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“The World Is Sick, and We Are the Doctors”

I managed to get in on the Colorado Springs showing of “Iron Sky” last night.

I won’t say it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it certainly had a lot going for it.

First off, the bad:

  • The dialogue was a little klunky through most of the movie, but once you allow for it it’s only jarring in a couple of places. It’s probably attributable to it being written and produced by ESL speakers, but it was a little irritating in hindsight since it would have been a trivial thing to fix: just hire an aspiring American screenwriter for a couple of days to polish the dialogue. (An American rather than a Brit, because the idiom/usage should reflect the Earth-side part of the story taking place in the U.S..)
  • The screenplay was a bit inconsistent in its recurring gags and themes, for example the “Heil Kortzfleisch” bit and Washington being a racial token rather than an actual astronaut. Indeed, Washington’s whole situation was ripe with un-PC comedic potential that they seemed just a little hesitant to exploit in the way Blazing Saddles did (they appeared to be setting up an “oh they didn’t just go there” racial gag in the airlock scene, but…then…they didn’t go there). The “woman scorned” bit was completely hamfisted – it would have been far more effective to have had a few vague cues as to her motivations in leading the assault, and then follow up with the “did he suffer?” line structured in a way to turn the whole sequence on its head as the vengeance of a jilted lover rather than the defense of Earth.
  • The acting was similarly inconsistent in places. This seemed to be a function of editing, however, as the actors involved did a decent job elsewhere.
  • In one of the later scenes the albino makeup is poorly done, in that you can plainly see it is just makeup – the earlier shots are actually pretty convincing in that regard.

Now, the good:

  • Overall it was good, silly fun. With a little polish on the jokes and dialogue, it could have been a Holy Grail-level classic. Just the premise of the film is brilliantly absurd, which even the characters on several occasions acknowledge (see trailer above).
  • The special effects, sets, etc. were pretty impressive for such a low-budget film. They may have created a new sub-genre of Steampunk with the depictions of “advanced” Moon-Nazi technology – it was thoroughly retro, but in a clearly 1940s way rather than an 1890s way. Ditto the color grading – it was a nice touch how the backgrounds and background action in many of the lunar scenes were nearly monochromatic, like Nazi-era films and photos, as if things faded back into the 1940s as you moved away from the camera.
  • While the effects of low gravity are otherwise set aside, the scenes of Washington’s escape attempt use the Moon’s gravity as a subtle sight-gag. Imagine a fleeing Jason Bourne leaping from one roof down to the next…but taking six times as long to get there…bellowing in terror all the way.
  • While some of the humor came up short as noted above, there were a number of gags that were either subtly done (the Great Dictator references), unapologetically unsubtle (the Downfall bit), or just pitch-perfect (the Beetle sight gag and the use of classic Meier/Shaver UFO designs).
  • The quantity and distribution of allusions was well-done. If you were paying attention, there were quite a few references besides those to The Great Dictator and Downfall,and they were fit in in unobtrusive ways (that is, they fit the flow of the story and weren’t clumsily thrown in to get a laugh). In particular, Dr. Strangelovemakes quite a few appearances.
  • Renate Richter’s cluelessness about the actual nature of Naziism is exploited pretty well as a running gag. And when she figures things out, she is simply furious about it and takes action – she doesn’t turn into a moralizing, self-righteous, preachy Jane Fonda caricature who delivers long moral-relativist soliloquies on manufactured consent and the basis of all power structures in exploitative lies.
  • The guy who plays Klaus Adler was an excellent casting choice. On the one hand, he has the same exaggeratedly chiseled features of the Ideal Aryan Übermensch one finds in Nazi propaganda posters, and on the other, his snarling grimace when angry is utterly creepy and the kind of thing you’d find in graphic-novel illustrations of Nazi villains.
  • The parody of American politics is not totally spot-on, but it gets pretty close to capturing the venality, stupidity, and mendacity of the people involved. The satire of Sarah Palin seems confined to simply physical and cultural resemblances, and so isn’t gratuitously vicious and mean-spirited like a Hollywood production would have made it, and this is true of the political theme generally even though it’s clear the politicians are meant to be left-stereotypes of Republicans. Indeed, the real mockery concerning President Wagner and others is directed at general stereotypes of politicians: short-sightedness, mindless personal ambition, obsession with re-election, lack of principles, win-at-all-costs ethics, lack of loyalty to others, grandiosity, opportunism, and a woeful lack of knowledge about vital issues.It doesn’t come across as hackneyed Republican-bashing (like, say, Newsroom).
  • While the music was a little jarring in one or two places, in many scenes it was amusing to pick up on a particular melody in the background and only a moment later recognize it as some bombastic Wagner piece.
  • The ending sequence is totally unexpected – it can be read as a little preachy, but I give the producers props for making it a commentary on humanity in general and not (say) a cheap shot at Americans, or the West, or capitalism, or some other threadbare Approved Target of Hate which a Hollywood production would have used.

So again, not the greatest film of all time, but definitely worth seeing.

2 comments to “The World Is Sick, and We Are the Doctors”

  • Couple of minor nits: a) There was a Canadian scriptwriter who (as far as I know) did the polishing on the English dialogue. b) The POTUS is never named; Vivian Wagner is her campaign manager.

    Loved the review, however. (I don’t entirely agree but that’s a different issue:)

  • Thanks for the input. I guess the Canadian didn’t tighten up the dialogue quite enough, or wasn’t listened to.

    As for the President – boy, was I off. I kept hearing her name as Wagner, and seeing the “V” logo in her campaign materials, the office tower in New York, and the Nazis’ armbands as a reference to Hillary Clinton’s use of mononymy.