by Allan Fish
(Czechoslovakia 1963 81m) DVD1/2
Aka. Voyage to the End of the Universe
Earth is gone
p Rudolf Wolf d Jindrich Polák w Jindrich Polák, Pavel Jurácek novel “The Magellanic Cloud” by Stanislaw Lem ph Sasa Rasilov, Jan Kalis ed Josef Dobrichovsky m Zdenek Liska art Karel Lukas, Jan Zázvorka
Zdenek Stepánek (Capt.Vladimir Abayev), Frantisek Smolik (Anthony Hopkins), Dana Medrická (Nina Kirova), Irina Kacirková (Brigitta), Otto Lackovic (Michael), Radovan Lukavsky (Commander MacDonald), Miroslav Machacek (Marcel Bernard), Marcela Kartinkova (Stephie),
When one considers the cult status it had on its release in the West, it seems surprising that Jindrich Polák’s sci-fi opus is now largely forgotten. Even more so when one bears in mind that it’s based on a novel by the same author who also provided the inspiration for Solaris. There are certainly thematic similarities between the two, but also differences, not least in the tone. Ikarie ends quite optimistically, while Solaris…
Naturally the time it was made has much to do with that. The Cold War was at its most freezing and there was a genuine belief that nuclear apocalypse was unavoidable. It’s set in 2163. On board the Ikaria, a mission has set out from Earth to explore Earth’s nearest star, Alpha Centauri, to check for signs of life. Its crew know that while the mission will only take them 28 months that 15 years will have passed back on Earth.
Their mission seems to be going well until they encounter what they first perceive is an alien craft, but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be an Earth ship from 1987 with a dead crew and nuclear weapons on board. One of these weapons involuntarily activates and kills the two crew members sent to investigate. Barely have the crew on the Ikaria had time to mourn and they begin to slowly go down with a crippling drowsiness that results in a form of narcolepsy. It’s caused, it transpires, by their passing too close to the orbit of what turns out to be a Dark Star. However, the radiation emitted from this star brings complications of its own.
The sequences on-board the Marie Celeste like earth ship from centuries before may seem like a plot tangent, but thematically its relevance is clear to see. Man of the 20th century lacked vision and faith and felt they had to take nuclear weapons, as well as a poison gas they called Tigger Fun, which was finally used on its own crew, preserving them from decomposition but killing almost instantaneously. Two of the Ikaria crew discuss them, with one referring to them as their ancestors, while the other declares them to be “human trash, that left Auschwitz, Oradour, Hiroshima behind them.”
It may seem strange to think of a film made by what was still an Eastern Bloc country coming down in favour of faith and mankind’s hopes for advancing beyond petty rivalries on the planet (note how the crew’s names give away their multi-national, if not racial, origins). Stranger still to find it so full of optimism, right down to the ending which may disappoint all fatalists, where the Ikaria is saved by the good intentions of another civilisation, exposing the savagery of the 20th century world both uncovered in the ghost ship and in which the film’s original audience lived. Fans of western sci-fi will love the presence of a robot not unlike Robby from Forbidden Planet – here called Patrick – but the influence worked both ways. This was the era when Star Trek and Doctor Who first captured the audience’s sense of escapism and there are also undoubted similarities between the crew of the Ikaria and that of the Enterprise. There are even elements that make one think it likely that Kubrick saw the film either before or during the making of 2001. Technically it may be dated, but it has excellent model work for its time, though hardly surprising considering the Czech love for fantasy, and while the photography may not be the sharpest, the use of the ‘Scope frame is masterly. The cast do well enough, too, especially Smolik, but it’s essentially Polák’s triumph. It only makes one mourn the fact that so little of his later work has been seen in the West.