Ikarie XB-1

I obtained a copy of this 1963 Czech film recently and finally watched it.

I had seen it, ages ago, as a kid when it was released in theaters by American International Pictures as Voyage to the End of the Universe, and had a vague recollection of it. In the years since, I’d read about it in histories of science fiction films, but it doesn’t seem to have resurfaced in syndication on TV, nor at any of the science fiction conventions I’ve been to. Nor on VHS or DVD. I had to specially order this copy. The label says that it influenced Kubrick’s 2001. Some recent critics called it “exciting”
I felt pangs of recognition here and there as memories of seeing parts of the film clicked, always an odd experience. The film is interesting, with its stark and clean design of its starship. The crew looks to be about evenly split between men and women, and, judging from the names, is international (although not extremely so – everyone on board is white).

It’s very “adult” in that there are no absurdities in the story. A palatial starship sets off from earth on a relativistic trip to Alpha Centauri (although the script or the translation messes this up – the time to reach the star is only a few months, which would require faster-than-light travel, since alpha centauri is 4.4 light years away) On the way they encounter a derelict spaceship, originally thought to be alien, but revealed to be from Earth, with nerve gas and nuclear warheads on board. Later they encounter a “dark star” whose radiation causes intense sleepiness on board, and severely affects two of the astronauts who had to go outside to make repairs. One of these goes slightly psycho and tries to sabotage the ship. Eventually they reach one of the planets of alpha centauri and find it to have an advanced civilization, who had, in fact, shielded the ship from the worst of the dark star radiation.

Shipboard life is interesting, with social interactions, dances, a huge gym. this is the first starship I saw with a grand piano on board. The film has some SF visual tropes – a robot, a blaster – but you get the feeling they’re only there because people expect them. The only possible influence I see on Kubrick is the use of long shots down hallways. the film isn’t exactly “exciting”. It’s frequently kinda boring, in fact. It usually takes a long time for things to happen. The events seem very random, and are wrapped up in a pedestrian fashion, rather than through any interesting or clever means. One time where this works is in the bit with the crazed astronaut trying to sabotage the ship. He’s running around in a section of the ship he’s closed off, carrying the blaster (why is this even on board? how does he get hold of it?). One of the command crew gets in through the ventilation shaft (which is freakin’ enormous in this ship) and essentially talks him down – a far more believable result than the usual gunfight or fisticuffs.
When they released it in the US they dubbed it, of course. They also changed all those east European names to American-sounding ones, I suppose because the originals looked and sounded weird to Americans. So stars Zdenek Stepánek and Frantisek Smolík became “Dennis Stephens” and “Francis Smolen”. They also changed the ending. Instead of encountering an anonymous industrial civilization that looked like any big Earth city from the air (at least it wasn’t glass towers in bubble domes), they cut in stock footage of lower Manhattan with a prominent Statue of Liberty, thus giving us a Twilight Zone-esque “twist ending” where we realize that the people on board are really aliens, and the “White Planet” they sought (changed in the AIP version to the “Green Planet”) is really Earth. DA-Da-DUHHHHHH,
It’s based on Stanisla Lem’s novel “The Magellanic Cloud” – a weird name, because they don’t go to the Magellanic Cloud, but even in the novel to Alpha Centauri, which isn’t in the MG. This Lem novel hasn’t yet been translated into English. It’s interesting that two of the science fiction movies I saw at matinees as a kid were based on Lem novel (the other one being First Spaceship on Venus, based on his “The Astronauts”. That one, too, featured an international crew, although in the movie they had black and Asian astronauts, too).

“Ikarie” is a weird name for an aspirational starship – why name the ship after someone famous for FAILING in flight, who fell into the sea? You can’t blame Lem for the name – he named his ship the Gaia.

Bolding mine.

I’ve not seen the movie, nor even heard of it until now so this is a WAG.

Could the ship have accelerated to a significant percentage of light speed so time dilation makes the trip a few months as perceived on the ship vs. decades back where they came from? IOW is there a confirmation of only a few months passing *external *to the ship, like communications back home?

That is what IMDB says.

That wouldn’t work. If you’re travelling at 0.99 the speed of light a 4.3 light years journey is still going to feel like a 4.3 year journey. Time dilation doesn’t work that way. Time dilation makes the time you’ve been away feel like a LOT longer to the folks back home.


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Down the memory hole it goes.

If you want an extreme example of time dilation in action, read Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. (Thoroughly spoilered in the wiki article) In it a spacecraft is stuck ever accelerating until it is only a hair’s breadth slower than C. One of the scenes I remember thirty years after reading it is where two of the characters are standing in a corridor discussing some point. Every few seconds there’s a faint tremor which is the ship passing through an entire galaxy, the gravity of stars passing nearby tugging it this way and that.

I’ve seen Ikarie. The scene where they encounter the derelict spaceship is very eerie and well-done.

They certainly solve their problem in an unusual way.