Ikarie XB-1

Ikarie XB-1

It’s long been a standard rule of horror movies that if you don’t have the budget to make an authentic looking monster simply don’t show it; better to hint at its existence by way of mood music and atmospheric effects than have to resort to a guy in a rubber suit. While it occupies a different genre altogether Ikarie XB-1, a terrific early sixties film from Czechoslovakia nonetheless uses much the same techniques. Don’t expect any laser shoot outs or attacks by terrifying aliens, just sit back and bask in an enthralling and thoughtful contribution to the Sci Fi genre.

We join the crew of the space ship Ikarie as they set out on a two and a half year mission to the star system of Alpha Centauri in search of life. In a curious twist of the space-time continuum by the time they return Earth will have aged 15 years and this upsets some more than others. The captain says goodbye to his pregnant wife over a fading video signal knowing he will not see his child until she is in her teens, while another member of the crew is more reflective when she realises mid way through the journey her younger earth-bound sister is now older than her, and will continue to outpace her until the ship gets back home.

As the crew settle into quotidian routine it becomes clear that this film is more interested in the journey itself rather than the destination. But as they get more comfortably in the daily rounds of parties, meals and intra-crew flirting something is stirring outside of the ship that threatens their very survival.

But enough of the plot. Suffice to say we never encounter any aliens face to face. The menace that surfaces is merely implied and the threat, when it comes is an internal one, psychological and slightly surreal.

Playing a big part in creating the atmosphere are the fabulous sets which are spare and have not dated in the fifty years since the film’s release. The strip lighting of the haunting and claustrophobic corridors prefigures 2001, the closing doors pay homage to Star Trek but the clean lines and bubbling tubes of the control room are in a universe of their own. No dirty relay tubes or storage containers here, just clinical and crisp beauty given an otherworldly resonance by the eerie silence and emptiness throughout.

Ikarie XB-1

Little touches tell us this world, familiar to us but at the same time one that sits askance of the 20th century are subtly and beautifully done. The dress uniforms worn by the men at formal occasions, the illuminating magnetic boots on the spacesuits and the peculiar dancing that seems to have taken hold of young lovers of the 23rd century. Not to mention that fact that the chief science officer is called Anthony Hopkins, which is at least as toothsome as discovering the main character in Day of the Locust goes by the name Homer Simpson.

The film’s credits list six scientific advisors, doctors all which is just another factor than ensures this film stands head and shoulders above most of it’s Sci Fi fellows. Well worth watching.

I’m delighted to offer this review as part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon! hosted by Silver Scenes and Christina Wehner.

Ikarie XB-1 – directed by Jindřich Polák (1963)


In Short
Some time in Earth’s future a ship is sent out to explore Alpha Centauri in search of life but the length of the journey and stress of the mission soon begin to take their toll.
Trailer here


Movie Scientist Blogathon