Delta Space Mission: More Than Meets the Eye, by David Bax
1984’s Delta Space Mission, a Romanian animated adventure directed by Calin Cazan and Mircea Toia, wastes almost no time getting into its high velocity, trippy magic. That’s wise because, at only 70 minutes, it doesn’t have much time to waste in the first place. Still, it’s pretty impressive how much the film–newly restored and available on VOD thanks to Deaf Crocodile Films–gets itself in full on, sci-fi, shoot-em-up freak-out gear.
That said, Delta Space Mission is also a seriously talky movie. It’s just that the dialogue is merely a constant background companion to the ray guns, exploding robots, tentacle creatures, etc. A lot of it is absolute mumbo jumbo (including an obsession with bureaucratic protocol that probably pleased Romania’s then communist government) and, for the most part, whether or not one understands the plot should not have much bearing on one’s ability to enjoy the spectacle but, by the end, the story–in which a journalist joins an advanced scientific research mission in deep space in order to report on it and, almost immediately upon her arrival, things go mind-fryingly haywire–does pay off satisfyingly.
In many ways, Delta Space Mission is exactly the kind of movie for which animation was invented. It’s not just the constant forward momentum of the piece, it’s the psychedelic, physics-defying way that bodies and objects mutate and transform with the kind of never ending fluidity one might associate with various forms of music but which other visual arts can’t quite replicate.
Speaking of music, the film’s score is cheesy and dated but in a way that’s irresistible, especially to those of us with some nostalgia for 1980s action/sci-fi TV cartoons like The Transformers, Bionic Six or MASK. It’s full of twinkly synths that are nevertheless upbeat and propulsive.
Those aforementioned shows cranked out scores of episodes a year, though, and the time crunch became apparent in the way they looked. Visually, Delta Space Mission is more carefully crafted. 1973’s Fantastic Planet is a clear inspiration; some of the creature designs even look similar.
Cazan and Toia never quite reach the depths of existential psychedelia that make René Laloux’s film a masterpiece. Delta Space Mission possesses beneath its kaleidoscopic surface a more recognizable, video game type of logic, in which one challenge must be face after another (rock monsters, sentient waves and so on). Still, it’s more than worthy of the rescue it’s received and more than worth your 70 minutes.