You should never judge a book by its cover, unless that cover is a hideous, misshapen monstrosity that intermittently sprays a repellent odour, and goes by the title “Don’t Look at Meeee!” There will always be a few curious individuals for whom the mystery of what’s inside will prove too great, but usually those defensive bells and whistles are the mark of a sub-par product piggybacking on unearned irony and self-awareness to gain an audience. This has been a metaphor.
That book doesn’t exist, but Timo Vuorensola‘s Nazis-on-the-moon flick Iron Sky does. Mercifully, Iron Sky is not interested in being bad, which is fortunate, because I have no interest in watching something bad. It’s only when movies are unintentionally awful – like Plan 9 From Outer Space, or The Room, or The Iron Lady – that they wind up eliciting a laugh and providing a pleasant evening of entertainment. Intentionally bad films? Usually they’re just mutton dressed up as slightly less disgusting mutton.
Iron Sky opens gracefully – the first sign that there might actually be some craftsmanship behind the jokey premise – with two American astronauts landing on the moon and unfurling the re-election banners of the near-future’s Sarah Palin-esque president. Within moments, the duo happens upon an entire Nazi civilisation living atop the intergalactic rock. One of the astronauts is killed, and the other, a black model by the name of James Washington (Christopher Kirby), is kidnapped and grilled for information. He is later albinised by a crazed scientist, and with newly blonde hair and blanched skin, is sent back to Earth to organise a meeting between the American President and Führer-in-waiting Klaus Adler (Götz Otto).
Our hero is peaceful Nazi schoolteacher Renate Richter (Julia Dietze). She explains to the young Aryans the tale of their exile from Earth back in the 1940s, though she too has been kept in the dark as to what exactly the Third Reich was up to during World War 2. She screens Charlie Chaplin‘s The Great Dictator for the kids; a 10-minute short about a kind and loving Hitler. Renate is intrigued by James; not only a real-life Earthling but also a black man. She sneaks aboard his and Klaus’ ride to the blue planet, and winds up employed by the POTUS’ campaign manager (Peta Sergeant) to write inspirational, nationalistic speeches, inadvertently planting the seeds for a Nazi attack, and perhaps even starting World War 3.
Vuorensola’s film has taken six years to reach our screens, and was the first significantly fan-funded from the Wreckamovie website. This would not be an acceptable excuse for an inferior picture, nor would any surprisingly decent production pieced together in dribs and drabs deserve a higher rating because of behind the scenes difficulties. Iron Sky is good independent of these caveats.
It’s true that the special effects can’t compete with your $200 million blockbusters, the comedy occasionally falls flat, and the satire not as potent today as it might have been last decade (when Sarah Palin was considered a threat to American office, instead of just a name worth remembering for future quiz nights). But the entire cast is wholeheartedly committed to the greater good; no one winks, not even during the scene that spoofs the now-notorious and oft-YouTubed Downfall sequence. It has better action set pieces, with bigger scope, than seen in Battleship. And the dark finale features some genuine pathos, another hint that Vuorensola and credited screenwriter Michael Kalesniko were looking to satirise the current political climate, instead of simply sending up B-movies, which is how terrible low-budget projects justify their terribleness. Everyone’s still having fun though, and so are we. How could you not with Udo Kier as the unloved, lolly-gobbling Nazi chief Kortzfleisch?
Iron Sky arrives in Australian cinemas May 10, 2012.