a future. In the daydream, he and others board a rocket that takes them to an orbiting space station. There, he learns of more techno-wonders, such as the large rocket, the Rodina docked at the station. A short while later, an American rocket, the Typhoon, arrives at the station too. With obvious impartial hospitality, the soviet scientists hold a dinner for the visitors. At the dinner, Kornev announces that the Rodina's will travel to the planet Mars in a few days, The Americans, Clark and Verst are taken aback. The Typhoon was secretly prepared to make the first Mars mission. The reckless American authorities order Clark to take the Typhoon to Mars immediately. In their haste to blast off, they inure Somov, the Rodina's pilot. Gordiienko steps in as the new pilot. He and Kornev take off in Rodina as planned. Not long after departure, things go wrong aboard Typhoon. Their course is off and they don't have enough fuel to correct it. Now they're headed for an asteroid belt and if they survive that, a collision course with the sun. Clark radios the bad news. Kornev decides they can help and fly Rodina to the rescue. Doing so, however, used too much fuel, so Rodina must land on the asteroid Icarus where they all get at least a fine view of Mars. A pilotless refueling rocket is sent to Icarus, but crashes. The men on Icarus despair. Verst awakens to see a fifth man on Icarus. It's Somov. He flew another pilotless refueling rocket to Icarus, but since it wasn't built for being manned, he suffered lethal cosmic radiation and dies. The four are able to blast off and return to a hero's greeting in the Soviet Union. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The models and sets for NZ are impressive for late 1959.

Cold War Angle
Being a Soviet film, the messages are all from the other side. In this case, the Soviets are cast as the reasonable folks. The Americans are the reckless and impetuous ones. Avoiding easy jingoism, NZ suggests brotherhood as enlightened path.

Parallel Conquest -- NZ has much in common with George Pal's The Conquest of Space ('55). Both featured a manned mission to Mars, being launched from a big-wheel space station. Both films were in the "hard" sci-fi sub-genre. Both had their missions go awry such that pluck and daring were needed to save the day. Both featured elaborate enough models and props that later low-budget films would recycle them.

Models With Mileage -- The miniatures and model work in NZ were elaborate and well done. B-movie producers were already comfortable with recycling models and effects footage from prior films into their new ones. The lift off of the XM-1 showed up in several films. The rocket from Mission to Mars was reused several times too. The rocket interior set from Catwomen of the Moon was in at least three films. With recycling in mind, Roger Corman could see the gold mine of footage in NZ. Since American audiences had not seen the original, it would look fresh.

Children of Nebo -- Corman's more lavish re-use of NZ footage was his Battle Beyond The Sun ('63). That was not the end of it, however. Footage will also be mashed into Women of the Prehistoric Planet ('68) along with footage from Planeta Bur, another russian sci-fi epic.

Bottom line? Nebo Zovyot is not easy to come across. There doesn't appear to be a version with English subtitles either. Even without the dialogue, story is fairly easy to follow. The visuals are worth the effort.


kurtwil said...

Thanks for the info on Nebo Zovyot.

Unfortunately BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN does little to showcase Nebo Zovyot. For whatever reason, R. Corman ended up with an unbelievably badly edited film with little sense of continuity for the space shots. The faded, blurry public domain prints don't help either.

Is there actually a way to see Nebo Zovyot intact, even if it does not have English subtitles or dubbing?
Has anyone attempted to restore the movie, or is it destined for the historical dumpster?


Nightowl said...

I agree that the Corman mash-up makes a poor reflection of the original. He did use a great deal of the original footage. The new footage with the monsters is mercifully short. Yet, w/o the underlying political tones (decadent, reckless westerners and heroic, selfless soviets), the original plot does come across kind of flat.

As for viewing Nebo Zovyot, I found a copy (digital rip) online someplace. It was in Russian, but I knew the story well enough to follow it and enjoy the visuals.

There was, however, that odd dream-vision scene on Icarus that I wish I had a few words of narration to explain. Corman cut that out, and put in his monsters.

Anonymous said...

Hello Nightowl,, can you direct me to the same website you mentioned,where I might download my own copy of Nebo Zovyot?

Anonymous said...

I found a dvd of this with english subtitles on ebay. This is a great hard sci fi movie one of many Communist block films screened by Stanley cubrik before making 2001. The battle beyond the sun version has been dumbed down for usa consumption. It is also an interesting pice of social history showing how the soviet union wanted to be perceived and how it portrayed the Usa. Great fun from many perspectives.