8 Science Fiction Films Adapted from Lem
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small, Science Fiction Films Adapted from Lem, Stanisław Lem, photo: Elżbieta Lempp, lem stanislaw el_portret01_5787038.jpg
Culture.pl presents a list of the best movie adaptations of Stanisław Lem's science-fiction novels.
1. Ari Folman – The Congress (2013)
With Michał Englert behind the camera, Opus Film as co-producer, Orange Studio responsible for the animation, and the Polish Film Institute’s co-financing, Folman’s choices reveal his attachment to the country of his parent’s origin – Poland. Actress Robin Wright plays an actress who becomes obsolete because she agreed to have her full-body imaging digitised to then be used as a ‘digital actress’. The film opened the Cannes Film Festival’s 45th Director’s Fortnight.
2. Quay Brothers – Maska (2010)
Reviews of Folman's The Congress
The influential stop-motion animators’ adaptation of Stanisław Lem’s story The Mask also features music composed by Krzysztof Penderecki. Their skill in combining music and images to achieve intensely powerful effects is visible through the story of Beautiful Duenna who was created in order to carry out a certain mission. In a technologically developed but at the same time feudal world, she is forced to choose between accomplishing the task she was created for and love.
3. Steven Soderbergh – Solaris (2002)
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One of a couple of Solaris adaptations (following Boris Nirenburg’s 1968 made-for-TV and Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 cinematic adapation) of what is probably Lem’s best-known novel. Soderbergh’s Solaris, produced by James Cameron, emphasises the relationship between Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) and Rheya (Natascha McElhone). Although he was disappointed by the absence of the living ocean Solaris and how it veered away from his novel, Lem did have positive comments:
The film has a unique, overwhelming climate. Filled with light, colours, stunning shots, music, impressive acting, an economical use of special effects, clear narration.
4. Marek Piestrak – Inquest of Pilot Pirx (1978)
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This joint Polish/Estonian/Ukrainian production was based on Lem’s story ‘The Inquest’ from the collection More Tales of Pirx the Pilot. A mixed robot and human crew embark on a mission to launch satellites into the rings of Saturn. There is a near disaster and the human crew are almost killed. Upon returning to Earth there is an inquest to determine if Pirx was responsible for the ‘accident’. When it is found that one of the robots caused the malfunction in an attempt to kill the human crew members, Lem’s idea is clear: the human can hesitate, make wrong decisions, have doubts, but a robot cannot.
5. Andrei Tarkovsky – Solaris (1972)
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Tarkovsky’s first sci-fi movie was framed as the Soviet response to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was screened in the USSR in limited runs for 15 years without a break giving it cult status. Although it was based on Lem’s novel, it was artistically independent, even though Lem attempted to work with Tarkovsky and Friedrich Gorenstein in developing the screenplay. Lem maintained that he didn’t like Tarkovsky’s version of his novel, and apparently never watched it to the end. Most viewers seemed to have a rather different opinion though – the film premiered at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury and a nomination for the Palme d’Or.
6. Andrzej Wajda – Roly Poly (1968)
Lem Vs. Tarkovsky: The Fight Over ‘Solaris’
An adaptation of the short story Roly Poly, this Wajda film had a script written by Lem himself. A race-car driver is deprived of the greater part of his inner organs in successive surgical operations. Moreover, haunted by bad luck, he never earns enough money to cover his debts to the donors of the missing parts. The film’s success led it to TV screens throughout Europe.
7. Marek Nowicki & Jerzy Stawicki – The Friend (1965)
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In this 20-minute black-and-white film that was made for television, a mechanical brain that wants to take over the world controls every step of the film’s protagonist. The filmmaker duo also produced another Lem adaptation: Professor Zazul (1962).
8. Kurt Maetzig – First Spaceship on Venus (1960)
The Dissection and Disappearance of a Political Genius' Brain
the silent star
inquest of pilot pirx
first spaceship on venus
An East German-Polish production based on the novel The Astronauts, First Spaceship on Venus (AKA The Silent Star) is considered ‘the most impressive non-Hollywood science fiction film of the 1960s’. Discovering a mysterious message from Venus, scientists decide their only option is to travel there. On Venus, they discover that the inhabitants of the faraway planet intended to invade Earth but were themselves destroyed. With only part of the crew returning to Earth, they warn humanity of the dangers of atomic weapons.
Compiled by MJ, 16.05.2013
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Sources: based on an original article by AD for Culture.pl, additional sources: Slashfilm, Edinburgh FF, The film stage, Rottentomato, Wajda.pl, Lem.pl, The Warsaw Voice.