aka Planeta Burg; Planet of Storms; Planet of Tempests; Storm Planet
D: Pavel Klushantsev / 78m
Cast: Vladimir Yevelyanov, Georgi Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov, Yuriy Sarantsev, Georgiy Teykh, Kyunna Ignatova
Three spaceships from the Soviet Union – Vega, Sirius and Capella – are approaching Venus when one of them, Capella, is struck by a meteorite and destroyed. The mission requires two of the ships to land on Venus while the remaining ship stays in orbit. But Capella’s replacement, Arcturus, will take four months to reach Venus, a situation the cosmonauts on board Sirius – Ilya (Yemelyanov), Aleksey (Zhzhyonov) and Roman (Vernov) – find unacceptable. They hatch a plan to land on Venus using a glider and one of the ships, but it means someone having to stay in orbit and monitor their progress on the planet. This falls to Masha (Ignatova), a Vega crew member. In the end, it’s her fellow crew members, Scherba (Sarantsev) and Dr Kern (Teykh), along with Kern’s robot John, who make the trip in the glider. However, when they land, all communication with them is lost.
The Sirius crew land in their ship to look for them. They encounter a strange, rocky environment that is perpetually shrouded in mist. They identify their colleagues’ location and set out in a hover car to find them, but not before Aleksey is almost killed by a carnivorous plant-like creature. Realising that Venus holds more dangers than they’d expected, they proceed with caution. Meanwhile, Scherba and Kern have encountered another danger, lizard-like creatures that walk upright. Fighting them off they soon find another problem: with their spacesuits torn in places, they’ve become susceptible to the air on Venus and are getting sick. They hole up in a cave and wait for their colleagues to find them.
Locking onto their position, Ilya, Aleksey and Roman find themselves under attack, this time from a creature resembling a pterodactyl (they’ve already encountered what appears to be a brontosaurus). Their hover car is damaged and ends up at the bottom of a lake. With communication lost with everyone on the surface, Masha has to decide whether or not she should mount her own rescue mission or wait for Arcturus to arrive. With time running out, the hover car is rescued from the lake and Ilya and his two colleagues get closer to finding their comrades. But not before Scherba, Kern and John have to deal with the lava flow from a nearby volcano. And all the while an ethereal female voice can be heard both in the distance and incredibly close by…
Viewed now, over fifty years on, Planeta bur is less of a curio than you might expect. While it’s not very prescient in terms of future science, and retains a quaint approach to some of its technology – Masha records her thoughts about making her rescue mission on a reel-to-reel tape recorder – there’s more than enough going on to keep the viewer interested, even if there are some unfortunately comic moments.
The trick is to put aside what we know now about Venus, and just go with the flow. After a stodgy opening period where the characters are introduced and the dilemma of landing on Venus is discussed and then decided on, the meat of the movie is introduced and we get to see the rugged, inhospitable landscape that represents the planet’s surface, as well as some very unpleasant inhabitants. It’s like a science fiction movie crossed with a disaster epic, as the cosmonauts encounter danger after danger, from man-eating plants to mini-Godzilla-like creatures to sudden volcanic eruptions. And though the pace is unhurried, there’s still enough tension built up between the various scenes of peril to keep the viewer interested and engaged.
In between these scenes there’s also time for the characters to wax philosophical about the origins of life on Venus and Earth – maybe we’re all descended from Martians – and the importance of the mission to the people back home in the Soviet Union (there’s even a short sequence where Masha envisions a parade with appropriately cheering masses in attendance). These interludes add a layer of intellectual gravitas to what is essentially an adventure, and is matched by the serious, intense nature of the cast and their performances. Yemelyanov looks like he’s lost the ability to smile, while Zhzhyonov’s eagerness to land on Venus makes him appear reckless. As the sole female on the mission, Ignatova looks concerned, worried and fearful throughout, and Teykh goes the opposite way ands affects a disinterested, unemotional stance that befits his reserved character.
The special effects employed range from the casually simple, such as the space suits, to the impressively clever, such as the hover car (which really looks like it’s floating a good foot off the ground). The locations, though feeling restricted, are used to very good effect, and there’s an otherworldly feel to them that adds a level of eeriness to proceedings. Klushantsev orchestrates the various alien encounters without overdoing it in terms of increasing the pace or making it look as if the cosmonauts are in any real danger, but their encounters are effective enough and shot with a good deal of style (if a little restrained at the same time). While some of the creatures remind the viewer of the budgetary constraints, again there’s a quaintness to it all that makes up for any shortcomings.
Concluding with a couple of revolutionary sounding songs extolling the virtues of both Earth and Venus, the movie has a satisfactory ending that hints at a possible sequel (but which sadly never happened). What did sadly happen is that American International Pictures got hold of the movie and re-edited it twice to make two vastly inferior “new” versions: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965), with Basil Rathbone added to the mix, and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968), directed by Peter Bogdanovich and with Mamie Van Doren added instead. Neither movie has much to recommend it, and should be avoided at all costs.
Rating: 7/10 – a little clunky in places, but thankfully free of too much ideology or Soviet propaganda, Planeta bur is a serious sci-fi movie that has much to say about the idea of space exploration; entertaining throughout, and as an entry movie into the career of the under-appreciated Klushantsev, definitely a good place to start.
Trailer: Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a trailer for Planeta bur available.