Challenge Week 48: Aelita: Queen of Mars

A silent Soviet science fiction flick? Sign me up for that! Actually, I’ve heard of Aelita before, but only in passing and I obviously didn’t go out of my way to find it. Definitely the kind of film I’ve been glad to see pop up on this challenge.

That said, it’s kind of like The Phantom Carriage a few weeks ago with regards to horror – it has a reputation for its science fiction elements (one of the earliest feature films to have any elements of sci-fi, even beating Metropolis out of the gate), but though they’re stunning and incredibly designed, they actually make up a fairly small proportion of the movie. Although you wouldn’t know this by looking at Google Images, as literally all the screencaps are from the Mars sections of the films.

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Mostly it’s concerned with a bunch of Russian folks, various levels of civil servants, mostly. Los is an engineer obsessed with a strange transmission that he thinks may have come from Mars – the sci fi elements come from his imagination as he imagines Aelita and various other Martians watching earth through a giant telescope (and eventually, Aelita falling in love with him). He also becomes very jealous when he thinks his wife Natasha is flirting with another man, a petit bourgeousie thief, and their estrangement is the real pivot of the film. There’s also a plot with a wanna-be detective trying to find the thief and some impersonation and mistaken identity, but Los and Natasha are the emotional anchor.

Eventually, the earth and Mars storylines cross (or seem to, spoilers), and the Russians lead a revolt on Mars, because the elite Martians use a slave labor force that they put in cold storage when they don’t need them. The uprising seems like it could’ve been an influence on Metropolis in form, but it’s also very specifically Soviet, with a soldier character explaining the hammer and sickle in very propagandistic terms.

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It’s a very interesting film, due to historical elements like that which place it at a specific point of time in Soviet cinema, and also the influences it seems to have had on world cinema. That said, it suffers from an uninvolving earthbound plot, and a lot of characters who were difficult (for me) to keep straight and remember their part in the plot. I watched it over two days, with lots of rewindings to remind myself who everyone was and what they were doing. So I’m glad I watched it and I found elements to appreciate, but it didn’t really grab or move me outside of historical curiosity.

Stats and stuff…

1924, USSR
directed by Yakov Protazanov, written by Aleksei Fajko and Fyodor Otsep
starring Yuliya Solntseva, Nikolai Tsereteli, Igor Ilyinsky, Nikolai Batalov

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Aelita: Queen of Mars entered my chart:

Aelita: Queen of Mars > Courage of Lassie
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Twin Warriors
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Manhattan Murder Mystery
Aelita: Queen of Mars > Barbarian Sound Studio
Aelita: Queen of Mars > Splendor in the Grass
Aelita: Queen of Mars > Spider-Man 2
Aelita: Queen of Mars > Knick Knack
Aelita: Queen of Mars > Babes in Arms
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Badlands
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Midnight
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Maytime
Aelita: Queen of Mars < Bunny Lake is Missing

Final #1414 out of 3732 (62%)

It is now my #1 Yakov Protazanov film, my #35 Fantasy Adventure, my #60 Silent Film, and my #6 film of 1924.

Aelita, Queen of Mars was recommended by Travis McClain, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook.

A few more screenshots…

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