Film Review

Ikarie Xb-1

todayApril 25, 2024 26

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of innovative and philosophical science fiction, Eastern European films, influential science fiction films

Edited and dubbed in English and titled Voyage to the End of the Universe, Ikarie XB-1 is a revelation when seen in its original language and length.  Luckily, it was restored to a new 4k digital version in 2016 by the Czech Film Archive. It is currently playing on the Criterion Channel and is a stunning example of innovative Eastern European filmmaking.  You can see the connective tissue between films like Forbidden Planet and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and apparently Stanley Kubrick showed it to his crew in preparation for his film. It also bears a strong connection to Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky.  For a sci-fi junkie like myself who loves all of these films, it was the discovery of a new favorite.

Directed by the Czechoslovak, Jindřich Polák, like Solaris, it is based on a novel, The Magellanic Cloud by Polish writer, Stanislaw Lem.  It contains some similar themes and philosophical inquiries.  It is a standard science fiction story, set in the year 2163, a group of scientists have been sent on an ark-like ship to the Alpha Centauri galaxy to find planets with life.  Along the way, they encounter a dark star, and are exposed to a form of radiation.  It affects the crew in different ways, depending on the type of exposure.  Many questions and quandaries arise as they continue their journey.  These include, how to communicate with alien forms and what will be the results of these encounters.

One of the most striking elements is the production design by Jan Zázvorka.  The ship design is extraordinary with its giant womblike deck and the long corridors.  The use of water contained tubes and the way that the camera works in this set is haunting, beautiful, and at times purposefully disorienting.  The models for the ships are appropriate for the time, but it is this interior that sets it apart and where you can see how it has gone on to influence many other science fiction films. The cinematography by Jan Kališ is smooth and mirrors the production design as it gracefully glides through the ship.

The film is definitely a product of its time in one harrowing scene.  The ship encounters a ghost ship with people who tried to escape the nuclear nightmare that they had created in the 1980’s.  Created in the days of the Cold War, this commentary is striking in its critique of all sides involved in nuclear proliferation.  It is a severely disturbing and creepy moment.

One of the fun aspects of the film is to look at the names of the characters.  They wanted to show an international crew so they had Captain Vladamir, MacDonald, Marcel, and my personal favorite, Dr. Anthony Hopkins.

Between the set design, the philosophical questions of humanity versus artificial intelligence (in the form of a robot) and the video screens, there is a direct connection to the work of Kubrick.  The Eastern European influence in these same areas are directly connected to Tarkovsky.  Each of those films went further than Ikarie Ib-1, but this is still a remarkable work and will be appreciated by both science fiction fans and fans of European cinema.  Like a time-capsule, it contains so much about the time in which it was made, but also allows us to connect it to so much that has happened since.  Science fiction films that predict the future often do not do it with things that are obvious, but do it in ways that are profound and meaningful.  The team of filmmakers behind this film accomplish that in a prominent way making this film an essential view for those who love this genre.

Available to stream on the Criterion Channel

Written by: Gareth Jones

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