Release: 2012-04-04 (Finland wide), 2012-05-23 (UK wide)
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Length: 93' (theatrical), 110' (director's cut)
Alternate title: Iron Sky: Wir kommen in Frieden
Production: Finland, Germany, Australia
Language: English, German (and one drunken line of Finnish)
MPAA rating: R, for reasons unknown (satirising the American Presidency?)
Cast: Christopher Kirby (James Washington), Julia Dietze (Renate Richter), Götz Otto (Klaus Adler), Udo Kier (Wolfgang Kortzfleisch), Stephanie Paul (The President), Peta Sergeant (Vivian Wagner)
"That's one small step for a man, one giant… aw shit!"
Some people have their best ideas on the toilet. Some have them waiting in line at an airport. Graphics artist Jarmo Puskala has them in his sleep and, like a good Finn, shares them with his friends in the sauna. The friend in this case was Timo Vuorensola, mastermind of the blockbuster epic "Star Wreck VI: In the Pirkinning", which both men had worked on. In anyone else's hands "moon nazis" would have been a five-second Family Guy gag. With these guys it sprang fully formed from their heads and ran off to jump into an icy lake.
Iron Sky is a Finnish-German-Australian production. This fact ought to raise your eyebrows. The film itself will make sure that they stay raised. It was made on a budget of about $10 million, of which maybe a tenth was crowdfunded. The film's production was blogged and openly discussed, and some of the content, mainly sound effects, was crowdsourced. It was filmed in all three production countries and in New York. Around the time of filming a series of comic book prequels was released as part of a "sneak peek" package for people who had contributed to the production cost, beginning with Bad Moon Rising. It looks like you could still get access to it for one euro at the time of writing.
Where do we come from? The dark side of the moon!
The year is 2018. The first black man on the moon is American model-turned-astronaut James Washington, whose presence is more of a PR stunt than true space exploration ("Black to the Moon? Yes She Can!"—for real). After he makes his one small step to be recorded for posterity he wanders off to plant the customary flag while his buddy heads for the previously detected traces of ³He. Which he finds in abundance. In a giant pit mine owned and operated by the long-lost successors to the Third Reich. Who saw them coming.
Washington is captured by Herr Nachrichtenübermittlungsoberführer (and Führer-aspirant) Adler and presented to his disbelieving superiors. The idealistic Nazi school teacher, Earthologist, and blonde love interest Fräulein Richter (daughter of the mad scientist, of course) is summoned to translate and/or interrogate him while her father does Bad Things in the name of Science. Washington uses the opportunity to discuss their respective missions and histories. You can see where this is going. There's a bit of Top Secret! and a bit of Dr. Strangelove early in the film but altogether there are so many pop culture references that you could name half a dozen more films and still be right.
We come in peace!
So fortunately for the plot, which does occasionally need a spot of help, with the aid of a hand-held plot device the plan for world domination is just about ready and our heroes and villains can hop into a Reichsflugscheibe and descend to the planet in a take-me-to-your-leader mission. Their plans to co-opt the leader are turned on their head when the leader co-opts the Nazis and it's not long before we don't know which hand is washing which and whose finger is up whose nose.
See, it's an election year and the President will do anything for reelection. Nothing is as done a deal as the reelection of a wartime president so war, any war, is entirely on the table as a response to anything. Especially moon men. And while earthlings and moon nazis make unholy alliances and backstab each other, the little guy (I'd say the black guy but that would not be entirely accurate) gets the shaft on the streets of New York.
And once the we-come-in-peace shtick falls apart because of the ungrateful wretches infesting Earth and politics being what it is, we're ripe for an Independence Day style showdown, and with showdown I naturally mean Meteorblitzkrieg. You haven't really made a good science fiction film unless you've tried to destroy either New York or Tokyo. And on top of that a gleeful global military-industrial complex is always happy to look like value for taxpayer money and blow stuff up. I don't want to add too many spoilers on what is a film that's obviously not dark enough to let the Nazis triumph.
There was a "but only if..." stipulation that came with the original idea during that sauna conversation in 2007-ish. One half of it was that the producers be able to attract and retain the services of veteran German actor Udo Kier. The other half was that the soundtrack had to be written by Slovenian collective Laibach. To those familiar with these pre-Rammstein purveyors of ambiguously totalitarian stagecraft, this is a "well, duh" moment as much as asking Rob Zombie to score a horror film. Laibach's late-era sound, particular from around the time of Volk, is integral not only to the film's atmosphere but to its entire concept. The band does its Wagnerian and Hollywoodian best to provide a robust, cohesive musical background and does credit both to the bleak industrial scenery and to the send-up of geopolitics as usual.
"Real, live nazis! Holy shit, this just keeps getting better and better!"
Iron Sky is loaded with mostly precise cultural and historical references, from replicating the time and speech that accompanied the 1939 invasion of Poland all the way to many inside jokes and little touches that give nods to a diverse set of influences. The German element in the production, I think, helps the Nazi references be more restrained and credible than they might be in an entirely foreign production and allows for a more comprehensive skewering of nationalism than Nazi spoofs usually permit themselves. On the other hand the script goes for some of the shallower, cheaper shots at the USA and the Sarah Palin jokes aren't going to get any fresher with time.
There are, of course, some slip-ups that could have been avoided with a bit more attention to detail. For example the language on the desk map is a bit odd considering that real Germans were involved. It may be a nod to on-line translation tools but leaves too big a question mark to be convincing. On the same desk there are some fine period pieces of clutter but the war memoir of Crown Prince Rupprecht has no place in a loyal Nazi's library. My favourite might just be the "Handbuch des nationalsozialistischen Geschlechtsverkehrs" (Manual of National Socialist Intercourse), which has a convincingly CGI'ed cover but on the inside is a first-aid pamphlet demonstrating the Schäfer method. And these are just a few goofs that I spotted myself in a single viewing.
The casting for this film was reasonable for the most part. I think the cookie goes to Götz Otto, who puts the most chiselled, Teutonic good looks this side of Til Schweiger to optimum use. Christopher Kirby does a passable but too-obvious Richard Pryor impression. The remainder of the cast are solid and thoroughly aware of the stereotyped characters they represent. Udo Kier delivers everything that's expected of him and then some but the rest do leave a suspicion that so much of the budget went to special effects that the actors were not given enough takes to get it right.
The film allows itself some latitude with space physics and mechanics. Sometimes that's shamelessly left in the open, like the lunar BMW R75 (with sidecar, of course) that adheres firmly to the ground at any speed. Sometimes the comedy competes with the eye-rolling physics fail, like the air lock scene. Still, the last thing I watched before this was Gravity on the big screen, which really taxed my suspension of disbelief by trying too hard. Iron Sky was a welcome change because it understands the limitations of special effects and does not dilute the story with futile attempts to make one g look like low-g. And everyone gets the lighter-than-air joke about space zeppelins.
Should you watch it?
First of all, you should get the Director's Cut and accept no substitutes. While I don't think that it's necessary to understand German to enjoy the film, I think some of the best cut scenes were those involving "too much" German, like the classroom geography lesson near the beginning. I'm suspecting that this film's low IMDB rating has a lot to do with some of the better and saucier lines being left on the cutting room floor for the theatrical release. Without that much German it's less edgy northern European humour and more a steampunk-ish Men In Black, which it can't really compete with on the slapstick level.
Secondly, you should most definitely watch it and spread the word about its moderate awesomeness. One day this film will and very well should acquire cult status. Something odd must have been going on with its promotion and it slipped under my radar. I may never have heard of it had I not been doing my occasional check for updates to Laibach's discography. Granted, Finnish cinema and Neue Slowenische Kunst don't exactly make waves on this side of the Atlantic but having missed this release for over a year gave me the feeling that, internets or no internets, either I'm living under a rock or I was not this film's target audience. Even more than my own ignorance I find it startling that the noding collective did not find Iron Sky worthy of note until now. Myself, I'll watch it again just to make other people watch it and that's not something that I've said about many films.
"Wir sehen uns in Walhalla..."
Film critic style rating: * * * + (3.5/5)