Ikarie XB-1

If the above image makes you think “2001”, you’re right- except that it’s from a movie released five years earlier. Ikarie XB-1 is a fascinating and little-known cinematic artifact, from a time when sci-fi movies were doomed to be silly, quickly-dated flicks. This one holds up; while the effects obviously aren’t going to wow anyone in the modern age, they’re cleverly done in a DIY-way that you can appreciate even now. The set design is impressive- wide shots of the ship’s living quarters, gym, and bridge are all stylishly designed with an imaginative eye for the future- predating not only Kubrick’s own stylish 2001, but Star Trek– and pretty much anything you can think of in science fiction. Perhaps most impressive of all, this is a Czech film made in the early 60’s, and not a product of big-budget Hollywood money.

The story is fairly simple- a ship goes out to explore Alpha Centauri with the hope of finding intelligent life. But the way it’s told is key; there’s no hero here, just an ensemble cast of different people you get to know, each with their own backstory. The editing and pacing keeps things moving in a way that isn’t typical for films of that time (or any time), jumping around the ship without offering much exposition or explanation. It’s almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, but you’re given enough information to realize these are folks with lives that matter- they’re not just faceless stand-ins for a special effects show.

Even more satisfying, Ikarie XB-1 is peppered with little thoughtful details, like a social night where everyone is dancing in what the filmmakers imagined might be the popular dance of a future society. It’s kind of sort of familiar, and eerily not- but it gets your mind pondering, as good science fiction is supposed to do. The film’s streamlined “show-don’t-tell” ethos works well with the stark black-and-white photography; like film noir, it’s economical yet beautifully presented. And while there are elements that will remind you of future sci-fi classics (Alien was one that came to mind halfway through) what makes Ikarie XB-1 worth watching is less the story (which has been copied enough times to make this one, ironically, feel a little old-hat) and more the enjoyment of immersing yourself in a beautifully-crafted piece of cinema history brimming with ideas that filmmakers have been drinking from ever since.

2 thoughts on “Ikarie XB-1

  1. Thank you! Eastern bloc Sci-Fi is something that we don’t see enough of, as you noted in your comment about this being otherwise hard to come by.


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