Film: Test Pilot Pirxa / Test pilota Pirxa (1979)

May 18, 2012 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / T to U


Film: Good / DVD Transfer:  n/a/ DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a/ Region: n/a/ Released: n/a

Genre: Science-Fiction

Synopsis: Uninformed which of his crew are human and robotic, a space commander encounters sabotage and terrorism during a vital mission to Saturn.

Special Features: n/a




Like Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel / ‘Hukkunud Alpinisti’ hotell [M] (1979), Test Pilot Pirxa has been cited by some sci-fi critics as a precursor to (if not possible inspiration for) Blade Runner (1982), given its story concerns the unstable relationship between robots and human beings.

Based on the short story “The Inquest” by Stanislaw Lem, the film version of Pirxa is a peculiar amalgam of cerebral sci-fi and James Bond with wildly uneven results, not to mention editorial pacing that borders on the impatient, but there are unique little moments within this crazily concocted adaptation, which collectively augmented the film’s deserved cult status.

Commander Pirxa (grumbly-faced Sergei Denitsky) is a no-nonsense hard-line test pilot engaged by the United Nations to troubleshoot a special program in which humanoid robots are to set up two automated satellites in Saturn’s orbit. Without knowledge as to which team members are human and robotic, Pirxa is charged with putting the crew through extreme scenarios to see how well each contingent performs, and whether the robot program is a viable alternative to human astronauts, given the machines (branded “non-linears”) do not require sleep, food, or oxygen, and have a faster reaction time.

Administered by UNESCO, the entire non-linear project is a co-production between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., yet Pirxa is under pressure to deliver a favorable report to ensure the manufacturer(s) doesn’t lose face, and go bankrupt – something rival firms would be more than happy to see.

The film’s opening begins with the assembly of a robot (branded “non-linears”), the U.N. group voting in favor of engaging Pirxa (with only American robot manufacturer United Atomic Laboratories the only dissenter), and Pirxa’s debriefing. Prior to meeting his secretly mixed human / robotic crew, Pirxa goes out for a drive in his convertible Mustang sports car, driving fast and loose up a curvaceous mountain road. Anticipating his bad driving style, a band of troublemakers have set up a roadblock which is supposed to spook Pirxa and send him over the mountain edge – a sequence directly lifted from Dr. No (1962) – but he manages to save himself, and after giving chase to the nefarious semi-truck, the massive vehicle and its creepy robotic driver explode after disappearing around a bend.

Pirxa seems completely nonchalant about the incident and meets with his primarily ‘American’ crew candidates, nixing one possible due to differing philosophical stances, but circumstances eventually bring the black sheep candidate back on the crew roster, and the ship leaves Earth where it’s supposed to launch a probe. Along the way there’s an accident, sabotage, seething uncertainty among which crewmen are loyal and rogue, and Pirxa discovers a spontaneous terrorist in his midst who may endanger the entire mission and crew.

Marek Piestrak’s direction is very uneven, and it’s hard to tell whether the film was reshaped in spots to quicken the pace, or he simply had little patience for lengthy verbal exchanges which are the hallmark of this peculiar sci-fi entry. The mid-section is where the story becomes intriguing, because Pirxa realize he’s alone and could easily be offed by anyone, hence his not-too-subtle attempts to pick each crewman’s brain and get a sense of who’s human. Moral and religious concepts also pop up, making the action scenes rather perfunctory, since the entire film culminates in a special post-disaster military prosecution whereby crew testimony can either free Pirxa or lead to a disgraceful conviction.

Alongside the sometimes spastic editing, Arvo Pärt’s score is frankly a mess of classically structured themes and ‘action’ movements which in the film’s original mix were hastily dialed down in favour of sound effects, or amateurishly cut down. (The Rusico DVD seems to offer a remixed soundtrack that features newly recorded stereo synth material, adding a bigger mess to an already choppy soundtrack.)

Even with its failings and limited budget (which features model work slightly cleaner than sixties Soviet space effects), it’s worth seeking out this intellectual genre entry which is ideally suited for a contemporary remake.



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


External References:



Return to: Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / T to U

Tags: , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.