Ikarie XB 1 (1963) / “Voyage To The End Of The Universe”

admin2021January 7, 2023

Ikarie XB 1 is an overlooked compelling science fiction film that was ahead of it’s time and which focuses on complex human drama instead of cheap sci-fi razzamatazz

Directed by Jindřich Polák
Screenplay by Pavel Juráček, Jindřich Polák
Based on “The Magellanic Cloud” by Stanislaw Lem
Cinematography: Jan Kališ
Edited by Josef Dobřichovský
Music by Zdeněk Liška
Production company: Filmové Studio Barrandov
Distributed by: Ústřední půjčovna filmů, American International Pictures (USA
Release dates: July 26, 1963 (Czechoslovakia); September 1964 (US)
Running time: 86 minutes
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech


Zdenek Stepánek: Captain Vladimir Abajev
Frantisek Smolík: Anthony Hopkins – mathematician
Dana Medrická: Nina Kirova – sociologist
Irena Kacírková: Brigitta
Radovan Lukavský: Commander MacDonald
Otto Lackovic: Michal (coordinator)
Miroslav Machácek: Marcel Bernard
Jirí Vrstála: Erik Svenson (pilot)
Rudolf Deyl: Ervin Herold (pilot)
Jaroslav Mares: Milek Wertbowsky
Martin Tapák: Petr Kubes (biologist)
Marcela Martínková: Steffa (Wertbowsky’s wife)
Jozef Adamovic: Zdenek Lorenc (coordinator)
Jaroslav Rozsíval (The Ship’s Doctor)
Ruzena Urbanova: Eva (historian)
Svatava Hubenáková: Rena (MacDonald’s wife)
Jan Cmíral: (crew member)
Vjaceslav Irmanov : (Coordinator)
Marcela Batková: Clenka posádky
Karel Duba: (crew member)
Miroslav Abrahám: (crew member)
Nadezda Blazícková: Danseuse
Zdenek Jelínek: Pianist
Bohumil Klika: Danseur
Jan S. Kolár : Dead man
Vera Kresadlová: crew member
Alena Martinovská : Danseuse
Ladislav Mrkvicka: Romeo in movie
Vladimír Navrátil: coordinator
Olga Navrátilová: crew member
Marie Popelková: dead women
Hana Prazanová: Julie in movie
Olga Schoberová: crew member
Gustav Vobornik: crew member

Year: 2163

Starship Ikarus XB 1: a giant spaceship carrying 40 people to Alpha Centauri.

Mission: the mysterious “White Planet” orbiting the star Alpha Centauri & search for signs of life.

Duration: 28 months at near light speed (15 years time elapse on earth due to relativity effects)

Adjusting to life in space.

Encountering a derelict 20th century nuclear armed spaceship.

A radioactive dark star.

Malfunctioning computers.

Tensions among crew and passengers.

A crew member’s mental breakdown threatening the entire mission.

These are the hazards & dangers to be faced by the passengers and crew of…….

Icarus XB 1

as they

Voyage To The End Of The Universe!!

(Read on for more…..)

(Spoilers Follow Below…..)

“We have travelled billions of kilometres; We are almost at the end of our journey.”

The film opens with the ship, Ikarie XB 1 nearing the end of its voyage along with the sight of an apparently mentally deranged crew member, Michael wandering through its interior and yelling out, “Earth is gone. Earth never existed!” The mentally and physically disheveled man resembles a silhouette that has lost its way within an illuminated symmetrical geometric landscape.

We are then taken via flashback, to the beginning of the mission which will no doubt fill in the picture of what had taken place leading up to this point.

We learn that after 8 years of preparations, the space vessel Ikaria has ceased to be a stationary satellite of Earth and is now “a small space town for forty inhabitants” that is on a journey toward Alpha Centauri, “chosen as the destination of the mission not only for being a star closest to Earth” but due to it being “similar to our Sun and has several planets orbiting it, where the existence of life is anticipated.”

As the Icarus is about to exit the solar system, our attention is drawn to the interactions among its crew and passengers where we’ll no doubt be introduced to the accumulating effects that long duration space travel will have on human beings, mentally, socially, emotionally, professionally and psychologically.

Imagine how it must feel to know that one’s link with family, friends and all that’s familiar back on earth is as tenuous and fragile as a radio signal that will over time and distance become both unreliable and impractical. One of the spacefarers, MacDonald speaks to his wife, Rena who is worried that when he returns she will be older than him and that he’ll have a fifteen year old daughter whose childhood he as a father will have missed out on. If the mission was of longer duration, everyone the crew and passengers had known on earth would be long dead. As she asks her husband to give her regards to Stephanie, it seems that Rena has inwardly resigned herself to some matter which only she is privy to.

“He’s so lonely, no one understands him”

After some humorous episodes involving an obsolete malfunctioning robot, a lame wooing attempt and grown men avoiding taking their vitamins, we come across a disturbing incident involving one of the space travelers which may be a manifestation of more serious trouble ahead.

The lonely loner, Michael finds himself encased within a technological “metaphor” that twists the familiar human certainties and emotions conjured up by Shakespeare’s words in the video play version of Romeo and Juliet describing day following night: “Look, love, what envious streaks do lace the severing clouds in yonder east / Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.” Instead, an unsettling concept of the passage of time is occurring within their world aboard the Icarus as well as back home on Earth in which it can be the “18th in the morning and Christmas after lunch” and the next moment New Year celebrations.

The shear immensity of the universe and our place in the scheme of things cannot be escaped as is shown by the question posed, “Why hasn’t anyone ever flown to Earth?” The answer that “our solar system is of little interest” and that “it’s too far from the center of the Galaxy – 26,000 light years.” Knowing that “we’re the backwoods of the Universe” would for some people put things into proper perspective while for others this realization could very well be disturbing and unsettling to their psyche.

“When one looks at the same faces for so many months…”

Later on, one of the other men onboard the ship talks with Michael about the possibility of life “out there; at least on one of the planets” and whether “there’s life somewhere like on Earth.” However, he doesn’t think as deeply about such matters as Michael as the next second he’s asking about someone else who brought his piano with him. Michael suddenly explodes and yells at the man telling him to “stop saying ‘you see, you see!’ … And stop doing this!” but soon collects himself and apologizes.

In Michael’s tortured mind it must seem that his fellow travelers don’t really appreciate or fathom what he perceives to be the enormity of their situation and are instead content to focus their concerns on trivialities. His is not the kind of personality that can tolerate being confined for long duration with the same faces, petty concerns, personalities, mannerisms, habits and foibles of his fellow travelers. Such social and psychological factors will need to be addressed for our own future long duration space flights and planetary colonization missions. Evolution has not prepared us well for such unnatural endeavors.

For the humans within Icarus and indeed for humans living and working in space and on other worlds, one of the most profound struggles or conflicts will prove to be psychological in nature. For the characters in the film, there is the enormity of their 15-year interstellar voyage versus the fragility of the human mind and the seeming insignificance of their human lives.

“It will be the first case in history. No child has ever been born under such circumstances.”

Another future consideration for humans travelling in space in say, multi-generational voyages or living in colonies on other planets is the inevitability of “extra-terrestrial” births. What will be the future status and indeed loyalties of people who are born and raised in places other than the ‘home world,’ Earth?

On board the Icarus, the crew have to come to terms with the “risky experiment” of Stephanie’s pregnancy. It turns out that she had fallen pregnant on Earth which makes MacDonald wonder why his own wife couldn’t have been included on the mission. In fact, Rena knew about the pregnancy but being older than Stephanie, she feared what might happen and gave her place to Stephanie.

The inhabitants of Icarus are beginning to suffer the effects of boredom and despondency due to being confined in their ship for four months and knowing full well that they’re “not even halfway there.” Not even routine tasks aboard ship nor keeping busy can compensate for feelings of confinement and isolation, feelings many of us are familiar with from long periods of lock down due to Covid. On board the Icarus, fewer and fewer people seem to be bothered with engaging in physical recreation activities in the gym.

What better way to perk up flagging spirits than putting on a social dance party for the passengers and crew! The dance sequence, however comes across as being rather strange. On one level, the dancers seem to be harmoniously enjoying themselves with lots of smiles all round, but it almost comes across as being staged and choreographed much like their synchronized movements. There is little in the way of discordant but genuine individual emotion and passion showing through the social group dance and music which seems to form a kind of commentary on humanity of the furure which in its technological progress has perhaps managed to lose something important that makes us human like spontaneity and individual creativity.

“An object of the 7th order detected in the second safety zone!”

Suddenly the Master Computer interrupts the pleasantries with an alert and a summons for the human crew to report to their posts immediately. It isn’t long before they discover that they have encountered a mysterious derelict vessel without power floating aimlessly in space along their flight path.

Composition: Iron, titanium, germanium and traces of common elements.
Volume: 57,900 cubic metres.
Weight: 15,844 tons.

To the crew’s surprise, the vessel contains “organic substances,” and that it appears to be a primitive spacecraft. These observations and the fact that no signal or response has been received from it, leads to speculation among the crew about the nature of the beings on board the ship about whom they know nothing:

“Ikaria may seem primitive to them.”
“Why are they silent?”
“Maybe they’re afraid of us.”
“If they are afraid, then they are similar to humans.”

Even our own concepts of intelligent alien life are often colored by our anthropomorphic view of intelligent forms of life as necessarily conforming to human standards of thought, behavior, motive, emotions, etc.,

The Icarus crew then move on to imagine what things might be like from another intelligent life-form’s point of view should they decide to send robotic devices over to explore the derelict vessel: “Just suppose… What would we say if they came to us, opened the door, and out came a dozen machines. How would you deal with them?” Instead, the crew decide to send two of their number over to the vessel in the explorer shuttle.

It isn’t long before the two-man boarding party is dispatched to the derelict vessel where they soon discover that it was an early American Earth ship from the year 1987. All of the crew and passengers have mysteriously died and their bodies have been perfectly preserved in the vacuum within the vessel.

The evidence on board suggests that the ship had launched during a nuclear conflict and that those on board attempted to escape the conflagration back on Earth. Despite the gambling activities, the piles of cash clutched in cold dead hands, and the dice strewn about the floor, it would seem that their ‘gamble’ did not pay off as they all are long dead – perhaps murdered with poison gas (“Tigger Fun”) or suffocated due to lack of oxygen.

It seems that no matter how far or fast humanity may move and progress, it is impossible for it to outrun its past, the horror of its degeneracy, its greed and its corruption. As easily and shockingly as the skin falls away from the dead captain’s face, the crew of the Icarus are forced to confront the fact that they have not discovered a new alien life form, but have instead “discovered the 20th century.” For the representatives of a new future humanity, their past had lain there in the void all along, waiting for them to discover it and understand.

The demented logic of that human past and the legacy that might have so easily resulted is the realization that the derelict vessel is loaded with live nuclear weapons. With the accidental triggering of one of these still functional weapons, we watch in horror as the two Icarus crewmen attempt to make their way through the airless and lifeless crypt, but to no avail as they along with the vessel and all that it represented are consumed by the fearful flash of a thermonuclear explosion.

Later aboard the Icarus, a discussion ensues between two of the men about the dead representatives of a by-gone century, now wiped out of existence in a flash by their own devices. It would be too easy to deny that they are the ancestors of the inhabitants of the Icarus and instead merely assign them to being 20th century “human trash that left Auschwitz, Oradour and Hiroshima behind them.” In fact, those aboard the bright shiny and optimistic technological metaphor of humanity’s future speeding toward Alpha Centauri, are also indeed products of the likes of “Honegger – also the 20th century.”

“This moment was the beginning of lethal danger to us”

As the Icarus is being repaired, the vessel drifts into a radiation field emitted by a near-by ‘dark star.’ An alert is soon broadcast throughout the ship, “Alert! Third deck! Lying person! Non-responding person!” The radiation gradually causes the crew and passengers to succumb to a kind of lassitude followed by a form of sleeping sickness. One-by-one, all on board are rendered unconscious, except for Commander MacDonald who struggles valiantly but vainly against the inevitable.

Before the cause of their dilemma can be determined, the passengers and crew have no idea what is happening to them. Unable to cope with the fatigue and drowsiness, they are “forced to activate more and more automatons to keep Ikaria running normally.”

How does humanity deal with obstacles that are beyond its understanding or capacity to deal with? The enormity of the unknowns that the crew are confronted with seem to dwarf any certainties about their understanding of the workings of the cosmos. They are forced to concede that the nature of the Dark Star’s radiation is “simply beyond anything we know” and that they can’t be certain how long the effects of the drowsiness will last. For all they know the fate of their mission has already been decided and they will be reduced to being mere “castaways’ in space.

Their message in a bottle will be in the form of valuable data about this and other anomalies sent back to Earth in a module – back home to where it had been “insisted that nothing new could be discovered in the Universe,” a conceit “they’ve been proclaiming…..for 300 years.”

MacDonald rails against their predicament and can only see a way out of it by force of will power whereby “those who want, will survive.” His mentality can only accept the tangible and what can be given a label and only then can he “respect it.” Until then, it just doesn’t exist. Belief and faith are to MacDonald’s way of thinking mere words and that human endurance must be based on certainties in life. Instead of placing his belief in the possibility that he and the others will eventually wake up, MacDonald is certain that he can get the Icarus to head back to the solar system using the automated systems. And yet, despite his denial of what he can’t materially perceive through his senses and his confidence in a reality he can mold and control through the strength of his own will power, MacDonald finally surrenders to his fatigue.

A lack of understanding and appreciation of the past; hubris, overconfidence and complacency in the present and unawareness of what is to come……

“Master Computer proceeds with the auto-regulation process. End of first shift. Second shift unmanned”

We soon have a glimpse into a possible future in which the only signs of life are the ship’s robotic and automated systems. Reminders are issued and meals are served as Anthony’s robot, Patrick wanders the ship aimlessly and pathetically calls out Anthony’s name. But humanity is absent for now and all that remains of its existence is its technology. The very same technology that had the ship launched without a human crew, would at this point return the Icarus back to earth. The lack of a human crew would mean the absence of belief and faith, necessary ingredients for human progress and advancement. Perhaps this sequence serves as a clue as to the ultimate but not desired destiny of human evolution.

“Coincidence exists among us humans, but not among the stars”

After 19 hours, the crew awakens and a possible explanation is offered for what had happened to them: “Some kind of a force field was generated between the Ikaria and the Dark Star……A force field that intercepted the radiation.” Or had their “organism simply got accustomed to it?” In short, none of them know for sure. And when in doubt, there’s always “coincidence” as a possible handy explanation. The question is, do things just simply happen or do they happen for a reason?

Far from getting out of their dilemma without consequences, the effect of the Dark Star’s radiation is having a detrimental effect of both Erik and Michael who had been outside the ship and were fully exposed.

Michael is soon found to be wandering the corridor on deck zero. He is intent on returning to Earth even if it is by the explorer shuttle craft. Michael is posing a danger to the others having deactivated the robots and is potentially able to destroy the ship’s cooling system or oxygen regenerators. Michael continues his wandering through the ship and in an agitated, bewildered and aggressive state declaring that “Earth is gone,” and “Earth never existed.” 

Eventually MacDonald is able to get through to Michael whose sense of humanity overrides his mental and emotional state and is able coax him back to where the others are. He will receive care and consideration and not meet with a sticky end as might happen in many Hollywood films.

Meanwhile it has been determined that there is an energy transmitter that apparently located the Icarus as it entered the sphere of the Dark Star, enclosing them in a force field and protecting the ship from radiation.

From this indisputable fact it can only be concluded that “there’s life on the White Planet!” As one of the crew observes, “we set out into the Universe to discover life, while life discovered us.”

The onboard birth at this point (coincidence?) adds to the sense of wonder and future hope as the Ikarie approaches their destination, Alpha Centauri’s ‘White Planet’ obviously inhabited by an intelligent and advanced civilization. Mission accomplished!


Points of Interest

Ikarie XB 1 is based on a 1955 novel, Oblok Magellana/The Magellanic Cloud by Polish science fiction author, Stanislaw Lem who also published his best known work, Solaris.

Ikarie XB 1 in many ways stands head and shoulders above what was generally on offer at the time much like Forbidden Planet (1956) and 2001: A Space Odessy (1968)

In the film we have;

• The daily activities of the crew on its 28 month mission to Alpha Centauri.

• The dangers of space travel with hazards from without such as radiation from the Dark Star and hazards from within as suggested by Michael’s breakdown.

• The rewards of space exploration.

• Cooperation and interaction between a multi-national male and female crew.

• A serious tone permeating the film focusing on the social and psychological aspects of human endeavor in space.

• Commentary of humanity’s predilection for warfare.

• A positive message about humanity in space with man and not machine being the driving force as shown by the crew’s capacity for hope being the reason the Icarus continued with its mission.

• The Ikarie’s encounter with the perfectly preserved space relic from the 20th century forcing us to imagine how our descendants might view us and the era that encompassed world wars, regional conflicts, sectarian violence, climate catastrophes, genocides, atomic weaponry and more.

We don’t have;

• Massive CGI fueled space epics in which the fate of the universe is at stake.

• Lashings of expected Communist and Pro-Soviet propaganda along with anti-Capitalist admonishments.

• Typical space drama trials and tribulations involving mad scientists, killer robots, lashings of techno-babble and hardware.

I’m not going to waste anyone’s time by mentioning in any detail the American butchering of the film with the Voyage To The End Of The Universe AIP dubbed version, or references to how the film supposedly influenced Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odessy. Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t. Who knows? Really, who cares?

The original Czech version of the film won the main prize at the 1963 Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival. The restored original Czech version was screened as a “Cannes Classic” at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

The exterior sets and shots probably reflect the technology available at the time but were adequate enough. It is however, the interior set designs that stand out. In many ways parts of the ship’s interior remind me of the sets on the Doctor Who TV series with the geometric shapes and circles. Shots of individual crew members are framed in such a way that they appear dwarfed by the open spaces and towering technology of the ship. This serves to highlight the apparent insignificance of human beings in the face of their own technology and the sheer immensity of the universe and what is being undertaken.

We keep being told how human beings already have the technology to begin establishing its presence on other planets such as Mars. However, I still think that at present our level of optimism far exceeds what we are in fact capable of realistically achieving. The film shows how even mundane problems can arise to thwart and jeopardize our endeavors in space. First, there is the sense of boredom and despondency experienced by the crew. Then there are the frayed nerves resulting from being confined with the same faces and annoying individuals and their equally annoying habits for extended periods of time. Just think about how often work colleagues can give you the shits but at least you can go home at the end of the day. Now imagine being stuck with them in a habitat on Mars or on 28 month voyage in a ship travelling to Alpha Centauri! It wouldn’t take long before there’d be the first space homicide or at least he sight of a poor soul curled up in a fetal position on the floor, sucking his thumb and cooing softly to himself….

A warning to the rest of the universe: If you see us coming, for your own sakes…..RUN!!!!!

Full Film

©Chris Christopoulos 2022

Source link


Leave a comment

Name *
Add a display name
Email *
Your email address will not be published