sun 21/04/2024

DVD: Ikarie XB 1 | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Ikarie XB 1

DVD: Ikarie XB 1

Monochrome Eastern Bloc space opera delights and thrills

The loneliness of the long-distance space traveller: Ikarie XB 1

Czech director Jindřich Polák’s 1963 science fiction epic Ikarie XB 1 was known in the West for many years only in a recut dubbed version. Happily, Second Run’s restored print looks and sounds marvellous. There is a slowly unfolding narrative, though Ikarie grips more as an acutely realised study of what life could actually be like on a 15-year space voyage.

Polák’s source material was a novella by Stanisław Lem, better-known for Solaris, and a team of scientific advisors was assembled by Polák to give the adaptation greater credibility. One character describes the Ikarie spaceship as “a cosmic town of 40 inhabitants”, and there are long stretches when you feel that you could be watching a futuristic reality documentary – an impression boosted by the omnipresent video screens with which the multi-generational team of astronauts communicate and spy on one another.

There’s a groovy birthday party accompanied by space-age lounge music, where revellers inhale metallic tubes containing Earth-sourced smells instead of smoking cigarettes, and well-choreographed scenes set in the Ikarie’s canteen. An extended sequence set on an abandoned 20th-century vessel is chilling, and a more potent threat to the Ikarie’s voyage is brilliantly handled: the crew falling asleep one by one, unsure if they’ll ever wake up again.

It’s hard to suppress feelings of déjà vu at some of the film’s details – a lumbering robot clearly modelled on Forbidden Planet’s Robbie, and echoing metallic corridors which predate those found on the USS Enterprise. Kubrick watched the film whilst planning 2001 and it's clear that the Ikarie’s spacesuits and gymnasium must have provided some inspiration, along with the birth which occurs shortly before the film’s open-ended, optimistic close. Production values and design are astonishing, and all is handled with deft, sober intelligence by a cast who inhabit their roles with utter sincerity. Kim Newman's witty appreciation is a welcome bonus feature, and Michael Brooke's booklet essay is a fascinating read.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Ikarie XB 1

Ikarie grips as an acutely realised study of what life could actually be like on a fifteen-year space voyage


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters