Film / Aelita

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Mars women know how to dress.

Aelita, aka Aelita, Queen of Mars, is a 1924 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Yakov Protazanov.

It is 1921, as the Russian Civil War is winding down. All the radio stations in the world receive a bizarre message from space, "Anta Odeli Uta." No one knows what to make of it. One of the people who hears the message is Los, a Moscow radio station operator. Los is obsessed with Mars and is building a rocket ship to go there, along with his partner, Spiridnov. Meanwhile, in more earthly concerns, a minor Soviet bureaucrat named Erlich has weaseled his way into receiving Los's apartment. Erlich starts paying entirely too much attention to Los's pretty wife, Natasha, who starts responding to the attention due to Los being too distracted by his work. When he isn't hitting on married women, Erlich is stealing rationed goods and selling them on the black market.

In fact, Los is daydreaming constantly about Mars, imagining a society with a king and queen, Tuksub and Aelita, and a ruling class that lords it over poor workers that are kept in cold storage when they aren't needed. Los, whose marriage is deteriorating, imagines that Aelita looks at Earth from her Martian telescope, sees him, and is attracted to him. He also visualizes Aelita as looking just like his wife. Finally jealousy causes Los to snap, and when he catches his wife in a compromising position with Erlich, he shoots his wife to death. He hops on his rocket ship and flees to Mars, only to find that Aelita is real, and that she wants him.

Notable as probably the first science-fiction feature film ever made. Based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy, distant relative of that more famous Tolstoy. A big hit in the Soviet Union at the time, but the film's rather too honest portrait of things like rationing, black market smuggling, and overcrowded orphanages later got it banned.


Tropes:

  • All Just a Dream: It turns out in the end that most of the movie is Los's weird dreams. The mysterious radio signal is actually a slogan on a poster advertising tires. Los and the gang never went to Mars at all. He didn't shoot Natasha, who is still alive, and in the end they are happily reunited.
  • Artificial Gravity: Something must be keeping Gusev, Los, and Kratsov on the floor while their rocket zooms to Mars.
  • Beta Couple: Los's buddy Gusev, a Red Army soldier, and Masha the nurse whom he marries. They serve little purpose to the story other than having Gusev go along with Los on the flight to Mars.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Erlich is some kind of minor bureaucrat who steals the sugar he's supposed to be rationing out and sells it on the black market.
  • Diesel Punk: A very 1920s-looking rocket taking three men to Mars.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: It pre-dates television! Radio stations all over the world receive a strange, cryptic signal.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Sort of—Aelita isn't green, and in fact looks just like Natasha with a different wig. But otherwise the trope is played straight as Aelita wears Stripperific outfits, falls in Love at First Sight with Los, and wants him to teach her what kissing is.
  • Hemisphere Bias: What do we see on Earth as Los's ship sails away? Eurasia, with Russia centered, of course.
  • High-Class Glass: Erlich wearing one of these definitely marks him as a villain in proletarian 1924 Russia.
  • Human Aliens: Oddly, the dominant life form on Mars looks exactly like Homo sapiens.
  • Identical Stranger: Los and Spiridnov look exactly alike, which allows Los to escape the cops by doing nothing more than putting on a fake beard and glasses. Both characters were played by actor Nikolai Tseretei. And of course Aelita, queen of Mars, looks just like Natasha, although that is justified by being Los's imagination.
  • Imagine Spot: Much of the early part of the story is Los daydreaming about a strange Martian society and Aelita its queen, which makes it weird when he lands there and finds out that it's real—or so it seems.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: One of the most striking things about the film is the bizarre futuristic clothing the Martians wear. The handmaiden that Gusev takes a shine to on Mars has some sort of bar cage on the outside of her dress that folds out when she sits down.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: That's one rickety, low-tech rocket.
  • Interspecies Romance: Between Los the earthling and Aelita the beautiful Martian babe.
  • Mighty Whitey: An interspace version, as two Russians land on Mars and wind up inspiring the oppressed slaves to rise up and overthrow their masters, like how the Russians did in 1917!
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Natasha does this when Los pulls out the gun, and later Los does this when pushing Aelita to her death.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Although it's played as Erlich's just results for being a black market smuggler and all-around dirtbag—but the fact remains that in the end he's arrested for the murder of Spiridnov, despite the fact that Los and the audience know that Spiridov is alive and actually emigrated to the West.
  • Stock Footage: The opening montage of the whole world receiving the strange message includes a shot of Times Square in New York City.
  • Technicolor Science: Even in a black and white movie! In one scene Los adds a chemical to another chemical in a beaker and it changes color in a satisfying manner.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Aelita embraces Los and says "Touch my lips with yours, like you do it on Earth."
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