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14 September 2014

Himmelskibet (1918)

This week's film special is about a silent Danish Science Fiction film about a trip to Mars! On the German postcards by Photochemie in this post, the film is called Das Himmelschiff, but the original Danish title is Himmelskibet. This translates as 'the airship', but the English release titles are A Trip to Mars and 400 Million Miles from Earth. Himmelskibet was made in 1918 by Holger-Madsen for the successful Nordisk Films Kompagni. The stars were Gunnar Tolnaes as space ship captain Avanti Planetaros, and Lilly Jacobson as Marya, the Martian leader's daughter.

Lilly Jacobson, Gunnar Tolnaes and Alf Blütecher in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2148. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Lilly Jacobson as Marya,  Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros, and Alf Blütecher as his friend Dr. Krafft.

Gunnar Tolnaes and Lilly Jacobson in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2149. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes.

Gunnar Tolnaes and Lilly Jacobson in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2150. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes.

A Trip to Mars


Himmelskibet/A Trip to Mars (Holger Madsen, 1918) is one of the first Space Operas. The story was based on Sophus Michaëlis' novel Himmelskibet and adapted by the author himself and Ole Olsen. Frederik Fuglsang and Louis Larsen were the cinematographers. Production Designer was Carlo Jacobsen and Art Director Axel Bruun.

Himmelskibet concerns Captain Avanti Planetaros (Gunnar Tolnaes) and his trip with his space ship Excelsior to Mars. On Mars, Avanti finds a race of white-robed, mystic vegetarians, and he enlists the services of Marya (Lilly Jacobson), the daughter of the local High Priest and leader (Philip Bech).

Among the cast are also Zanny Petersen as Corona, Avanti's Sister, Nicolai Neiiendam as their father, the Astronomer Professor Planetaros, Alf Blütecher as Avanti's Friend Dr. Krafft, and Nils Asther in an uncredited bit part as a Martian.

On Mars, Avanti converts to pacifism and returns to Earth to spread the message. Before long, peace breaks out all over the planet and a well-placed bolt of lightning quickly wipes out the only resistance to this creed.

Freeman Williams writes at his Bad Movie Report about the social context of the film, the first World War, in which the film was produced: "Himmelskibet was released in February of 1918, nine months before the cease fire with Germany was signed, which meant that for its entire shooting schedule, one of the most horrific wars yet seen was raging on with no signs of letting up. (...)

Given that, the tenor of the story is perfectly understandable, and Himmelskibet works better perhaps as a parable than it does as a science fiction or cautionary tale." Bad Movie Report rates the film as: 'Teetering on the brink of greatness. A good time' and adds 'Sweet movie. And save us, Space Hippies!'

Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2152. Photo: Nordisk. Still from Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger Madsen, 1918) with from left to right Alf Blütecher as Dr. Krafft, Zanny Petersen as Corona Planetaros, Lilly Jacobson as Marya, Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros, and Nicolai Neiiendam as professor Planetaros, father of Corona and Avanti.

Lilly Jacobson, Gunnar Tolnaes, Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2153. Photo: Nordisk. Still from Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger Madsen, 1918) with Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes.

Gunnar Tolnaes, Zanny Petersen and Nicolai Neiiendam in Himmelskibet/ Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2156. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for the science-fiction film Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes, as captain Avanti Planetaros, Zanny Petersen as his sister Corona, and Nicolai Neiiendam as their father, the astronomer professor Planetaros.

A True Oddity


Rhys Hughes at VideoVista rates Himmelskibet/A Trip to Mars (Holger-Madsen, 1918) among the Top 10 of Early Fantasy Films: "A true oddity this and a film that initially seems ahead of its time in many ways. (...)

Despite the flower power trappings, the beads and robes and consumption of lentils, Himmelskibet is really a reaction to the outbreak of WWI rather than an accurate prediction of the 1960s' alternative culture. Less surprisingly, perhaps, it stands alone as an example of early Danish fantasy cinema."

After Himmelskibet (1918), Denmark did not make another science fiction film until Reptilicus (Sidney W. Pink, 1962) starring Bent Mejding and Ann Smyrner.

Himmelskibet was believed to be by and large a lost film for many years, until the Det Danske Filminstitut (Danish Film Institute) located a fairly complete copy and set to restoring it. In 2006, nearly ninety years after its initial appearance, Himmelskibet (1918) was re-released on DVD by the Danish Film Institute.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2158. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2161. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros, Philip Bech as the Martian leader, Lilly Jacobson as Marya, the Martian leader's daughter, Alf Blütecher (kneeling) as Avanti Planetaros' friend Dr. Krafft and Nils Asther as the fallen Martian.

Gunnar Tolnaes, Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2162. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes as Avanti Planetaros and Nicolai Neiiendam as his father, the astronomer professor Planetaros.

Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet/ Das Himmelschiff
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 2164. Photo: Nordisk. Publicity still for the science-fiction film Himmelskibet/Das Himmelschiff (Holger-Madsen, 1918) with Gunnar Tolnaes.


The restored Himmelskibet/A trip to Mars (1918). Source: Sebastian Castillo (YouTube).

Sources: Rhys Hughes (VideoVista), Freeman Williams (The Bad Movie Report), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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