fri 24/05/2019

Blu-ray: Ikarie XB 1 | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Ikarie XB 1

Blu-ray: Ikarie XB 1

Impressive restoration of a cerebral 1960s Czech space opera

Man's new best friend?

This Blu-ray reissue brings sci-fi masterpiece Ikarie XB 1 back to its original visual glory, with the 1963 film presented here in the 4K restoration first shown at the Cannes festival in 2016 (distributor Second Run had previously released an earlier restoration on DVD in 2013). Just how good the film looks in its latest incarnation can be observed when it's compared to the title and closing sequences recut for the film’s English language dub that are included as bonus features. Both are distinctly dim and scratchy, though worth watching to see what happens at the very close, Czech director Jindřich Polák’s enticing finale clumsily replaced with stock footage of the Manhattan skyline.

Still, American International Pictures’ abridged version (retitled as Voyage to the End of the Universe) must have brought 1963’s Ikarie to the attention of Kubrick and Gene Roddenberry: both 2001 and Star Trek owe Polák a huge debt. The spaceship’s polished, chilly interiors and long corridors are a triumph of design, and the idea of a large, multi-generational crew boldly going towards Alpha Centauri anticipates the adventures of Kirk and Spock.

Blu-ray: Ikarie XB 1Polák’s source material was a novella by Solaris author Stanisław Lem, and he employed a team of scientific advisors to give the film verisimilitude. That a crew member might be allowed to take his beloved piano into deep space stretches credibility a little far, but much of what we see looks very real. The actual business of space travel looks pretty monotonous, much of it consisting of little else but watching screens. On-board distractions include swish exercise facilities and a nifty dining area. The crew enjoy communal showers and sniff vape-like metal tubes containing earthly smells when they’re feeling homesick. There’s genuine pathos when we eavesdrop on Radovan Lukavský’s MacDonald chatting with his wife on a giant telescreen, realising that he won’t meet his unborn daughter until she becomes a teenager.

Zdeněk Štěpánek’s weary Captain is a reassuring presence, exactly the sort of chap you’d trust when confronted with extra-terrestrial problems. These include a tricksy encounter with a deserted satellite (dating from 1987!), and a black hole which lethally saps the crews’ energy levels. Characters fall asleep one by one, unsure if they’ll ever wake up. Michal (Otto Lackovič) is driven insane by radiation sickness, threatening the safety of the ship. One senior officer’s beloved robot, clearly modelled on Forbidden Planet’s Robbie, meets a heroic if sticky end. This is a Soviet-bloc film, but any political subtext is handled with a light touch. Cards, dice and evening wear suggest that the desiccated denizens of the abandoned satellite came from a decadent Western nation, no match for the Ikarie’s clean-cut team. The unexpectedly upbeat ending is terrific, Zdeněk Liška’s inventive score taking wing.

Historian Michael Brooke’s booklet essay is a good read, and disc extras include an infectious appreciation from critic Kim Newman. Second Run also throw in The Most Ordinary of Occupations, a slightly baffling 1963 documentary short about maths and science. Buy this for the taut main feature and wallow in one of the last century’s great sci-fi films.

Watch the trailer for the restored Ikarie XB 1

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