Wednesday, December 7, 2011

IKARIE XB-1 (Jindrich Polak, Czechoslovakia, 1963)

A group of intrepid astronauts go where no man or woman has gone before, seeking the future but finding only a dead and decrepit past. But hope springs eternal like radiation emanating from an invisible star.

This Czech science fiction film considers the reality of space travel and its effect upon the human psyche, as the empty dead spaces between stars is filled with despair and a longing for Mother Earth’s embrace. The story doesn’t defend itself with hard science but simply runs on a theorem of plausibility, where future shock is measured by faster than light travel, a three year journey from Earth to Alpha Centari. One interesting idea is the use of olfactory senses to ease homesickness, utilizing a tube of “chapstick” that contains the memories of green pastures and fresh air. The corridors of the ship are monitored by the ubiquitous eye of the ship’s computer, an authoritative voice that becomes neither murderous nor defective. The SPFX are dated but very good for their time (though plastic models wobble through space) but it’s the attention to interior details and set designs that make the film believable. From the all-seeing eye of the computer to the architecture, it seems like Stanley Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull modeled their odyssey from this template.

The plot touches the surface of melodrama with a young couple desperate in love, another’s bitter jealousy, and a secret pregnancy but resists the gravitational pull of romantic convention. The story stays focused upon a maddening officer who has lost his mind, and a discovery that will change the human race. In one scene, they discover a derelict spacecraft and it’s assumed to be alien. Two astronauts go aboard the vessel and realize it’s from Earth, a hundred years in their past. A surreal scene evolves in this dark coffin, where corpses reveal a decomposing world of authority circa 1987. Even here, billions of miles from home, the human race cannot escape itself.

Finally, a dark Star vomits its deadly radiation causing the crew to slowly pass out and expire, unable to turn back. But they will soon awake into a New World.

Final Grade: (B+)