Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (AKA Doppleganger)
Wow! From the off this intriguing Twilight Zone style sci-fi movie exudes an atmosphere that screams 'Gerry Anderson'. It's difficult to put your finger on but Anderson is definitely a Producer who could be considered worthy of academic study - in some ways, the ultimate 'Auteur'.
It's a combination of aspects that creates this recipe that is Anderson's. He certainly shouldn't take all the credit, but it's his consistent team philosophy to programme and film-making that brings this instantly recognizable result. After all, he uses the same actors, directors, special effects and musical composers again and again in his work. Maybe 'Doppleganger' (its original British title) would not be so obviously 'Anderson' had it not been for Derek Medding's effects and Barry Gray's musical compositions for example. Whatever the case, this may be Anderson's first feature film - but it sits comfortably aside his TV work like UFO in particular.
The narrative of this film is entertaining enough, but in the final analysis is pretty one dimensional. Penned by Gerry and his then wife Sylvia, it works to a degree like a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits tale - full of twists and turns. But the story itself is not what makes the film such a pleasure to watch. It's the painstaking attention to detail. The unrushed and lovingly elongated shots of space craft, cars and machinery. The lavish design of interior sets, the precision of the effects, the superbly apt soundtrack and score and the frighteningly detailed spot effects that combine to create the final piece. And the end results, in my view, are set to rival even Kubrick's '2001'. Fantastic!
Released in 1969, and Directed by Robert Parrish, it was only renamed 'Journey to the Far Side of the Sun' for American audiences who the distributors felt might get confused by the original 'Doppleganger' title. It heralded the start of live action production for Anderson who, until this time had got stuck (as he would say) creating 'puppet programmes' like Stingray and Thunderbirds. In fact - the following year he began work on 'UFO' and many of the ideas and designs from this movie transferred to that as well as much of Barry Gray's score, Ed Straker's car - and no less than 11 of the cast.
Filmed during the summer of 1968 at Pinewood Studios (where Gerry Anderson retains an office to this day), some location footage was also shot in Portugal. American Director Robert Parrish must have met Anderson at Pinewood where he had just been filming segments for Casino Royale in 1967.
The film's visual effects were shot at the Century 21 Studios in Slough, (where the Mars factory now sits) where production on the Supermarionation series Joe 90 was coming to an end and pre-production on the next Anderson series, The Secret Service, was about to begin.
Without spoiling the story too much, it seems as if a planet has been discovered on the far side of the sun which rotates around the sun in tandem with Earth - which is why it remained undiscovered for so long. Nervous that the discovery will get into the wrong hands, politically savvy Director of The European Space Exploration Council (EUROSEC) Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) persuades the US (in the form of Ed Bishop) to stump up $1 Billion to finance a manned mission. They send British astrophysicist John Kane (Ian Hendry) and American astronaut Col. Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes - well known Stateside as the star of The Invaders ) to the new planet in a rocket. When they crash land on the planet, the strange creatures that surround them turn out to be Humans. It appears that they have returned to earth. Only nothing is quite what it seems. Soon they realise that everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road, and that all writing is 'mirror writing' and the layout of their old homes are now in reverse.
Ironically, according to the Fanderson website, screenings of Doppelgänger in the UK over the last ten years have featured an incorrectly produced print. The person responsible for creating it was unaware of the film's central premise and performed a second "flop-over" on the 'mirror' planet footage, in the mistaken belief that it was the wrong way round. Naturally this made a complete nonsense of the movie and may have damaged its credibility somewhat as a result.
But despite that, and the fact that it didn't do great box office on its release, it did get an Academy Award nomination for its stunning special effects - and in my opinion, deservedly so.
The whole style of this film (and the UFO series that followed) must have made a major contribution to general style of the day. Who knows - would we have the IPOD without Anderson's particular brand of simplistic sets and props?
Whilst some may find the atmosphere and dialogue of the film lacking warmth and humanity, this is very much the case with most of Anderson's post-Thunderbirds work. If it looks a bit contrived, a little stagy perhaps then …well, it is. But unapologetically so. It's a criticism that could be equally aimed at Kubrick's '2001'. It's a trade-off. If you want long lingering shots of space crafts and futuristic cars and amazing sets, then something has to give. But this is where it becomes a matter of personal taste. I love Anderson's work - but I know many who find it slow and lacking in personality.
Apparently, there are only two remaining 35MM prints of this film left in existence. Whichever one was used for this transfer was either in great nick to start with or there has been some serious digital cleaning after transfer. Whatever the case, the DVD looks spectacular and is presented in original 1:85 anamorphic widescreen.
One disappointment to note is the lack of features. An interview with one (or both) the Anderson's would have been nice - or with any of the crew. With such a strong fan-base (and I know people who ARE counting the days till their pre-orders of this arrive) it would have been nice to have something other than the film alone.
Overall though, a top notch release that any sci-fi or Anderson fan will want to get hold of as soon as possible.