Friday, September 27, 2013

Ikarie XB-1

In 1964 American-International released an odd space movie in B&W called Voyage to the End of the Universe

The movie had a serious tone and some scary situations. The original was called Ikarie XB.  

 Sometime in the 22nd century, the Earth space ship Ikarie begins a voyage to cross the galaxy to a satellite of the star Alpha Centauri known only as "The White Planet." A mixed crew of forty is making the two-year round trip, although when they return, Earth will have aged fifteen years. They are soon too distant from Earth for radio communications. The Engineer (Radovan Lukavský) regrets that his pregnant wife (Svatava Hubenaková) chose not to accompany him; he won't see his daughter until she's fifteen years old -- if he returns at all. A married couple on board discovers they're pregnant, and the ship's doctor (Jaroslav Rozsíval) tells them there should be no problem with the delivery. The ship's Science Officer (Frantisek Smolík) has brought a mostly useless but friendly old robot that he tinkered together a hundred years before. A birthday party becomes an excuse for a formal dance, at which two crewmen compete for the attention of the attractive Bridget (Irena Kacírková). They're dismayed to be told that she has a husband back home. 

The ship then pauses to investigate a derelict spacecraft. Two astronauts are sent to enter the dead ship. Ikarie's files indicate that it is a military craft from 1987 called the Tornado. Scores of corpses are inside, including gamblers still holding their cards and two officers who apparently killed each other with ray guns. The spacemen theorize that the officers gassed the other passengers to conserve a dwindling oxygen supply, and then fought between themselves. One of the investigators accidentally trips a mechanism, and before they can leave, Tornado self-destructs with an atomic bomb. 

The ship continues on its voyage. It comes within range of strange radiation from a Dark Star, which has adverse effects on the crew. Svensen and Michael (Jirí Vrstála and Otto Lackovic) receive heavy exposure while on an EVA to install a new power module. They break out in ugly burns, and Michael becomes deranged and threatens to destroy the ship. The Engineer talks Michael into surrendering peacefully, just as the Dark Star's radiation makes the rest of the crew somnambulistic. The Captain (Zdenek Stepánek) talks the engineer out of aborting the mission as both fall asleep.

The crew reawakens less than a day later, and the Science Officer discovers that the Ikarie has been shielded from the Dark Star by a force field projected from The White Planet: An intelligent civilization has reached out to protect the voyagers. The crew of Ikarie, including the newborn baby, watches their viewscreen to see what miracles await them on the welcoming new world. As the clouds part, they're greeted with a view of an endless city of light.

 Unlike some of the other Eastern-bloc space movies, Ikarie XB 1 doesn't have any direct political speeches. Very little of the dialogue is about conditions on Earth, and we don't know what kind of government is there. There is also no mention of organized religion, which some viewers may take as political commentary by omission. Unlike the inclusive worker's Utopia of Der Schweigende Stern there are no African or Asian astronauts, and the only names we hear are Bridget, Svensen, Mark, Stephanie, Ervin and Michael. Ikarie XB 1 is one of the best outer space movies ever, and surely the most serious made before Kubrick's film. 

 The film was inspired by one of Stanislaw Lem's books.   English subtitles link:


At 10:38 PM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Wow, sounds like a good one. I've never heard of it. Thanks for the review!

At 9:50 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

You're welcome Roman. I saw a SF film over the weekend, which I'd never seen before called World Without End. It wasn't great, a little mediocre, but it was fun to watch a SF film I'd not seen before.


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