A Trip to Mars (1918)

Director: Holger-Madsen

Not only did the Danish film industry get to the apocalypse first, they got to Mars ahead of almost everyone too, apparently fuelled mostly by rather hammy arm-waving and other gestures…  Holger-Madsen was apparently one of Denmark’s leading directors in the silent era, though if this film is indicative getting subtlety and underplaying from his actors wasn’t exactly one of his strengths. But I don’t suppose the acting was the selling point back in 1918; people would’ve been rather more engaged by the idea of the expedition to Mars. It’s a curious film like The End of the World, albeit in obviously different ways; it begins somewhat in the spirit of the pulp adventure of the period, as Captain Avanti Planetaros returns home from a long expedition, gets bored, and becomes inspired to go on an even longer expedition to another planet. As you do. Having rounded up a crew to join him on this possibly foolhardy journey, they eventually get there and find Mars is surprisingly like Earth, only markedly more advanced, whereupon the pulp adventure kind of becomes this weird, sentimental Utopian fantasy thing. Obviously the whole message of love and enlightenment business is the sort of thing I imagine most modern viewers would find too cheesy and naive to be acceptable, but it’s not exactly unpalatable and it’s a lot more optimistic and uplifting than The End of the World is (unless you find the fiery destruction of the world a cause for rejoicing, of course), and Madsen presents it in reasonably good style. The film’s inescapable problem, though, is that there’s no real dramatic tension, apart from one scene not long after landing on Mars, and as such it’s not really the most exciting example of its kind. Still, as with last night’s film, let’s give it the due place in film history it’s kind of missed out on over the decades; anyone exploring early SF should obviously hunt this out…

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