‘Man has conquered the moon with the epic Apollo 11 flight! Now take another momentous journey!’
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is a 1969 British science-fiction film about a space mission to investigate a newly-discovered planet. The original title is Doppelgänger (meaning “double”) but the film is now better known by its aforementioned US and Australian release title.
Directed by Robert Parrish (The Marseille Contract; A Town Called Bastard; Duffy) from a screenplay co-written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Donald James and (uncredited) Tony Williamson. The movie stars Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Lyn Loring, Patrick Wymark and, in a cameo role, Herbert Lom.
The soundtrack score was composed by Barry Gray (UFO TV series; Thunderbird 6; Thunderbirds Are GO).
When scientists a hundred years into the future discover a “duplicate” Earth on the other side of the sun, the stage is set for tense science-fiction adventure and suspense. Determined to find out what this new world is like, a UK-US led expedition headed by two former astronauts (Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry) to reach the new planet sets forth. All goes according to plan until the space ship makes a crash landing on a planet some three weeks earlier than expected…
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun marked a breakthrough “live-action”, if you will, the debut of TV fantasy producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, first intended at a short TV drama but expanded into a feature. This married couple’s penchant for TV adventures geared to children put miniature puppet `actors’ into high-tech settings with abundant futuristic gear – thus leading to such genre classics viewed by a generation as Thunderbirds, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, etc.
However, beloved those titles remain, it was probably a pre-ordained fate that when the Andersons did go with flesh-and-blood actors (in the later UFO and Space: 1999 programmes), grumbly critics would accuse their material of being equally if not even more lifeless, inorganic and machine-like – about the gadgets and miniature f/x and bereft of dramatic interest. And thus has gone the official critical Journey to the Far Side of the Sun general condemnation, with a few dissenting voices that it’s really not a bad film at all. Mine is among them.
In fact, I put it to you, a jury of insane movie misfits and troubled loners, that Doppelgänger or whatever stands along with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the original Solaris (1972) in a trio of late-60s/early 70s space-based SF that dared show that this science-fiction stuff at the cinemas could, conceivably, actually be suited for grownups after all (some will say that the Czech’s Ikarie-XB-1 (1963) and the more upscale 1960s Star Trek episodes deserve the benediction as well).
Sure, Doppel/Journey…. apparently had a troubled production, with the Andersons at creative odds with the US-born journeyman director Robert Parrish (if I had to put a finger on the bigger Kubrick admirer in the room, I’d bet on Mr Parrish), and fairly difficult and no-show actors, if internet gossip is to be believed. But it’s unexpectedly brainy and provocative, mind-stretching stuff that, viewed today, still manages to raise a few sense-of-wonder frissons. It predicts health-wristwatches, video conferencing and perhaps even Brexit if you want to go that far.
One can see a spiritual twin of 2001 in the opening credits and early scenes, with their absolute fetishisation of technology. Spoiler alert: At one point, a traitor within the organisation (Herbert Lom) overcomes security measures with a tiny (celluloid-film-based!) camera cunningly concealed within his false eye – an espionage subplot which seems to barely have anything to do with what comes later but is a wonderful detour for we photography/darkroom fanatics.
There is indeed a momentous discovery being guarded by EUROSEC; a deep-space probe detected an unknown planet in the solar system, orbiting exactly opposite from Earth in precisely the same plane, and thus normally undetectable behind the solar disc. When other European members scupper any cooperation that would mount a manned mission to the mystery world, the elite UK chief (Patrick Wymark) decides to send their own expedition in secret, crewed by Britain’s John Kane (Ian Hendry) and a VIP visiting American astronaut Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes). They must undergo cybernetic implants for blood recycling during their deep-sleep hibernation in the planned six weeks in the spacecraft.
However, the pair wake in their ship apparently three weeks too early, to crash on what seems at first to be an inhospitable alien environment, then is back where they started. Kane has been badly wounded, but Ross is in good enough shape to go back to his awful marriage (actor Thinnes’ wife at the time – Lynn Loring – took over the role from actress Gayle Hunnicutt, who was ill; it makes for a most uncomfortable domestic-violence subplot). He also faces inquiries from angry EUROSEC personnel about what happened and why the ship turned around and aborted the mission halfway.
The “surprise” twist explanation is probably known well to SF fans everywhere, even those who have never seen the feature. It still works nicely, if in a most melancholy fashion. In film literature, one sees so many variant recaps of the plot from diverse sources that – along with some of the ordeals one understands Mr Parrish had to face on-set and in the editing room – a person must wonder if wildly different versions of Journey to the Far Side of the Sun circulated.
Is the whole plot indeed a clever rewrite of Alice in Wonderland for the space-age? Is there an active conspiracy between the two planets? Or is Journey to the Far Side of the Sun just such an intriguing head-scratcher that benighted critics with their brains turned into Moebius strips by it sort of confabulated their own edits in their heads (like the one who wrote that Kubrick’s 2001 quotes Buster Keaton silent slapstick comedy, something I still can’t see).
Sets and special effects from Derek Meddings hold up very well, and if celluloid-film cameras ever revive, here is not only a depiction on how to fit one in your eye but how to get the negatives out, step-by-step. Now, what more can you ask?
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
“The Andersons’ mirror planet means nothing at all. It leads to no insights about the universe or human nature. Nobody speculates what having a double might mean. Nigel Kneale, in his Quatermass and the Pit pays off an odd premise (an alien ship found buried under London) with an escalating series of revelations, each more mind-altering than the last […] Journey is an excuse to show cool rocket toys, and after a while, that’s just not enough.” DVD Talk
“Parrish’s fairly static direction relies primarily on lengthy zooms into characters to provide some fluidity, while it’s quite obvious that Hendry is pissed in certainly two scenes. Thinnes is okay if a tad stolid at times; it’s Wymark who steals the show acting-wise […] a film which is easy to respect, an attempt at a more cerebral type of sci-fi movie at a time when, 2001 notwithstanding, they were rarely made.” Horror Cult Films
“a science-fiction film that comes up with a fascinating premise three-quarters of the way along and does nothing with it.” Judith Crist, New York magazine
Cast and characters:
Roy Thinnes … Colonel Glenn Ross
Ian Hendry … John Kane
Patrick Wymark … Jason Webb
Lynn Loring … Sharon Ross
Loni von Friedl … Lisa Hartmann
Franco De Rosa … Paulo Landi (as Franco Derosa)
Herbert Lom … Doctor Hassler
George Sewell … Mark Neuman
Ed Bishop … David Poulson (as Edward Bishop)
Philip Madoc … Doctor Pontini
Vladek Sheybal … Psychiatrist
George Mikell … Captain Ross
Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal
Heatherden Hall, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England
Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England
Igreja de Vale Judeu, Loulé, Portugal (astronauts get back to the base)
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono (Westrex Recording System)