One films burning airships at one’s peril.
Guests were invited to come in fancy dress to this exclusive pre-screening of Timo Vuorensola’s Iron Sky (a film so likely to be remembered as “Moon Nazis” it is a wonder they didn’t just call it that). Seeing what happened to poor old Prince Harry, not many people availed themselves of the opportunity to win a prize for turning up in “the best World War II get-up”. One chap gamely fronted in clobber from the Walmington-on-Sea home guards — not, I dare say, quite the “WWII get-up” the producers had in mind. Even the actors hired to march around in front of the theatre in storm trooper outfits eschewed swastika armbands. An odd – and telling – reluctance to upset sensibilities.
We attendees were penned in a queue around the side of the theatre, and with goose-stepping Nazis in gas-masks out front it did create a bit of a stir, just off Leicester Square. These PR guys clearly have a talent for creating a buzz.
And stacking an audience: The crowd they had in was partisan enough to roar its gleeful approval throughout the screening. That was more than I could muster; though as I didn’t help fund it, I had less occasion for wilful optimism.
A buzz and a stacked audience are all very well; you still have to do your talking on the pitch.
Iron Sky starts brightly, with well-rendered pastiche of the Space Waltz from 2001: A Space Odyssey, accompanied not by an Austrian Waltz but a Mid-Western Polka of some sort. It’s a nice dissonance. The scene is shot, framed and executed well. The effects aren’t Weta Digital, but they’re not so far off as to warrant complaint. The picture ends with a riff on 2001 too, come to think of it.
American astronauts land on the moon, with no greater purpose than advancing their president’s re-election. On their space walk they discover not a monolith but a colony of Moon Nazis, mining Helium 3 (the airship super fuel of the future, apparently). It transpires they have been camped out there since 1945 and they’re ready to come back.
But first, stop and note: to this point, all seems well enough. The election gag was weak, but otherwise the auguries are good. But then the actors open their mouths. Iron Sky never recovers. Its screenplay and script are equally dismal.
Why do film-makers do this? Vuorensola has done so many things well, but has egregiously overlooked the one thing that doesn’t require a multi-million dollar investment, but can single-handedly ruin one: screen writing.
A screenplay that is all over the place is an indulgence allowed in a zany comedy (see Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Airplane!, Top Secret, Team America World Police, Spinal Tap) provided the needle on the gagometer stays in the red zone. But Iron Sky‘s never gets out of neutral. Frequently, it stalls.
For a film so wittily conceived, put together with such verve, the hackneyed dialogue and lame pay-offs are a tremendous disappointment. “Obvious and overstated, as usual”, remarks one character of one plot development, without the self-awareness the line demands. Opportunity knocks for a some Sacha-Baron Cohen style outrage. Or even just some cross-dressing slap and tickle. None is forthcoming.
Julia Dietze and Chrstopher Kirby struggle gamely with their material, but there is only so much a talented actor can do. The more limited Peta Sergeant and Stephanie Paul make heavier weather of their roles, but in fairness, have even less to work with than Dietze and Kirby.
There are some in-jokes (at least, I presume that’s what caused sections of the audience to erupt for no discernible reason), a couple of film references that fall flat (a corny riff on Hitler’s bunker tantrum from Downfall is used to introduce Vivian Wagner (Sergeant), so comes entirely without context) but mostly the wisecracks are humdrum commonplaces.
We have a US president (Paul) who might have made the film, Dr. Strangelove style, if crafted originally and given something clever to say. But being modelled on Sarah Palin, she is a pale rendition of a great idea Tina Fey had five years ago. The comparison is inevitable; Stephanie Paul was bound to come up short, and does, handsomely.
This is a dreadful shame: the idea is great fun and, otherwise, the execution is first rate. The production design and lighting are great (shades of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), the special effects impressive, the editing assured and the camera-work excellent. And all crowd-sourced and run on a shoestring. But, because the cheapest thing to fix was overlooked, Iron Sky is likely to go down like a burning space Zeppelin.
Director: Timo Vuorensola
Cast: Julia Dietz, Götz Otto, Christopher Kirby, Udo Kier, Peta Sergeant, Stephanie Paul and others.
Runtime: 93 min.
Country: Finland / Germany / Australia