Iron Sky

May 12, 2012
Screen shot 2012-06-09 at 5.13.16 PM

Why is it that film-makers think the Nazis are funny? There may have been something inherently absurd about the Third Reich, with its fetish for uniforms, racial purity and Wagner, but it was no laughing matter for those obliged to share the planet with Hitler’s minions.

A few weeks ago I expressed reservations about Hotel Lux, which portrayed Stalin and Hitler as buffoons, but this film seems a model of historical tact alongside Iron Sky. The politically-incorrect premise is that at the end of World War 2 the Nazis somehow managed to escape to the dark side of the moon where they established a colony. In the year 2018 they will return to undertake the conquest of earth.

This is a plot straight from the golden age of B-movies, but with production values comparable to many high-profile Hollywood films of today. The most remarkable aspect of Iron Sky is that it was made for a  budget of only 7 million euros, one million being raised by “crowd funding”. This means an internet campaign that spammed fans of director Timo Vuorensola’s earlier project, another sci-fi spoof called Star Wreck (2005). As a taster, the first few minutes of Iron Sky were put out on You Tube, attracting no fewer than 8 million hits.

If a film that looks as slick as Iron Sky cost only 7 million euros, how much wastage and extravagance goes into those Hollywood blockbusters that cost $100 million or more?

While one can admire the ingenuity of the funding model, there is little else to love in this unlikely Finnish-German-Australian co-production. The director may claim that the project has millions of fans around the world, but this is a depressing reflection on the shallowness of the sci-fi audience.

Iron Sky is billed as a comedy, but apart from a couple of one-liners at the expense of Finland and North Korea, it would’ve required electrodes applied to the brain to make me smile at anything else.

The plot may be ludicrous, but that’s no excuse for such an awful script, or for characters so hackneyed and 2D they might have been dreamt up during a brainstorming session at the local kindergarten. The three leads are Götz Otto as Klaus Adler, the megalomaniac-in-waiting who wants to take over the planet; Julia Dietze as Renate Richter, the blonde-haired Nazi mädchen, who is really on the side of sweetness and light; and Christopher Kirby as James Washington, a black model sent to the moon for publicity purposes, who now has to save the earth. It would be impossible to make an exhaustive list of all the cliches packed into this trio.

Fans of this movie tell us it is a devastating satire on contemporary politics. That claim is based on the very shaky gag that in 2018, Sarah Palin is the US President. This must have seemed a possibility when the film-makers started looking for funds about six years ago, but is now somewhat less likely than a Nazi invasion from the moon.

The political satire is so heavy-handed it makes one feel embarrassed on behalf of the actors. It may seem impossible to overdo a caricature of Sarah Palin, but Stephanie Paul manages this feat; while Peta Sergeant’s role as Vivian Wagner, the President’s chief media advisor, is unforgettably stupid.

In the 1940s and 50s, a B-movie was a low-budget flick that often contained moments of genuine brilliance or satire. Think of directors such as Sam Fuller or Edgar G. Ulmer who pulled off masterpieces on a shoestring.

Even the Euro-trash of the 60s and 70s had a crude charm in the cheapness of sets and special effects, the sexploitation, the ridiculous music and over-heated drama.

Iron Sky is a contemporary B movie which looks sharp enough to pass as an A movie. Yet this slickness only serves to emphasise that it is not even good trash. The film-makers should have saved money on computer generated special effects and hired a few writers.

Iron Sky,  Finland – Germany – Australia, rated M, 93 mins

Published by the Australian Financial Review, May 12, 2012