Lunnaya Raduga ("Moon Rainbow") is a 1984 Russian science fiction melodrama directed by Andrei Yermash and based on the novel by Sergei Pavlov.
In the 21st century, the Space Security Service and World Health Organization are called in to investigate strange phenomena associated with four cosmonauts who recently survived a catastrophe on a mission to Uranus' moon Oberon aboard the eponymous vessel Lunnaya Raduga.
The four survivors of the catastrophe have somehow acquired superpowers during their voyage. They can change shape and manipulate electromagnetic signals with their minds. They naturally apply these newfound powers by freaking out their comrades in dark corridors and altering wooden twigs to play children's television programs. Because with great power comes great responsibility.
As the investigation unfolds, we learn more about the fate of the Lunnaya Raduga and her crew. Spoiler alert: it involves colored gels and electronic synthesizer music.
The central theme of Lunnaya Raduga, that humans are scarcely prepared for what awaits us in outer space, is familiar territory. Elements borrowed from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, and The Day The Earth Stood Still are strongly evident. But ultimately, Lunnaya Raduga doesn't live up to these influences. The overall production has a movie-of-the-week quality, with cheap, underlit sets, poorly tailored costumes and Monty Python-esque visual effects.
Though the run time is a mere 90 minutes, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Lunnaya Raduga is slow-paced and cerebral. But it has neither the visual splendor of 2001 nor the psychological complexity of Solaris. Fans of slow walks down dark corridors and passive-aggressive committee meetings will have plenty to chew on, but everyone else might wish there was more narrative meat on the cinematic bone.
That said, in all Lunnaya Raduga is quite watchable. Despite the modest production values and less than persuasive visual effects, some of the photography is quite beautiful, especially the natural exteriors and contemporary interiors, and the acting is not half bad.
But more, the film gives us a glimpse into a time we never really understood in the West. Lunnaya Raduga is by no means a propaganda film, but in it we see the last days of old school Soviet triumphalism. The mysterious influence of deep space on individuals and society and the blame gaming around the catastrophe on board the Lunnaya Raduga foreshadow the coming of Perestroika and Glastnost as well as the tragedy of Chernobyl.
This would be the last moment that Russians would see themselves as a world-class superpower, that they would imagine themselves putting a million people to work in space. The bland bureaucratic dialogue and investigation-by-committee exposition are presented with the same sense of historical inevitability as Heywood Floyd's oddly PowerPoint-free lunar briefing in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Space is just another frontier to be settled, a resource to be managed, a territory to be defended. The only thing that can threaten the glorious outward march of mankind is if space itself decides to start playing favorites, starts giving powers to some that are not shared by all.
Thinking back to 2001 (the year, not the movie), it's hard to imagine that we could adequately explain to our younger selves the truly mindboggling pain and stupidity we were about to walk into. Can you still recall the time when our biggest problem in life was that we weren't going to be instant billionaires? Can you still recall the time when we didn't have to wonder what the plural of ‘meltdown' is? Meltdowns? Melts down?
Watching Lunnaya Raduga, it's hard not to see in our Russian counterparts a glimmer of that same imperial confidence we also once had. And it's hard not to wonder what, but for all the tragedy, could have been. For them and for us.
Lunnaya Raduga is available for viewing on the YouTubes.