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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Battle Beyond The Sun

American International Pictures bought the rights to the 1959 Soviet film Nebo Zovyot ('59). They had Roger Corman isn't mentioned in the credits, but is said to have acted as a producer. Francis Ford Coppela is billed as the associate producer. They edited down the original, keeping the basic story line, but expunging the more blatantly soviet elements. Aside from the necessary dubbing into english, they grafted in a brief bit of new footage of two monsters fighting. From the poster, you can see that they promoted Battle Beyond the Sun (BBS) as a monsters movie. The result was a B film that had some impressive scenes and models (from the original), though little of what the poster promised. BBS has a very 50s feel for 1962 audiences.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Read the plot synopsis for Nebo Zovot for the basic story. Briefly, in 1997, the space program of South Hemis has been preparing their rocket "Mercury" for a mission to Mars. A rival team from North Hemis launches theirs, "Typhoon", first. It wasn't well prepared and soon has navigation trouble. They're being drawn into the sun and have no fuel left to escape. The Mercury changes course and rescues them. The rescue uses up Mercury's fuel, so they have to land on an asteroid. An unmanned fuel ship is sent from earth, but it crashes. A second, manned, fuel ship is sent. It succeeds, but the pilot is mortally wounded by the monsters. The four return safely to earth for a heroes' welcome.

Why is this movie fun?
The original had many great 50s rocket and space station models and sets. Much of this remains. Even if becoming a bit dated by 1962, they're still great eye candy for the 50s sci-fi fan.

Cold War Angle
Some of the original film's moral message survives. Impetuous "races" to be first and one-upsmanship cause trouble. The tensions between the USSR and America get recast as rivalry between North Hemis and South Hemis. The hopeful note of reconciliation remains.

Cuttings -- Notably absent from the original are the reporter's initial dream sequence (the handy fictional too), and much of the early character development. Some of the closing human interest scenes logically removed too. There are the expected shifting nationalities of the characters. The American reporter Verst becomes the North Hemis captain Tawrence. The montage of western decadence, celebrating the Typhoon launching first, is missing. Most signs of soviet identity are cut (no proudly waving soviet flags) or hidden, but the red star on the fin of the rockets is often still visible. The trouble is caused by one man's reckless ambition (Tawrence), and not a nation's (as in the original) The closing monologue was left out.

Miscellaneous Monsters -- The ticket selling power of "hard" sci-fi had faded for American audiences by the mid-50s. A.I.P. must have assumed that a simple english-dubbed edit of Nebo Zovyot would not have sufficient appeal. Two monsters were created -- supposedly to resemble genitalia of both genders. These two oddities fight each other on the asteroid. Their inclusion was not necessary for the story line. All they really do is provide a different way for "Paul" to die. In the original, he dies from an unexciting overdose of radiation from piloting the unshielded fuel ship. Radiation death was not enough. Audiences wanted monsters, so Corman & Coppella pander up a couple gratuitous monsters.

Natural Non Sequitur -- Not only are the two monsters unnecessary for the plot, they exist in a vacuum -- literally. There was no atmosphere on the asteroid. How did they handle that? Further, for naturalists in the audience, how did survive there? Such giant mega-fauna require a vast food chain of lower life forms.

Naughty Nationalism -- Popular in the late 50s, was the notion that Cold War tensions could be blamed on nationalism. If only people could see beyond national boundaries and become one people, etc. etc. In BBS the post-war world is divided into two super-nations: North Hemis and South Hemis. Yet, like Orwell's 3-state world in 1984 the dissolving of many smaller nations into a few larger ones did not bring peace.

Identity Issues -- The english dubbing clearly recasts the Soviet team as South Hemis. The Americans (renamed Captain Tawrence and Dr. Martin) as recast as from North Hemis. This is a little contrary to American custom, as North Hemis included north america, northern europe, and northern asia. The rest is South Hemis. Yet, the supposedly South Hemis ship, the Mercury, has a North Hemis insignia superimposed on it to cover up the original film's "Rodina • CCCP" Who was supposed to be who? At a certain level. It doesn't matter.

Bottom line? For fans of "hard" sci-fi, there is plenty of serious space tech to enjoy. The original film may be too hard to find. Since the A.I.P version keeps the plot reasonably intact, this may not be necessary. Fans of alien space monster movies will likely be bored into a rage, as they'd have to wait through three quarters of the film to get two minutes of monster fight. Yet, BBS has a nice 50s flavor to it.

1 comment:

Len E. Burge III said...

New score for Battle Beyond the Sun...