‘The Son of the Stars’: Rediscovering a Romanian Space Odyssey

***This article originally appeared in the February ’23 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 327)***

Every so often, cosmic tumblers align and the sci-fi universe gifts us a vintage jewel in the animation arena, some long-forgotten project now cast in the golden glow of modern accolades and provided with a generous dose of tender loving care from restoration specialists.

Deaf Crocodile Films, a major player in the discovery and revival of previously unknown movies deserving of historical respect, has taken the 1985 Romanian animated science fiction saga The Son of the Stars and given it a sparkling 4K restoration to be presented in North America as a first-ever special edition Blu-ray in early 2023.

Back in the days of hair metal bands and Jazzercise classes, the animation industry was in a bit of a funk. At a time when Michael Eisner’s House of Mouse renaissance was still in its infancy, this sequel to the 1984 space opera spectacle Delta Space Mission was unleashed in Europe to great fanfare.

The Son of the Stars
The Son of the Stars

Surreal Space Adventure

Reuniting Delta Space Mission’s same creative team of directors Călin Cazan and the late Mircea Toia, The Son of the Stars was never officially offered theatrically in the United States. Its plot line is best explained as an ambitious fusion of Alien, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan for a trippy, 80-minute mash-up that delights with old-school charm and hallucinatory design aesthetics.

In partnership with the Romanian National Film Archive and Cinematheque and the Romanian Film Centre, Deaf Crocodile has freshened up this impressive project with a new ultra high-definition transfer scanned from the original 35mm camera negative and soundtrack, supervised by Deaf Crocodile co-founder and in-house restoration wizard Craig Rogers.

“Everything you loved about Delta Space Mission, only even better!” Rogers claims. “Space dragons, pterodactyls, amorphous blob creatures, amulets of power … Seriously, what’s not to love?”

Strap in for the official synopsis: “In the year 6470, a husband and wife team of explorers receive a mysterious distress signal from a female astronaut who disappeared decades earlier. They leave their son on board their ship while they go searching for the missing woman — but fate intervenes, crash-landing the ship on a jungle-like planet populated by bulbous, telekinetic aliens and eerie stone gardens of frozen space creatures.”

The genesis of the narrative was a combination of many influences besides Star Wars and Alien, and carried with it certain phantasmagoric origins that seemed in step with that awesome decade.

“Tarzan, Robinson Crusoe, the Brothers Grimm stories, Moby Dick … these are childhood books for everyone,” Cazan tells Animation Magazine in an exclusive interview. “Of course, we also saw the movies — The Jungle Book (the Disney animated version from 1967, and the version with actors from 1942) at the Cinematheque — a special cinema in Bucharest.”

And if eerie disembodied eyeballs, cosmic sorcery, decomposing Cubist structures, levitating purple tentacles and a crusading medieval space knight weren’t enough insanity, The Son of the Stars also showcased a sensational psychedelic score by synth-rock pioneer Ștefan Elefteriu.

“We ended up working with Ștefan Elefteriu because he was already known at the time for piano music and synthesizer,” Cazan recalls. “It was not difficult to get in touch with him through the Union of Composers with the relationships of our colleagues from the sound team. It wasn’t hard. He is such an open man that he was able to work without money, just [out of] curiosity.”

Similar to Delta Space Mission, The Son of the Stars was first produced as a series of short episodes which originally aired on Romanian television and then combined to make an entire feature. Plans for a second series began immediately after production ended with Delta Space Mission and the distinctive style was partly inspired by American Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

“We didn’t really have the Cold War here. The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Tom & Jerry and The Jetsons were all on Romanian TV,” explains Cazan. “Hanna-Barbera’s style was perfect — simple characters in structure, very funny in appearance, without unnecessary additions, very expressive. Each character has his own personality, his own way of moving and his own expressions. And the stories are well balanced. There were wonderful people at Hanna-Barbera Studios.”

The Son of the Stars
The Son of the Stars

Behind the Iron Curtain

Dennis Bartok, Deaf Crocodile co-founder and head of acquisitions and distribution, remembers his ideal working relationship with Cazan on Delta Space Mission‘s restoration.

“We discovered that he and Mircea Toia had directed another feature right after, just as surreal and psychedelic — and if anything, even more criminally unknown here in the U.S.,” Bartok says. “Their ingenuity, working behind the Iron Curtain in the mid-1980s, incorporating elements of Western sci-fi and Japanese anime with Eastern European music and mythology and even politics, was just astonishing. I just wish they’d been able to make a dozen more features — but we’re incredibly proud that we’ve been able to restore their two animated features together.”

The Son of the Stars is scheduled to shine on 4K Blu-ray sometime in 2023.

 

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