This is the second East German science fiction film I’ve seen. The other is First Spaceship on Venus (Der schweigende Stern, 1960). Both were released on DVD a few years ago by First Run Features as part of their DEFA Collection of films made by the studio in Babelsburg, which UFA called home in the Weimar era. First Run released a third science fiction film in this series, Eolomea, which also looks interesting.
In the Dust of the Stars is a bit like an episode of Star Trek. A spaceship arrives on the planet Tem 4 after receiving a radio request for help. However, the people on the planet claim that the radio message was only a test and everything is fine. Something seems fishy about the whole set-up, and it only seems fishier after the crew are invited to a welcome party and have their memories of why they came erased. The one who stayed behind sets out to find out the secret of Tem 4, and then things start to get weird.
The story definitely has a Party-approved theme of the savage exploitation of Third World types who need assistance. One of the interesting aspects of the world-building is that the planet Earth is never mentioned. Tem 4 is a colony of Tem 3, and the spaceship comes from a planet called Cynro. Apparently humanity has spread out among the stars and left the homeworld far behind, but this isn’t discussed at all. Another interesting aspect of the film is that the spaceship commander is a woman, and the crew of the ship actually has twice as many women as men. On the other hand, this feminist ideal is somewhat undermined by a few instance of gratuitous, if tasteful, female nudity.
According to the brief biography of the director, Gottfried Kolditz, included on the DVD, he was best known for his musicals, and the film reflects this background both in its colorful, choreographed visual style and in a couple of actual musical numbers with dancing. In fact, from this distance the costumes the characters wear often look like the glam or disco outfits of the era. Some of this is unintentionally hilarious, but it’s no more egregious on this front than Logan’s Run or Zardoz and Kolditz has an arresting visual style that carries the film through its occasional silliness and longueurs.
There’s no denying that at times it looks like a particularly cheap TV production shot in an old quarry with laughably bad props, and it also feels like something got chopped out of the ending. Suddenly the crew is pissed off because the commander has decided to stay on the planet, and we somehow missed the part where she made that decision. The whole ending is very odd, really. I lost the plot and wasn’t sure what exactly was going on. There’s a lot of running around, there are goofy costumes, there are inexplicable snakes, and there’s a tragic death.
Still and all, it’s worth a look. The Eastern Bloc produced a number of interesting science fiction films — another one I’ve seen is the Czech film Ikarie XB1 (1963) — and the different ideological bent is refreshing, even if it almost always feels didactic. Science fiction is in many ways an inherently didactic form, so perhaps it suffers less from carrying a pot a message than other genres.