Review by David Paul Hellings.
“Jindřich Polák’s pioneering and much-imitated feature “Ikarie XB 1” is one of the cornerstones of contemporary sci-fi cinema. It predates “Star Trek” and Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and was clearly an influence on both, as well as on almost every other science-fiction work that followed.
Adapted from Stanisław Lem’s 1955 novel “The Magellanic Cloud”, the film is set in 2163 and follows a mission deep into space in search of alien life. During their perilous journey the crew confront the effects of a malignant dark star, the destructive legacy of the 20th century and, ultimately, the limits of their own sanity. With outstanding design and cinematography, “Ikarie XB 1” is imbued with a seriousness, intelligence and attention to detail rarely seen in science-fiction cinema of the period.
The DVD is presented in a superb new anamorphic digital transfer with restored picture and sound and features a newly filmed appreciation by author and critic Kim Newman and a new essay on the film by author Michael Brooke.
Second Run are delighted to present this seminal work of fantasy cinema in its complete and original form for the first time ever in the English-speaking world”.
-via Second Run DVD.
It wouldn’t be overly unfair to suggest that in the science fiction genre, as far as Cinema is concerned, mankind has rarely met with a positive resolution in the brave, new worlds that it has sought to explore, conquer, or create. Utopias are proved to be false dawns; dystopian societies either crush you into compliance or kill you, and sometimes the best you can hope for is to reveal some aspect of the truth, be it that the protein bars you’ve been fed by the rulers are actually made of people; or that there are actually old people in the world and sanctuary is a lie and the system will begin to crumble; or the realisation that you’ve actually crash landed on a future Earth that is post-Apocalyptic and now ruled by apes. Utopia is the dream, dystopia is the reality.
The pessimism surely began in the Atomic Age of the 1950s when Hollywood decided to surrender to the McCarthyist belief system that there were reds under every bed and alien invasion was the perfect metaphor for Communism. The body snatchers were coming for suburban America! As the Space Race seemed to be going in the Soviet Union’s favour when they made their first major gains in terms of getting satellites, animals and then man into the dark world beyond Earth’s atmosphere, Western Cinema presented panic and paranoia. Alien life forms were monsters intent on colonisation and destruction (in effect, the same mind set as mankind) and the new technological discoveries would merely be something that would turn against us. Aristotle’s “drama is conflict” ideology always means that there can be no easy options in terms of storytelling. For a brief moment, when man finally did set foot upon the Moon, there was hope in the West, and then it was gone again in the increasingly dark politics world of Vietnam and Watergate. As the years have passed and man has failed to physically reach beyond our satellite and Mars is as far away in terms of “conquest” as it ever was, there are only so many satellite images of other planets and parts of the universe that can keep people’s interest and attention.
Jindřich Polák’s 1963 Czech feature “Ikarie XB 1”, (winner of the Grand Prix and Best Film at the 1963 Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival), remains one of the few sci-fi films of optimism and is still little known in the West, despite its major influence on “Star Trek” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, among countless others. It contains many of the themes and tropes that would become a regular part of films and television series to come. The mixture of ages and genders among the crew of the ship was ground breaking and now is taken as a given. The discovery of a ghost ship far from our Earth has been seen time and again (“Event Horizon” made it the central premise), as has the idea of a crew-member becoming a hazard to the ship and the mission.
Based on the novel “The Magellanic Cloud” (“Obłok Magellana”) by Stanisław Lem (who would go on to international recognition following his 1961 novel “Solaris”), the SFX appears dated, but the ideas and themes of the film version will ignite immediate recognition of its influences among viewers for the many cinema and TV sci-fi outings that followed.
In his extensive and excellent essay in the booklet that accompanies the DVD, Michael Brooke notes that:
“As for 2001, Stanley Kubrick’s long-term assistant Anthony Frewin confirmed that Kubrick saw Ikarie when screening virtually every science-fiction film of any merit as part of his pre-production research for his own magnum opus. Kubrick had been fairly dismissive of much of what he saw (one of the reasons he decided to make 2001 in the first place was because of what he saw as a dearth of intelligent big-budget science-fiction), but he did reportedly think that Ikarie was “a half step up from your average science fiction film in terms of its theme and presentation”. Accordingly, several design and conceptual ideas found their way into 2001 – the spacesuits are very similar, as are the interior lighting, hexagonal corridors, videophone calls to loved ones, the amount of attention paid to non-narrative detail such as relaxation on the long journey, and the overarching theme of searching for unspecified (and never directly depicted) alien intelligence beyond the further reaches of our solar system”.
The music for the film is by Zdeněk Liška (known also for his many collaborations with František Vláčil and Jan Švankmajer), creating a suitable and engaging lounge mood at times, adding to the sense of a new age and new hope. As the crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise would boldly go in search of new lifeforms and universes with a sense that there was something better out there, so did the crew of Ikarie XB 1 before them. There may, at times, be nods to the misguided utopia of a new, post Stalin Soviet era and ethic as well as negative commentary towards the decadent West, but a film that influenced so much only to be largely ignored by mainstream, English languages audiences, deserves to be seen.
A highly rewarding, recommended and important film.
Presented in a superb new anamorphic transfer with restored picture and sound.
An appreciation – new filmed interview with author and critic Kim Newman.
Booklet featuring a new essay by writer and film historian Michael Brooke.
New and improved English subtitle translation.
Released in its complete and original version for the first time in the English-speaking world.
Optimal quality dual-layer disc.
Main Cast and Crew:
Zdeněk Štěpánek – Captain Vladimír Abajev
Radovan Lukavský – MacDonald
Dana Medřická – Nina Kirová
Miroslav Macháček – Marcel Bernard
František Smolík – Dr Anthony Hopkins
Jiří Vršťala – Erik Svenson
Otto Lackovič – Michal
Svatava Hubeňáková – Rena
Irena Kačírková – Brigitte
Martin Ťapák – Petr Kubeš
Marcela Martínková – Štefa
Directed by Jindřich Polák
Story and screenplay – Jindřich Polák, Pavel Juráček
based on the novel The Magellanic Cloud (Obłok Magellana)
by Stanisław Lem
Cinematography – Jan Kališ
Music – Zdeněk Liška
Production design – Jan Zázvorka
Editor – Josef Dobřichovský
Costumes – Ester Krumbachová
Special Effects – Jan Kališ, Milan Nejedlý, Jiří Hlupý,
Pavel Nečesal, Karel Císařovský, František Žemlička
Length / Ikarie XB 1: 83 minutes
Length / Special feature: 12 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Black and White
Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1 / 16:9 anamorphic
Subtitles: English On/Off
Second Run DVD 082
“Ikarie XB 1” is available from Second Run DVD at:
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld at: