LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)

Na Srebrnym Globie

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jerzy Trela, Andrzej Seweryn, Iwona Bielska, Grazyna Dylaq, Jerzy Gralek, Krystyna Janda, Elizabeth Karkoszka, Maciej Goraj, Leszek Dlugosz, Jan Frycz

PLOT: An expedition crash lands on a planet, and the surviving astronauts establish a tribe and a religion explaining their origins. After a recording of the crash is found, another astronaut, Marek, is sent to investigate and is received as a messiah whose arrival has been prophesied. He becomes involved in a struggle against the planet’s original inhabitants, a birdlike race called the Sherms.

Still from On the Silver Globe

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the few science-fiction adaptations that can earn the adjective of “epic,” and not only in terms of not dumbing down its ideas in favor of effects. The Polish government attempted to kill it, and end its director’s career. Despite it being only 80% of a finished film, there are images that will remain in the mind long after.

COMMENTS: In the best of all possible worlds, On the Silver Globe would be more widely known for the epic saga it is intended to be rather than as an unfinished curiosity, and it would’ve been the blueprint for science-fiction cinema to follow, rather than George Lucas’ Star Wars. Or possibly not. After all, its source material, “The Lunar Trilogy” written by Jerzy Zulawski (Andrzej’s great-uncle), which Stanislaw Lem acknowledged as an influence on his own writing, STILL has never gotten an English translation, making it unknown in the U.S. and other English speaking countries. This is one of the few films where its backstory is as fascinating as the actual film.

To wit: after the success of The Most Important Thing Is to Love, the exiled Zulawski was allowed to return to Poland to work. It was at this time that his marriage collapsed and his wife left (we’ll get to that later on…), and he chose to adapt his great uncle’s trilogy. Two years of work went into the enterprise, with most of the shooting done in 1976 and 1977, until the Deputy Minister of Culture and Art, Janusz Wilhelmi, saw some of the footage and in June 1977, ordered the production to shut down. Props, scenery and costumes were warehoused and/or destroyed; Zulawski was once again persona non grata in Poland, couldn’t get any work, and was again forced to leave home. (Out of this experience came the cult favorite Possession). Wilhelmi died in a plane crash the following year (1978), but despite several attempts to resurrect the project, authorities refused to release the existing material; some of the crew members managed to save what they could, but to no avail. By 1986, the regime in Poland had collapsed, but it was too late—too much material had been lost, several actors had died, and cinematic sci-fi was by then firmly caught in the throes of Star Wars‘s aftermath. However, what was left of the film could indeed be presented in some form; several of the lead roles were revoiced and some new material was shot, along with a voice-over by Zulawski narrating the scenes which had not been filmed by the time of shutdown. As Zulawski himself states, 1/5th of the story is missing, and Globe will always be an unfinished film.  It was screened in non-competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988.

All in all, an interesting story… but does the resulting film measure up? Truly, the one question that actually matters. Those who are looking for polished special effects of space battles and aliens, and simplistic stories of Good vs. Bad will not be happy, which may mean most of the audience who were weaned in the post-Star Wars world of sci-fi fandom. Those who are fans of the literary science fiction may find it more approachable, as it is one of the few adaptations that doesn’t shy away from the heavier underpinnings of its ideas. What is surprising about the film is how far ahead of the curve it was.

Adapting two of the three books in his uncle’s trilogy (“On The Silver Globe” and “The Conqueror”; the last book, “The Old Earth,” was dropped), the first part of the film, detailing the crash and formation of the tribal society, is presented as a video diary that one of the astronauts, Jerzy, records. Essentially a first-person point-of-view, it’s one of the first instances of “found footage” as an integral part of the story and film proper. Also, there is the self-awareness of characters “performing for the camera.” These concepts  are now almost clichés in contemporary film, but rather startling to see  predicted some forty years ago.

The second part of the film, detailing Marek’s arrival and his reception as a prophesied Messiah, will be very familiar to those who have read the novel “Dune,” or have seen the film adaptations. Globe goes further into the core material, the formation of religion/belief and its progression into dogma. There’s also lots of sex, and crucifixions (on crosses, and impalements on twenty foot spikes).

The side story which explains why Marek ended up making the voyage—leaving a love affair which ended badly—is interesting. Another officer, Jack is having an affair with Marek’s actress girlfriend, Ada, and was instrumental in having Marek sent away. Both are experiencing some guilt about what may happen to him. Even more interesting when one knows that ‘Marek’ in English, is “Mark”—which is the name of Sam Neill’s character in Possession.

There is also quite a bit of philosophizing, usually shouted at high decibels. Like most of Zulawski, it can be a polarizing experience—those looking for subtlety and drawing-room performances are not going to find them here, and will find Globe off-putting. What more than makes up for it is the visual epicness on display—dynamic camerawork from Andrej Jaroszewicz (who also worked on Diabel), and the art direction, costumes and makeup. As much one wonders what the finished product would’ve been like in a more perfect world, there’s little doubt that it would’ve been a landmark.

Your best bet to see this would be to live somewhere close to a major city which has a good repertory theater and/or film festival: On the Silver Globe is currently making the rounds, along with other Zulawski restorations. In the USA, a Mondo Vision Blu-ray is currently in production, along with several other Zulawski films, and the releases will be tasty, judging from their past work. There have also been DVD releases, with poor transfers, and those discs are now OOP. Try to convince your local arthouse/film festival to bring it to the big screen while waiting for the Mondo release.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Na Srebnym Globie – website that goes into the history of the film (In Polish, but use Google Translate)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… uniquely weird sci-fi film… strangely appealing and worth its weight in złotys as a scary cult film.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

One thought on “LIST CANDIDATE: ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1977/1988)”

  1. I watched the first half last night, hopefully I’ll get to the second half later today. (An “unfinished” movie, and it’s still 2 and a half hours!)

    The problem that every weird movie maker faces: movies are expensive to make. They’re not like poems. And the squares like Deputy Minister Janusz Wilhelmi who control most of the world’s resources generally frown on weirdness.

    Sometimes, there’s an unlikely alignment of forces whereby weirdos are given a giant pile of cash and a camera, and a free hand to express themselves. Unfortunately, Poland in the 70s was not one of those places. The government enforced a grey conformity, and even the counter-regime films like Wajda’s “Man of Marble” (and its sequel “Man of Iron”) were stiff and humorless affairs. The biggest surprise is that this project made it as far as it did before being killed off.

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