Review for Iron Sky
I never would have thought this possible a couple of years ago, but Iron Sky has signalled a sea change in filmmaking, indeed all aspects of entertainment and media. Before Iron Sky, fans were really limited to the humble letter-writing campaign to get their favourite shows on air, and indeed keep them there. Letter-writing campaigns have kept Star Trek on the air, got the Serenity movie made, and the Babylon 5 mini-movies. In retrospect it seems the next logical step was to let fans put their money where their letter pads were, but when I first heard of it, crowd-funding, or Kickstarter as it has come to be known, just didn’t seem viable. Think about it, a creator announces that he or she wants to create something for an audience, but the audience has to want it. They show this need by pledging money to get the entertainment created, and depending on how much they pledge, they’ll see a varying degree of return, whether it’s an “I pledged badge’, an actual DVD or CD, or even a chance to participate in the creative process in some way. It seemed to me to require a lengthy, and fragile chain of trust, and with the average netizen a cynical and untrusting person, after years of Nigerian relatives expiring and leaving them cash, I never thought that crowd-funding would take off.
Then along comes Iron Sky. Creators had a vision, an idea for a movie, but as well as go down the usual route of film production, they also asked the fans to contribute after releasing a show-reel. You can see in the end credits the names of the fans who contributed and the names of the fans that appear as extras in the film. According to IMDB, more than 10% of the film’s budget came for fan contributions, a not insignificant figure, and given how well Iron Sky did at the box office, it certainly gave the traditional film industry pause for thought. More than 12 months down the line, the Internet is filled with crowd-funding ventures, and a significant portion of them garner success. One distribution company asked for $20,000 to fund the release of a Japanese animation on Blu-ray. Fans pledged ten times that amount. They had to create new stretch goals from scratch to keep up with the fan fervour (Look out for the Time of Eve movie next year). Anyway, I just had to see what this revolution in film production had wrought.
It’s 2018, somehow election year in the US, and for the incumbent, slipping in the polls, it’s imperative to strike a chord with the electorate, remind them just why she deserves to remain president. She decides to send a man back to the moon, and this time he’s black, sure to bring in that ethnic vote. This time they are going to the dark side of the moon, but they aren’t expecting to find someone already there. At the end of the second world war, the Nazis escaped to the moon, where they have been biding their time and rebuilding their forces ever since. Now they’re ready to come back to Earth, and to pick up where they left off. For the President of the United States, it’s a PR goldmine.
Iron Sky gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with good colour rendition and great detail. If I do have a nit to pick with the transfer, it’s the prevalence of banding in darker scenes, which approaches DVD levels at times, but in all other respects it’s a decent enough Blu-ray presentation of a recent film. Iron Sky is a film that was shot predominantly on the digital backlot, which means a whole lot of green screen and digital effects shots. There are just a few practical sets in use, and it does get a bit samey after a while. I still quickly tire of actors that don’t really interact with their surroundings, although it’s more annoying when it’s the mega-budgeted Star Wars prequels rather than the shoestring-budgeted Iron Sky. The effects shots in this film really do impress when you take that budget into account, and there are plenty of nice touches to appreciate.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English (encoded at 2.3 Mbps), with the German dialogue present with subtitles burnt into the print. There are no subtitles for the English dialogue present on the disc, which is only a problem for hard of hearing viewers, as the dialogue is generally clear and audible otherwise. It’s a decent enough surround track, bringing the action across adequately, but it isn’t too flashy or strident, and you wind up wishing that there was a little more oomph in places.
Extras on the Blu-ray amount to a 16½-minute Making Of, which is really just b-roll footage without context or voiceover. There are 5 promos for the film, clips really, which run to a total of 9 minutes, and are presented in PAL SD. The teaser for the film last 2 minutes and there is a 4-minute Photo Gallery slideshow which offers a lot of concept art, and some promotional imagery.
The disc presents its content with an animated menu.
It was another Japanese animation that got me into the mood for Iron Sky. I’d just been watching Hellsing Ultimate, where Nazi Vampires unleash a new blitzkrieg, goose-stepping and chewing scenery all the way. I wanted some more scenery-chewing, I wanted an all out action-adventure, good guys and bad guys, just the kind of buffoonish villainy from the master race, and plucky swash-buckling from the heroes that we used to expect from films of the sixties and seventies, and which the Indiana Jones films and Rocketeer resurrected in the eighties. With Nazis on the moon, biding their time for a second crack at world domination, that was what I was expecting.
Iron Sky really isn’t that film. It’s more a political satire, one in which the prospect of the Fourth Reich is really used as a mirror to judge modern society, and not too subtly at that. It can be viewed as an action comedy, and with Nazis on the moon plotting to invade the Earth in a fleet of flying saucers launched from Space Zeppelins, there’s certainly fun to be had with that. The Meteorblitzkrieg is suitably impressive, and as in all such apocalyptic films, a certain recognisable landmark does bite the dust. The budget does tell though, with most of the Nazi forces remaining hidden behind masks and rendered in CGI, you can see the diminutive budget behind the epic scope.
The film does have a likeable hero in astronaut James Washington, villains that do chew the scenery with relish, including a memorable turn by Udo Kier. It also has a striking leading lady in Julia Dietze who plays Nazi school-teacher, and future mother of the new Fatherland, Renate Richter. It also has a delightful sense of humour to it, with some wacky characters and some great gags.
The problem for me is the satirical aspects of the film, which are laid on a little too thickly for my liking. Iron Sky is a film that wears its influences on its sleeve, referencing Dr Strangelove more than once, although I do love the way that it subverts a certain Hitler Internet meme. But it has an unsubtle message about how little those in power have changed since the Second World War. Back then it was atrocities in the name of ideology, now it’s for the sake of PR, a few extra percentage points in opinion polls, a smidgen of extra popularity, or just to get one over on your opponents, regardless of how many innocents get trampled. I guess that in the week that I saw a news report of unmanned US drones in Yemen missing their Al Qaeda targets, and wiping out innocent families instead, with the US sluggish in accepting responsibility, that kind of satire hits like a ton of bricks.
Iron Sky is funny, it’s fun, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Nazis always give great cod villainy in cinema, and they’ve been far too rarely used in recent years. If you focus on the action comedy side of things, especially in the first two acts, then this is pretty good stuff. It’s just that when the satire gets a little too obvious, Iron Sky lacks nuance. In that respect, Mars Attacks told a similar story far more effectively.