“We will never more kill living creatures and we will never more use weapons!”
When did alien worlds start being more of a threat than a promise? It says much about the times that this film’s Martians are an evolved civilization who want to help bring peace on Earth… so think again Gustav Holst.
Released in early 1918, Himmelskibet (literally Heaven-Ship but more often referred to as A Trip to Mars) was a plea for patience (and it is quite slow-paced) and pacifism at a time when the ending of the Great War was still some way off with both sides still in with a chance of victory (with or without the USA) and therefore still murderously competitive.
It is the most deliberate of allegories with this much being obvious from the names of the main characters; Professor Planetaros (Nicolai Neiiendam), the astronomer who believes and his counterpart Professor Dubius (Frederik Jacobsen) who not only does not have faith he actively tries to destroy it in others.
Planetaros believes that there is life on Mars and enlists the help of his son, ocean adventurer Avanti (Gunnar Tolnæs) and his friend Dr. Krafft (Alf Blutecher) who is also in love with Avanti’s sister Corona (Zanny Petersen, who’s eyes are so electric blue they translate in monochrome as sheer white).
|Alf Blutecher, Zanny Petersen and Gunnar Tolnæs|
They gather together an international team including an American lug called David Dane (Svend Kornbeck) who has a weakness for liquor (what were they trying to infer?!)… there may be trouble ahead.
|Planetaros and Dubious|
Taking what they knew the director Holger-Madsen and screenwriter, Sophus Michaelis, were breaking some new ground…certainly in trying to create a serious science film with a message.
Nothing dates in culture more than the view of the future and whilst there’s a period charm in the mix of old-new and old what the film achieves in conveying the wonder of connection with an alien culture undures: that aspect of science fantasy does not change and still drives the genre onwards.
|State of the art...|
|Life on Mars|
|Don't worry, Nils will be alright|
They offer the Earthers food, which is naturally vegetarian and when they reciprocate by shooting down a bird to show them the pleasures of fried poultry, the Martians are shocked. One thing leads to another and a young Martian (a very young Nils Asther) is almost killed as the men are briefly imprisoned.
The leader’s daughter takes up their cause and soon is making sweet music with Avanti… after wearing the Cloak of Mercy which allows them to judge themselves as innocent even though they did fire the first shots on Mars for millennia and threw a grenade at the advancing Martian crowd.
|Marya wearing the garb of mercy...|
Again the film scores with the wonder stuff, as Martian techniques relying on self-revelation and inner truth reveal that Avanti has fallen in love with the merciful Marya. There’s a beautifully lit Dance of Chastity which pretty much does the job for Avanti – these Martians can move.
|The Dance of Chastity|
But still… the Professor is very ill and it is a long way back from the Red Planet…
|“On Mars, everything is pure and innocent but on Earth…”|
The acting is less Asta Nielsen and more Astral Traveller with large sweeps of intrepid arms, vexed hands held to brows and bitter fists punched in professorial futility at the heavens.
It is very earnest but then that was important at a time when the truly incredible was very much earthbound in the everyday muddy hell of Western Europe.
|“Do not fear death, it is just the beginning of a superior life!”|