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Aha. Now I understand why this riotously funny, cleverly produced and obviously commercial Sci-fi comedy didn't score a mainstream release in the United States. Made by a renegade pack of Finnish filmmakers fresh from a pair of goofball Star Trek spoofs, 2012's Iron Sky takes a decidedly European, acidic political viewpoint toward the U.S. of A.. We critics are never grateful, even when a political fantasy flatters our personal prejudices. Iron Sky goes just one or two insults too far, just far enough for its anti-Neocon jokes to wear thin. It's like the 1968 French film Mr. Freedom, which uses a crude superhero motif to clobber "Evil America" for roughly 90 minutes straight. Both movies loudly express the foreign outrage against our aggressive militarism. In today's political climate, American theaters showing Iron Sky would probably be picketed, or worse.
What, foreigners having the nerve to criticize America? And it's funny?
Finnish director Timo Vuorensola brings to life a script packed with wickedly funny ideas. The concept of "Nazis in Space" would seem a blueprint for screaming bad taste, but for most of its running time Iron Sky is a marvelously on-target lampoon, finding incipient militaristic fascism in everything from Star Wars to Star Trek Voyager. As a movie that plays fast and loose with a WW2/Third Reich fantasy, it has some things in common with Inglorious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino examined the way the real, historical Nazi threat is confused with perceptions taken from glamorous, escapist war movies. Along with its hilarity, Iron Sky directly states what Starship Troopers only suggested -- that American political discourse is becoming more and more Nazi-like. In the film's best scene, the American President hears a sample of fervent Nazi heimat- first oratory, and immediately uses the speech in her campaign, verbatim. The American audience loves it! If not for the anti-neocon extremes of the last reel, this could have cleaned up in America. I understand that it did very well in Europe, and that more Iron Sky movies are planned.
The biggest surprise? Iron Sky is great fun...
It's 2018. President Sarah Palin (Stephanie Paul) frets for her re-election chances when her showcase moon expedition vanishes soon after landing. Palin instructs her utterly ruthless campaign manager Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant) to find a new angle, now that the black male model/astronaut she sent to the moon, James Washington, (Christopher Kirby) is dead. But Washington is alive! He's been taken prisoner by a colony of Nazis that escaped to the dark side of the moon at the end of WW2 (a persistent urban legend). This fourth Reich has developed a fantastic technical apparatus - with power generated by Helium 3, and flying saucer space ships -- but all without transistors or microchips. Both the new Führer Wolfgang Korzfleisch (Udo Keir) and his ambitious SS commander Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) believe that astronaut Washington is the spearhead of an invasion from Earth. Washington's skin is chemically lightened to make him an acceptable Aryan. Brainwashed, he accompanies Klaus back to America to help prepare the Nazis' planned re-conquest of Earth. Stowing away is Klaus's true-believer girlfriend Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), who has taken a liking to Washington and coached him to pretend to be converted to the Nazi cause. It doesn't matter, because as soon as they arrive on Earth Klaus meets up with Vivian Wagner, who becomes inspired to use Renate's sweepingly emotional Nazi rhetoric in the President's campaign speeches. Kortzfleisch arrives almost immediately and finds Klaus preparing to take over as the new Führer. When the armed invasion begins, President Palin is delighted -- "every President that starts a war in their first term, is always re-elected!"
Iron Sky hits with a zinger every few seconds. The Nazis on the moon drive Volkswagens and have kept an entire twisted culture alive. Nobody outside the military has any clue about real history. Renate teaches her young pupils that Naziism will someday return to the earth to make everyone happy -- and shows them Charlie Chaplin's classic The Great Dictator -- a ten-minute version that simply says that Der Führer is a swell guy. A Rotwang-like Nazi scientist at first denies that Washington's iPhone is really a computer -- and then finds that it has enough power to run his giant Götterdämmerung war craft (a steampunk Death Star operated by gears and pistons). The moon Nazis don't know what to do with Washington, as other races are completely unheard-of on the moon. Renate is a happy 'heil-er' yet sees definite cracks in the Nazi party line. Her doubts are kindled when her boyfriend Klaus announces that he doesn't want to get married. He ardently proclaims that he would rather mingle their superior genetic material to produce perfect Aryan children for the future of the Reich.
The only really dumb Nazi joke, repeated too often in the promotional materials, is making the moon base headquarters in the shape of a giant swastika. Down on Earth, the satire is actually not too exaggerated. The President is not named, so we must assume she is meant to BE Sarah Palin. She talks with a Texas twang but keeps a stuffed Polar Bear in the Oval Office. When her re-election moon capsule lands, it immediately unfurls twin campaign banners. Sarah takes credit for all good ideas and threatens hellfire when Vivian's campaign ploys falter. Vivian passes this pressure along to her underlings in a 'terror boss' scene clearly modeled on the Downfall spoofs that proliferated on YouTube a couple of years ago. I can see all of this stuff evoking thunderous approval if Iron Sky were in theaters.
Frankly, we're surprised that Iron Sky isn't in terrible taste, as a slimy danger accompanies Nazi mythomania in the movies. Glamorizing Nazis is a quick way to distort history and trivialize terribly serious issues from the last century. Young people have always found the Reich's uniforms and iconography exciting and attractive. Even back on the playground I remember hearing the general opinion that the Germans had the best organized army ever, and by high school there was always some nut 'admitting' that that Hitler guy's ideas weren't all bad. Fetishism is seductive, and plays a big part in steering people to radical, screwy political positions.
The screenplay doesn't settle for outrageous jokes, but accompanies them with interesting concepts. New generations of moon Nazis have forgotten why they're supposed to hate minorities. They've been living in a vacuum (literally) and haven't a clue about contemporary advances in Earth technology, and foolishly assume that we will be unable to oppose their formidable but by no means unconquerable weapons. A refreshing twist occurs when Washington is bleached white via some kind of "albinosis" drug, a development not played for cheap laughs. He instead finds himself in a situation similar to that of the unfortunate Sci-fi alien Thomas Jerome Newton, abandoned on a street corner and unable to convince anybody that he went to the moon.
Iron Sky never forgets to have fun with its absurd premise, atl least until the action scenes of the finale begin to wind down. That's when the movie shifts into a mean-spirited version of Dr. Strangelove, complete with U.N. representatives brawling in the war room and Sarah Palin urging her new war commander (Vivian!) to slaughter all in the moon colony, including women and children. Most of the U.N. countries reveal that they already have illegal armed spaceships in orbit, ready to duke it out with the moon Nazis. Sarah Palin states out loud that only her super-space-battleship (The George W. Bush) is legitimate, because Americans reserve the right to break rules and lie when necessary. Klaus claws his way to Führer-dom but gets bogged down by the too-rigid training of his own troops, with gags that date back to Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be. The film's final 'joke' is that the American president Palin is just as despotic as the Nazis: sniffing a source of new, cheap energy, she declares war on all of her Earthly allies at once.
The designs for the moon world (minus that swastika building) are imaginative. Visually, the film's look can be described as Nazi Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a Half Century. The constant special effects are integrated beautifully with the live action, with various space vistas, battles in orbit, and the bombardment of New York effectively presented. Some smoke and dust effects are a little lacking, but the focus is on the comic premise. At any rate, the space battles are more interesting than those in the Star Wars prequels.
The talented Julia Dietze carries a big piece of the movie. Her rosy-cheeked National Socialist ideologue needs only to see a black man and an alternate take on Nazi history to change her politics. Christopher Kirby is excellent as Washington -- he looks great in his space suits and masters an acting assignment that could have been an embarrassment -- think of the black mayor in RoboCop 2. It's fitting to think that the best, edgiest film with a race theme this year comes from Finland. Götz Otto is perfect as the ambitious Klaus, a Nazi maniac who corrupts easily when confronted with a hot American dish in the back seat of a limousine. This is also a better than average picture for Udo Kier -- his imperious Führer is both animated and menacing. He doesn't come off as a clown, even when he upbraids Klaus for repeatedly calling him Hitler.
We're told that the price tag for the show was 7.5 million dollars, even with its hundreds of CGI shots. Finland is known here for excellent software, fine crafts but not yet movies, so I suppose that Iron Sky proves that we haven't been paying attention. This film credits a long list of production companies and raised some of its production budget through a web investing setup -- one can read the names of contributors in the end titles. Filmed with the Red Camera System, largely on green-screen stages, the integration of the amusing actors into the fanciful Sci-fi backgrounds is quite good. We soon forget to look for cracks in the curtain.
As for the connection between Iron Sky and classic science fiction, it should remembered that the first big hit of the 1950s Sci-fi boom, Destination Moon was based on a book by Robert Heinlein, whose writings sometimes seemed to favor Fascistic militarism. The book was Rocketship Galileo, a story about astronauts that find a secret Nazi base on the moon.
Until its last couple of scenes Iron Sky is smart, cynical fun that deftly juggles a tall stack of cultural taboos. It is very critical of America, so even as the laughs roll in, some viewers are sure to be offended. I'm rather happy to see its nastier opinions find expression, even if it means that a big U.S. release was not to be -- America needs to listen to opinions from sources other than our 'corporate managed' cable news shows. I recommend the movie to Sci-Fi fantasy fans with open minds and tolerant attitudes.
Entertainment One's Blu-ray of Iron Sky is the expected beautiful presentation. The images are sharp and colorful. We love seeing all the humorous details, such as what look like giant bicycle chain links working in the ridiculously complicated moon base machinery.
The well-produced extras include a pair of featurettes about the making of the film, and a full gallery of BTS footage showing that the actors did a lot of their emoting on a green-screen stage. I'll bet they were pleased to finally see the quality of the finished film. Director Vuorensola and his producer contribute a full commentary and are also present in the featurettes.
The movie appears to have been filmed in Finland, Germany and Australia. With its web subscription financing model Iron Sky may be an early example of a feature film whose 'producers' are scattered around the world. The actors certainly are: Julia Dietze was born in France but makes films in Germany; Christopher Kirby is American but moved his working base to Australia; and German Götz Otto was a villain in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Stephanie Paul is from New Zealand. Udo Kier is the only cast member with even the slightest connection to WW2. He was about six months old and living in Cologne when the Russians took Berlin.
Iron Sky has been a buzz on the web for at least two years now and did well in its European release. Here in the U.S. it was shown at a film festival or two. It's profile in the major entertainment media is next to zero, as if it were some unwholesome "Nazista" exploitation picture. With no major U.S. distributor behind it, the film has little chance of gaining 'marketplace credibility'. It shows us that the movies that people talk about and go see are the ones hyped in the TV entertainment news and spread across the general news map by large corporations -- you know, when a TV news show just happens to cover the premiere of a Hollywood movie that just happens to be under the same corporate umbrella as the TV channel. If you happen to be a film fan bored sick of the mainstream fare being pushed on E.T., the alternatives are out there, and some are special surprises.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Iron Sky Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.