Journey to the Far Side of the Sun
As soon as he became an accepted format found in many American living rooms, movie enthusiast began making lists of what movies they most desire to own in digital format. At this point in time, all of the major blockbusters such as ‘Star Wars’, ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Aliens’, have not only been released in DVD but remastered for high definition or separate Blu-ray edition. Now when I scanned the studio in distributor announcements of what titles are about to be released I look to see if I can find any of my guilty pleasures or movies with specific nostalgic merit. In many cases already have the DVD in my collection but I muster a reasonable degree of anticipation to reacquire some subsequent Blu-ray edition. Example of this can be found in the movie under consideration here, ‘Journey to the Far Side of the Sun’. This movie is a sufficiently solid story with proficient acting and direction, but nothing to permit it to stand out among his peers. It does however; gain some points under the nostalgic movie provision of my criteria. Released in 1969 this movie was the epitome of what I would watch with my friends during a Saturday afternoon matinee. I also remember watching it presented as a network movie on one of the seven or eight channel that were available back then.
This movie is a high concept, science-fiction thriller, which despite simplistic description contains a few themes that are universal. It was also released the year after one of the seminal films of science-fiction that transcended a genre restriction into being a film whose repercussions echo through our popular culture, ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’, and visionary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Having a significantly lower budget the mystical bricks movie, ‘Journey to the Far Side of the Sun’, had to rely on some optical tricks and practical effects in an effort to emulate the style of ‘2001’. This was a common feature of movies intended to fill the matinee niche. It is reminiscent of a much more famous and well-constructed movie, typically with the plot obtained rather directly from any of a number of science fiction novels or magazines. Description of this film, as noted, is simple; an astronaut, Colonel Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes), is sent on a space mission to investigate a startling discovery. A planet has been discovered been found the same orbital plane as the earth only on the other side of the sun.
The movie opens in the year 2069 when telemetry from an unmanned probe verifies the fact that there is a planet similar to the earth in size and shape but opening 180° away from us. On the team credited with the discovery was Dr. Kurt Hassler (Herbert Lom), a part of the European Space Exploration Council (EUROSEC). Usually the agency in charge of the discovery and subsequent mission would be NASA but this film was made in the United Kingdom. This in itself would be a departure from the dominance of the American space program found in film and television of the 60s. It would not take any of the public attention away from NASA, especially since the release was about a month after the Apollo 11 mission landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Another theme that would dominate entertainment in the 60s was Soviet espionage. In the aftermath of the ‘Red Menace Scare’ ignited by Joe McCarthy, most studios were incorporating these underhanded actions of the Communists of the Soviet Union as they attempt to leach the advances of superior American technology. When Dr. Hassler is found sending data from the probe to Eastern Europe, Security Chief Mark Neuman (George Sewell), discovers him red-handed in this act of treason and fatally shoots him. It is acceptable to permit the European space agency make a major discovery expedition, launch a manned expedition to new planet they had to look to the experts to help. With the distribution of this film to be viable in the United States you have to include a plot contrivance for an American astronaut. This is where the casting of Roy Thinnes in the lead role. It been a fairly constant feature on television for a number of years and was already a familiar face among science-fiction fans was called classic TV series ‘The Invaders’. Incorporating a person familiar to the targeted fan base almost always a successful and is still in use on a regular basis with the original films produced by ‘the SyFy Channel’.
Besides Colonel Ross the mission is to include astrophysicist Dr. John Kane (Ian Hendry), the head of the Sun Probe project. Mission is want Portugal in order to reserve resources during the six-week round-trip journey the two men I help them basis, their vital functions provided by heart-long-kidney support machines. On schedule the astronauts find themselves in orbit around the alternate Earth. During reentry their shuttlecraft is hit by an electrical storm and crashes into the mountains of Mongolia. Nasty rescue team is dispatch to return them but Dr. Kane is critically injured and soon succumbs to them. During the debriefing Ross is told that his mission had been aborted. Ross denies any knowledge of this and as it a turn out that’s just the beginning of his suspicions that something went terribly wrong. Ross can’t help but to notice that the clots are running anticlockwise and causing driving on the wrong side of the street. His only conclusion is that this on the alternate Earth and everything is the reverse of his world. Ross’ wife, Sharon (Lynn Loring), finds his claims incredulous.
It is up to our intrepid protagonist to find some way to return to the ‘earth’. This requires that you rebuild the shuttlecraft, fighting against the obstacle of the technology being reversed what is used to. As a left-handed person, I found this rather insulting. Scissors, notebooks and other everyday items made specifically for the right-handed majority. I remember an episode of the original Outer Limits man is put into a mirror world only in that instance they took the flipped perspective down to the molecular level with left-handed sugars and right-handed amino acids; the opposite stereo optic configuration found in our organic chemistry. Although story does manage to create a suitable amount of tension or made-for-TV film but it must be kept in mind that this was intended for theatrical release. The similarities in style and greater than usual need to suspend belief that I find frequently carries over to being better able to accept the low-budget clicks made popular by the SyFy network. It all comes down to the level of expectations you have as you slide the disc into the open tray of your player. My ‘upbringing’ is a film enthusiast began with those matinee movies previously described. Next, as a teenager I was in the right time and place to be a regular audience member in the grind house theaters that populated Manhattan. Eventually, my appreciation of film and the criteria are used to evaluate them became more refined as I began to understand such critical details as directorial style, camera angles, lighting and the subtle nuances of such aspects as the performances and editing. The early years were all about having fun. It never would occur to me to examine the use of Dutch angles or any other stylistic device. The criteria were much simpler back then; was the movie enjoyable, was it fun to watch. As far as this film goes the answer was generally yes. I can remember enough times watching this film and being entertained, that I was anxious to see it in high definition. Of course, greater detail can produce some negative results as flaws become more noticeable. Still, the movie holds up as a popcorn flick suitable for the entire family.