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March 21, 2009

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun

1969, Dir. by Robert Parrish

The box cover for the DVD release of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun proclaims "Man has conquered the moon. Now take another momentous journey!" As if it wasn't hard enough to not look at this film as an attempt to cash in on the space craze of the late 1960s. Also borrowing slightly from Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is a film that could easily have fallen out of interest as a rehash of the ideas and films of the time. Thankfully, the similarities are only an outer shell for the adventure, and the film provides itself with plenty of chances to carve its own niche in the sci-fi canon.

The Plot
Really, there's not much to say that this film's title doesn't imply. In the future, the European Space Exploration Council discovers that there appears to be an unknown and eerily similar planet in the same orbit as Earth on the opposite side of the sun. Naturally, the first response is to send out some astronauts to investigate, and American Glen Ross (Roy Thinnes, fresh off cult TV hit The Invaders) and Brit John Kane (Ian Hendry, known to cult horror audiences from appearances in Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter, Theater of Blood, and the original Tales from the Crypt film) are more than willing to take the trip. After a colorful trip around the sun, they find themselves on the new planet - maybe.

The Good
While this Journey started off as something we feel like we may have seen before, it quickly bucks many of the ideas we had coming into the film. The astronauts, as well as their superior (played by Patrick Wymark of Witchfinder General) are developed well early in the film, and there's a lot done to make us care about the mission before these two men are hurtled into the abyss. Thinnes' story, particularly involving his wife and her trouble dealing with his space travels and their effects on him, is well drawn and engaging, and Hendry's Kane is a sufficiently cynical counterbalance. Wymark might get as much screentime as either of the stars, and gives a likeable performance that helps keep the characters' relationships seeming genuine.

The film is also controlled well by director Robert Parrish, previously an Oscar winning editor, who shows a clear understanding of what his goals are for the film. While Kubrick's 2001 is lauded for its approach to the silent interactions between humanity and space, Parrish brings forth his ideas with a lot of dialogue and a few well-placed visual representations. It's unfair to compare almost any sci-fi film to 2001's approach, and that is still the case here - but it is worth noting that Parrish made this film his own and shook that film's shadow early on. The film also features the visual style I love about this era in regard to set design and use of colors, with cavernous rooms of many colors and a sharp contrast in color and mood from scene to scene. The scope might not match an epic like 2001, but there's more than enough visual flair to delight the eyes.

The Bad
There are some early worries about the film getting its feet set, and the first act of the film takes its time in making its ideas and purpose known to the viewer. In retrospect, this helped develop the characters and their psyches, but at first glance the slow start creates some concern in pace for a relatively short film. It's also surprising how little of the film actually deals with the interstellar journey, but the places the screenwriters and director take the film in the final act make up for this. I had no idea where the film was going with just over a half-hour left, but the turn the story took provided an interesting turn and kept me thinking even after the finish (even if the final frames may seem to leave some ideas on the table).

Random Moments
The Verdict
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun doesn't do anything extremely well, but it hits enough right notes to leave a very favorable impression. The final act and its conclusions may leave some unimpressed, but I found the film's ideas intriguing enough to make me think about it further. Adding that to a generally impressive visual style is more than enough to put this space and mind adventure over the top in my book. If you're looking for a thought-provoking space adventure, and aren't feeling up the daunting challenge of something like Kubrick's film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is an enjoyable midnight subsititute.

The Mike's Rating: Prime Choice

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