ANDROMEDA NEBULA (1967) – This movie was adapted from the 1957 novel Andromeda: A Space Age Tale by Ivan Yefremov. Unusual for sci-fi writers in the Soviet Union under Stalin, Yefremov courageously defied some of the political limitations that the blood-soaked dictator and his regime placed on fiction. Ivan is credited for, among other things, breaking free of the Soviet policy that limited futuristic tales to just a few years in the future. He continued that trailblazing in his works after Stalin died.
And that brings us back to Andromeda Nebula. The story is set over a millenium in the future, when an Age of World Unification (under a Soviet system, of course) was followed by the establishment of the Ring aka the Great Circle. The Ring is a loosely affiliated assortment of planets who exchange scientific and cultural information and try to facilitate each other’s efforts to colonize space.
In the universe of Andromeda Nebula, faster than light travel does not yet exist, so communication between planets takes between decades and centuries. This imposes certain limits that similar fictional planetary alliances don’t have to deal with, and the movie focuses on the dramas that could unfold within those confines.
A big part of those dramas centers around the way that the spaceship crews and their friends and loved ones back on Earth must accept the fact that they will be separated for decades due to the time it takes to reach distant star systems and return from them. Andromeda Nebula deals with the romantic angle in particular.
This film is notorious for the way the various subtitled versions of it that are available make little sense, imposing a Bad Movie reputation on the production. It’s not clear if the incoherence is caused by errors in translation or the trimming of 8 minutes from the film’s original 77 minute run time.
THE STORY (includes spoilers):
The Earth spaceship Tantra was sent to investigate what caused the abrupt loss of communication from one of the member planets of the Ring/ Great Circle. The crew learned that an accident during that alien world’s radiation experiments wiped out nearly all life on the planet.
The Tantra is now on its way back to Earth, where Dar Veter, the retiring Director of many Cosmonautical Council projects, has been having an affair with Vita/ Veda Kong, the archeologist wife of the Tantra‘s Captain Erg Noor. For my fellow fans of bad movies, I’ll point out that Dar Veter is played by Sergei Stolyarov of Sadko fame.
While his gorgeous, much younger wife has been oinking and boinking with Dar Veter back on Earth, Erg Noor himself has been nobly resisting the attraction between himself and the gorgeous, much younger navigator, Niza Krit. Complications arise when the Tantra and the refueling vessel sent out to meet it fail to rendezvous, since even tiny errors in calculations can have enormous consequences in the vastness of space.
Even worse, while looking for the refueling vessel, the Tantra has become trapped in the extraordinary gravitational pull of a compact star, called an iron star back when this movie was made. Lacking sufficient fuel to escape the “iron star’s” gravity, Captain Noor decides to send out a distress message while settling in orbit around one of the two planets in the iron star’s system.
Tragically, given how much time it will take for the distress message to reach Earth and have a rescue mission sent, Noor tells his crew to resign themselves to a 20 year wait. Nothing is said about lacking enough food or water for such a situation, but the poor translation may have omitted crucial information regarding that.
Most of the crew stoically accept their plight and settle in to enjoy the many conveniences of their huge spaceship home, but one prickish young man gloats that he’ll “only be 50 years old” at the end of those 20 years, so he rubs it in to the older crew members, including Erg Noor. Navigator Niza Krit intensifies her moves on Captain Noor given this new development, but he insists on physical fidelity to his wife back on Earth.
At length, when the Tantra fails to make its scheduled arrival at one of Earth’s outer stations, this alarming information is eventually relayed to the families of the Tantra’s crew. Captain Noor’s wife Vita/ Veda, who still loves her husband, is upset, and this causes many soul-searching conversations between her and her lover Dar Veter, whom she has had assigned to her latest archeological dig as her subordinate.
One of Dar’s colleagues, a scientist named Mven Mass, is so tired of the tragedies inflicted by the time needed to traverse the vast distances of space that he returns to his abandoned work toward “compressing time” for space travel, which I guess means some kind of warp speed.
Bad things have happened with previous experiments in faster than light travel, and Mven Mass is taking a risk by kick-starting such research.
As for the Tantra crew, they pick up a distress call coming from the planet they have chosen to orbit while awaiting rescue. Erg Noor has the spaceship land on the planet to investigate the source of that call. He and some of his crew suit up and set off in a huge, impressively rendered vehicle designed for planetary exploration.
Our explorers encounter two wrecked spaceships – one from a non-humanoid alien race and one from Earth. The alien vessel has, from what our heroes can determine, been there a few thousand years. The Terran vessel is a craft that was lost 15 years earlier when it became separated from an exploratory fleet.
All that remains of that spaceship’s crew is a handful of slimy, oily humanoid outlines on the walls of the spacecraft. A recording indicates that the crew were slaughtered while transmitting an SOS. Soon, the away team from the Tantra encounters what killed the other crew – a rolling, roiling black smoke monster (insert your own Lost joke here).
Actually, this amorphous menace works better visually than a cheap monster would, and helps maintain an air of tension. Somehow, the being or beings can eventually slither into the space suits of the Tantra team, killing them by devouring them from within, leaving their suits flat and filled with black goo.
Captain Noor and the rest of the away team extract all the fuel tanks from the wrecked Earth ship and retreat back to the Tantra, where they learn they can keep the smoke monster(s) at bay with bright lights. Rather than just use the salvaged fuel tanks to refuel and leave for Earth, Erg Noor foolishly decides to postpone liftoff so that he and his crew can kill the smoke creature(s) to prevent any other Earthlings or aliens being preyed upon.
Erg orders his would-be romantic partner Niza Krit to stay behind this time as he and others go forth to take on the smoke menace. She talks a female member of this second away team into switching places with her and goes along anyway. In the resulting clash, Niza is one of the away team members who get killed, and Captain Noor, filled with remorse and self-recriminations, momentarily drives off the smoke menace with his hand-held laser cannon, then orders a retreat.
Realizing what a bad decision he made (there were plenty of options like simply making the iron star system a forbidden zone), Erg Noor relents and orders an immediate liftoff to return to Earth. On the journey back, Captain Noor is so driven to distraction by the loss of Niza that the Tantra‘s female psychological officer wants him to undergo a mental treatment that will eliminate his emotional pain.
In a Captain Kirk style “I NEED my pain” moment, Erg refuses to go through with the treatment, stating that pain is part of what makes us grow, etc. He wants to keep all the memories of this lost woman who could have been his love, no matter how painful they may be.
Back on Earth, word is eventually received from the Cosmonautical Council station on Neptune’s moon Triton that the Tantra has resurfaced and will reach Earth in 6 months. Captain Noor’s wife Vita/ Veda is thrilled with the news, and she and Dar Veter, who is genuinely glad for her, amicably end their affair and part ways.
The scientist Mven Mass, meanwhile, has indeed gotten into trouble for once again failing to master faster than light travel/ warp speed. He has been demoted, along with his superiors, leaving open the position that Dar Veter stepped down from at the beginning of the film.
Dar Veter is ordered to once again fill that post in spite of his desire not to. After all, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, as the old movie title goes, and the State does not believe in people being allowed to choose their own pursuits.
Overall, Andromeda Nebula is VERY impressive to look at, but the opaque storyline, no matter what the cause, mars the production as a whole. The scenes on the deadly planet have a nice proto-Alien feel to them, however, and I found myself rooting for the film to pull it all together.
An interesting – albeit odd – portion from earlier in the movie involved Satellite 57, a friendly station run by a humanoid alien race. That satellite shares with the Tantra crew, via their wall-length video screen, footage received from a dying race of women.
That footage consists entirely of the women dancing in silhouette accompanied by a message about their loneliness and their imminent extinction since they have no more men to mate with. Satellite 57 personnel confirm that the message was sent 300 years ago and just reached them now, so the alien race who broadcast the video is likely all dead already.
Andromeda Nebula was intended to be the first film in a series, and author Ivan Yefremov went on to write a short story and another novel set in the same continuity. For assorted reasons, some of them political, the rest of the series was never made, leaving this movie standing alone.
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