Ikarie XB-1 (Voyage to the End of the Universe, 1963)
The pioneering Czechoslovak science fiction film by Jindrich Polák, based on Stanislaw Lem’s The Magellanic Cloud.
The Czechoslovak science-fiction film, Ikarie XB-1 (Icarus XB 1 / Voyage to the End of the Universe, 1963) by Jindrich Polák that was shot half-century ago is a perfect example of the innovative, for the era, approach to the human presence in space. The film is one of the first that was uniquely distanced from the 60’s science-fiction trend which imposed lightweight adventures with aliens. Instead of that, Ikarie XB-1 moves closer to the philosophical inquiries that the cinema will have to deal with in the following years.
The story is set in the year 2163 and follows the lives of the crew of Ikarie XB-1, a spacecraft that travels for 15 earth years towards the big and bright constellation of Centaurus. There are a number of issues that bother each one of them. Starting from the simplest feelings and thoughts for their families that had to leave behind on Earth and reaching to more deep and unanswered philosophical questions like the reasons of human’s existence. The film by being totally atmospheric succeeds to maintain in a perfect way its internal agony, and hence focuses on the interpersonal relationships and conflicts of the crew that will become even more extreme as the time flies.
Ikarie XB-1 is Jindrich Polák’s best film and probably the best science-fiction film ever produced in Czechoslovakia. It is also a great first example of the Eastern European approach to the space age and advances other well-known films that will be produced a couple years later. For that reason Ikarie XB-1 is usually considered as a pioneer to that genre. There is no doubt that the directorial and geometric rigor in Polák’s shots had strongly influenced Stanley Kubrick who followed a similar aesthetical path in his 2001: A Space Odyssey just five years afterwards. Also the claustrophobic cinematography by Jan Kalis and Sasa Rasilov, despite the fact that is in black and white, has really close similarities with the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s Alien that was shot more than fifteen years later. The screenplay was based on the book The Magellanic Cloud by the Polish science-fiction author Stanislaw Lem, who also wrote Solaris among other books. It should be noted that the adaptation of the book was made by Pavel Jurácek, one of the most influential masters of Czechoslovak New Wave.
Ikarie XB-1 is a film that was ahead of its time and will always have a special place in the realm of science-fiction genre. Polák didn’t simply add some crucial elements of realism in his story but also made it particularly up to date for the early 60’s. It’s not just the beginning of the space era that has been mentioned. Also the Cold War and the theoretical true fear of a nuclear disaster are also presented from a rather critical and politicalized point of view.