On the Earth of the future, a ceremony is being held to assign pupils to teachers, and Mven Mas (Lado Tskhvariashvili), a man with some authority in the society, is welcoming his latest protege when he is taken to one side by one of his colleagues. It seems he has been chosen for the top job in The Great Circle, far off in space, but the starship Tantra is already there, and it has encountered a problem. Where there should be a void, there is a huge amount of mysterious energy: this region has far from been thoroughly explored, and the crew are in for a nasty surprise...
Films from the Soviet era have the reputation of being dour, weighty and about four hours long at the very least, but to counter that here was one that barely lasted over the hour mark. It was, of course, still dour and weighty, but as this was a science fiction movie it has gone on to minor cult success, in spite of beginnings that might have put paid to it ever being shown anywhere at all after its initial release. It was drawn from a book of ten years before by Yvan Yefremov, one of the most celebrated of all Soviet science fiction novels of its day.
The reason for that celebration was probably not simply because it was a rip-roaring adventure, but because it praised the Communist ideal of living in a Utopia created along the political lines of its country of origin, which was what Yefremov envisaged for the world, just what those in power would want to hear, never mind the man in the Soviet street. This makes it all the more ironic that the film's standing was far lesser than its derivation, and the proposed series that this was supposed to instigate never happened because the filmmakers were clamped down on by the authorities soon after it was made.
This leaves The Andromeda Nebula (its actual subtitle makes clear this is the first part in a series) somewhat adrift, as if its intended audience were to shun it, and very few elsewhere in the world would be interested, especially now, then it becomes something of an orphan in the cinema world. It does itself no favours by undercutting any excitement that the thrills aspect of the story might have held by continually moving away from the starship's dilemma to catch up on the philosophising of those back on Earth, and even for a short work this drags. That dilemma for the ship is that they are now stuck in space for twenty-five years before they can get away, and the filmmakers apparently want to you to feel every minute of it.
They do reach a planet in the area, and upon seeing a crashed spaceship of alien origin there they decide they have nothing to lose and set about landing nearby so they can help. Alas, when they do leave the safety of the craft, they find there are invisible creatures about that can disintegrate humans, leaving nothing but their spacesuits, unless they can shine a light around to scare the creatures away. These scenes are very reminiscent of Mario Bava's sci-fi favourite Planet of the Vampires, even looking the same although the source novel was written before the Bava film was ever conceived, but the excitement levels are far below the Italian effort. There is undoubtedly a place in this genre for thoughtful passages and musings over meaning in the universe, but here they don't seem to have got the hang of it in the way that, say, their East German neighbours did. What you are left with is a relic of largely historical interest. Music by Yakov Lapinsky.