Delta Space Mission (Deaf Crocodile/Grasshopper Films, NR)

Delta Space Mission is, surprisingly, the first Romanian animated film to be released in the United States. With Heavy Metal-esque animation and a wonky electronic soundtrack, it somewhat bends expectations with an unexpectedly slow pace. One of its other clear influences, the writing of Arthur C. Clarke, might explain its slowness. The film follows an ill-fated crew of astronauts who embark on a mission to explore a newly-discovered planet in the year 3084. Things spin out of control when their navigator, a sentient supercomputer, falls in love with an alien journalist named Alma who’s come along for the ride.

Considering its speculative premise and far-out aesthetic, one would actually hope for more overstated motion. Truth be told, the most impressive artwork shows up in the still backgrounds, particularly of the new planet, which somehow relays a comprehensible landscape in the style of an abstract painting. In terms of movement, and going further into general pacing, Delta Space Mission has the more deliberate rhythms of Russian animation, being reminiscent of animated shorts like There Will Come Soft Rains, a 1984 adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story. Réné Laloux’s Fantastic Planet also springs to mind.

It doesn’t quite compare with either of these films, however. Its pacing doesn’t serve a melancholic, contemplative narrative like There Will Come Soft Rains and its psychedelic, Saturday-morning cartoon colors don’t mesh like Laloux’s cohesive and groundbreaking cutout animation. Like Heavy Metal, its soundtrack informs much of what’s on-screen, but the sounds aren’t nearly as rousing.

None of these observations should necessarily be taken as compliments or criticisms, just advisory statements. Delta Space Mission did little to excite this critic, but it’s not without a “vibe.” The depiction of the supercomputer as fundamentally incapable of true sentience and emotional life, but instead only of programmatic obsession that resembles love, does indeed hit a tragic note. The score stands out, creating an odd, sometimes comical tone. There’s an interesting mixture of futuristic and organic structures, from the design of the spaceship to the odd look of Alma’s robot companion, a dog-like creature with a froggy body. It’s playful touches like these that sometimes detract from the heavier themes at play, and ultimately those tragic notes don’t quite overpower the more experimental, unserious aspects of the film.

Animation enthusiasts shouldn’t be deterred from checking out Delta Space Mission. At the very least it raises the possibility of more access to previously unseen films. If this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Romanian animation has to offer, I’m excited to see what else can be dug up. | Nic Champion

Delta Space Mission is distributed on Blu-ray by Deaf Crocodile.

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