Thursday, July 05, 2012

Iron Sky

The war movie. It’s a strange beast. The genre encompasses pared down character studies, ‘Boy’s Own’ action spectaculars, psychological dramas, brutally realistic accounts of actual campaigns and blisteringly ludicrous men-on-a-mission blockbusters.

Sometimes what you want of a war movie is an unflinching commitment to finding the truth of its subject matter, so you watch ‘Downfall’.

Sometimes what you want is a razor-sharp satire of the dangers of giving too much power to what Michael Moore would call stupid white men. So you watch ‘Dr Strangelove’.

And sometimes, ladies and gentlemen, sometimes the only thing that hits the spot …

… is Nazis on the moon.

Timo Vuorensola’s ‘Iron Sky’ gives you not only Nazis on the moon (as well as Nazis in fuck off big Zeppelin-shaped spaceships) but homages to ‘Downfall’ and ‘Dr Strangelove’, not to mention a conceptually brilliant inclusion of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’.

 I’d not be doing my job as a reviewer if I didn’t admit that ‘Iron Sky’ doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, doesn’t go as batshit crazy with its wonderful central conceit as you want it to, and ladles on the ironies of its Strangelovian denouement a little too heavy-handedly … but, ach mein Gott if it didn’t have me twenty minutes in with an inspired spoof of the Hitler Reacts meme.

The plot goes something like this: at the end of the war, the remnants of the Third Reich split for the far side of the moon. Fast forward to 2018 and The President (Stephanie Paul), a gung-ho Sarah Palin type (she has a lot of stuffed animals of a decidedly Alaskan genus in the Oval Office), has backed a moon landing in order to bolster her re-election campaign. Rather cynically, she’s pushed Afro-American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) into the spotlight just so she can use “black to the moon” as a publicity slogan. (The mission, I hardly need to add, is to the dark side of the moon. The dark side. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the film’s most subtle racist joke.) The President’s entire campaign is the work of PR guru Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant) … and in case you didn’t get that joke, there are motifs from ‘Der Ring Des Niebelungen’, ‘Tannhauser’ and ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ all over the soundtrack.

When Washington is taken prisoner by the moon Nazis, he meets stereotypical blonde Aryan poster-girl Renate Richter (Julia Dietze). Renate is engaged to the arrogant and ambitious Klaus Adler (Götz Otto, who actually was in ‘Downfall’). How ambitious is Adler? Well, he only wants to execute a putsch against against incumbent Führer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier) – a man who really fucking hates it that everyone still shouts “Heil Hitler” when they address him – and install himself as ultimate leader of the thousand year space Reich. Renate’s head is turned by Washington and she convinces him to go along with a purification programme which essentially turns him Aryan. (I told you the racist jokes got less subtle, didn’t I?)

When Renate’s scientist father Doktor Richter (Tilo Prückner) discovers that Washington’s iPhone has greater processing capability than any of the equipment in the moon base, he gets permission from Kortzfleisch to use it to reactivate the Nazi destroyer-class spaceship Götterdammerüng (I told you Wagner was all over the place) only for the experiment to fail as the battery dies after mere seconds. Adler, Renate and the newly Aryanized Washington are dispatched to earth to round up more mobile phones. It’s in New York, however, that Adler and Renate meet Vivian, who is so impressed by their chiselled good looks and propagandist spiel that she builds The President’s entire re-election campaign around Nazi ideology.

Meanwhile, Kortzfleisch – tired of waiting and suspecting Adler of treachery – decides to launch his fleet against earth without the Götterdammerüng. The President is delighted: “All presidents who start a war in their first term always get re-elected.”

‘Iron Sky’ is a movie that should have had a budget of $100,000,000 and a script by Terry Southern, Hunter S Thompson and Christopher Brookmyre, preferably on a day when they drank the Jack Daniels distillery dry and got fucked up on some seriously manky crack. As it is, it cost $7½ million and was written by Michael Kalesniko (whose biggest previous deal was the Howard Stern biopic ‘Private Parts’) from an original story by Johanna Sinisalo (who apparently won the Finlandia book award about a decade ago) from an original concept by Jarmo Puskala (who wrote Vuorensola’s previous outing ‘Star Wreck: In the Perkinning’), all of which smacks of a bunch of people sitting around going “Yeah, but, Nazis on the fucking moon, dude!” until someone actually managed to turn it into something remotely resembling a plot.

The effects work vacillates between the fuck-awful and the holy-fuck-that’s-actually-quite-impressive; the humour vacillates between clever and cringe-worthy; the performances – I gotta be honest here – are uniformly pretty decent, with Kier’s camp Führer and Sergeant’s foul-mouthed but foxy PR bitch emerging as standouts; and the set pieces fluctuate the most drastically of all, Washington’s attempt to talk down some gangbangers pissed off at Adler and Renate proving stultifyingly unfunny, whereas a summit conference in which the Finnish and North Korean delegates are the butt of the joke hits all the right satirical notes.

It seems pissy to quibble, though. Vuorensola shoots for the moon (pardon the pun) on a prohibitive budget and gets more right than he gets wrong. The steampunk (Reichpunk?) aesthetic is brilliantly realized. Nazis on the moon is a sparsely populated subgenre (‘Iron Sky’ rubs shoulders with an early Heinlein novel ‘Rocket Ship Galileo’ and the odd episode of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ and ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ and a bizarro 60s Japanese production called ‘Attack from Space’) and Vuorensola’s opus stands, for now, as its defining statement.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Dude, how'd you get your hands on this one?? I'm dying to check it out! I will be reading and commenting on your review soon, but I'm dying to check this one out it looks like fun all the way.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Okay, read your review, sounds like I'm going to love this one, looking forward to it. Gotta love it when a film with little money like this one goes far.

Neil Fulwood said...

Hi, Franco. This one came out on DVD in the UK about two weeks ago. I think you'll dig it: it's ropey in places, but it has ambition way beyond its budget and the satire is often razor-sharp.

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