Review: Iron Sky (2012 movie)

Last year I reviewed a 2005 film called Star Wrek: In the Pirkinning, an amateur space and time-travel comedy in Finnish that parodied Star Trek and Babylon 5. It was produced on a shoestring budget by a group of friends in Tampere Finland in their spare time and took a total of something like seven years to make, much of it spent re-shooting scenes and re-doing the effects as they learned from experience how to do things better.

The comedy was uneven and the acting often amateurish, but it had flashes of brilliance, a general sense of fun, and surprisingly good special effects, not to mention a ridiculously hot actress named Tiina Routamaa.

When they finally put it on the Internet for free even the filmmakers were amazed how popular it was, downloaded so many times that it’s probably the most widely viewed Finnish-language film in history. (I gather it helps that the competition is mostly deadly serious talky dramas.) They even wound up getting foreign distribution deals from Italy to Japan, and you can rent it from Netflix.
So naturally the filmmakers started to wonder what they could do next, and they kept coming back to an idea one of them had suggested almost as a joke: a film based on something a few crackpots really believe, namely, that a number of Nazis escaped to the far side of the Moon in 1945 and are plotting to return.

Star Wreck managed to do a lot with borrowed locations. Spaceship interiors were created using computer-generated virtual sets peopled by actors shot on blue screen, one at a time, in a tiny bit of the living room in someone’s apartment. There are huge space battles but little in the way of stunt work.

Their script for the Moon Nazi film was more ambitious in terms of human-scale action—fight scenes, rooftop confrontations, grand leaps across chasms, and that kind of thing—and this time they wanted to use a professional cast, including the famous German actor Udo Kier, star of the 1970s films Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (neither of which, incidentally, had any actual involvement from And Warhol) and who later appeared in My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, not to mention scads of other films in the U.S. and Europe.

This new project was clearly going to cost a lot more money than Star Wreck, but fans of the previous film came through with hundreds of thousands of euros in investments and outright donations, which helped them persuade more traditional funding sources to cough up the rest of their budget, the equivalent of nearly 10 million U.S. dollars. That’s a good bit of cash, but an equivalent Hollywood production would probably have cost ten times as much.

To reach a wider audience, this film isn’t in Finnish but a mix of English and German (the latter subtitled in English for U.S. release), probably about 70-30 in favor of English.

I suppose by this point you’re getting sick of waiting for me to get around to saying something about the movie itself.

It’s 2018 and the president of the United States (Stephanie Paul), who looks suspiciously like Sarah Palin, has remodeled the White House so that rather than working in a modest oval office she can use a huge rectangular one. It’s decorated with the stuffed remains of various wild animals, several of them endangered species, including a polar bear and a wolf. She’s revived the manned space program specifically to send a black man to the Moon for political advantage, but unfortunately contact with the mission is lost shortly after landing. The president is crushed by the news. How’s she going to get reelected now? So she demands a miracle from her campaign manager, Vivian Wagner (played as an attractive man-eater by Australian actress Peta Sergeant).

The name Vivian Wagner is an in-joke, a play on the name of a popular comic strip in Finland, Viivi & Wagner, about a 20-something woman named Viivi who lives with a pig named Wagner and bickers with him. (In a just world my ex-wife and I would get royalties.)

Meanwhile, back on the Moon, astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) has been taken captive by the Moon Nazis. Not having an especially good feeling about the situation, he attempts a spectacular escape, during which he encounters a young teacher named Renate Richter, played by German actress Julia Dietze.

Reviewers have quite of diversity of opinions about this movie, but just about everybody seems to agree that Julia Dietze is the best thing in it. She’s not just attractive, she has real screen presence and seems to radiate likability, like a young Nazi Mary Tyler Moore.

Actually, she’s not that much of a Nazi. Her character has been brainwashed from birth to think the swastika is the symbol of love and that the Nazis are the best of all good guys, dedicated to helping others and planning to return to Earth to save it. While she’s apparently been taught that those who came to the Moon are genetically blessed, she’s been spared the nastier parts of Nazi race theory, so when she encounters Washington she finds his black skin exotic and rather appealing.

Her boyfriend Klaus, on the other hand, is bad news even for a Nazi. As far as he’s concerned, the Earth is populated by pretty much nothing but subhumans, and he probably thinks that even among the Nazis he’s only one who really represents the Aryan ideal, though he assures Renate that she’s excellent for breeding purposes. The actor, Götz Otto, isn’t given much opportunity for subtlety, but he makes an excellent villain.

In fact, except for Renate and to some extent James Washington, all the characters in the film are caricatures. That’s an observation, not a complaint. You can say the same of Dr. Strangelove.

I won’t detail the rest of the plot except to say that there are fight scenes and space battles and Nazi flying saucers and space zeppelins and a superweapon called the Götterdämerung. There are also some plot holes, but complaining about those in an over-the-top farce is just silly.

Be warned that the ending is considerably less cheerful than you might expect from everything building up to it. I suspect the filmmakers wanted to go for something more than just laughs. Not everyone will react in the same way, but I confess I would have preferred to see the serious point-making moved earlier in the story line to make way for more of a Hollywood ending.


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