A Romanian Sci-Fi Adventure

The Romanian film poster for the 1984 animated science fiction fantasy DELTA SPACE MISSION.

In recent years streaming options for entertainment – movies, TV shows, music – have increased and become more commonplace in the average U.S. household but, at the same time, physical media like Blu-rays and DVD continues to prosper among movie lovers and film collectors. Specialty distributors like Severin Films, Vinegar Syndrome and Kino Lorber are releasing new acquisitions at an astonishing rate and obscure genre films and forgotten art house fare are suddenly available on Blu-ray in presentations that look better now than they did during their original theatrical release such as The Five Days (1973, Severin), cult director Dario Argento’s rare non-horror period piece, Ulli Lommell’s witchcraft thriller The Devonsville Terror (1983, Vinegar Syndrome) and Francois Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid (1969, Kino Lorber). Deaf Crocodile, a distributor based in Los Angeles, stands apart from its competitors for restoring and releasing movies from around the world that many film buffs never even knew existed. Among their recent releases are Zerograd (1988), an absurdist Soviet satire, The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967) by Swiss filmmaker Jean-Louis Roy and Solomon King, a lost Blaxploitation indie from 1974. The real surprise for me, however, is Misiunea Spatiala Delta (English title: Delta Space Mission), an animated science fiction fantasy from Romania that was released in 1984.  

A sampler of images from the 1984 animated sci-fi fantasy DELTA SPACE MISSION from Romania.

Directed by Calin Cazan and Mircea Toia from a screenplay by Toia and Victor Antonescu, Delta Space Mission could have been made in the 1960s or 1970s from the look of its trippy graphics and background art with a synthesizer music score and sound effects. The film wouldn’t be out of place in a kid-friendly programming block on Saturday morning circa 1975 except that the execution is anything but conventional.

The Delta space crew are ready for action but first they must contend with an operating system that has a mind of its own in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984) from Romania.

A narrator sets up the basic premise. In the year 3084, a crew of experts in their field are assembled to man the Delta mission, which will explore the galaxy for life on other planets. Delta is powered by a super brain which has the ability to grow plants and crops but also can create robots for work needs or defense purposes. The Delta crew is an international mix that includes Dan, the station designer and head researcher, Oana, an electronic device designer, Yashiro, the on-board electronics coordinator and Anuta, a bio-cybernetician with an afro. They are soon joined by Alma, an intergalactic reporter from the planet Opp, who intends to report on their journey via live news feeds. Also along for the ride is Tin, Alma’s metal-chewing dog which looks and leaps about like a hyperactive frog.

Alma and her pet dog Tin are being tracked by spyware from the super brain behind an important mission in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984).

Alma is completely dazzled by the look and design of the super brain and goes into a rapturous flight-of-fancy dance which is just one of many strange but delightful sequences in the film. What Alma and the rest of the crew don’t realize is that the super brain is equally smitten with Alma and decides it will possess her at all costs. The A.I. creation goes awry and produces a robot army to carry out its mission but a battle between the Delta team and the super brain ends with the aggressor disappearing into the cosmos. It is only when Alma and Tin attempt to return to their own planet that the super brain re-emerges from hiding and forces the duo to crash land on Acora, a swampy, primeval world inhabited by bizarre flora, fauna and shape-shifting creatures. Can the original Delta team rescue Alma and Tin before they fall prey to the dangers of Acora or will they be re-captured by the super brain?

Alma discovers that life forms on the planet Acora can be life threatening in the animated Romanian sci-fi adventure DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984).

With a running time of less than seventy minutes, Delta Space Mission gets down to business quickly and pulls the viewer into a breathlessly paced narrative that subjects Alma, Tin and the Delta crew to numerous creatures, threats and disasters not unlike the serial adventures of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The Romanian creators were obviously influenced by numerous sci-fi icons like Star Wars (1977), Forbidden Planet (1956) and Barbarella (1968) but the most obvious homages are to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Demon Seed (1977), in regards to a man-made super brain that goes rogue and attempts to control and threaten humans.

Robots of all shapes and sizes created by the Delta super brain stalk their human victims in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984), made in Romania.

The look and style of the animation in Delta Space Mission is its biggest asset and the eye-popping, colorful visuals are a constant delight. Animation is a wonderful format in which to explore strange planets and Romanian animators Cazan, Toia and Antonescu conjure up an imaginative world of crimson red jungles, caverns that house giant slug-like monsters and swamps where playful dinosaur-like critters wallow in the sticky purple-pink goo.

Alma and Dan find themselves attacked by creatures with multiple tenacles in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984), a sci-fi adventure from Romania.

One of the most impressive sequences follows the sudden appearance of a towering red rock formation that morphs into a destructive behemoth and then transforms into a rampaging tidal wave that races through city streets. The animation is almost as bizarre as the futuristic designs in Fantastic Planet (1973), a surreal sci-fi fantasy from French filmmaker Rene Laloux, but it can also mirror the futuristic suburban landscapes of The Jetsons (1962-63), the TV series from Hanna-Barbera, or the psychedelic, pop art look of Yellow Submarine (1968).

Alma makes a provocative female heroine in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984) and is aided by ship designer Dan in this scene from the Romanian sci-fi fantasy.

The only disappointing aspect of Delta Space Mission is the fact that the Delta crew led by Dan is never fully developed. They remain little more than enigmatic stick figures while Alma and Tin are the main protagonists of the film as well as the true heroes. Alma, in her skin tight space uniform that accents her breasts, is quite a sight and her flame red hair and green skin are well matched by an ensemble including red boots and a red belt. Tin is an even more eclectic character but turns out to be the secret weapon in the group. Also, the super brain is a memorable villain and a cautionary warning against artificial intelligence. Who could guess that the inability to comprehend love would create a malfunction in its operation? There is something both comic and touching in the being’s obsession, crying “Mine. Mine. Forever. In Love. Brightness. Alma!”

Tin, Alma’s pet dog, looks more like a frog but is actually a secret weapon in disguise in DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984).

In an interview, animator Calin Cazan stated, “Our story started from the idea of a Romanian poem from the late 1800s by Mihai Eminescu, ‘Luceafărul,’ which talks about the impossible love between Luceafăr (Evening Star) and an emperor’s daughter…Then we slipped in the story of the relationship between the computer and the alien journalist Alma, linking the action to what we had seen in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.” Cazan also revealed that other influences of Delta Space Mission include the novels of Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov but also the fantastical paperback cover designs of Victor Wegemann.

Bizarre shape-shifting creatures run amok on the planet of Acora in the 1984 Romanian animation fantasy DELTA SPACE MISSION set in the year 3084.

Despite the fact that Romania was a Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist state from 1947 to 1989, Delta Space Mission is practically devoid of propaganda or political messaging unless you consider a pro-mankind stance as evidence. Early in the film, the mission goals of Delta are revealed as “knowledge, understanding, collaboration…people for people!” Even the film’s narrator concludes at the end in reaction to the super brain’s malfunction: “Mankind’s dream has always been for science to preserve life. Because without life, planets wither and die under a no-man’s sky.”

The Romanian film poster for THE SONS OF THE STARS (1985), another animated science fiction adventure from Romania.

Cazan, Mircea Toia and Dan Chisovski would follow Delta Space Mission with another animated sci-fi fantasy entitled Fiul Stelelor (English title: The Sons of the Stars, 1985) but it is not an official sequel to the earlier film and is considered by some sci-fi geeks to be even better than Delta Space Mission. Both film are available from Deaf Crocodile Films. The Blu-ray of Delta Space Mission is a 4K restoration from the original 35mm print by the Arhiva Nationala de Filme, the Romanian Cinematheque and the Centrul National al Cinematografier. The special edition disc includes an interview with co-director Calin Cazan, two rare episodes from the Delta Space Mission short film series and an essay by comic book artist/author Stephen R. Bissette of Swamp Thing fame. Highly recommended for those sci-fi fans looking for something different!

The Blu-ray cover for Deaf Crocodile’s release of DELTA SPACE MISSION (1984).

Other links of interest:


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