Journey to the Far Side of the Sun

Year: 1969
Production Co: Century 21 Television
Director: Robert Parrish
Writer: Gerry Anderson/Sylvia Anderson/Donald James
Cast: Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark

The trivia you can find online about 2011's awesome low-fi sci-fi Another Earth doesn't mention that it was inspired by this movie in any way, but they're very close spiritual cousins. The difference in Robert Parrish's 1969 trip is that he's more interested in the hard sci-fi trappings of the premise, whereas director and writer Mike Cahill and co-writer Britt Marling's slow-burner was a meditation on loss and second chances that happened to have a sci-fi backdrop.

But they're both about scientific principles like quantum entanglement and parallel universes (perhaps unwittingly – and certainly in the case of this movie as it predates the former term), the fact that if we see doppelgangers of aspects of our lives or cosmos they'll be mirror images of what's happening in our own, not completely disconnected and autonomous actors.

Parrish, along with his art department and production design teams, makes beautiful use of old school, pre-CGI techniques. There are plenty of long shots of the European Space Exploration Council (EUROSEC) headquarters and the launch and flight of the Phoenix that are all done using gorgeous miniature models and effects, and it has a very rich postwar-era genre feel.

It's the near-future space age and a planet the same size of Earth has been discovered on the opposite side of the sun, hidden from human view for millennia. There's a pretty pointless introductory coda where a EUROSEC scientist is spying for the Soviets, stealing the research that proves the planet's existence. The nasty enforcer who works for driven EUROSEC director Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) brutally dispatches the spy, and Webb uses the urgency that the East might mount its own mission to the other Earth to convince NASA to help him bankroll a joint US/European mission.

American Pilot Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) and Brit astrophysicist John Kane (Ian Hendry) are recruited to the mission and they're off, put in suspended animation for the three week trip. When they arrive, bearded and excited, they scan for life on what turns out to be a rocky, lifeless world, and when they try to touch down in a violent electrical storm, Kane is critically injured, Ross left to try and drag his inert body to a hollow to hide when strange lights appear in the mountains and come towards them.

It's a fruitless attempt and they're spotted by what turns out to be air sea rescue operations in Mongolia, where they've crashed, and Ross is taken back to EUROSEC where Webb and his eggheads want to know what went wrong with the mission, and why he and Kane returned to Earth.

And it's here the 'idea' phase of the sci-fi kicks in, the hallmark of the genre before Star Wars made it all about thrills, creatures and action. To everyone back home, Ross and Kane must have got halfway and turned back, having crashed back home on Earth only three weeks into the six week trip to the other planet. Ross is insistent – he and Kane never turned back. They woke up in orbit around the other Earth, but have somehow ended up back home.

While he tries to convalesce and help Webb and EUROSEC makes sense of what's gone wrong, the truth reveals itself – in tiny ways first, like Ross's wife driving on the wrong side of the road. He realises things is his own house are backwards, and before long glaring and terrifying signs become obvious, like the way writing – everywhere from doors to documents – is reflected as if in a mirror.

Gradually the awful truth becomes apparent. Ross and Kane did indeed make it to the other Earth, but it's a complete mirror image of the one they left, complete with the same people, places, situations and actions (their own doubles left the Earth Ross finds himself on three weeks before on their own mission). The race is on to find the flight recorder from their rocket, the Phoenix to prove Ross' claims, retrofit it for a reversed universe (all the components and rocketry have to be switched around) and send him back to his own Earth.

The downbeat ending does the whole story a favour, seeming to assert what a lot of time travel and zombie survival movies have taught us since the dawn of the genres – we can't beat science, and the universe will visit violence on us if we resist its attempt to right itself.

Ross' relationships with his wife and a winsome young tech humanise the drama, and the performances – while not Oscar worthy – are appropriate to the circumstances without resorting to the theatrical histrionics of another era. It's the story of a thrilling possibility explored through a very human prism, and it does so with dramatic aplomb in the way some scenes of tension unfold slowly, and visual aplomb thanks to the charm of the old school arts.

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