Ikarie XB-1

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Ikarie XB-1, aka Voyage to the End of the Universe is a wonderful movie. Made in 1963, it presages 2001 in terms of grandeur and scale. Like 2001, it is decidedly understated and avoids the pulp fiction plotting and production shoddiness that characterizes so much science fiction. Just ordinary men and women doing something extra-ordinary. I first saw it in the 1970's, and it made an impression.

Most of the movie was a blur to me and a few scenes stood out hauntingly. The deranged Michael blasts a camera and later blasts the robot Patrick. Before the blasting, Anthony's robot Patrick roams the ship calling for anthony while the crew is unconscious from radiation posioning. The derelcit US space ship. Most memorably, the final scenes in which shots of the newborn baby and the crew alternate with stock footage of New York City. (Americanized version. Czech version ends differently)

That ending captured my imagination with the implication that Ikarie was a colony ship. The colony it carried would in time have grown into the human civilization we all know and love today, epitomized by the wonder-city of the mid 20th century, New york, New york. This ending fits in nicely with the American pioneer mythos. A mighty civilization arising from the labors of a few intrepid explorers. This was a staple of some mid 20th century science fiction-- the extra terrestrial origin of humanity. We see it in (off the top of my head) Richard Matheson's "Third from the Sun," Larrry Niven's Known Space and Chad Oliver's "Transfusion." Particularly "Tranfusion." This ending rebrands the story as an American-entrepreneurial-captalist story of triumph.

As captivating as it was, the ending sums up the glaring difference between the Czech and American version. In Journey to the End of the Universe, an American crew travels from another world to the green planet-- Earth. In Ikarie XB-1 a multi national crew travels from Earth to Alpha Centauri and the white planet orbiting it. In the orignal, it is views of the white planet's surface that alternate with views of the crew and the newborn baby.

It may be that the American version no longer exists. A pity that. Despite its faults, that ending offers a much more interesting trope than ooo, we discovered a vastly advanced civilzation that managed to completely pave over their planet. Instead, we discovered a green planet and will eventually pave it over(?). I'm conflicted in how I feel about that.

One of the similarities between 2001 and Ikarie XB-1 is the on-board computer. Though not evidencing HAL's level of AI (or personality), Ikarie's computer is able to carry on the ship's mission after the crew is incapacitated and does so. Unlike HAL, it does not psychopathically murder the crew. Like HAL, it does interrupt the festivities of a birthday party. The general alarm sends all 80 crew scurrying to their stations. It's down right comical watching them run to the turbolifts. A HAL-like understatement that sensors were showing something unexpected would have probably been more realistic, but I did not design the bloody computer.

Unlike Discovery, Ikarie is more expansive than most spaceships in the movies. Not until (the original) Battlestar Galacitca do we see such a large, uncluttered bridge.[citation needed] The crew quarters are of a scale such as those in Star Trek and the common areas are as well. Spaceships before Star Trek and 2001 came in two basic shapes: cigars with fins and saucers. Ikarie is an oblate lozenge in shape, rather like a barge. Its shuttles are saucer shaped, but the main ship is strikingly different. The one detaches from Ikarie and orbits the derelict US ship at a safe distance. In 2001, we have round utility pods with mechanical hands for making repairs. The Ikarie crew does the fine detail work, (which is how Michael gets the dose of radiation that deranges his mind.) but turns the job over to the robots that are centrally controlled by the ships computer. (ah, the benefits of central control.) A pity they don't do the same when they need to burn through to where Michael has barricaded himself. Anthony is RC'ing Patrick, who gets blasted by Michael. The cool part is this may be the first time in Science Fiction an RC 'bot is used to deal with a dangerously deranged person.

I remembered Patrick as being portrayed by Robbie-the-Robot, but this was wrong. Patrick has a rounded head made glass, more like the robot in (the original) Lost in Space. The Lost in Space robot is fully AI, autonomous and goal seeking. If Patrick were ever AI, he's demented now and his malapropisms provide amusement to the crew and consternation to Anthony. His search down the long corridors for Anthony, whom he follows like a lost puppy, is moving and emotionally engaging.

There are no rapacious aliens seeking Earth women. No alien invaders advanced enough to cross the gulf of space yet unprepared for our microbiota. No star destroyers and flashy, Earth shattering ka-booms. I don't know about anyone else, but getting to crew the first ship to another solar system would be plenty exciting fro me. and dealing with the problems bound to arise on such a mission would be as challenging as anyone could ask for. (There is a flashy atom bomb explosion due to the carelssness of the long dead crew of the American space ship, but that is saddening instead of exciting.)


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