Tuesday 26 July 2011

Ikarie XB1 (1963)

IKARIE XB1 is a Czech science-fiction film directed by Jindrich Polak that premiered in July 1963 before getting a US release the following year as 'Voyage to the End of the Universe'.  It follows the voyage of the Icarus, a deep-space craft tasked with finding habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system.  Not knowing very much about post-war Czech cinema, or any other period for that matter, I'm not familiar with the actors but, for the record, Zdenek Stepanek plays Captain Abajev, Radovan Lukavsky plays Commander MacDonald and Otto Lackovic plays Michael.

It's very much pre-Kubrick sci-fi which means the set design is not striving for realism.  All the rooms are enormous, there's a full-scale gymnasium and the flight deck is more like a library than a spaceship.  It's more Starship Enterprise than Discovery One or Nostromo.  Nevertheless, the sets are imaginative, considering the budget, and they have thought to include heating ducts, cooling tubes, airlocks and so on.  Actually it's rather easy to poke fun from a 21st century perspective but you have to consider that when this film was made man had yet to land on the moon and it was only a couple of years since Gagarin had orbited the Earth.

It's interesting to see the Soviet (or quasi-Soviet) take on space travel.  The impression you get from watching US sci-fi is that they regard it very much as 'the new frontier' - in other words, whatever is out there is theirs for the taking and woe betide any little green men who happen to get in their way.  It's manifest destiny all over again, sadly.  IKARIE XB1 is more thoughtful in this regard: the prospect of encountering new civilizations is not presented as a gigantic commercial opportunity but as a monumental advance for all of humanity.  Incidentally, there is very little of what one might consider to be Soviet propaganda, save for one sequence when the Ikarie encounters a derelict spacecraft full of dead bourgeoisie.

I think it's fair to say that IKARIE XB1 inhabits the middle ground between something like IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and Andrei Tarkovsky's masterful SOLARIS.  It represents a move toward greater realism than the former but lacks the transcendent meditation of the latter.

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