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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson created a sci-fi without marionettes in 1969. Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (JFSS), known in the UK as "Doppelganger", was the Anderson's first foray into live actors for a film. The movie used some of the techniques and style the Andersons had refined in their earlier "Supermarionation" productions. The story is of the Twilight Zone, paranormal mindset. The American production's poster conceded that manned missions to other bodies just a few months earlier, and were no longer science fiction. The tag line read, "Man has conquered the moon with the epic Apollo 11 flight! Now take another momentous journey!" The space module on the poster was more Apollo than Anderson.

  Quick Plot Synopsis
Eurosec (European Space Exploration Council) has some its secret documents photographed by a spy. The scheme is discovered and the spy killed, but Eurosec director Jason Webb decides to accelerate his secret project before "they" try one first. Sun Probe One encountered some odd gravitational pulls while exploring the sun. It burned up, but not before photographing a planet on the direct opposite side of the sun, in an exact duplicate earth orbit, so it's never been discovered. Eurosec plans a manned mission. American ace astronaut Glen Ross is chosen to pilot. Scientist John Kane will do the research on the mystery planet. Some side stories fill time. Glen and his wife Sharon have a rocky marriage. John has never been through space training. When finally ready, the two take off. Shortly after setting course, they go into hibernation. Three weeks later, they awaken with beards. The mystery planet is straight ahead. It has an oxygen atmosphere, but no signs of life. They go down in the "Lift Body" shuttle-like craft. They fly through a storm which upsets the aircraft. Glen regains some control, but not enough. They clip a mountain peak and crash in a harsh rocky landscape. John is thrown clear. He returns and pulls Glenn from the burning wreck. A bright light appears, and an odd figure takes John up. He and John (now unconscious) are aboard an Air Sea Rescue craft. They're taken to Eurosec. Glenn is repeatedly questioned why he aborted the mission and returned. He insists he did not. Things aren't quite right for Glenn. Things in his house are reversed. Writing is reversed. He can read it in a mirror. His theory is that he did not turn back, but landed on the CounterEarth which is an exact duplicate of Earth, only with things reversed. CounterJason agrees. The only proof would be Glenn's orbiting command module (built on Earth). CounterJason agrees to let Glenn fly their LiftBody up to it for its flight-data-recorder. They rig up the LiftBody to have reversed controls and reversed electrical polarity, etc. Glen flies up int orbit. He docks with the Phoenix, but the electrical polarity was not reversed. Sparks. This shorts out Glenn's systems and the Phoenix, which plummets to a fiery death. The LiftBody returns on auto control from Eurosec, but badly. Glenn cannot change course. The LiftBody crashes into the rocket hangar, causing massive explosions which destroy everything and kill everyone, except CounterJason. Fast forward. Old CounterJason is in a convalescent home. He is the only one left who knows there is a duplicate earth out there. While left unattended, he sees his reflection in the hall mirror and rushes his wheelchair towards it. He crashes into the mirror. Fade to black. The end.

  Why is this movie fun?
The model work is a treat for those who enjoy sci-fi miniatures. The plot near the end is a well-told mystery story. Fans of catastrophic explosions will like the ending too.

  Cold War Angle
The only hint of the Cold War is the vague reference to "them" whom Dr. Hassler was presumed to be spying for. Beyond that, JFSS is more pure space-flight drama and Twilight Zone mystic tale.

Thunderbirds Are Grown -- Anyone familiar with The Thunderbirds (TV show and movies) cannot help but recognize the Anderson style in the model work. This is no coincidence, of course, as Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were the writers and producers. As well, many folks on the JFSS production team were on the prior teams too. The jetliner whose passenger compartment detaches from the wings, and rolls up to the terminal, is classic Thunderbirds stuff. In their earlier productions, aimed at the children's market, such as Supercar and Fireball XL5, etc. the actors were marionettes. But, the real "star" in those productions was the cool vehicle(s). The story and the action were simply situations for the amazing machines to be amazing. In JFSS, the models, sets and machines are still a strong focus, but they're not the star. They play a supporting role to the almost paranormal story line. The Andersons' focus was maturing.

  Doubles of Doom -- The UK title: "Doppelgänger" (German: double-goer) is the fairly modern word for the rather ancient notion that every person has a duplicate of themselves somewhere in the world. In most mythologies, the double is either of the "evil twin" motif, or a harbinger of doom. To see one's doppelganger foretold one's death. Like matter and anti-matter, the two could not co-exist in the same place. The Andersons worked this doom quality into their story. People attempting to reach their counterparts resulted in massive death and destruction. Even the final scene, old-Jason crashes into his reflection and is presumed killed.

  Life On Rails -- An intriguing tidbit underlying the Anderson's story, is that everything that takes place on Earth is exactly duplicated on CounterEarth, though in many cases reversed left-for-right. Every decision, every action, has its exactly matching counterpart. When Glenn and John traveled from Earth to CounterEarth, their doubles, CounterGlenn and CounterJohn were traveling to Earth. If Glenn was accused of turning back, CounterGlenn would have been too. This mind-bogglingly rigid determinism goes far beyond the most hyper of hyper-calvinists. Nothing any of them does, is really a free choice. When John and Glenn decide to land on the mystery planet (CounterEarth), it only appeared to be a choice. Their doubles were doing the exact same thing. The huge explosions and loss of life in the end, were not some tragic accident, but HAD to be -- on both planets.

  The Future is Us! -- Of some amusement for 21st century viewers is how the future of 2069 was imagined (in 1969) to be 1969 technology (and fashion) ramped up a bit. Herbert Lom's eye-camera was cool, but note how he still had to process the "film" in three chemical baths. Computers were still room-sized banks of magnetic tape reels, switches and blinking lights. Underlings tore off paper "readouts" for the operator to read. Rockets were essentially suped-up Saturn Vs. Even women's hair and fashion (wild colored ultra-short mini-dresses) was very much in vogue for the late 1960s (but not much beyond). It's kind of funny how the future is so often imagined as being whatever we have now, just goosed up a bit, as if we are (whenever WE are) is the pinnacle of human achievement.

  Cars of the Future JFSS's "cars of the future" played a very minor role, but were well done props built on a Ford Zodiac chassis. (Note the stock Zodiac wheel covers). They were modeled on the style of concept cars of the late 60s, such as the Astro-Vette or the Bertone Alfa Romeo Carabo which was heralded as the "car of the future" at the 1968 Paris Auto Show. The JFSS future-cars were modified somewhat and used (again) in the Anderson's 1970 TV series "UFO".

 Bottom line? JFSS is an interesting enough concept and story. It drags a bit in the middle, with prolonged focus on the marvels of space flight (and training). The last third of the run time moves along quickly and has plenty of action. The model work is well done and adds visual appeal.

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