IRON SKY (Timo Vuorensola, 2012)
The start of Iron Sky (below) is very promising; we see a spacecraft slowly passing across the beautiful moons surface. It is a suitably otherworldly ambience, complimented by a soundtrack redolent of Brian Eno’s superb album ‘Apollo’ (itself inspired by the Country & Western music which the NASA astronauts played whilst floating above the Lunar orb). The pace is measured and atmospheric, augmented by excellent, realistic-looking special effects. Unfortunately, this auspicious beginning is probably one of the best segments in the whole film. From here on in, we are bombarded by a plethora of insults to artistic intelligence and cinematic quality.
A synopsis of what little plot there is, goes like so:
Post-World War 2, in 1945, the Third Reich repaired to the dark side of the moon, only to be later discovered by an American Lunar mission, in 2018. One of the spacecrafts African-American astronauts gets caught and held prisoner on the Nazi lunar base, but later, after much shenanigans, manages to escape back to Earth as part of a Nazi scout mission. The spacecrafts ragtag group, with various loyalties, then infiltrate the political workings of the American President, who is Sarah Palin in all but name, and who will later lead an international task-force against an incoming Nazi invasion from space. The whole Earth is at risk and America is the first line of defence.
Sounds fab, huh? I so wanted this film to be great! Oh dear – where to start with the brickbats?
Apart from the hammy over-acting and mugging (even for a comedy), the risible script, perfunctory plot exposition, pathetic, laborious attempts at tired, one-note ‘humour’, and total lack of any meaningful depth, lets get the ‘B-movie’ question out of the way first:
Iron Sky is meant to be in the vein of the sort of trashy, cliffhanger serial pulps which thrilled the cinema-goers and magazine readers of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Any right-minded person absolutely adores the ‘so-bad-they-are-good’ B-films of the likes of Ed Wood and Edward G. Ulmer, et al. However, this film is so bad, that it’s just plain bad. There is an intergalactic world of difference between someone like Wood – who genuinely tried to make good films, but was woefully ill-equipped to do so in terms of artistic vision and budget restraints, and has now been re-evaluated within a Post-Modern, ‘ironic’ framework – and a film-maker nowadays who wants to produce a tongue-in-cheek, self-conscious ‘homage’ to such Exploitation movies of the past. It is very difficult to create a knowing pastiche of such ‘awful’ films without falling into downright parody and actual ‘awfullness’ itself. A balance has to be struck between satirising such low budget limitations and re-creating those inadequacies at face value. This is the prime fault with Iron Sky; it tries to have plain, simple fun with the limited themes of the science fiction B-movies of old, whilst also pandering to a hip, post-modern audience with some kind of retroactive, metatextual commentary. Such a hybrid is notoriously hard to create and this woebegone film fails stupendously on both counts.
We are ‘in on the joke’, but it isn’t enough to carry a whole film – we need something more apart from a straight parody of such disastrous films. There is nothing of any value, or depth, underneath the B-movie trappings of Iron Sky. That wouldn’t be so bad if the film were actually funny. Unfortunately, however much we strain to accommodate the broad Euro-pudding comedy gags, they fall flat on their face nearly every time – you can almost hear the funereal thud of such leaden laughs in the tumbleweed interstices between the scripts ‘gags’. This could be due to the fact that Anglo-American and Finnish humour is – arguably, according to some critics – light-years apart, but it’s probably more due to the script being overburdened with the type of childish slapstick that even the worst Mack Sennett silent comedy would have been ashamed of. The clownish Nazi’s in this film make the Keystone Cops look like Oscar-winning method actors. The timing of some of the ‘jokes’ in this film was so out of sync that I literally cringed with embarrassment; I kid you not. The ‘comedy’ – if such a word can be applied to this Humongous Nazi Cow Pat – was a weird hodge-podge of 1980’s ‘Euro-Sleaze’ tinged horror comedies, such as Frankenhooker or The Stuff, Noughties Hollywood Rom-Coms, and Spaceballs era Mel Brooks (i.e. when he wasn’t funny anymore). Think of the most anodyne, brain-cell melting, type of commercial comedy – say, Sex and the City 2 – and then add on top every SF fans ‘Space-Nazi’ movie dream, and what you get is not just a piece of crap, but a really disappointing piece of crap. What we wanted was ‘Nazi Steampunks Ride!’ – not ‘Allo Allo in Space’.
One of the first scenes exemplifies the many problems. The female Nazi character (I immediately forgot all of their names, so dull they were) fights with the African-American astronaut who has blundered into the Nazi moon base – pleasingly decked out as a massive Swastika, seen from above – and gets stuck in an air-shaft, open to the ravages of the void. They both hang on for dear life as they are almost sucked out into the vacuum. This goes on for what seems like ages. Everyone knows that – unprotected – you wouldn’t last more than about 10 seconds in space – you would implode and asphyxiate almost immediately. Like the similar, and just as preposterous scene in Total Recall, the two characters hang on in the vacuum comfortably, with the ‘wind’ buffeting their hair, until the woman manages to close the air-lock. This sequence flags up the films tone from the start; there isn’t meant to be any kind of ‘Internal Logic’ to the science fiction premise, and in that sense it isn’t SF in the slightest – it is merely ‘fantasy adventure’. But that would be just damn fine if this film didn’t try to sell itself as outright science fiction, albeit in a comedic vein. It is neither SF or comedy – it is a black hole of a disaster. As soon as I saw this bit, I shuddered with foreboding. It wasn’t silly or zany enough to be funny, or even witty, and wasn’t relatively ‘realistic’ enough to be thrilling in any sense. It was just stupid and cringe-worthy, like a massive wet fart in space.
The best SF comedies take one tonal path or another and rarely try to meld the two: Woody Allen’s Sleeper goes for ‘utterly ridiculous’, but plays inventively with such SF tropes as Genetic Engineering, Dystopian Futures and Robotics, whilst being laugh-out-loud funny. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove…goes for ‘wittily plausible’, essaying frightening end-of-the-world scenarios and political satire whilst being laugh-out-loud funny.
Iron Sky tries to do both simultaneously, but ends up being an epic fail of cosmic proportions.
The concept of ‘Nazis in Space’ is science fiction (and comedy) gold – how on earth did the film-makers get it so wrong? It seems like they have excitedly bludgeoned the idea to death – with pantomime acting and humour so course it positively chafes – as a child hyperactively destroys his toys Nazi soldiers in the heat of battle. Even the normally excellent Industrial-Electronica outfit Laibach produce a surprisingly mundane soundtrack to the film, with only the odd musical cue to Wagner’s Ring cycle making any impact.
There is fertile ground in equating the Republicans with Fascism, but little is made of this conceit, and the ‘Aryan-Negroid-Hybrid’ subplot would be a fascinating ethical quagmire if it wasn’t so badly executed. However, miraculously, amongst such a sodden ruin of a movie, there are a few good moments (along with the aforementioned brilliant special effects). The actor who plays Sarah Palin does a sterling impersonation of her, and has a few funny lines and scenes. There is a very funny moment when the Indian ambassador at a NATO type conference has to apologise for his Swastika emblazoned ring (the Swastika was originally an Indian, religious symbol before the Nazi’s appropriated it) and there’s an embarrassing faux pas made by the North Korean delegate. A few other odd scenes raise a wry smile or a chuckle, but mostly it’s arid comedy ground all round. The action sequences are common-or-garden Blockbuster Battles, with nothing to set them apart from most other Hollywood films of the same ilk.
Iron Sky tries to have its cake and eat it, but all we get are the kitchen floor crumbs of what could have been a spectacular Black Forest Gateau, as opposed to a deflated souffle. The film-makers have provided all the right ingredients, but the cook was too drunk from Schnapps beforehand; magnificent Nazi costumes, sets and props, rock-jawed heroes and villains; an ‘innocent’ but sexy, babelicious heroine (reminiscent of the risque WW2 comic strip ‘Jane’) and to top it off, wonderfully inventive Steampunk stylings, machinery and gadgets – including a brilliant sequence involving vast Zeppelin spaceships tugging huge meteorites behind them in order to pound the Earth in a ‘meteorblitzkrieg’. This scene testifies to the talent of the special effects boffins, the only talented people on board the whole lame duck, by my reckoning. The CGI is top-notch, for such a low budget enterprise – reportedly around $4 million and much of it ‘crowd-sourced’ (which may be another reason for the lowest common denominator feel to the film – it’s trying far too hard to please its plebeian investors, rather than being an Auteur film).
It all sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Yes, if you separate these sequences from the rest of the film, they work exceedingly well, but that’s the point – they would have been better utilised as the groundwork for a barnstorming, interactive computer game, rather than a narrative film. There is so much to play with here; so much potential for amazing juxtapositions between Fascism and it’s opposites, be they socio-political, psychological, philosophical, moral or humorous, never mind in terms of the wide-open mindscapes of science fiction – but Iron Sky ends up plummeting to Earth like an Iron Balloon.
If I had paid to see Iron Sky my outrage would make Hitler’s Nuremberg speech sound like Charlie Chaplin’s oration in The Great Dictator.