On the Silver Globe - Standard Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th February 2024).
The Film

On a dystopian future Earth where scientists live underground and the dwellers above ground have reverted to tribal hunting bands, a pair of scientists living above the ground in the ruins of a Polish palace – subduing and placating the local band with a supply of hallucinogenic chemicals and trinkets – are presented by one of the hunters with a satellite device that is at least fifty years old but the hunter claims has only just fallen from the sky. The scientists take it below ground to decode the signal and discover that it is the record of a rocket mission of rebel scientists searching for a new planet to start over. The rocket has crashed, killing the captain and gravely injuring chief engineer Tomasz (Leszek Dlugosz), but the atmosphere is breathable and the three survivors set about building a shelter.

Marta (Wilczyca's Iwona Bielska) is pregnant with Tomasz's child and survivors Jerzy (Ida's Jerzy Trela) and Piotr (Triumph of the Spirit's Jerzy Gralek) observe upon his birth that the child Tomasz is growing at an accelerated rate. Marta and Piotr soon lose interest in documenting their experience, and Jerzy observes as the pair's attempt to populate the planet with rapidly-gestating and growing children creates a society that sees the three of them as Gods due to their taller stature and their outliving multiple generations of offspring. When Piotr is mysteriously killed and Marta dies after giving birth to her final child – her only one with Jerzy, a girl Ada (Hospital of the Transfiguration's Elzbieta Karkoszka) who christens herself the interpreter of Marta – fear of an unknown enemy and Jerzy's inability to provide satisfactory answers to their questions about life and death make him an outcast even as they still revere and fear him. With his last breath, he travels back to the rocket and sends the video record back home.

Curious about what has become of the civilization, Earthling Marek (Golem's Andrzej Seweryn) takes an advanced automatic return rocket to the planet only to discover its culture has advanced significantly over the last half-century more so than its technology. Apart from the religion of Tomasz and Marta, a secret brotherhood has been awaiting the return of the Earth God to their planet and have created prophesies and texts in expectation that the God will come and vanquish their mortal enemy the Sherds, ferocious bird-like creatures that steal their women for use as incubators with the side effect of bodily mutation. Emotionally-shattered by the infidelity of his actress love Aza (Man of Iron's Krystyna Janda), Marek has exiled himself from the Earth and his initial detached scientific fascination with the civilization blurs with his own desire to find order in chaos.

Leading an army against the Sherds, Marek captures Aviy who is able to telepathically communicate with him through an eye in its forehead. Marek is disturbed to discover the intelligence of his enemy and unable to reconcile their violence with his own suppressed animal impulses and only finds comfort in deflowering vestal virgin Ihezal (Hijacked to Hell's Grazyna Dylag); however, the more mortal he becomes in the eyes of his people, the more they begin to doubt he is their savior with high priest Malahuda (Medium's Henryk Bista) starting to believe that Marek did not come to them but was cast out of Earth. When Aza's guilt-ridden lover Jacek (Quo Vadis?'s Waldemar Kownacki) follows Marek to the planet, he inadvertently seals the other man's fate and discovers that Gods are better unseen and unheard.

Based upon "The Lunar Trilogy" penned between 1901 and 1911 by Żuławski's great uncle Jerzy Żuławski, On the Silver Globe marked Żuławski's invitation back to Poland by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs after his success with That Most Important Thing: Love with the offer to make a project of his own choice. Production began in 1976 and continued through 1977 with some friction over the speed of production and the budget until the new vice-minister of cultural affairs shut down the production which was reportedly eighty-percent completed and ordered all materials destroyed. Most of the costumes and props were preserved and stored by crew members while Żuławski went abroad, making his most widely-recognized cult classic melodrama-masquerading-as-a-horror-film Possession and a pair of mainstream French productions La femme publique and L'amour braque (the latter on which he would meet his romantic partner of the next sixteen years in actress Sophie Marceau) before agreeing to return to Poland in 1986 to complete On the Silver Globe.

Rather than attempting to shoot the unfinished scenes for the film, Żuławski reunited much of the cast to post-synchronize their dialogue and shot handheld scenes of contemporary Poland over which he himself provided narration filling in the gaps in the story of a film he describes in the opening narration as having been "murdered" in 1977. While the film would seem like a patchwork assembly on paper, it is difficult to imagine On the Silver Globe as a "completed" film. The 1976-77 scenes alone are both as intellectually-stimulating for the viewer as they are as emotionally and even physically exhausting for the viewer as they are for Marek; so viscerally-powerful that the narration cutaways to random footage of the Polish countryside, industrial landscapes, and metropolitan life provide brief respite for the viewer. One also imagines the possibility that the connective expository sequences dramatized might have an effect on the pacing while sequences depicting the relationships between Aza and Marek and Aza and Jacek might have seemed both prosaic in their narrative content and might have also undercut or made monotonous the hysterical interactions between Marek and Ihezal towards the climax and Jacek and Aza during the latter third of the film. Some of the bigger sequences like the Sherd battle might also have dulled the brutality of the crucifixion sequence and a coda that concludes Jacek's story while also working in some of the third volume of the trilogy might have felt drawn out in the aftermath of Marek's martyrdom.

Epic in scope and conceptual design more so than resources, On the Silver Globe alongside Alejandro Jodorowsky's extensive and expensive unsuccessful development of an adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune" and Andrei Tarkovsky's adaptations of Solaris and Stalker offer up a possibility of a more substantive alternative evolution of mainstream science fiction to what did hit the screens with Star Wars. Not only does the film offer up a more probing examination of what it means to be human, the film seems far more realistic and honest about the effects of messianic religions and protagonists with messiah complexes than the likes any of the filmed adaptations of the Herbert novel. The crude design of the Sherds not only feels theatrical, but the indistinctness of the facial designs actually feels more terrifying as it requires both Marek and the viewer to peer more closely to find something relatable while the humanoid voice seems as much a mockery as its retorts to Marek's attempts to establish his moral and intellectual superiority (the film's male protagonist possesses some interesting parallels not only with Żuławski's earlier protagonists but also those of Possession and his final Polish picture Szamanka).

Although framed for the horizontally-narrow 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the photography of Jaroszewicz still feels expansive, even in the predominant wide angle close-ups that place characters like Marek at the center of the universe while giving a sense of his fatal disregard for the masses behind him along the beaches or within the caves. The handheld photography of the Jerzy sequence fit the video diary format as Jerzy and other characters look directly into the lens and implicate the viewer's impassive gaze, while the photographic approach subsequently lends itself to the performative aspects of both Marek's leadership and the religious and theatrical spectacle that attempts to impose order where there is none. Korzynski's approach to the score still possesses some psychedelic elements but also anticipates the Vangelis and Brian Eno-esque soundscapes to come more so than John Williams orchestral majesty (Korzynski appears to have reworked one of the film's main themes in a more romantic arrangement for Żuławski's later French melodrama La fidιlitι).


Not finished until 1988, On the Silver Globe played at Cannes and the Polish Film Festival before its 1989 Polish theatrical release, but it would be nearly twenty years before it appeared on home video. The DVD transfers made use of a murky 1.56:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed digital master which would be the only game in town until a 2016 4K restoration supervised by Żuławski and Jaroszewicz. Apart from the film festival play, the only way to see the restoration was as a Japanese Blu-ray – available separately or as part of set with The Third Part of the Night and The Devil – and as part of France's limitd Le chat qui fume set until Eureka's own limited edition set Andrzej Żuławski: Three Films late last year. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray faithfully represents the cool look of the film, from the green-tinged Jerzy sequence (Żuławski biographer Daniel Bird explains elsewhere in the set that this part of the film was shot with a green filter intended for black and white photography on the lens and that both he and Jaroszewicz had to assure technicians that the green bias of the negative was not a flaw or deterioration). Fine detail is in long shots is subject to the darkness of many of the settings but asserts itself in all of the film's wide angle deep focus close-ups from facial features and hair to costumes and entrails. The film is so predominantly green, blue, gray, and black that it is a shock when real saturated color enters the frame first in the form of the religious costumes and then in the graphic bloodshed of the climax of the film.


While a rechanneled 5.1 mix have been prepared for this 4K restoration, Eureka has opted for the original mono mix in 24-bit LPCM 2.0. Presumably the restorers have gone back to the original stems and magnetic materials rather than just attempting to clean up optical tracks, and the tracks are clean and crisp, conveying post-synchronized dialogue, vividly mixed scoring, and sound effects that range from merely supportive to deliberately grating. It is perhaps as much a testament to the restoration as the original mix that one cannot opine that the most recent of the mixes On the Silver Globe having been done in the late eighties is technically "better" than the other two Zulawski restorations mixed in the early seventies. Optional English subtitles are free of any glaring errors.


On the Silver Globe is the only film in the set accompanied by a commentary, and the audio commentary by film historian Daniel Bird who discusses the source novel, noting that the expedition was to the moon but that had to be changed given the actual moon landing in the years since the novel's publication. Bird also discusses the evolution of Jaroszewicz's visual design throughout the film as well as in the design of the costumes from functional – aping the look of the astronaut suits worn by the "Gods" – to aesthetic as they took on a religious significance. He also reveals that the horse rider seen in the opening sequence Krzysztof Tyszkiewicz was not only a horse trainer but he contributed to the design and costumes of the tribe in the Earth sequences. He debunks the notion that Żulawski's decision to adapt his great uncle's work was a personal exorcism in the aftermath of his split with his wife – Possession is the more likely confessional work – revealing anecdotes that suggest Żulawski had wanted to do it for some time. He also casts doubt on Żulawski's claim that the costumes were ordered destroyed, noting that the animal skins were not cured so they rotted in storage. His commentary is also helpful in teasing out some of the film's philosophical ideas which are not original to the rather straightforward literary source, describing the dialogue style as sort of "text collage" of ideas and sources.

In "Adam Żulawski on Jerzy Żulawski" (20:45), the author's grandson's discusses the differences between Western science fiction as embodied by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne with Polish science fiction, the influence of Polish anthropology Bronisław Malinowski and avant-garde artist and writer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (aka Witkacy), and Żulawski's influence in turn on Polish science ficiton author Stanisław Lem and the Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

"Return to the Silver Globe" (10:34) is a visit with cinematographer Jaroszewicz and a camera crew to the salt mine location. There is little dialogue but Jaroszewicz is fascinating to watch was he relives memories and inscribes his name on a brick next to several other past workers and visitors.

In "The Cinematography of On the Silver Globe" (11:13), Bird provides detail on the lenses Jaroszewicz used on each part of the film as well as filters, film stock, and lighting to distinguish the looks and tones of the sequences.

In "Lunar Futurism" (6:08), Bird is a visual essay that examines the costume designs of Magdalena Tesławska (La note bleue) including illustrations that she gave to Bird when she was designing costumes for a play he directed. Bird also reveals that Tesławska got the job by winning a competition for the Sherd design.

A fourth bonus Blu-ray disc includes Escape to the Silver Globe (95:46), a 2021 feature-length documentary by Kuba Mikurda, director of the documentary Love Express. The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk and the coming Solaris Mon Amour. The film presents a rare, multi-faceted, if not always flattering picture of the director at work. His son Xawery Żuławski (Chaos) acknowledges that the unfinished film was a very painful experience for his father and muses on how his father's career might have been different had the film been completed and released, while also noting his shortcomings as a father in his quest for uncompromising freedom. He and some of his father's contemporaries like recall the glamorous impression made by Żuławski and Braunek as a magnetically-handsome couple, his mentorship under Andrzej Wajda - Żuławski recalls his admiration for Wajda in interview footage while director Janusz Zaorski recalls that his actor brother actually mistook Żuławski for Wajda at an audition because Żuławski took on Wajda's style and mannerisms - and how it paved the way for his feature debut. They also cover the shelving of The Devil and Żuławski being advised to leave Poland - even receiving a passport literally "under the table" – only to be invited back by communist party boss Edward Gierak who felt that promoting Polish cultural arts would win international support after Żuławski made a splash with That Most Important Thing: Love (Żuławski in an archival interview also recalls that the offer was made to shoot a film that would "make everyone happy" and that The Devil would also finally be released).

Xawery Żuławski recalls his father's return and his parents' stormy sepearation - as well as musing on why none of his father's relationships worked out, while Lukasz Żuławski recalls his brother's depression in the aftermath of his separation before mounting On the Silver Globe, and screenwriter Maria Konwicka provides some background on Żuławski's philosophical interests and his pessimistic view of humanity. Actor Seweryn compares his experience working on Wajda's epic The Promised Land to Żuławski's film and his love of his character but also recalls that Wajda advised Żuławski against making the film as too big for the Polish film industry. Set designer Tomasz Biernawski compares the designs and the scale of the film to Star Wars while acknowleding that Żuławski could not have made the film in the West, Jaroszewicz recalls the contrast between the country's economic downturn and the high budget of the film reflected in the way the film's post-Soviet high-tech designs are held together behind the scenes by hammers, nails, and pieces of string, assistant costume designer Liliana Bartecki-Nieumierzycki recalls Żuławski's perfectionism and how his extreme determination turned him into a sort of guru to the crew at first, and assistant art director Barbara Komosinska recalls the creativity Żuławski inspired in them but also being gradually pushed past creative stimulation towards the end of their tether. As the shoot went on over a year, Jaroszewicz suggests that the crew was "living the film" as an escape from reality, second production manager Michal J. Zablocki draws parallels between Żuławski as the god on set and Marek, and Seweryn between Żuławski and Marek in their reaction to their lost loves. Prop maker Zdzislaw Zablocki recalled not only the grueling salt mine shoot but also using a hand from the morgue in the crucifixion scene due to Żuławski wanting something new and innovative in terms of effects rather than a trick blade or a fake hand, as well as Seweryn agreeing to have his eyes superglued open for the crucifixion scene.

TV critic Jacek Fuksiewicz and Gierak recall the effect of the release of Wajda's Man of Marble on the party whose cultural politics shifted towards the conservative, installing Deputy Head of Television Janusz Wilhelmi in Gierak's place as Deputy Head of Film, and Wilhelmi's show of power in halting the production, humiliating both Żuławski and State Film Company head power and to humiliate Żuławski as well as Aleksander Scibor-Rylski who had penned Man of Marble in place of Wajda who, unlike Żuławski, had support of Polish Filmmakers' Association. Lukasz Żuławski recalls how Andrzej was once again asked to leave Poland and handed a passport, after which Wilhelmi was killed in a plane crash (none of the interviewees seem particularly saddened by that). Footage from Henry Chapier's “Le couch" interview with Żuławski and Sophie Marceau announces plans to finish the film, while Xawery and Lukasz reveal that behind the scenes, Andrzej's enthusiasm was gone at that point, explaining his approach to finishing it with Polish city scenes and narration.


The standard edition has dropped the hardbound slipcase and divided the booklet between the two sets, with this one focusing only on the writing pertaining to On the Silver Globe. "Unidentified Film Object" by Daniel Bird is based on notes he prepared for a 2018 presentation on the convoluted production history and restoration of On the Silver Globe (revised for this release, the essay is extensively footnoted with all of the sources including personal communications with Żulawski and Tesławska among many others), while "Andrzej Żuławski's On the Silver Globe" by Andrew Graves provides an overview of Żulawski's attempt to capture the entire "Lunar Trilogy" in one film, the production issues, the finished film's innovations, and asserts that what the film "attempts to hide its message within the folds of popular genre tropes or aesthetic artistry [...] actually provides to its viewer is not an alien story, but one that's almost too Earthly to bear."



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