Film reviews

#26 – Doomsday Machine (1972)

Doomsday Machine (1972)

Film review #26

Director: Herbert J. Leder

A disaster film in more ways than one…

A pair of American spies infiltrate a secret Chinese research facility and discover a doomsday machine, which will be activated in 72 hours. They take photographs and report back to the American government.

Meanwhile back in America, the spaceship Astra is being prepared to launch on a two year trip to Venus. Their launch window has been stepped up, and three of the men of the crew have been replaced by three women, incuding one woman, at the last minute, which has baffled the crew. Soon after the launch of the ship, military alerts are placed in effect across the entire world. It then dawns upon the four men and the three women of the Astra that they have been put together to restart the human race on Venus should the Chinese “doomsday machine” be activated. Sure enough, they look upon the Earth as it destroyed through a myriad of nuclear strikes…

As the seven-person crew continue to Venus, they realise that the weight of the ship means that a safe landing on Venus is impossible, and that the crew must be reduced to three to make a successful landing. They entrust the machine to make the decision for them, much to the chagrin of one of the crew. Two of the crew are involved in an altercation, and accidentally open the airlock, killing them both. Furthermore, another two leave the ship to dislodge a faulty booster to ensure the ships landing.

The two crewmembers are drifting off into space when they come across an abandoned soviet shuttle from an earlier mission, and go to board. They find miraculously that the craft is still operable and attempt to communicate with the Astra. There transmission is cut out and they are unable to hail them. Then, a voice calling itself the “collective conscious of the population of Venus” tells the craft that the Astra is no more, and that humans cannot land on Venus, because they have proven to be dangerous and destructive species with the destruction of their home planet. The voice then talks ambiguously about their being life beyond the universe as the film suddenly ends…

This film seems to have been plagued by a number of problems during it’s production. Primarily being that the film ran out of money before it being completed. The film was made in 1967, but an ending wasn’t made until 1972, when the rights were bought and the film finally released. The original budget itself wasn’t much to begin with, leaving the film to be classified very much as a B-movie. That said, movies have been made of higher quality with less money than Doomsday Machine had ($700,000 to be exact). There are very few sets or special effects, and there was a lot of stock footage used in place of actually making anything original, so I do wonder where all the money went…

The movie itself is a very bleak and unhopeful one. The Earth is destroyed, and the last seven members of humanity are picked off as a consequence of their own selfish actions, or circumstances which they cannot control. The ending does very little to leave a feel-good message in the mind of the viewer either. It is a depressing “what-fi” secenario that is played out before us, and sugar coating it with a happy ending may have taken away that dire warning. Being released during the Cold War, it’s message would certainly had relevance when it was made. Looking back on it today with what we know now, we find the whole pot of the movie even more futile, being that we know that Venus has a ground surface of 425 degrees celsius, and is covered in poisonous sulphuric clouds, therefore making it impossible for ground-based life to exist there. This fact has been known since about 1963 by the Mariner 2 probe, so why this film chose to ignore this fact and change the story to a jpourney to Mars I do not know. It could be that this knowledge of Venus wasn’t publically known, so the film could get away with it. It could have something to do with more Cold War politics, and keeping this information suppressed out of the public realm. If a movie tried to do this plot nowadays, the general public would probably dismiss it outright as it is widely known (taught in schools even) that Venus is unable to support human life. I guess a remake is out of the question then?

There are a lot of errors, both scientific and continuity are prevalent throughout this film. One of the most obvious ones is that a number of different stock footages are used to show the spaceship Astra which are completely inconsistent. One scene shows a ship that is shaped like a rocket, another is actual degraded footage from a NASA space launch, and in another it is a strange spherical ship that looks like a space station. This confused me quite a bit as I just didn’t know what I was looking at most of the time. There is a lot of techno-babble in this movie too, with some scenes consisting of the crew reading off numbers and values which make no sense. It’s that old cliché that TV shows and movies can get away with making up science because the public will just accept it. In this movie though, the crew just reels off numbers and such for quite a while that it gets very tedious.

The most significant thing about this film is the ending. During the last ten minutes, everything suddenly changes. Due to the film being completed five years after production was halted, the original actors, costumes or sets weren’t available, so at that one point during the movie, it becomes something else entirely. The spacesuits the two crewmembers are in suddenly change appearence completely, and their hemets are coincidentally opaque (To mask the fact that the actors are completely different no doubt). The voices still give it away that they are not the same people, namely the woman seems to have completely lost her Russian accent. Out of nowhere this voice claiming to be the “collective conscious of the population of Venus”, hinted at nowhere in the movie ends the movie with an ambiguous monologue about the mysteries of the universe. It seems to me that the people that bought the movie to make an ending from it wanted to make it have that 2001 vibe, carrying the shuttle off to the distant reaches of the universe. Honestly though, it doesn’t really work on this budget, and not being set up for in the rest of the movie just leaves a sense of bewilderment rather than wonder.

Doomsday Machine is not a movie you would want to watch nowadays. Everything about it is outdated, the production is poor, and the ending makes no sense (in a bad way). The fatalistic events of this movie mean there is nothing feel-good here so you really can’t watch it for a laugh at the bad production. Unless you want to see a prime example of how not to make a movie, this one is a miss for me.