A Trip To Mars (Heaven Ship/Himmelskibet)

Movie Poster for Himmelskibet (A Trip To Mars)
Movie Poster for Himmelskibet (A Trip To Mars) | Source

Why I Chose This Film.

I originally intended to write a hub about the first science fiction film to be produced, the French film Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Voyage To The Moon) 1902 by Georges Melies. However I found that another fine hub has been written about it already (click the name of the film for the link to that hub). As a result I decided to write a hub about what is recognised as being the second film ever produced in this genre, the Danish film Himmelskibet (Heaven Ship) or more widely known as A Trip To Mars. Being of Danish ancestry myself, I felt this was appropriate. And last but not least, the moral of the story also appealed to me.

Journalist Phil Hardy referred to it as "the film that marked the beginning of the space opera subgenre of science fiction," but notes that Denmark did not make another science fiction film until Reptilicus in 1962.


A Trip To Mars (Heaven Ship)

Himmelskibet (1917) director: Holger-Madsen producer: Holger-Madsen screenplay: Ole Olsen, Sophus Michaelis (from the novel by Sophus Michaelis) cinematography: Frederik Fuglsang, Louis Larsen cast: Gunnar Tolnaes, , Philip Bech, Frederik Jacobsen, Lily Jacobson, Alf Blutecher, Svend Kornbech, Nicolai Neliendam, Alfred Osmund and Nils Asther.

This film is a true oddity that initially seems ahead of its time in many ways. Though the images were sometimes startling this film was in no way simply an exercise in special effects. In fact it uses Mars more as a metaphor of what an ideal human society may be like.

Though largely forgotten until 2006, when the film was restored and re-released on DVD by the Danish Film Institute, A Trip To Mars was a major and expensive production in Denmark at the time, boasting massive and amazing sets, with Martian landscapes filmed at a rock quarry near Copenhagen.

Contradictory to more recent movies involving contact between humans and aliens, in this early film the Earth travellers are actually welcomed by the people of Mars, who are pacifists and vegetarians. The Martians are long since past their uncivilized and warlike stages of evolution, unlike the Earthlings.

The leader of the Earth mission, Professor Planetarios (Nils Asther), falls in love with the local High Priest's beautiful daughter (Lily Jacobsen), and they return to Earth to promote the advanced ideals of peace and tolerance.

Despite the expensive (at the time) and elaborate production design, there is no attempt to make anything unusual of the Martian landscape or of the Martians themselves. Holger-Madsen deliberately intended that the aliens be different from the voyagers purely by virtue of their moral superiority. The Martian world is therefore classically styled, the inhabitants wearing togas, with the social hierarchy having sages and philosophers as the leaders.

A number of critics have pointed out the film's numerous illogical areas and absurdities: for example the fact that the Sun is the same relative size to the landscape of Mars as it is to the Earth (despite Mars being further from the Sun); the airship-like rocket with propellers and horizontal trajectory; a Martian globe of the Earth showing the North Pole at the top, etc. These critics, however, don't allow for the fact that this story/film was conceived long before many of the realities of space travel, that we now take for granted, were generally known

A Trip To Mars was produced in the throws of the First World War, which showed little sign of ending. This being the case, this film is an impressive plea for compassion and tolerance, featuring as it does perhaps the least antagonistic meeting between Earthlings and Martians in screen history. The fact that it is among the first alien/earthling screen encounters makes this seem somewhat tragic given how society envisages such encounters today.

Himmelskibet can therefore really be seen as a reaction to the outbreak of WWI rather than an accurate prediction of the 1960s' alternative culture. Less surprisingly, perhaps, it stands alone as an example of early Danish fantasy cinema

Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet
Lilly Jacobson and Gunnar Tolnaes in Himmelskibet | Source

Lilly Jacobson

Lilly Jacobsson arrived as a young girl to Svenske Biografteatern in 1911 and appeared in a string of Swedish films until 1914. After winning a beauty contest, she landed a contract with Nordisk Film in 1916. Her natural beauty graced many dramas but she chose retirement when marrying in 1919. Only her former colleague, Asta Nielsen, could persuade her to appear in her own German production of "Hamlet".

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Poul, Denmark

Gunnar Tolnaes

Gunnar Tolnaes (1879-1940) had his most famous performance as an Indian prince in the Danish orientalist melodrama Maharadjahens Yndlingshustru (The Maharaja's Favourite Wife) in 1917, with Lilly Jacobson. It was so popular that it had a Danish sequel in 1919, and a German sequel in 1921. After a substantial film career in Denmark he alternated acting in German films as well as in Danish films, until the end of the silent era. (flickr.com)

Tolnæs's film credits, all silent films, include:

  • Children of the Streets (1914)
  • One of the Many (1915)
  • Himmelskibet (1918)
  • Sex in Chains (1928)


Nils Asther

A supporting actor from the movie A Trip To Mars ultimately had the most cinematic success His name was Nils Asther.

Nils Asther was a Danish-born Swedish actor who became active in Hollywood from 1926 to the mid 1950s. Between 1916 and 1963 he appeared in over 70 feature films, of which 16 were done in the Silent area.(Wikipedia)

Asther was only 21 as the time of filming and this was only the second moving picture he had been in. He didn't have a big part in Himmelskibet and he played one of the multitude of young martian citizens.

Alien Life

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First Science Fiction Films

Date of Release
Name of Film
Country of Origin
Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Paris Asleep

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Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Wow, early Danish fantasy cinema is truly interesting subject for a hub here dear Jodah! Yes, they were ahead of their time. This is a well-written hub and love your photos and imagery.

Up and more and sharing.

Blessings, Faith Reaper

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

This is an awesome hub on an unusual topic. I like how they portrayed the Martians as being more evolved and morally superior. Considering the time frame in which it was written and produced, it is thought provoking as to what may have been intended (and certainly all that the movie foreshadowed in the next few decades). Voted up and more.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

You are first again Faith. There should be a prize...but alas there isn't...lol. Just a big thanks from me for reading and for your generous comment. Glad you found this interesting.

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

haha, I seem to always be sitting here, when your hub notification pops in LOL, so I go ahead and comment and now I am going to bed. Good night.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you so much Flourish. I had never heard of the movie, and as I said I had intended to write a hub about another one, so just came across this and was intrigued. I'm pleased it turned out so well. Thanks for the vote up and more.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

ive never seen a silent film.. well except for the Mel Brooks Silent Movie.. but it would be a treat to see a trip to mars.. an interesting hub you have here Jodah :)

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Frank, I have seen a few and some are quite amazing given the technology available at the time. My preference is for slapstick comedy like Buster Keaton and Charley Chaplin, but some of the early science fiction was incredible. If you have a chance watch 'Metropolis'. Even though it's director wasn't pleased with it and called it a silly film, it is a classic. Thanks for your comment.

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

John, this is a very interesting hub. the tendency toward violence on the ship before the earthlings arrived on Mars was a good sign that Mars was in for some trouble. Thanks for sharing this bit of history. Up and interesting.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for reading Cam and for your great comment. Yes, those violent tendencies were probably introduced to give greater emphasis on the peacefulness of the Martians. Glad you found it interesting.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

I have never really cared for Sci-Fi; (like Dr. Spock) but this looks really interesting because of all the things you mention. The time frame such as so long ago and then WWI influence and well, dummies like me would pay no attention to the sun's location for sure! I do enjoy fantasy writings so maybe that would be more in that category. It must be a classic. Your writing and reporting is great regardless. Surprised to see the video or trailer too, so much at our fingertips today!

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks Jackie, I'm glad you found it interesting even though you aren't a sci-fi fan. I think the fact that it had a moral theme promoting peace and compassion during the war was an interesting aspect.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

We've come a long way, because most of us today know at least part of what space travel involves and requires. In those days, no one but scientists could envision the difficulties involved.

Great review on a fascinating topic!

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you Will. I agree, it was amazing sci-fi film makers in those days could envisage the things they did. Glad you found it interesting.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Here is a weird one for you. I remember watching this film as a boy. I know how strange that sounds. But my parents were mesmerized by it as was my grandpa. And I guess my grandpa had enough juice to get a hold of it. Grandpa Hugh Dierker made a few of his own back then -- well ten years or so later. Details are foggy as I was quite young.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Good morning John! Very interesting hub...never heard of this movie but your review was fascinating. I love the spaceship with the by-wings....how far do you think that thing could actually fly? Ten feet? LOL

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Wow eric, that is some coincidence. You are the first person I've spoken to who has even heard of it, let alone watched it. It had a great moral to it for the time. Glad this hub brought back memories of your grandpa.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Bill, glad you found this an interesting subject. It's hard to believe they thought something like that plausible to be able to fly at all let alone into space, but there you go. I certainly don't think it could get off the ground. It was more like an airship. Have a great day.

kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

I never heard of this film... a new discovery! I am not surprised that people critized the absurdities of this film and that's too bad that they didn't consider first when it was done and the knowledge we had at that time. It's like criticizing Jules Vernes. What is important to remember of this film are the special effects that were ahead of their time.

I like the fact that we have technology to restore old movies now.

And talking about mars, so many people applied for the one way trip to Mars. I prefer to keep my feet well grounded on old Earth and try to make a difference her :-)

Enjoy your weekend, Jodah!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Joelle, thanks for your wonderful comment. Glad to see I brought a 'new' movie to your attention. it is wonderful that old movies can be restored to keep the history alive.

Yes, imagine a one way trip to Mars. I just saw on the news that an Australian student has paid up and been accepted for the trip. I may not be quite that adventurous I'm afraid. It may be the most exciting thing you'd ever do in your life but with no chance of return...nah...afraid not. Have a good weekend.


Jane Arden 3 years ago

John, I am a complete and utter Sci-Fi freak, so this hub was right up my street. I watched the film all the way through and was fascinated with it. I just would love to know how it ended. Whether they were punished and how. I saw a Star Trek very similar to this. The alien planet people were all peace loving and cultured, but if you disobeyed you would be killed.

Thank you for such an informative hub. You have made me want to watch the whole film. Isn't it amazing how advanced it was. Also, how much it portrays Sci-Fi of today, StarTrek being just one.

Mary McShane profile image

Mary McShane 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Hi John, Although I'm not a sci-fi fan, I am aware of early movies esp those with Buster Crabbe, etc. But I have not heard of this one. This is a well written and very educational hub. Vote up and shared.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 3 years ago from TEXAS

I absolutely LOVE this! There has always been, to me, something utterly intriguing and mystical about foresight ahead of its time, from DaVinci and his helicopters to Jules Verne and his submarine to — other things more personal to me. I remember in the 40s reading about an artist whose art was photograph-‘real’. The article explained that the artist simply used a photograph, and gridded it off in very small squares, and then easily duplicated each tiny square of it onto a canvas. It horrified me when I was a teen to think that reality could so easily be precisely duplicated by art as that! I thought to my young self, “maybe that is what hell is, not being able to distinguish reality and truth from artifice and lies.” Little did I know that it would come to pass, and in a way, in an almost similar way, by the small digitalized grid on which all the reality can be reproduced, almost more realistically than the original; and surely enough, the young folks growing up with it hardly distinguish a difference and if they do, - they either don’t care it’s fake - or prefer it to reality!

These far-thinking Danish filmmakers truly focused on the main difference we might find in ‘aliens’. They could be much more morally advanced and they could have sorted out the fake from the real and have chosen the real in their value system. The depiction of them reminds me of what I've read about how the Greeks tried to set up their system - from merit, not hype; valuing wisdom rather than audacity.

In the process, what matters whether the Martian sun looks closer than it would look on Mars’ surface, being seen by Marian eyes. Perhaps Martian eyes and subjectivity makes it look closer than it is. Perhaps ours makes it look further than it is. Perhaps each of us sees it at varying distances right here from Earth’s vantage-points. In fact, on the surface of our planet and at different times in our orbit - it DOES look different, and possibly it is, but the slight difference in distance measured in universal distances really is infinitesimal, anyway/

[BTW - I doubt you intended this redundancy: “I found that another fine hub has already been written about it already ” - It’s just a tiny thing, hardly worth mentioning.]

Again - I love this hub! Thank you for introducing me to this story!

pochinuk 3 years ago


Splendid...nothing more be said*, I am going to soar into some of these Dutch flicks...my daughter married into Dutch descent, so my three grandchildren are Dutch. Does that sort of make me Dutch?


*A superfluidity of thirteen earth martians have entered as Hub comets, (mn) just look above ; I can't move here, so I will just go with the energy of the flow and say : Amen. & board Heaven Ship.


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

What an enjoyable read. Thank you. I'm an utter Sci-Fi freak and loved learning about the trip to Mars. Great topic.

Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

This is truly excellent, Jodah. Of particular interest were the sociological influences of the world war, and as you wrote, “how this film is an impressive plea for compassion and tolerance, featuring as it does perhaps the least antagonistic meeting between Earthlings and Martians in screen history.” When they land, instead of encountering an inhospitable environment and life forms that are violent, "alien" and threatening, they find something else entirely. I enjoyed the video as well. Superbly written, Jodah. Voted up and shared.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hi Jane, glad I found another sci-fi freak. I think many of the writers or directors of the latter sci-fi series and movies must have watched these earlier films and got ideas from them, as invariably you see certain themes and stories resurrect themselves. I'm sure if you search on line you should be able to find the full movie as it was restored in 2006 by the Danish Film Institute and released on DVD. Good luck.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks Mary. I appreciate when someone who is not normally interested in the subject of the hub takes the time to read, especially if they enjoy it. Buster Crabbe,one of the best Tarzan's in my opinion...good looking guy he was. Wasn't he a body builder or ex Olympic swimmer like Weissmuller? Thanks for the vote up and share.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for reading Nellianna and such an enlightening comment. I should have realised that many 'reality' artists use a grid system. I think of myself as somewhat of an artist but got discouraged when I saw the work of others that was 'real leer than real' shall we say. I was taught to make a frame with a mesh grid in it to make landscape drawing/painting easier, but for some reason never thought of it for portraits etc. Yes, I agree on being amazed by those that had 'foresight before their time'. Jules Verne with his submarine, da Vinci with his helicopter and many other inventions, as you mention, and many others. I think the Martian culture in this movie was based on the Greek ideal and even their dress could point to that. Critics will disassemble everything to find fault, I guess it's their job, but they do have to take into account the time that a film was produced and the knowledge and technology available at the time. Anyway I got rid of that extra "already", thanks for pointing that out, that one slipped by my editing eye...haha. Glad you enjoyed, I may write more like this as it seems a popular subject.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for your generous comments pochinuk. Yes I guess you are an honorary Dutch person...haha. It always intrigues me, the country is Holland, but called The Netherlands, and the inhabitants are Dutch?? Oh, but this movie is Danish, a different country altogether, though still in Scandinavia. But watch the Dutch flicks if you like...lol. Enjoy your journey aboard 'the Heaven Ship' wherever it takes you.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for reading Nadine. I'm glad you enjoyed this and hopefully I can take you to other planets and places in later hubs.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you Genna for such a kind and insightful comment, also the vote up and share. Those points you mentioned are what attracted me to this film as well. Take care.

pochinuk 3 years ago


Thank you for correcting me... Danish. Sorry. ( not really important but I was hungry and now I got my pizza baked...I can think more clearly... hunger depletes..thanks again); oh no, I am getting the feeling now that I am speaking to family...that's a good thing!- see ya bro!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Haha pochinuk, Glad you got that hunger satisfied. Bye Sis.

jhamann profile image

jhamann 3 years ago from Reno NV

I am a huge Science Fiction fanatic, have been my whole life. I kinda keep it to myself at times. Anyway, your hub has excited my inner nerd and brought a huge smile to my face. Thank you. Jamie

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Hey Jamie, from one inner nerd to another, be proud of it Bro, let it flow. May the nerdalution begin.....lol glad this brought a smile.

mylindaelliott profile image

mylindaelliott 3 years ago from Louisiana

I science fiction, old and new. I don't see why there shouldn't be alien life somewhere.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Yes mylindaelliott, I agree. I cannot fathom how we could be the only inhabited planet in a Universe so vast. If that's the case it's an aweful lot of wasted space...haha. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

I have became a sci fi lover since meeting my partner eight years ago and this was a treat. Voted up for sure.


Jane Arden 2 years ago

They definitely must have John. I'm going to hunt this film down!

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 2 years ago from TEXAS

All my pleasure to read you're always thoughtful and interesting hubs, John! I truly hope for more of your lively looks at such as this. It will be popular with me, when you do!

I so agree that critics often forget that films from even back in the 40s and 50s, let alone the turn of the century, had no access to any of the highly technical and sophisticated 'crutches' which modern filmmakers can simply take for granted. All that is produced back then are products of innovative ideas brought into play by patient and innovative minds. At that point the very idea of 'moving pictures' was still earth-shaking to them. They were the early explorers of the territory that would lead to what we now have, and without whose inroads and progress we surely would not have any of it! Someone had to lay those foundations and see their possibilities.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 2 years ago from TEXAS

ps - while you're pushing the ashes of the past or future for good material, the ancient Greeks and Mayans intrigue my interest almost as much as extra-terrestrials. As Genna mentioned, many of their examples which prevailed for quite a duration, hold out hope that human civilization can yet lead to more admirable humane and rational futures here, as well as bringing forth (or resurrecting) more valuable creative ones. :-D

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thanks for the vote up Eddy, glad you enjoyed this.

ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 2 years ago from North Carolina


You continue to amaze. I am never disappointed. This is such a fascinating hub. With the evolution of the cinematic industry, it is amazing to see how technically and intellectually we view sci-fi. V+ for sure. Thank you for giving me something new to think about.

Best to you always,


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you for reading this Kim. It was a different type of hub for me but I enjoyed doing the research. I used to be a real movie buff when younger but sort of moved away from that. This reinvigorated that a little. I loved the message of this movie as well...not all aliens are threatening and scary. Bless you.

ValKaras profile image

ValKaras 8 months ago from Canada

John - It certainly seems like film makers and the public of an early era already shared our dream about some awakened and advanced model of human coexistence. It was wrong of those critics to make some technicalities more important and louder than the message of the movie.

But that's something that every ahead-of-his-time dreamer has to count on, and people's tendency to find something negative instead of focusing on the positive will stay with us for a bit longer.

Anyhow, the hub was well written and very interesting - as usual.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 8 months ago from Queensland Australia Author

Thank you, Val, I agree with your summation. Glad you found this interesting.

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