This 70s Sci-Fi Masterpiece Is the Best Movie You’ll Never Get To See

The Big Picture

  • Andrzej Żuławski’s On the Silver Globe was canceled due to budgetary restraints, but is largely believed to have been canceled because its themes were critical of the communist establishment.
  • Żuławski’s unconventional filmmaking style, similar to Werner Herzog, creates an immersive experience that transcends genre and feels like a work of nonfiction.
  • On the Silver Globe is a sci-fi epic unlike any other, filled with bizarre images and unique storytelling. Even though only 80% of the film was complete, it was finally released in 1988.

There are tons of “what if” movies out there that were either canceled before or during shooting, never to see the light of day and leaving film fans wanting more, but few are as fascinating as Andrzej Żuławski‘s On the Silver Globe. This movie is the king of “what if” movies, and is maybe one of the worst culprits in terms of leaving fans in the dust. On the Silver Globe is like… almost there. It’s a two-hour and 37-minute science fiction epic that is so oddly told that it basically transcends genre and comes close to leaping out of its own medium, becoming something more than a movie altogether. Unfortunately, the movie was canceled, a decision that was cited for budgetary reasons, according to Vice’s Motherboard Guide to Cinema series, but it seems that there’s more to that than let on. This isn’t one of the biggest missed opportunities in movie history — it’s the biggest.

Żuławski was one of the most acclaimed filmmakers that came out of Europe in the early 70s. His first few movies, The Third Part of the Night, The Devil, and That Most Important Thing: Love, kicked his career off and immediately made him an artist who demanded the attention of audiences everywhere. This guy wasn’t your by-the-numbers, everyday filmmaker — he was taking the medium and completely doing his own thing with it. Żuławski’s movies are so unconventional that they stop feeling like movies at some point. It feels similar to when you’re watching some of Werner Herzog‘s movies, ones like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Nosferatu the Vampyre, his movies that aren’t documentaries but still feel like works of nonfiction. Żuławski takes this to a whole other level though, making you feel like the documentarian yourself. He plants you right in the middle of the action. The large majority of the 70s would see Żuławski forming the trademarks of his style and narrative interests, and On the Silver Globe would be his magnum opus… until it wasn’t… and then it was again?

What Is ‘On the Silver Globe’ About?

A person holding their hands out with eyeballs painted on them in 1988's On the Silver Globe
Image via KADR

On the Silver Globe is a trip of a 70s sci-fi movie — a 70s sci-fi movie that wasn’t even released until 1988, but more on that later. Silver Globe is adapted from The Lunar Trilogy, a series of novels written by Jerzy Żuławski, the grand-uncle of Andrzej Żuławski. The film follows a group of humans who leave a dying Earth to continue the human race on another planet. Their travels take them to the moon, or a representation of the moon that is rooted entirely in the Lunar Trilogy’s description of it, as opposed to our understanding of its geography and atmosphere in the 1970s. This moon has a climate and geography that is identical to Earth’s, so the astronauts make their homes there. As they start to repopulate, they come to find that their children are aging faster on the moon than they would have on Earth. The new generations grow up, only to do away with humanity’s ways of old and begin their own political systems, religions, and more.

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You Have Never Seen Anything Like ‘On the Silver Globe’

A person on a wooden raft in the ocean with their face completely covered in On the Silver Globe
Image via KADR

As soon as you start watching On the Silver Globe, it’ll dawn on you how truly singular this movie is. Żuławski’s movie isn’t pretty, polished, made on a big budget, or even totally coherent. Single takes are peppered with jump cuts, moving a one-shot conversation along like you’re watching a movie reviewer on YouTube. The fabric holding costumes together barely manages to stay intact. The movie is mostly shot in beautiful, humongous, real locations — you’ll watch Silver Globe and be amazed by the on-set photography, longing for the days before green screens dominated movie-making. So many ideas and bizarre images run through this movie’s veins that you’d never be shocked to hear whether the filmmakers were on any sort of… brain enhancers… or not. This is a sci-fi epic covered in warts, butchered up, and served up by the smartest but weirdest chef that you’ve ever met in your life. It is unlike any other movie you’ll ever see, riddled with so many themes and so uniquely told that it doesn’t feel like a sci-fi movie, not even in the most radical sense.

What Happened to ‘On the Silver Globe’?

Two astronauts standing on the shore in On the Silver Globe
Image via KADR

So, what’s the deal with On the Silver Globe? Sure, it’s hard to find, but you can watch the movie, right? So how is it unfinished? Well, yes, you can watch On the Silver Globe… a version of it, that is. Approximately 4/5 of it actually, because according to some narration at the beginning of the film, 1/5 of the movie’s footage was destroyed. According to Vice, this all came about after the film went through some budgetary issues, but ultimately, it seems as though production was shut down by the Polish government due to some of the film’s themes being critical of the communist establishment. Some scenes were never filmed, some negatives were burned, and ultimately, the film’s production was shut down about 80% of the way through — one of the biggest losses in all of movie history.

By the time Żuławski was able to start filming the movie again, it was the late 80s, and he recognized the truth that all of his actors would be much older than they were when they initially shot Silver Globe. Being that random shots and scenes are missing throughout the entire movie, it would be terribly awkward if scenes were cutting back and forth in the same scene between an older and younger version of the same character. So, instead, Żuławski opted to go out to random public places around Poland and film everyday life, then narrate descriptions of what the audience is supposed to be seeing. These moments are always jarring whenever they happen, but once you realize that the filmmakers are juxtaposing footage of Poland’s civilly unrested society with the story of humanity coming back from a societal and planetary collapse, then the whole experience becomes endlessly rich.

There are loads of unfinished and canceled movies whose massive potentials are out there, floating in the ether. Movies like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune adaptation and Kubrick’s Napoleon biopic, but at least we haven’t been teased with actual footage of those movies. On the Silver Globe is a whole other, even more disappointing, beast. We do have 80% of the footage for this movie, but we’ll never see the rest. This isn’t even a “let’s hope one day we’ll see Żuławski’s director’s cut” type of situation — this missing footage is just never going to be seen. That being said, he went about the most interesting way of solving this situation, making On the Silver Globe not only one of the most interesting sci-fi movies ever made, but flat out one of the most fascinating movies of all time.

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