Ikarie XB-1 (Voyage To The End Of The Universe) - Czech Film Review
“Humans are like the stars. Somebody orbits around someone else for years.” - Petr
Ikarie opens abruptly with a searing blast of synth modulation as we see the titular ship from below, zooming across open space. The film then cuts immediately to the interior where we see an exhausted, haggard looking crew member, his face blotched and wet with sweat: “Earth is gone.” he says, “Earth never existed!”
We learn that this distraught figure is Michal. As he wanders the hexagonal corridors, cameras and lights flickering on and off, the opening credits start to roll over claustrophobic, disorienting tracking shots. Michal stumbles through strange chambers containing glass tubes full of bubbling liquids. He is the picture of a man harassed; strung-out. His colleagues, watching on a TV screen, discuss the best way to save him - and themselves. They attempt to communicate this to him through the intercom, but he fires his blaster at each camera in turn, flaring their screen to white.
Life as we know it. On the Spaceship
The rest of the film is one long flashback, illustrating not only how the Ikarie got to this point of crisis, but also the daily lives of its crew as they progress towards Alpha Centauri in search of life.
One source of difficulty for the 40 members of the crew is that they are on a mission lasting 28 months. However due to time dilation15 years will pass on Earth. For Commander MacDonald, played by a rugged Radovan Lukavský,this is especially poignant. It means that he won’t get to see his daughter grow up, as we learn in a heartfelt video-call with his wife on Earth, the screen flickering as the connection threatens to cut out.
The Ikarie is a large ship and the crew members were seemingly allowed to bring whatever they wanted with them on board - including a piano, a dog, plenty of clothes and Patrick, a pet project of the ship’s mathematician in the form of a humanoid robot.
At first it is a voyage with little incident. The crew spend their time working out in the gym, attending formal dances, flirting with one another and playing music. They sniff strange pen-like objects, the 22nd century equivalent of smoking, watch Romeo and Juliet and observe each other’s romantic attempts through the cameras that adorn each corridor and room (with the exception of private quarters). They play chess and discuss the possibility of alien life.
When they encounter a ship adrift in space near Alpha Centauri, they take a small craft over to investigate. It’s around this time that their problems begin...
With wonderful sets beautifully photographed by Jan Kališ, the film also features a soundtrack byZdeněk Liška, who has some 200 credits to his name and was at the vanguard of electronic music. You can find his scores in many other Czech New Wave films such as Frantisek Vlácil’s Markéta Lazarová and Údolí včel (Valley of the Bees) and Juraj Herz’s Spalovač mrtvol (Cremator). Ikarie has recently been re-released on good looking vinyl by Finders Keepers records.
In Jindřich Polák’s career, he has only occasionally flirted with science-fiction (notably 1983’s TV series The Visitors), however Ikarie XB 1 came out the same year as Klaun Ferdinand a raketa (Clown Ferdinand and the Rocket). It reused some of the sets of the Ikarie, including the angular corridors that would also go on to influence Stanley Kubrick’s design of Discovery One, with its claustrophobic hexagonal chambers in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Rather like the novel that inspired it, Obłok Magellana (The Magellanic Cloud) by Polish author Stanislaw Lem,and indeed like Lem’s later novel Solaris (and the films it inspired), Ikarie XB 1casts its characters adrift - not only in space but in ennui, loneliness, and ultimately psychosis.
Ikarie XB 1 is a Czech movie and was released on 26th of July 1963 in former Czechoslovakia. A dubbed version of Ikarie XB 1 was released in the USA as Voyage to the End of the Universe. Not only were bits of dialogue changed but some cuts were made and, most bizarrely, some extra footage was added in the film’s final seconds - a glimpse of something which completely changes the entire meaning of the film.
See the cinema lobby mini poster below.
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