Color, 1984, 70 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Calin Cazan, Mircea Toia, Victor Antonescu
Deaf Crocodile (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)
Long before the idea of transforming webisodes into feature films became a reality, there was the obscure but absolutely wild Delta Space Mission. Mounted by Romanian animators Cali Cazan, Mircea Toia, and Victor Antonescu, it was begun as a series of short films approximately seven minutes in length designed to be springboards for one feature film. The resulting feature is an eye-filled candy jar of a production with a gorgeous spacey electronic score bound to provoke a grin from any fans of prog rock or the freakier fringes of disco music. You'll probably stop trying to keep track of the storyline pretty quickly into the short running time and just bask in the creative visuals and characters, which are more than enough to make it essential viewing if you're into states of altered cinematic consciousness.
In the far distant future, humanity has sent spaceships far and wide to boldly explore new worlds and... you know the drill. On this particular mission, a gigantic spherical supercomputer serves as a controller for the mission whose participants include the alluring alien Alma and a quirky frog-legged pet, Tin. Unfortunately the computer decides to hijack the Delta space station over its frustrated feelings for Alma, which results in a slew of monstrous threats unleashed on the human crew including Anura, Dan, Oana, and Yashiro. Mostly it's an opportunity to string together a string of fantastic cosmic adventures that bring to mind anything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Gerry Anderson to Fantastic Planet and Heavy Metal, with the basic story sitting somewhere in between Demon Seed and Electric Dreams. Unlike many of its Western counterparts, this one has to stick within the stringent restrictions of the Ceaușescu-led Romanian government; apart from the somewhat sexualized depiction of Alma, there isn't anything here that would raise an eyebrow content-wise. However, it's total catnip if you love far-out animated fantasias tripping across the galaxy with weird little surprises popping up in every scene. There's really nothing else out there quite like it.
An unknown quantity outside of Romania unless you're a real die-hard animation nut, this one has been a big passion project for the folks at Deaf Crocodile who have made this their second Blu-ray release on the heels of the wild The Unknown Man of Shandigor. The transfer from a 4K scan of the original camera negative by the Romanian Film Archive and CNC – Romanian Film Centre, with digital restoration by Craig Rogers of Deaf Crocodile Films, is a stunner from start to finish; try to see this on the biggest and best display option you can find. You'll even be tempted to hit the pause button now and then just to savor some of the gorgeous color designs on display and the inventive brushwork in some shots, not to mention the quirky character animation for Tin. The DTS-HD MA Romanian 2.0 mono track is also in perfect shape, with optional English subtitles provided. Kat Ellinger provides an audio commentary that's very much in line with her earlier Eastern European tracks, starting with a thumbnail sketch of the film's history before branching out into a broader look at comparable work being done in other countries and threads drawn to other areas like fairy tale films. A new interview with co-director Călin Cazan in Bucharest (41m34s) via Zoom with Deaf Crocodile's Dennis Bartok is a very warm and informative look back at the film including the story behind the short films, the cinematic influences available in Romania at the time (including Russian fantasy films, Charlie Chaplin, and animation by Disney and Hanna-Barbera), and the impetus behind getting this film off the ground as well as the gratification at seeing it restored for a wider audience. Finally you get a pair of newly restored Delta Space Mission short films totaling 14m45s: "Planeta Oceanelor" ("The Planet of the Oceans") and "Recuperare ratata" ("Failed Towing"), both directed by Victor Antonescu and featuring a very similar visual look as you get to explore an ocean planet and giant reptiles. The disc also comes with an insert booklet logically featuring an essay by comics legend Stephen R. Bissette, who contextualizes this within the greater scheme of European fantastic animation and graphic art.
Reviewed on March 7, 2022