Pilot Pirx’s Inquest is a Polish/Soviet production from 1979, based around the Pirx short stories of Polish SF author Stanislaw Lem (the author of Solaris). As the movie begins, it doesn’t look like anything special. It pretty much seems to take place in the present (except for some slightly more advanced video facilities). The interesting part starts one third into it, when Pirx meets the crew that is going to accompany him on a test flight to Saturn. This crew consists of both humans and humanoid androids, and neither Pirx nor the audience know which are which. The purpose of the test flight is to determine how well the androids will perform compared to their human counterparts, and for this Commander Pirx needs to evaluate them without prejudice, i.e. without knowing which are androids. Pirx sees it as his first duty, however, to figure out which ones are androids, and he starts by asking them Turing test questions, like “do you believe in conscience?” and “how much X-ray radiation can you tolerate?”. The crew members start by making evasive responses, but later they turn more cooperative. The question is whether they can be trusted. Pirx’s intuition tells him that knowing the difference between the androids and the humans will also turn out to be the difference between life and death, and this of course turns out to be true.
The space flight to Saturn is very well made for an east-European 1979 movie. It is generally convincing, and you never start groaning because of low-budget cheesiness. Considering the rather pedestrian look of the first third of the movie, I didn’t expect that the space flight would look like much, but I think they managed to make it look very good.
There were a few obvious plot points that I thought they would use, and which would have helped the clarity of the story, but they didn’t quite do it that way. So as a whole the movie is not super-brilliant and among the best sci-fi movies ever, but neither is it among the bad ones. It is a good movie that raises interesting (and still current) questions about artificial intelligence, and generally contains “hard SF” elements, i.e. elements that are within scientific realism. The movie doesn’t seem to me to be terribly well-rounded, but I have a feeling I just need to watch it once or twice more in order for the whole picture to gel properly in my mind. Definitely a rare gem of a sci-fi movie that deserves a place in any sci-fi fan’s movie collection.
My DVD is the Tallinnfilm release which has the original soundtrack and English subtitles. A very nice release.
Director: Marek Piestrak
Cast: Sergei Desnitsky, Boleslaw Abart and others
Runtime: 95 min
Country: Poland / Soviet Union