KLAATU YOU (20)

By: Chris Lanier
May 13, 2020

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.

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IKARIE XB-1 | d. JINDŘICH POLÁK | 1963

En route to an alien planet they expect to contain life, the explorers in IKARIE XB-1 encounter another spacecraft, disabled and adrift. At first they assume it’s extraterrestrial – but when the IKARIE sends two spacewalkers to investigate, they realize it hails from earth, launched in their historical past. As the pair survey the details inside — a flash-frozen diorama that has, with infinite patience, awaited its appalled audience — excellent use is made of the nightmare texture of zero gravity, with its provisional moorings and narcotized pace. The first corpses they encounter are dressed to the nines, dropped dead in the midst of carousing and gambling. We see a hand clutching a wad of money, spilled dice scattered like knocked-out teeth, men in ties and women with pearls slumped at tables — bodies heaped atop one another like piles of coats shed from their hangers.

The IKARIE’s astronauts come across a canister labeled “Tigger Fun” (which must perforce appear on any list of Top Ten Fictional Names for Fictional Things). It’s a 20th Century poison gas. The astronauts force their way into the spaceship’s command room, where two generals lie dead. The astronauts deduce that, when the oxygen was running low, the generals sealed themselves in the room, using the Tigger Fun to wipe out the rest, to conserve the remaining oxygen for themselves. And when that last remainder was dwindling, they turned on each other.

Suddenly the unconvincing wire-strung miniature of this ship becomes a perfect metaphor for Planet Earth Right Now, and the tinny smallness of the contraption acquires an urgent poignancy. For us, it matters less that earth is a planet than that it is a closed system, hermetically sealed. And while we carry on with our entertainments, our forests are turned into torches for the air, and the oligarchs draw up blueprints for their impregnable bunkers, both a bulwark against and an invocation of the riots to come.

The old spaceship-cum-gravesite ends up blown to smithereens, thanks to some rattletrap nukes stowed aboard. I expected the IKARIE’s captain to react with sentimental piety — and found myself both surprised and moved that his response, instead, was naked disgust. When one crewmember remarks that the atomized corpses were their ancestors, the captain replies: “Not them… You know who they were? Human trash, that left Auschwitz, Oradour, and Hiroshima behind them.”

Those sentences knocked me out of the fictional timeline of the film, right back to the date the actor, Zdenek Stepánek, spoke them: 20 years out from the liberation of the death camps, five years before Brezhnev’s tanks rolled into Prague. How bracing it was that someone could imagine, in that year, a humankind for whom concentration camps and mass murder were only occasion for moral horror, and not — out here in the non-fictional 21st century — tactics and methods merely kept at reserve, awaiting the propitious circumstances of their deployment.

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KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | J.C. Gabel on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS | Alison Fensterstock on ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW | Wayne Chambliss on THEM! and PHASE IV | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Kevin Obsatz on DEATHSPORT | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Seth Mnookin on NUDE ON THE MOON | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Movies, Sci-Fi

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