I’m taking a hardline on this review: this movie sucks the stars out of the deepest black hole in the deepest regions of the universe and deserves to be forever public domain-buried on DVD box sets. I know, shocking. I am not usually that rough on a film — new or classic — and I’ll always find the positive in a film.
Sorry, but I get cranky when the celluloid snake oil salesmen and analog hucksters take scissors (yes, and I mean Roger Corman and then film-school student Francis Ford Coppola) to my beloved Russian sci-fi forefathers to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Hiding behind this Roger Corman hack job is a beautiful film known as 1959’s Nebo Zovyot, aka The Sky Calls, by Valery Fokin and Mikhail Karzhukov. Also translated as The Heavens Beacon, the story concerns the galactic competition between the United States and Russia to execute the first mission to Mars. When an American spaceship requests repairs from a Russian crew, they come to discover their Russian saviors are on their way to Mars; the Americans set sail to beat the Russians, veer off-course, become lost in space, and the Russians scrub their mission to save the American crew.
So great are the Yuri Shvets production designs on Nebo Zovyot, Stanley Kubrick hired Shvets to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey during its pre-production stages. Sadly, Shevts’s greatness is lost, courtesy of Corman’s Americanization (read: bastardization) as Battle Beyond the Sun — which also features unrelated special effects inserts from Mikhail Karzhukov’s next film, Mechte Navstrechu, aka A Dream Come True (1963).
You’ve also seen special effects shots from Nebo Zovyot repurposed in the John Saxon*-starring space vampire romp Queen of Blood (1966), which is actually the Americanized version of Mechte Navstrechu.
And since we’re on the subject — and although Queen of Blood is not on this particular Mill Creek box set: In the plot of Mechte Navstrechu, the inhabitants of a distant planet receive a radio transmission of an Earth-based love song; they send a ship to investigate. When the alien mission crash lands on Phobos, a Mars moon, the Earth receives a distress call to rescue the survivors; technical problems and the harsh landscape threaten the mission. See? There’s no space vampires.
And the pillaging of frames from Nebo Zovyot gets worse.
Instead of leaving Pavel Klushantsev’s 1962 masterpiece Planeta Bur, aka Planet of Storms, intact, Corman snake oil-it into 1965’s Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. Then he revamped it a second time, with with inserts from Nebo Zovyot — and added a few bear skinned-clad bikini cavewomen (courtesy of Peter Bogdanovich, aka Derek Thomas) — as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (also known on American UHF television as Gill Women of Venus).
You can watch Nebo Zovyot with English subtitles on You Tube and an even better, pristine non-subtitled copy on You Tube — so you can sample the film’s superior quality, in lieu of the washed-out, dubbed-from-VHS prints of Battle Beyond the Sun that appear on public domain DVDs. Sorry, I can’t in good conscious provide a link to a rip of Battle Beyond the Sun. You’ll have do it yourself.
We get into Nebo Zovot, Planeta Bur and other Russian sci-fi films dating from 1924 to the early ’80s with our “Exploring: The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey” featurette during our month-long Star Wars tribute last December. However, until we get a Russian Sci-Fi box set of all those great films uncut, you can have your own copy of Battle Beyond the Sun on the uber-cool Mill Creek Sci-Fi Box Set.
* Don’t forget to check out our “Exploring: John Saxon” tribute.