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Film / Moscow — Cassiopeia

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Moscow — Cassiopeia ("Москва — Кассиопея") and Teens in the Universe ("Отроки во Вселенной") are a Soviet sci-fi movie duology premiered in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

The films follow a group of teenagers who are sent on an antimatter-powered relativistic starship to the Cassiopeia constellation after Soviet scientists receive an alien signal from one of its stars. After selecting the crew consisting of the best students (one mentions he was chosen for his Eidetic Memory) and building a starship capable of reaching near-light speeds, they are launched on a mission to make First Contact with the mysterious senders of the signal. A stowaway accidentally sits on the ship controls and causes it to accelerate beyond the speed of light.

While the journey does take several decades for those Earth-bound, it takes only moments for the starship crew. They arrive and encounter a ship of Human Aliens who manage to learn Russian ridiculously quickly. They explain that they are the last of their race, after their robots Turned Against Their Masters. However, instead of killing their creators, the robots sought to "improve" them by removing their emotions. This caused the entire race to stop reproducing, and they died out. Only those who were in space at the time of the revolt managed to survive.

The teens decide to help the aliens retake their planet by shutting down the robots' master control. They finally manage to do that, at which point the aliens get their planet back, and the teens are informed by a Soviet government agent (who appears out of nowhere) that they are free to head home, as a diplomatic and humanitarian mission is on the way from Earth.

The films contain examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The aliens' robots decide that their masters are inefficient and take control of their society.
  • Aliens Speaking English: The aliens are able to instantly learn Russian by having their Universal Translator list the Russian alphabet and common words. Slightly justified in the case of the robots, although it makes no sense for the robots to be speaking Russian when they're simply talking among themselves (especially since their whistles are much more communicative).
  • Artificial Gravity: The ZARYa is equipped with some form of artificial gravity that is not achieved by spinning. The crewmembers do have magnetic boots for those times when artificial gravity is turned off.
  • Artistic License – Space: Taken to such ridiculous extent that one may suspect a joke. The starship goes to the star in the Cassiopeia constellation passing by Proxima Centauri which is located in the exactly opposite direction.
  • Author Avatar: The I.O.O.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Cassiopeians are Human Aliens but with several differences. Their language is short whistles that carry a lot of content. Their males are bald until they hit puberty (no females are shown). They are also very strong, compared to humans. Their robots have figured out a subsonic sequence of sounds that causes the Cassiopeians to come straight to them. They also, apparently, require love to reproduce.
  • The Bridge: The command center is located at the front of the ship and features a control panel with several regular-sized screens and two windows on the sides. There are three identical chairs in front of the control panel, with The Captain sitting in the middle. The rear wall of the bridge is padded.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: There are thousands, it seems. They are all descended from the crew of the orbital observatory launched shortly before the robot takeover.
  • The Captain: Vitya is not only the commander, he is also the scientific genius behind the entire project, coming up with the design for the starship and figuring out how to contain Anti Matter at the age of 14. He also appears to be the most level-headed member of the crew (i.e. the opposite of Kirk).
    • Unlike your typical captain, Vitya doesn't join the first landing party, instead spending time thinking about which crewmembers to send down. He does take the second shuttle down after the robots blow up the first one in order to rescue the captured crewmembers.
  • Captain's Log: Despite all the advanced technology on the ship, the Captain's Log is still a big notebook. On the other hand, a crewmember sent to the alien planet records her observations vocally using the translation device. The notebook may be a personal choice on the Captain's part.
  • Centrifugal Farce: Shows up as part of the training.
  • Chekhov's Gift: The Captain's Love Interest gives him her makeup mirror for luck. He ends up using it to defend against an automated laser defense system.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The nails. Used as a Brick Joke in the first movie, they ultimately serve a purpose.
    • Lob's superglue is one as well, although it doesn't prove as effective as he thought. Although, the robots are having trouble ungluing themselves.
  • Clarke's Third Law: When I.O.O. offers to show the Academician where the ship has gone to, he uses a cigar case and a pay phone to establish a one-way video link via some kind of Subspace Ansible. He points out that the means aren't very scientific, at least given modern-day science. This either implies some kind of alien tech or future tech.
  • Context-Sensitive Button: All buttons on The Bridge control panel are unlabeled. The teens are repeatedly shown pressing the same exact button on their "meaning detectors" to achieve different results.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Averted. At one point, two executor robots nonchalantly exchange their heads, which were mistakenly swapped by the mechanics. Also, when talking with earthlings, masked as robots, and saying that they should check their memory units, executor taps near his left shoulder.
  • Damsel in Distress: Two of the girls decide the best thing they can do on an alien planet full of hostile robots is to take a nap with only Lob to protect them. Lob decides to let them sleep and goes to try to save Agapit. A few minutes later, the robots find the sleeping girls and take them. At this point, their usefulness runs out, and the only purpose the girls serve is being the stereotypical "damsels in distress".
  • Deflector Shield: There is mention of a force field, although the description is more like a Tractor Beam. Given that they're traveling at near-light speeds, a force field of some sort would be required in order to protect the ship against space dust.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Lob is absolutely terrified of mice.
    • Especially after seeing one blown up on a screen seemingly staring right at him.
  • Emotion Suppression: Teens In The Universe features a planet where robots driven by crapshoot AI decide to make all people "happy" by removing most of their emotions. People are forced to undergo this operation with a form of Mass Hypnosis. Did not end well: the entire race almost died out because of no desire to love and procreate.
  • Energy Weapon: The ship's captain defeats the automated laser defense system with a mirror his Love Interest gave him for luck.
  • Explosive Overclocking: Vitya, Lob and Agapit blow up the powerplant by jamming huge steel nail in the control slot, overriding reactor's safety auto-lock system and causing it to continue to raise power output, ultimately burning out all of the charging robots.
  • Extra Eyes: The controller robots have 4 pairs of eyes.
  • First Contact: Several are shown. The first one is with Lob, who encounters two robots and tries to impress them with his knowledge of geometry and algebra. He gets the latter wrong, and they correct him ("It happens to everyone"). The same (or different) robots then meet two other crewmembers. The actual contact with an alien race happens in space, when a Cassiopeian ship approaches the ZARYa.
  • FTL Travel: Somehow, just by someone sitting on the controls, the ship manages to accelerate beyond the speed of light, cutting a 52-year trip to almost nothing. Despite this, 27 years still pass on Earth (although the original plan assumed centuries).
    • Professor Filatov proposes that they have somehow ended up in subspace or some sort of "tachyon spiral". Another character calls it "hyperspace".
  • Fun with Acronyms: The starship is called ZARYa ("ЗАРЯ"), which stands for Zvezdoliot Annigiliatsionny Reliativ Yaderny (Starship Annihilation Relativistic Nuclear).
    • "Zarya" is Russian for "dawn".
    • I.O.O. also qualifies. The acronym itself isn't that meaningful, but then again, he's only known by that acronym...
  • Generation Ship: This was a possibility for the ZARYa, as the journey was expected to take decades.
    • Played straight with the alien orbital observatory.
  • Genre Savvy: Lob is this with his sci-fi knowledge. Unfortunately, he is also unaware that he is not in a hard sci-fi movie, so most of the tropes he references aren't entirely applicable. Most, but not all.
  • Hard Light: The Surprise Chamber is, basically, your Star Trek holodeck. Unlike a Trek holodeck, one can bump into walls. The chamber-generated objects can somehow be taken out of the room without them vanishing.
  • Human Aliens: One of the characters even claims that all intelligence life in the universe has to be like humans.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: The I.O.O. He has all kinds of strange powers that look out of place in this otherwise grounded setting, and it's never explained how they work or just what he is. He's the kind of character who would be a prime candidate for being called a Time Lord in Wild Mass Guessing.
  • Insufferable Genius: Kopanygin.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lob seems like your typical Jerkass, but several incidents make it clear that he cares more than he wants to show. By the end of the second part, he's pretty much ditched the act and shows his nicer side.
  • Latex Space Suit: While the suits they wear after landing are pretty form-fitting, they're not very tight or revealing (especially since those girls are 15 and you have to worry about Soviet censors). However, the EVA suit used by The Captain at one point looks more bulky.
  • Logic Bomb: The main characters use a riddle to short out the "grunt" robots. The more advanced robots, however, are able to instantly solve it.
    • Misused here, since the riddle ("A and B were sitting on the roof: A fell down, B disappeared, what remained on the roof?" Wrong answer - "nothing". Correct answer - "And" remained), is not actually a paradox but merely a trap to lure toward the wrong answer. The "grunt" robot should just gave wrong answer "Nothing", instead of overloading.
  • The Men in Black: The I.O.O. He shows up out-of-nowhere, can skip a stone over 120 times within a second, not age over several decades, and mysteriously appear on an alien planet.
    • He can also establish a one-way video link with the ship using a rotary pay phone and a cigar case.
  • Mind over Matter: The robots appear to have some form of telekinesis.
  • "Near and Dear" Baby Naming: Mila names her children after her classmates Vitya (on whom she had a crush) and Varya, both of whom have gone on a many-year space mission and may not return during her lifetime.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: The controller robots remotely blow up the rail capsule that is used by Agapit and two crewmembers to travel to the power plant. The capsule is shown to be in pieces. The passengers are a little dazed, have torn clothing, but are otherwise fine.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The refuse disposal button is located on a hatch that immediately flips, resulting in the trash getting placed in a triangular carton and ejected into space. An incident on the ship demonstrates how easy it is for someone to accidentally fall into the disposal chute.
  • Photographic Memory: One of the main characters has eidetic memory (which is the primary reason why he is chosen for the mission) and claims to be able to perfectly recall ten pages of fine print. Strangely, this ability is only shown to be used once and not for anything useful.
  • Portal Network: The robots use white pillars, which are actually part of their teleportation network. Activation requires rhombohedron-shaped keys. The pillars are located throughout the planet.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: Surprisingly, averted. The ship's speed gauge can, apparently, measure translight velocities.
  • Real-Life Relative: Agapit and his father are played by Vadim and Igor Ledogorov, respectively. Igor is Vadim's father.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots:
    • The executor robots sometimes act in a "non-robot" manner, such as friendly banter and phrases like "it can happen to anyone", when someone makes a mistake. They also walk as if they're dancing.
    • Averted with the two outdated models (a nanny robot and a robot-mechanic) who look like your typical B-movie robots (but are still friendly to people).
    • Also partly averted with the Controllers, which are more advanced than the Executors (in fact, it's the Controllers who have Turned Against Their Masters; the Executors simply did as they were told). While they look pretty human, they do have 4 pairs of eyes, and their smiles can be downright creepy, especially since there's no emotion behind them.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The ZAR Ya is supposed to be a relativistic ship crewed by teens whose journey is expected to take decades even from their viewpoint. And yet, in a matter of hours, the ship gets close to Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.24 lightyears away. Given that they engage in real-time communication with Earth, their speed can't be a high percentage of the speed of light, meaning it should take many years before they can get close to another star. Then again, the movie isn't really trying to be hard sci-fi, given that IOO pretty much breaks every law of physics we know.
  • Screens Are Cameras: Played straight with both human and alien screens. The alien camera/screens are actually spinning orbs that can, apparently, be disabled with a long strip of cloth or toilet paper (just let the spinning orb wrap itself in the cloth/paper, and it'll stop working).
  • Shown Their Work: despite many non-hard sci-fi parts of the movie, the creators picked Alpha Cassiopeiae as a star that has a habitable world. Alpha Cassiopeiae (AKA Schedar) is a K-type main-sequence star, which is actually more stable than our own G-type Sun and also has a high degree of probability of having habitable planets.
  • Soviet Superscience: In the 70s, the Soviet Union builds and harnesses Anti Matter and launches a relativistic ship towards a distant star.
  • Starfish Language:
    • Despite being Human Aliens, the Cassiopeians communicate with whistles. The human ear can barely distinguish the various whistles. A single whistle a second long can mean an entire sentence.
    • Their written language appears to involve strange characters consisting of multiple criss-crossing lines at 90° or 45° angles. When Agapit is shown reading them, he stretches out his hand towards it and rotates it to follow the lines, likely as a reading aid.
  • The Stoic: The robots remove emotions from most of their creators in an attempt to improve them. As a result, those who undergo the procedure feel no need to reproduce, and most of the species dies off within a few generations.
  • Streaming Stars
  • Subspace Ansible:
    • The crew is somehow able to communicate with Earth in real-time, despite being lightyears away.
    • The I.O.O. also makes a one-way video-link to the ship using a public rotary phone and a metal cigar case.
  • Teen Genius: The whole project was Vitya's idea, including a new method of storing Anti Matter, at only 14 years old. He originally thought it was just a school project, although he also presented it to academicians. The high-ranking academicians find out about it and decide to actually build Vitya's starship with him spearheading the project. They even make it a point to refer to him by his name and patronymic (unheard of for a teenager). Two academicians, at first, dislike the idea of trusting something so important to a teenager. One is immediately won over by Vitya, when the latter mentions the academician's cosmological theory and that he completely agrees with it. The other is temporarily Reassigned to Antarctica to avoid interference.
  • Time Dilation: Referenced several times as "Einstein's Paradox". A particular mention is the celebration of The Captain's Birthday by his family back on Earth. I.O.O. then appears and explains that they have too many candles on the cake, since only a short time has passed for him.
  • Tractor Beam: The ship is equipped with a force field that can be used to grab small objects and pull them towards the ship.
  • Translation: "Yes": One of the international guests visiting the ship in the Soviet Union says an incredibly long sentence, the Translator simply says "Astounding!".
  • Translator Microbes:
    • The ship comes equipped with the latest technology, including a portable translating device. Not only is it able to instantly translate an alien language, but it is also able to translate a dog bark into "Get this thing away from me! Give me a bone instead!"
    • Each crewmember wears one of these "meaning detectors" (as they're called) when wearing their jumpsuits.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The controller robots have used their direct control of the executor robots (which by that point have taken over all manual labor on Alpha Cassiopeia II) to take charge of the planet from their masters. They then "improve" the masters by removing all ambition, care, and emotion (i.e. everything that causes unhappiness). This results in the entire civilization living entirely in the care of the robots, not concerned with anything else, including reproduction. When the Earth ship arrives to the planet 250 years later, there is not a single living soul in that entire world.

Alternative Title(s): Teens In The Universe