How the hell could anyone fumble a movie about Nazis on the moon? That’s the question that crosses one’s mind when sitting through the alternatively engaging and cringe-inducing scenes in would-be tongue-in-cheek comic epic, Iron Sky. The formula seems foolproof: you take Nazis, you put ’em on the moon, you wait 70 years as they rebuild and plot and plan their revenge, and then have them invade Earth.
Their moon base, of course, is shaped like a swastika; the generations of little Nazi moon children grow up indoctrinated in all the evils of the untermensch. The astronaut who discovers them, of course, is black. For God’s sake, this shit writes itself.
Sadly, though, in this case it didn’t. Director Timo Vuorensola assembles a talented cast and crew and some genuinely impressive special effects (especially considering the low budget), but saddles the proceedings with a lame, going-for-laughs script that never dares to take its own premise seriously, outlandish though it may be. This is a shame, because the very idea of “Nazis on the moon” is enough to get any fan of kitsch-level cinema art, such as myself, all but salivating.
To be truly successful, though, a camp-kitsch fest like this has to pretend that it doesn’t know it’s a camp-kitsch fest. Just look at Sharknado, that recent masterpiece of the genre; there are a few throwaway jokes and self-indulgent winks at the audience (“Where did you learn so much about sharks?” “Shark Week”), but for the most part, that movie plays itself straight, with almost painfully sincere performances in service to its utterly ridiculous, shark-meets-tornado premise.
Iron Sky, on the other hand, falls into the trap that undermines so many wannabe romps. It thinks its smarter than its material, and that its audience will respect the filmmakers for being so.
This is not the case. Just about everybody on Earth is smarter than “Nazis on the moon”, so the filmmakers gain absolutely nothing by playing this stuff for laughs. A cold-eyed, steely-voiced, granite-jawed sincerity would at least have won points for commitment, if not necessarily execution. As it is, the film takes a self-indulgent, ironic approach, and fails dramatically.
This isn’t to say that Iron Sky is an unmitigated disaster. It’s not. As mentioned earlier, the special effects are surprisingly good, and the action set pieces, when they finally do arrive in the film’s last 30 minutes, are engaging enough for fans of exploding spaceships and other forms of mindless, gore-free destruction. For such a low-budget labor of love, there’s a good deal to admire.
Before we get to the rousing finalé, though, we have to sit through any number of painful and unfunny subplots, such as that of the black astronaut who is turned white through Nazi genetic engineering, the Sarah Palin presidential stand-in who has secretly constructed a space battleship called the George W. Bush, and the blonde Nazi schoolteacher who is in love – or is she? – with an uptight, high-ranking Nazi officer. None of this is funny. It’s all supposed to be.
Do you really need a synopsis? Okay, here goes: in the near future, an American moon landing encounters a Nazi base, which leads to an invasion of Earth. Violence ensues.
Julia Dietze, who plays the Nazi schoolteacher Renate, brings a fresh-faced sweetness to her role, while Christopher Kirby, who plays the above mentioned black astronaut James Washington, does the best he can with weak material that has him preening and popping his eyes and all but calling people “jive turkeys”. The dialogue isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close.
Other than these two, the characters are forgettable: the wild-haired mad scientist, the plastic government drones on both sides of the battle, and of course the Nazis, who are movie Nazis, which is to say faceless and interchangeable. While nobody would go into this expecting a huge amount of characterization, especially of the cartoon villains, it would be pleasant if at least someone had a motivation for some of his or her actions other than, “They’re Nazis, what do you expect?”
While the story falls flat, the film excels visually. The moon shots are suitably murky and filled with shadow, with garish spotlights and great lumbering machinery chugging away in the background; camera angles are used to heighten drama (and cheesiness, but that’s okay, too). Honestly, the movie looks and sounds great, and this Blu-ray edition offers a pristine picture, as expected. It’s just a shame about that script.
This new “director’s cut” offers 20 additional minutes over the original release, which I suspect does the movie no favors. Not having seen the original release, I don’t know where the new scenes were inserted, but I can guess at least one, an early scene where Renate visits the imprisoned James and offers up a platter of uninteresting and unnecessary exposition. Fans of this movie may lap up the extra minutes on offer, but are more likely to be interested in the embellished SFX scenes (again, these were reportedly enhanced in this edition, but not having seen the original, I can’t comment other than to repeat that the film looks good).
The 90-minute “making of” featurette is as long as the original release of the film, and is far more interesting than most such, given the movie’s low-budget Finnish roots. The feature traces the career of the principal filmmakers back to to ‘90s Star Wreck Internet films, then moves through the production itself, with interview bits from the cast, rehearsal clips and of course a fair bit of self-congratulation.
Also interesting is its lengthy discussion of crowdsourcing and other alternative forms of funding, and fans will be especially appreciative of these behind-the-scenes moments. A 32-page booklet containing preproduction art and storyboards from the movie’s early days is also included and is a nice touch.
Ultimately, Iron Sky is a lot less of a mess than it could have been, but it’s also not the jaw-dropping bit of awesomeness that it might have been, either. A lot of work and love went into it, and the end result is admirable, but it fails to live up to its promise. That’s too bad, because this could have been one of the all-time greats.