by W. G. White
You know when you’re watching a film and it’s just a bit too long? Or, you know when you’re watching a film and every piece of dialogue, action, scenario and set piece makes you cringe or laugh? That’s Masters of Venus from start to finish.
The tone of this outrageous space opera is encapsulated quite perfectly about a minute in, when the super top secret space rocket base (that no international spy can ever know exists or the Queen will cry) is shown with a giant sign that reads: “Interplanetary Rocket Base”.
Now, this could be set in an alternative reality where the British space exploration industry was in boom. But if I recall my history, in 1962 the good ol’ United Kingdom was still a bit sore from that whole World War II thing. In other words, we were hella broke. So it’s difficult to extend disbelief enough to assume there’s more than one interplanetary rocket base residing in the British isles. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion: someone screwed the pooch.
Whoever thought throwing up an “Interplanetary Rocket Base” sign was a good idea needs to be slapped across the face with a soggy crumpet. The entire film wouldn’t have happened without that damn sign.
So when mysterious saboteurs with gun versions of the Men In Black flashy things are skulking around, they know exactly where to go to find the rocket. And they do what saboteurs do: they wreck stuff. Which means our plucky, so-British-I-want-to-vomit protagonists get themselves sealed into the spacecraft and have no choice but to launch into space. It should be mentioned at this point that our two main protagonists are about twelve years old.
Jim (Robin Stewart) and Pat (Mandy Harper) Ballantyne were helping their dad build the rocket for a manned mission to Venus, because child labour’s free and as already mentioned, Blighty was in a bit of a financial pickle. Experts are expensive.
Jim and Pat, along with two unconscious properly trained astronauts, are hurtling through space, but neither one of them is properly freaking out. They’re quite calm actually. Maybe that’s because they’re being knocked out every time the ship shakes a bit. These kids should have some serious brain damage, or at the very least whiplash.
Back on earth, father of the year Dr. Ballantyne (Norman Wooland) doesn’t seem to give a french fancy that his kids are strapped to a missile powerful enough to get them to Venus in one lazily constructed montage of a calendar whipping away and people shaving. He’s quite happy for his children to undergo this ridiculously dangerous enterprise. And why? Because of the damn Chinese, that’s why! They’re building their own rocket, so screw the safety of two twelve year olds! National pride is at stake! What won’t the British do to conquer a new land, ey?
I found myself incredibly disengaged with almost everything happening on screen. Perhaps it’s a generational gap, perhaps I like my sci-fi’s to be a bit more grounded in reality. But as I watched Mike (Patrick Kavanagh) and Peter (Robin Hunter), the two adults aboard the spacecraft, wandering around Venus, with nothing to protect them but swimming caps and what looked like the sort of breathing apparatus that drops down in airplanes, I couldn’t help but think about the complete bastard who put that sign up. Seriously, who does that? It’s like James Bond’s house being listed in the yellow pages. Or area 51 appearing on google maps. They might as well have set up Vegas style lights and handed the saboteurs the keys to the spaceship.
Once the crew are on Venus, the plot gets a bit stranger. Quite quickly, Jim, Mike, and Peter are captured by Venusians, who turn out to be humans from the lost city of Atlantis. They had six fingers so us five-fingered lot decided to run them off of earth. It’s a petty enough reason, but not too unbelievable. How they had the technology to leave earth and settle on another planet, and why Venus of all places, the film doesn’t address.
Soon, the heart of the film becomes this: the Venusians believe Earthlings to be too warmongering, and the protagonists’ arrival to be the precursor to a larger invasion force. They decide, in an act of great irony, that the only course of action is to preemptively destroy the people of earth.
I suppose a story of warmongering humans is as potent now as it was fifty years ago. And in that sense, Masters of Venus survives the test of time. It’s a story about defusing the tensions between two worlds. About the fear of war and how easy it is to allow your hatred and fear of another people to lead you into bloodlust. Even if the only thing different about them is an extra finger.
I won’t be revisiting Masters of Venus anytime soon, but I’m glad to have experienced its quite camp, and incredibly unrealistic ideas of what the cosmos might hold for us.
Dir: Ernest Morris
Scr: Michael Barnes, Mary Cathcart Borer, H.B. Stewart
Cast: Norman Woodland, Robin Steward, Mandy Harper, Robin Hunter, Patrick Kavanagh, Arnold Diamond, George Pastell, Ferdy Mayne
Prd: A. Frank Bundy
DOP: Reginald H. Wyer
Music: Eric Rogers
Run time: 112 mins
Masters of Venus is available on DVD from 18th July