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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spaceflight IC-1

In the autumn of 1965, 20th Century Fox released another of it's British-made low budget sci-fi films. Produced by Lippert Productions, and written by Harry Spalding, Spaceflight IC-1 (IC-1) is a slow moving human drama set in space. A ship is sent from earth with four couples aboard, to found a colony on Earth 2. The journey will take 25 years, but human friction threatens to end the mission before it gets there. The ultra-cheap production value is strongly reminiscent of 50s television shows, making IC-1 feel like a soap opera in space.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Due to overcrowding on the earth, a space ship was launched in 2015 to found a colony on a new planet, Earth 2. The crew, made up of four married couples, three with young sons, have four more people in frozen suspension. They also have a human-machine crew member named Dr. Garth. After only one year into their 25 year journey, order begins to break down. Captain Ralston grows stiffly authoritarian. Steve, the doctor, learns that his wife has a pancreatic infection. No insulin was packed, so he cannot save her with an operation. Ralston refuses to turn the ship back to earth, so she has only a couple years left. She asks permission of Ralston to bear a child (sooner than the mission allowed). Ralston says no. She quietly commits suicide. This enrages Steve, who stages a mutiny. The rest of the crew are split, some pro-mutiny, some loyalists. Carl, a loyalist, lets Ralston out of his cabin. He reasserts his command and threatens to blow up the ship if there is any more trouble. He orders Steve to thaw out his replacement (Dr. Griffith), get him healthy, then Steve can be executed (ejected into space). Ralston's wife worries that he's going insane. Griffith thaws more suddenly than expected and stomps around the ship being destructive. He kills Ralston, but also dies of improper thaw. Both are given dignified burials in space. Steve and the dead captain's wife, Jan, hold hands. The (now) three couples press on to Earth 2. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The low budget nature of the production (cheap sets, simple costumes, minimal effects, and black-&-white photography, give IC-1 a retro 50s flavor. The topic has some interest to muse over, even if the execution doesn't run with it.

Cold War Angle
There isn't much of the Cold War in IC-1. There is a hint of angst over authoritarian world-government.

Drama vs. Action -- American audiences were becoming more and more accustomed to action in their sci-fi. Battles with aliens, exploding space ships, cool robots, etc. British sci-fi has typically been more thoughtful (or talky), focusing on the human angle, and low on action.This tends to make them more like soap-operas than action adventures. In this vein were: Spaceways ('53), Devil Girl From Mars ('54),Stranger From Venus ('54), The Gamma People ('56), Escapement ('58), The Cosmic Man ('59), These Are the Damned ('62), The Day Mars Invaded Earth ('63), and The Earth Dies Screaming ('64) are all in this style. Lippert Productions, and writer Harry Spalding (aka Henry Cross) were responsible for several of these.

Brit Boogeyman -- There is a vein in the British culture which fears authoritarian despots. Perhaps having struggled with their own despotic kings (or queens, in Bloody Mary's case), Brits have a decided dislike for dictators and standing armies. That's one reason why the notion of Napoleon winning in Europe bothered them so much. Americans, having only thrown off one king, tend to take their freedom more for granted and so have less innate fear of autocrats. The Brits still did. Orwell's 1984 was a strong dose of that anxiety. IC-1 pulls at that angst with the ominous Rule world government. Captain Ralston is the personification of what the Brit psyche's nightmares. American audiences may not "get" this.

Odd Solution -- The narrator tells how the world is overcrowded by the year 2015. The IC-1 (Interstellar Colony One) was the response. Just how sending 16 people far into space was supposed to help overcrowding was not well explained. Maybe they were supposed to just be a beachhead on Earth 2. Once they had proven that man could live there, the excess millions would be shipped there in bulk. Or, perhaps it was feared that overpopulation would "crash" the earth, so safe new colonies were insurance against mankind killing itself off.

AstroGrandma -- The script's preoccupation with having children seems like a generalized mother constantly fretting over her married sons and daughters not having produced grandchildren yet. Indeed, the "right" to make babies is proverbial elephant in the room driving the plot.

Doc In A Box -- One of the odd features of IC-1 is the character of Dr. Garth -- the talking head. He is as close as the very limited budget would get to a cyborg. The actor had his body a box gussied up with dials and lights, with his head sticking up into the acrylic bubble. Dr. Garth's human head was said to be attached to machines that serve as his vital organs. He is twice called the "Closed Cycle Man." Perhaps this means he doesn't have to eat and poop -- nothing in, nothing out. Unfortunately, not much is done with Garth. He's just an odd sideshow.

Bottom line? IC-1 plays more like a television drama than the typical American sci-fi movie. As such, it will probably annoy the average viewer. The sets, costumes and effects are a minimized backseat to the talky interaction between the actors. But, if you can get beyond the lack of action, the premise and story offers some food for thought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Garth is nicely spoofed in "Dark Star." An odd side-show-esque addition to a rather boring film. The premise should've been far more interesting than this movie delivered.