Disembarking in Manila for the first time is the much-awaited movie of every sci-fi avid fan’s dream –Ikarie XB-1. This excellent 1963 Czech saga directed by Jindřich Polák was one of the solid inspirations that precedes and foreshadows a number of internationally famous space-genre works, with Star Trek, among some of them.
In Gene Roddenberry’s blockbuster billion-dollar Star Trek franchise, the audience can surely note more than a few trace elements of Ikarie XB-1. Although, it can be argued that “nobody has yet found the smoking gun that proves Roddenberry watched Ikarie XB-1, at best, nobody can really say he did not,” says Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, jr., himself a science fiction aficionado and notes, that Ikarie XB-1 “had seen its US release in 1963 in a dubbed version and under the title Journey to the End of the Universe.” The parallels emerge primarily from the story about a large starship that functions as a small inhabitable world – with corridors, living quarters, recreation areas and dining rooms – that is on a mission to explore new worlds and new life. The similarities of Star Trek and Ikarie XB-1 are undeniable, as seen in the futuristic interior of the ship looking like an abstract art gallery with food synthesizers and engine rooms and a computer voice dominating the ships’ command.
Based on the novel of Polish writer Stanisław Lem, The Magellanic Cloud (1955), the plot is set in the year 2163 aboard a spaceship named Ikarie XB-1 bound for the distant star of Alpha Centauri, where no one has gone before. Scientists believed this star is capable of supporting life, thus a forty or so mixed gender crew –which is remarkable during the time of the film’s release –goes on another-worldly exploration. In the midst of their journey, they encounter an abandoned alien ship and things begin to spiral out of control from there on. Essentially, Ikarie XB-1 is broken down into four long episodes with different storylines contained in one big continuous “umbrella” plot.
As you absorb the imagery of Ikarie XB-1, you may detect a note of uncanny familiarity not only with Gene Roddenberry´s Star Trek, but also Stanley Kubrick´s 2001: A Space Odyssey as Kubrick is known to have watched the film in English several times while researching his 2001 project with Arthur C. Clarke.
Ikarie XB-1 is a genuine achievement on a number of fronts with its avant-garde production design, special effects and engaging characters especially for its time. Shot in black-and-white displaying dramatic light and shadow effects, its cinematography by Jan Kališ is striking within depth along with Zdeněk Liška´s moody electronic score that set the film’s hypnotic pacing with feelings of isolation, mystery, and dread.
The 2:35 widescreen remastered version of Ikarie XB-1, which became part of the Cannes Film Festival 2016 line-up, will be shown at the Cinematheque Centre Manila on April 11 at 6:30 in the evening, once again as part of the yearlong Czech Movie Gems’ special feature. The film will be introduced to the viewing public by none other than Czech Ambassador to the Philippines, Jaroslav Olša, jr., a life-long science fiction fan and the author of Czech-language Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.