Russian Film ‘Aelita, Queen of Mars’ was to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ as ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was to ‘The Matrix’
If you took/are taking a film theory class in college, chances are you had to watch Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 expressionist film ‘Metropolis’. What you may not learn (or at least I didn’t) was that his work was strongly influenced by a Russian sci-fi movie that came out a few years earlier.
The other pre-eminent Russian work of fiction set on Mars is Aelita, by Alexei Tolstoy, written in 1923, six years after the second Russian Revolution of 1917 and the instigation of a Socialist state. In it the character Los travels to Mars to lead a popular uprising against the Elders. When the rebellion is crushed Los and Aelita, the princess of Mars, seizes control to establish her own totalitarian regime.
It was made into a film Aelita, Queen of Mars by Iakov Protozanov in 1924. The Constructivist style of its film sets, designed by Isaac Rabinovich, and with outlandish costumes by Alexandra Exter, depicted the advanced state of Martian society, as something for the new USSR to aspire to. While it was a major influence on Flash Gordon, Metropolis, the film fell out of favour in later years, perhaps for being a little too accurate in prefiguring Soviet society under Stalin.