In the 31st century humanity builds an enormous mobile space station, with the intention of piloting it across the galaxy to encounter new and unique species and civilizations. When its central electronic brain activated, the station spontaneously becomes self-aware, and grows obsessed with an alien journalist named Alma.
This is a premise of Delta Space Mission, a wonderfully bizarre animated feature from directors Mircea Toia and Victor Antonescu. Produced in Romania in 1984, it has languished in obscurity for decades. Now, thanks to a full restoration by the Romanian Film Archive and a bluray release from indie distributor Deaf Crocodile – available via Vinegar Syndrome – Delta Space Mission finally has a chance to be appreciated by a wider audience.
The film fits comfortably among the array of European science fiction comics and animation already available. To a large extent it resembles the work of French animator René Laloux, whose cult works Fantastic Planet (1973), Les Maîtres du temps (1982), and Gandahar (1987) bear a fairly close resemblance and tone. Fans of classic science fiction comic Metal Hurlant will also find themselves in very comfortable territory.
While the animation reflects a comparatively small budget, Toia and Antonescu manage to invest their film with bright colour, inventive designs, and a quite surprising sense of visual depth. There is a strong sense of three dimensions about many of the various space stations, spacecraft, and fighter jets during the film. One suspects, as with the American animated film Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985), they were rotoscoped from computer-generated wire frames. There is certainly plenty of rotoscoping – hand-animating over live footage – used in developing the film’s humanoid characters.
The plot is relatively simple, but works as an excuse for an array of imaginative scenarios, whether it is an Earth monorail line under threat from giant elemental monsters, or a variety of competing life forms in a faraway alien jungle. It is a striking concoction that, while subtitled into English, barely needs translating at all. This is as much a colourful work of abstract art as it is a science fiction story.
This is not a mainstream work, but fans of European animation will find it a valuable addition to the range of available films. You can work out for yourself if it is worth you time in tracking it down – if it seems like Delta Space Mission would appeal to you, then it almost certainly will. Companies like Deaf Crocodile are doing film history a tremendous favour with releases like these, which fill in gaps in our collective experience and give talented filmmakers the exposure they always deserved.