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Entry updated 19 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Danish film (1918; vt A Trip to Mars; vt A Ship to Heaven; vt 400 Million Miles from Earth). Nordisk Films. Directed by Holger-Madsen. Written by Sophus Michaelis and Ole Olsen, based on a novel of the same title by Michaelis. Cast includes Philip Bech, Alf Blutecher, Frederik Jacobsen, Lilly Jacobson, Svend Kornbech, Nicolai Neiiendam, Zanny Petersen and Gunnar Tolnaes. 81 minutes. Black and white.

Seeking a new challenge, sea captain Avanti Planetaros (Tolnaes) resolves to work with friend Dr Krafft (Blutecher) to build a Spaceship and fly to Mars with the support of his astronomer father (Neiiendam), though his father's friend, Professor Dubius (Jacobsen), bitterly criticizes the project. Recruiting an international crew, they take off for Mars in a ship resembling a bulky airplane. Six months later, a crew maddened by confinement within the spaceship and the "endless night of space" is ready to mutiny, led by the drunken American David Dane (Kornbech), but Martian astronomers spot the craft and use their advanced science to bring it to Mars at an accelerated rate. As they enter Mars's atmosphere, crew members briefly don special suits to provide oxygen, but discard them upon realizing that they can breathe the Martian air. On Mars, the men discover a peaceful, Utopian civilization led by a wise man (Bech) and his beautiful daughter Marya (Jacobson). There is brief discord when Avanti offers the vegetarian Martians wine and canned meat; he shoots a bird to demonstrate how they obtain dead meat, and another man panics and throws a grenade; however, when the Earthmen are brought to the "house of judgement" to contemplate their sins, they resolve to "never more kill living creatures" and "never more use weapons". After months of idyllic life on Mars, the reformed adventurers return to Earth along with Marya, who has fallen in love with Avanti; as they approach Earth during a storm, a still-angry Dubius gestures angrily at their ship and is struck by lightning before the ship lands and they receive a hero's welcome.

Today, much about this recently-rediscovered film seems quaint, such as a spaceship that takes off like an airplane and an earthlike Mars inhabited by stately humans wearing long white robes; but this is also the first film to acknowledge that a trip to Mars would require several months of travel in cramped quarters, likely leading to psychological problems, here manifested as alcoholism and rebelliousness. To this day, these are issues that other films about Martian expeditions tend to ignore. Also, while the black, rubbery bodysuits that the space travellers put on seem too flimsy to withstand the vacuum of space, they do qualify as the first spacesuits observed in a film, making this the first Spacesuit Film, and the first film to at least suggest that conditions on other planets might require special protection. Still, it is clear that Danish director Holger-Madsen's major priority in crafting this film was not to depict a realistic space flight, but to convey a pacifist message at a time when World War I continued to afflict Europe. [GW]


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