This 1963 Czechoslovak science fiction film directed by Jindrich Polák is an adaptation of a Stanislaw Lem novel called ‘The Magellanic Cloud.’ Reflexively, one tries to find similarities between this film and Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ But I think the better place to look for influence is in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film, ‘Solaris,’ which was also a Lem adaptation. ‘Ikarie XB-1‘ follows the crew of a ship sent to investigate a planet orbiting Earth’s nearest star, Alpha Centauri. On the way, they encounter a derelict space ship from 1987 Earth which appears to originate from the United States and carries a load of deadly poison and nuclear weapons. Crew members begin to inexplicably fall asleep. The ship also finds a giant dark star that emits an unknown type of radiation from which the humans are mysteriously rescued. The end of the film is a stunning sequence of mental breakdown leading to fantastic and life-affirming discovery.
But the various events do not matter as much as the way the film dwells on the people within their technological surroundings. It’s the focus on the mental status of the crew as opposed to exciting episodes that makes for the strength of this film and its influence on ‘Solaris.’ The film has a calm and quiet approach, simply trying to let us feel the vast distances traveled by the crew. The sets and visual effects hover between beautiful and unconvincing. But they work and are often effective. It’s really a pretentious art film in space. If you like Eastern Bloc science fiction and Stanislaw Lem’s peculiar writing, this is a must see.