Sunday, April 17, 2022

Delta Space Mission, from Romania

America won the Space Race with Apollo 11 and the West overwhelmingly dominated science fiction, what with Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. However, the Warsaw Pact had their contenders, such as the East German DEFA productions and various Stanislav Lem adaptations (Solaris being the most famous). In 1984, Romania joined the sf soft-power fray with its first animated feature ever. Space is a trippy place in Mircea Toia & Calin Cazan’s freshly restored Delta Space Mission, which releases this Tuesday on VOD.

Delta looks like the Death Star, but it is more like the Enterprise. Dan helped design it to discover alien races and facilitate peaceful cooperation with them. Space-faring journalist Alma has come to cover the launch, bringing her metal-eating space dog Tin with her. Frankly, Tin looks more like a space frog, but these were the Ceausescu years, so if someone in authority called it a dog, then it was a dog. The trouble begins when the Delta AI falls in love with Alma.

Suddenly, all Delta’s programming goes out the window. Dan and his comrades search for the giant rogue spacecraft, but it deliberately lets Alma find it. After forcing her to crash on a swamp-like planet, Delta creates a fleet of drones to find and retrieve her.

You can see a fair number of visual echoes from
Star Wars in DSM. The rogue AI is also transparently reminiscent of HAL 9000 in 2001. However, the vibrant colors and groovy synthesizer vibes make it look and feel like a spaced-out hybrid of DEFA’s swinging 1970s sf (like Eolomea and In the Dust of the Stars) star-crossed with Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman.

Stylistically, the animation really is equal parts Peter Max and Filmation’s Saturday morning cartoons. The character development is next to non-existent, except maybe for Tin, but the film definitely conveys the daring spirit of exploration. Plus, there is minimal propaganda baked into
DSM, perhaps because Ceausescu was cultivating a “moderate” image in the West at this time. Be that as it may, recent Disney releases are far more didactic than this Cold War Romanian film, which is a deeply sad commentary.

The important thing is all the weird and wonderful world-building in
DSM. Sure, there are familiar “borrowed” elements, but screenwriters Toia and Victor Antonescu make them their own. It is a bizarre retro-futuristic time-capsule, but an enjoyable one. Recommended for fans of Eastern European science fiction and vintage animation, Delta Space Mission releases this Tuesday (4/19) on VOD.