TRIP TO MARS, A (Holger-Madsen, 1918, Denmark, 97m, BW)
aka Himmelskibet (1918)
aka Astronave, L' (1918)
aka Ship to Heaven, A (1918)
aka Airship, The (1918)
aka Sky Ship (1918)
aka 400 Million Miles from Earth (1918)
aka Das Himmelsschiff (1918)
aka Trip to Mars, A (1918)
aka Fourteen Million Leagues from Earth (1918)
aka Himmelskibet (1918)
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Writers: Sophus Michaëlis (novel), Sophus Michaëlis (screenplay)
Stars: Gunnar Tolnæs, Zanny Petersen, Nicolai Neiiendam
Himmelskibet, Excelsior / A Trip to Mars / Das Himmelschiff is a 1918 Danish film about a trip to Mars. In 2006, the film was restored and re-released on DVD by the Danish Film Institute. Phil Hardy says it is "the film that marked the beginning of the space opera subgenre of science fiction," but notes that Denmark did not make another science fiction film until Reptilicus in 1962.
A group of the researchers from the Earth in a spaceship traveling to Mars, where, to big surprise, finds a peaceful vegetarian and pacifist civilization.
A pilot dreams of flying to Mars, and with the help of a professor, manages to build an airship capable of taking them to that planet. He gathers together a crew, and reaches Mars, which is populated by a utopian society.
The movie is good, but not great. It's certainly ambitious enough; there's a huge cast of extras in both the Earth and Mars scenes. The story itself is a little too familiar; it's your basic "adventure-into-Utopia" story. But there's a basic problem with Utopia stories; once you get to the Utopia, you end up almost entirely with scenes of people being really nice to each other, and that really doesn't make for an exciting story. It's no surprise under these circumstances that the most interesting character is the villain (who stays on Earth), the aptly named Professor Dubious, whose mocking of the whole project starts out as funny, but takes some nasty turns towards the end.
Still, it's nice to have at least one more science fiction outing from the decade of the 1910s; the only other full length non-horror science fiction movie that I've seen from the era is 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and I think this one is more interesting. It's probably the most important science fiction movie between A TRIP TO THE MOON and AELITA; it's certainly the best extant one. The actors' performances are laughable, largely hand-to-brow histrionics. But the sets are astonishing, easily surpassing anything done by Georges Melies a decade earlier (or in "Die Frau im Mond" a decade later). Of course, the plot is simplistic. The spaceship's crew consist of seven thin guys and one fat slob. Guess which one cracks. Interestingly, everyone in this movie (except the dubious Professor Dubius) ardently believes in God. Even the Martians.
Impressively, the scenarists have the sense to acknowledge that a trip to Mars is no doddle: the title cards establish that it takes the scientists two years to build their spaceship (which has an airscrew) and six months to reach Mars. During the construction sequence, there's one extremely impressive set-up which must have been choreographed: dozens of workers all hustle through the worksite in different directions, with no hesitations and no collisions. The Danish scientists christen their ship "Excelsior" ("packing materials"?) and set course for Mars, even though the Moon and Venus are closer. When the ship (which flies horizontally, not vertically) lands on Mars, it is greeted by "Marsboerne" -- Martians -- who turn out to be Nordic blondes, all highly-developed pacifists and vegetarians. (As a highly-developed meat-eater, I resented that part.)
Conveniently enough, Mars turns out to have an atmosphere just like Earth's, as well as equal gravity. In an exterior shot of the Martian landscape, the Sun's apparent magnitude when seen from Mars is the same as it is when viewed from Earth. I also couldn't help observing that all the wise elder Martians are male. In fact, female elders are thin on the ground here: both the Earth-born hero and the Martian maiden are motherless. The Martians speak a universal language, wear ankhs on their robes, and greet the Earth visitors with a globe of Earth ... which of course they hold with its North Pole upward.
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