At the Movies

Jukka Halme • November 7th, 2008 @ 9:12 pm • Uncategorized

How many science fiction films have we Finns made? Take a wild guess.

Give up? Me too. Actually, I don’t know really how many science fiction – or even fantasy – films has been made in Finland or by Finns, but I can tell you, that the number is pitifully small. Before the rise of the small-budget filmmakers of the last ten or so years, proper sf-films were done by the few, the proud, the weirdoes. None of them were particularily breathtaking or original or even entertaining. I mean, when we’re forced to count in movies like the lesser-talented Kaurismäki Bros, Mika, and his epically forgettable Last Border, you know were not in Happy Town.

There was a mention of Iron Sky in one of the comments. Yes, the makers of Star Wreck will be back eventually. With a script by none other than Johanna Sinisalo! Nazis on the Moon and they’re coming back home… Should be a lot of fun and by the look of it all, maybe the producers have finally developed a sense of humour that appeals to a wider audience than screaming adolescent fanboys (just kidding, guys, you know I love you!).

But what about the Finnish proto science fiction films? Were there any? Sweden had it’s incredible Horror of the Midnght Sun that is clearly screaming for a remake. Danes had the monstrously entertaining Reptilicus, which offered Giggle City to all those who had even some sense of the City of Copenhagen, not to mention the small effort of looking the way the crowds of Danes are moving to various directions by the filmmakers, with smile on their faces. I’m sure Norwegians have a similar treat for the connoisseurs of Scandinavian sci-fi!

Finland was often frowned upon, because our candidate for the 50′s&60′s Monster of the Week B-movie silliness was the fantasy film Valkoinen Peura (White Reindeer). When I say “frowned”, I mean that while Rymdinvasion i Lappland and Reptilicus were plain silly entertaining monster movies, Valkoinen peura is actually a very good film, full of evocative scenery, Northern magic and foxy Mirjami Kuosmanen. After all, when we’re talking about silly monsters in rubber suits, there should be some, n’est pas?

The 2006 cover of the DVD

The 2006 cover of the DVD

Fortunately, recent finding of 1952 rarity called Saturnuksen sotavaltias (The Warlord of Saturn) “saved” us Finns and our national pride of being just like any other country. The year is 1982 and inventor Arimo Kaskelotti has a job for two of his old and dear friends. Kaskelotti has built a spaceship and needs to go to Saturn for a little test drive. With engineer Lauri Mutteri and restless adventurer Jouni Kaartinen, the handsome trio takes off and finds out that Saturn is just like Earth, only the sky is green and the plants are red. Indigenous people, who not only look like humans, but also talk FINNISH(!), have different kin colour (of blue). Silly concept, which might look even sillier, be it not for the fact that the movie is in b&w! All these little scifi-ideas are being used with little imagination.

The movie continues with the heroes being captured by the evil warlord of Saturn, but they are able to escape with little help from beautiful princess. The escape features buckling swashes and all kinds of fun action, but in the end the good guys win and the hero (not Kaskelotti, which in my opinion is a shame, but Jouni Kaartinen) gets the girl – the aforementioned princess).

The Heroic Trio!

The Heroic Trio!

This movie has everything the doctor ordered and then some! There are sword fights, space monsters, killer robots, restless natives, inventions and thrilling escapes, not to mention a dramatic ending that defies logic, but what the heck, it’s a scifi-flick!

T. Rex!

T. Rex!

Saturnuksen sotavaltias is an amazing feature, considering that Finland was barely getting through with heavy was damage payments to Soviet Union. The Olympic Games were held in Helsinki the year film was released, but for some reason, it just vanished from general knowledge. Perhaps it was a bit too much “different” for the average-Joe (or in case of Finland, Jaakko) to understand. Our literary field, not to mention the film industry, had for a long time embraced the solid idealism of tough and gritty men that are proud, honest and poor. Consider the first Finnish novel Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers) by Aleksis Kivi. While there actually is a fantasy sequence at the book (which can be found translated into English at Deadalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, edited by Johanna Sinisalo), the rest of the novel is very much a study of tough rural life.

Finnish literature has always had this extremely strong sense of “savotta- ja korsurealismi” (savotta derives from Russian word zavód and could be roughly translated as a field of lumber work being done, while korsu is a dugout shelter, I guess you can guess what realismi stands for…), meaning that the Real Stories are the ones that tell us of the grieves and problems of lumberjacks and soldiers that either helped to build this land or to protect it. Such nonsense as science fiction would definitely have been sneered upon in those days, which may explain the subsequent loss of almost no mention of this little film.

Buckling swashes!

Buckling swashes!

Which is fairly amazing, considering that the film is lovingly done with some enjoyable photography and set building. The acting is perhaps less than stellar, but there is definite love of the genre that just fills the small screen. The story is cardboard’ish, owing more than just a nod to the works of many Finnish chldren/teen sf-writers of the era, not to mention a wallop of a debt to one Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m not certain whether the title is actually original, but it is a great name!

If only there’d be an English language version of this little gem of a film, so that all of you might be able to see and enjoy this vital piece of Finnish film arcana.

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