Ikarie XB 1: New release for Czech sci-fi classic that foreshadowed Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Ikarie XB1, photo: NFA

The classic Czech sci-fi film Ikarie XB 1 looks set to find fresh audiences with a new Blu-ray release next week. A number of major figures in the history of Czech cinema were involved in the making of the black and white movie, which prefigured Western releases such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek.

Photo: Second Run DVD
Ikarie XB 1, based on a novel by Polish writer Stanislav Lem, tells the story of the large international crew of a spaceship headed for the outer reaches of our universe in the year 2163.

Since its release the film, directed by Jindřich Polák, has earned a reputation as one of the greatest science fiction films produced in the Eastern Bloc.

Next week Ikarie XB 1 gets a new release on Blu-ray from the UK’s Second Run DVD, which has brought many great Czechoslovak films to new international audiences.

The company’s Mehelli Modi says the calibre of those involved is one reason the movie has become a classic.

“It was written by the young Pavel Juráček, who as you know became key to the films of the Czech New Wave. He wrote screenplays like Daisies and made his own films like The Rookie Hangman.

“It was scored by Zdeněk Liška, the great and so unknown in the West composer. The score went from lush orchestral stuff into electronic sounds and was quite experimental for the time.

“And of course overlooking all of this was [designer] Ester Krumbachová, who was the godmother of the Czech New Wave.

“So although the director Polák was known for comedies, I think because of the talents involved this film was taken to a different level.”

Ikarie XB 1,  photo: NFA
Ikarie XB 1 was made before the series Star Trek, which first aired in 1966, and Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out two years later.

Second Run DVD’s founder says its influence on both is palpable.

“It’s very clear when you watch Ikarie now that Gene Roddenberry, who was the creator of Star Trek, and Kubrick had seen it.

“Star Trek was the first American series that talked about a kind of multinational crew and if you look at the uniforms they’re very similar, too. So it’s influence on Roddenberry was really strong, I think.

“And the whole first section of Ikarie is life on board a spaceship and that should sound familiar to you, because that’s exactly what the long first section of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey does.”

Photo: MGM
Ikarie XB 1 has only really become known internationally in recent years. However, it did reach audiences in the US in the 1960s, albeit in radically different form under the title Voyage to the End of the Universe. Mehelli Modi continues.

“It was reedited. I think 10 or 15 minutes were taken out. It was dubbed into English.

“All the names were changed as well, so for example Jindřich Polák became Jack Polak.

“And then they changed the ending as well.

“So this film which has probably one of the most wonderful, thematically correct endings… suddenly everything that was happening in it had the rug pulled from under it, because they changed the ending.”

Elements of Voyage to the End of the Universe have been included as extras on the new release of Ikarie XB 1, which comes out on March 25.