(director/writer: Von Jindrich Polak; screenwriters: Paul Jurist/from the novel by The Magellan Nebulaby Stanislaw Lem; cinematographers: Jan Kalis/Sasa Rasilov; editor: Josef Dobrichovský; music: Danny List; cast: Zdenek Stepanek (The Captain Abajev), Radovan Lukavskij (Commander Byron MacDonald), Otto Lasckovic (Michael, coordinator), Frantisek Smolik (Anthony, mathematician), Dana Medricka (Nina Kirova, sociologist), Marcela Martinkova (Wertbowsky’s wife Steffie), Jiri Vrstala (Erik Svensen, pilot), Ruzena Urbanova (Eva, historian), Jaroslav Mares (Milek Wertbowsky), Svatava Hubenáková (Rena, MacDonald’s wife); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Rudolf Wohl;PAL DVD format-Filmexport Home Video; 1963Czechoslovakia-in Czech with English subtitles)

It’s a curio that’s worthwhile seeing–especially if you’re a fan of the great writer Lem.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Von Jindrich Polak (“Riders in the Sky”) effectively directs this well-produced straightforward Czech sci-fi fantasy film, one that’s amazingly almost propaganda-free for an Iron Curtain country, that’s shot on a low-budget and in black and white. Polak and co-writer Paul Jurist adapt it from the 1955 novel The Magellan Nebula by Stanislaw Lem. Its English film title alludes to Icarus, the Greek mythological character who flew too close to the sun. Ikarie XB-1 predates both Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series (1966-1969), and was certainly seen by Kubrick.

It’s a visionary pic of the future, that is set in 2163. At that time the international community on Earth has banded together to launch its first multinational interstellar mission to explore the star Alpha Centauri and a planet orbiting around that star. While on the space voyage, on the Ikarie XB-1, we learn that those who remain on Earth will have aged 15 years during the course of the 28 month mission while the crew will only age a few years.

The pic opens with Commander MacDonald (Radovan Lukavskij), of the Ikarie, saying his goodbyes to his pregnant wife Rena (Svatava Hubenáková) through a faulty communication setup that fades out after she jokes their child will be 15 when he returns and that she will age so much he might not find her desirable anymore.

In flight, the crew tries to be cheery and fight off their boredom while enclosed for such a long time in a tin spacecraft. Humor is derived at the expense of the brainy mathematician Anthony (Frantisek Smolik), the creator of the ship’s robot, Patrick, who loyally follows him around while playfully mocked by the crew because it was built in the 21st century and is missing some of the 22nd century updates even if it still works.

In midflight, the Ikarie comes upon a mystery abandoned spacecraft and the captain (Zdenek Stepanek) refuses to use robots to investigate, and instead sends 2 crew members. They solve the mystery by finding a human crew dead and nuclear arms aboard (a cue for some Cold War barbs aimed at the West).

In the conclusion, as the Ikarie returns to Earth after successfully completing its mission, a nearby nebula infects the ship with radiation that leaves everyone with a sleeping sick illness. The 2 crewmen who boarded the abandoned space ship are the most deeply affected by the radiation, and one of them, named Michael (Otto Lasckovic), goes berserk and declares the Earth is gone and pulls out a ray gun while threatening the entire ship.

Like all space films emerging from the Soviets and the Eastern Bloc, this one deals with space exploration and not alien invasions. It’s a curio that’s worthwhile seeing–especially if you’re a fan of the great writer Lem. Though too talky and too sweet of a plot, it deserves some recognition for its contributions to the genre, its intelligent script and its numerous ideas.