A pair of space oddities from East Germany’s DEFA studio land on the shelves this week, and, together, they bring into focus the other space race — the one to represent the universe’s outer limits in ever more dazzling displays of special-effects technology and moviemaking craft. The Soviets may have got the jump on us with Sputnik, but Kurt Maetzig’s The Silent Star (1960), based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote Solaris), leans heavily on MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956) for the design of its crusty planetary landscapes and fantastic alien technology, as well as its electronic musical score. Still, the communists could be magnanimous: After discovering a strange artifact in the Gobi Desert, East German scientists allow an American physicist to bum a ride to Venus on their Soviet-built rocket, whose entire crew is remarkably multinational and multiethnic. As a dashing East German cosmonaut puts it, “We are not only internationalists in politics.” The dialogue throughout proves as stiff and campy as in the movie’s jargon-laden Hollywood counterpart. Venus itself is all mist, colored lights and lava-lamp superimpositions until the smoke clears to reveal one of the most bizarre and bewildering visions of an alien structure ever filmed. For its part, Herman Zschoche’s Eolomea (1972) seems like a step back. Its sets and miniatures could have been recycled from Thunderbirds, while its story struggles for (but never achieves) the conceptual gravity of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, released the same year. Still, director Zschoche does his best, chopping up the story of a deep-space explorer’s obsession with a distant mysterious star with psychedelic flashes of slit-scan images (à la 2001) and liquid light projections.
Other recommended new releases: Boudu: Saved From Drowning (DVD); The Films of Charles & Ray Eames, Vols. 1-6 (DVD); The Flowers of St. Francis (DVD); The Killing of Sister George (DVD). VHS-DVD: The Adventures of Ociee Nash, The Ring Two, The Roach Approach. DVD: After Sex; Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World; Battlefield Britain; Bliss; Boobah: Big Windows; Boy Meets World: Season Three; Caillou: Caillou’s Family Fun; Clear the Skies; Codename: Kids Next Door (File 2/Vol. 2); Cybercase: Ecohaven CSE; Disney’s Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure; Emergency: Season 1; Four Friends; Futurama: Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection; Gladiator, Extended Edition; Hara Kiri (Seppuku); Homeland Security; Home of the Brave; Hood of the Living Dead; Hot Wheels Acceleracers, Vol. 2: The Speed of Silence; I Love You, Don’t Touch Me; Kung Fu: The Complete Third Season; Lackawanna Blues; Life as We Know It: The Complete Series; A Lot Like Love; New Jack City: Special Edition; O.C.: The Complete Second Season; One Adam 12: Season 1; Party Nerds Toga Bash: Assault of the Party Nerds, Heavy Petting Detective; Red Tent; La Petite Lili; Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom; Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season; The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition; The Truman Show: Special Collector’s Edition; Vincent & Theo; Without You I’m Nothing; Witness: Special Collector’s Edition; A World Apart.