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Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun – film review

January 10, 2013

JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN

A potentially intriguing mind-bender.

journey to the far side of the sun

Directed by Robert Parrish. Screenplay by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Donald James. Produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Starring: Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Lynn Loring, Patrick Wymark, Loni Von Friedl and Herbert Lom. Running time: 102 mins.  

After last week’s look at the indie sci-fi drama Another Earth and with the recent passing of Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson – I thought it timely to revisit Anderson’s 1969 production of Journey To The Far Side Of the Sun – a movie     which shares a similar premise with Another Earth.

doppelganger - thinnes and hendry

It is the year 2069 and a joint Euro-American manned space mission is launched after the discovery of a new planet in the same orbit as Earth – but hidden from view on the far side of the sun. After three weeks in space, astronauts Roy Thinnes and Ian Hendry arrive at the new planet and attempt a landing – only for their craft to be destroyed in a fiery crash.

doppelganger - rescue team

Alien? Human? Friend? – Or foe?

The two are rescued by a strange humanoid creature and Thinnes awakens in hospital back on Earth. Hendry too is hospitalized, although he is unconscious         in a coma.

According to Thinnes’ superiors, it appears the two astronauts never made it to the new planet and instead turned back, crashing their craft in the wilds of Mongolia – to be rescued by a recovery team and brought back to England. With no memory of this, Thinnes is still convinced he and Hendry did in fact arrive at their destination. It is only when he realizes that everything is back to front (writing is reversed, the layout of his home is reversed) that he comes to suspect the new planet is actually an exact duplicate of Earth – albeit a mirror image.

doppelganger - mirror

Sceptical at first and questioning his sanity, Thinnes’ superiors soon find reason to believe him when x-rays reveal his internal organs to be on the opposite side of his body compared to theirs. The decision is made to send Thinnes back by constructing a second lander so that he may dock with the orbiting mother ship and set off on his return journey home. There’s only one catch – are the electrical polarities the same on both Earths – or are they also reversed? If they guess wrong and the electrical polarities of both craft don’t match – then the result could be entirely catastrophic.

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun was a $6,000,000 British sci-fi movie which opened the same year as the first Apollo moon landing and received a less than enthusiastic response upon its initial release.

Creator Gerry Anderson was never one to let scientific accuracy get in the way of telling a ripping yarn – which was particularly evident in the ‘silly science’ of his mid-70’s TV series Space:1999 – but here he seems more willing to adhere to the rules to some extent. Perhaps I was a little harsh in my review of Another Earth – in referring to Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (also known as Doppelganger in the UK and Europe) as being rather hokey in comparison. Its internal logic is actually quite sound – if you buy into the central premise that is – and also if you disregard the fact that without its own moon, there would be no reason for a space program to exist on this other Earth and therefore no identical space mission would be launched in the first place. However, if you can accept this in the same spirit as one might accept the implausibility of time travel, then the central conceit is still nonetheless intriguing     and the gradual reveal of this other Earth being a mirror image makes subsequent viewings all the more interesting as visual clues become more obvious.

With Journey being Anderson’s initial foray into live action, the performances in the film were unfairly criticized at the time for being as wooden as the puppets from his previous TV shows (a cheap shot if ever there was). To be fair though, the lack of emotion we feel for the characters is more a fault with the screenplay – than the actors themselves. Perhaps the time spent detailing the preparations for the mission (as seemingly accurate and fascinating as they are) would be better used instead in setting up the characters – so we at least feel some affinity for them. Great slabs of screen-time are squandered on subplots which simply add nothing to the overall story arc. Sure, the opening pre-title sequence for example – which features Herbert Lom conducting James Bond-style espionage on the European Space Agency is a first-rate attention-grabber, but it ultimately has no bearing on the actual plot itself – and     is therefore superfluous and a waste of screen-time.

Screen cap courtesy monstermoviemusic.blogspot.com.au

Screen cap courtesy monstermoviemusic.blogspot.com.au

Likewise, the reveal that Roy Thinnes’ wife (incidently his real-life spouse at the time) resents the fact that he is sterile (thanks to his exposure to solar radiation during previous space missions) – but in reality is using the contraceptive pill herself – is a subplot which ultimately leads nowhere and lacks any kind of a pay-off. Perhaps the inference being she has no desire to have children with him and may even be having an affair is nothing more than the screenwriters’ ham-fisted attempt to create audience empathy with Thinnes’ character. The fact that Thinnes’ reaction (in typical 60’s fashion) is to slap her hard across the face does little to endear him to females in the audience (or males for that matter). But then again, this behavior was perhaps seen as nothing out of the ordinary back in the day.

doppelganger - interrogation chamber

For lovers of 60’s futurism there is much to enjoy in Bob Bell‘s customarily retro art direction – from the fashions, to the sets, to the vehicles – it’s a future which very much brings to mind the look of Gerry Anderson’s follow-up TV series – UFO. The music score by Anderson’s regular composer – the legendary Barry Gray – is one of his best and features cues which were also later used in UFO. The miniature effects work of Derek Meddings (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO) is top-notch and fans of his particular design aesthetic will not be disappointed.

doppelganger - lander

It wouldn’t be a Gerry Anderson production without stuff blowing up and Journey is no different – with an explosive finale to rival anything in Thunderbirds. It has always remained a mystery as to why things in Gerry Anderson’s productions tend to explode not once or twice – but three, four, or five times or more. Not that I’m complaining – I love watching stuff blow up. But it’s something I’ve often wondered about.

Screen cap courtesy monstermoviemusic.blogspot.com.au

Screen cap courtesy monstermoviemusic.blogspot.com.au

Whilst perhaps not fully exploring the concept of a parallel Earth in any meaningful way, there is still much to recommend Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, particularly if the classic retro look of 60’s futurism is something you enjoy.

A classy curiosity piece with unrealized potential.

3 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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4 Comments
  1. This thing scared me shirtless when watching it on TV as a kid. It had such a dark spin on everything, especially compared to stuff at the time like the 60s Star Trek reruns that were on. The ending seemed so bleak. Wish more sci-fi films now were like this movie.

    • I know what you mean – it has a certain ‘tone’ which was quite unsettling as a kid. I think Barry Gray’s music had a lot to do with it. And you’re right – absolutely what an amazingly bleak ending! 🙂

      Oh – and I just wanted to say I really dig your site too. Hell yeah – the summer of ’82 was THE golden year for genre movies! 🙂

  2. Really cool article! I remember bunking off school one afternoon in the late 70s and catching the second half of this on TV. There was something so intrinsically “Anderson” about the the look and feel of the piece, I knew it was by that team even without seeing the credits. I found the ending really memorable and it became a real talking point in the playground – turns out I wasn’t the only one bunking off that day. As with many Anderson productions, the themes, images and technical execution left a big impression on me. I had the privilege of seeing it projected in its original format as “Doppelganger” a few years ago and got to meet Gerry Anderson afterwards – a great experience!

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks! Yeah, I know what you mean about the Anderson look and feel of the piece. I’d say the costumes, Barry Gray’s distinctive music and the miniatures of Derek Meddings probably have much to do with defining the Anderson feel. That’s so cool you got meet the man in person! I was always a huge fan of his television work as well. 🙂

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