The Dark Side of the Moon: Timo Vuorensola’s Iron Sky, or the Return of the Sinister Space Nazis

Obersturmbannführer Klaus Adler (Götz Otto, left) and Renate Richter (Julia Dietze, right), the future power couple of the Space Nazis.

Imagine what would happen if the Nazis had managed to build a spacecraft and rescued their remaining party soldiers to the dark side of the moon. An absurd and ludicrous premise, sure, but the international production Iron Sky is willing to make it. The intriguing independent movie caused a sensation when the first trailers spread around the virtual world. It almost became a cult classic among the online community even before its official theatrical release in the spring of 2012.

At an estimated $7.5 million budget, the filmmakers took some risks for what can be described as a state-subsidized spoof. They signed up unknown Finnish director Timo Vuorensola to be in charge of the project. Granted, other than Aki Kaurismäki of the Leningrad Cowboys movies, pretty much all Finnish directors are rather unheralded outside their own country. But Vuorensola had only directed a single video-only feature, Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning, before finding himself at the helm of Iron Sky.

The cast is mainly German and Australian. Internationally known baddies such as Germans Udo Kier (Shadow Of The Vampire, Blade, and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia) and Götz Otto (Schindler’s List, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The Downfall) appear next to B-list actors like Christopher Kirby (The Matrix Revolutions and Star Wars: Episode III) and national stars Julia Dietze, Tilo Prückner, Peta Sergeant, and Stephanie Paul. With all these factors in mind, the question was if Iron Sky would be able to meet the gigantic audience expectations.

The film’s story is simple. In 2018, an American space mission is sent to the moon on an explorative mission, but things go horribly wrong. Black astronaut James Washington (Kirby) is the only survivor. He’s he taken captive by Space Nazis, survivors of the original National Socialists who relocated to the dark side of the moon after the Third Reich’s final loss in 1945. In their giant swastika-shaped space station, Washington must learn that their Führer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Kier) and his second-in-command Klaus Adler (Otto) intend to invade the earth with a massive armada of flying saucers and zeppelins.

Iron Sky is a satire that makes no bones about being a trashy sci-fi flick. Think Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space meets Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! meets Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, just with a slightly less impressive cast than the latter two. Yet Iron Sky seems to be proud of all the movies it refers to and plays with in general. The nod to The Great Dictator is obvious. In an almost perverse move, the Nazis use a short clip from Charlie Chaplin’s anti-Hitler comedy to manipulate their new blood.

Other than that, the invasion plot could also be taken straight out of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, while Iron Sky also uses components from the James Bond adventure Moonraker – both the film starring Roger Moore and Ian Fleming’s original novel. The space station used by a villain to breed a new race is taken from the cinematic version, while the Nazi plot to take over even years after WWII can be found in the 1955 book.

The characterization of the bad guys also caters to certain Hollywood trends, for instance the treatment the German enemies receive in the Indiana Jones movies Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Last Crusade by Steven Spielberg. Apart from Renate Richter (Dietze), who becomes Washington’s unexpected ally in the course of the film, the Nazis are all rendered as stereotypes. They are evil but rather stupid and have basically been living under a rock, or – in this case – literally on the dark side of the moon. On the whole, their technology has just mildly advanced from what used to be state of the art in 1945. Their host computer, for instance, is so ginormous that it would make Konrad Zuse proud, and they’ve never heard of cell phones or similar gadgets, either.

Iron Sky also contains a political comment of sorts. When Adler and Richter arrive on earth, they’re instantly used by the President of the United States (Paul), a Sarah Palin wannabe, for her own purposes. She and her ally Vivian Wagner (Sergeant) employ both as a propaganda instrument. The President even uses a direct quote from a Joseph Goebbels speech to wow the impressionable masses. Likewise, she is exactly the corrupt stateswoman many outside the United States believe American politicians – and especially the Republicans – to be. In Iron Sky, the President uses and cheats on everyone else behind their back without any hesitation.

At this point at the latest, the movie shows it’s not ‘made in Hollywood.’ This would never happen in American mainstream cinema, which always paints the country as heroic. Iron Sky quickly does away with that notion. Here, both the Nazis and the United States government are essentially two sides of the same evil coin. Although the movie is mostly tongue-in-cheek, the subliminal undertone is that, whether you choose one or the other, it won’t make that much of a difference.

When all is said and done, can Iron Sky fulfill the enormous expectations? It really depends on what you’re looking for. There’s much to like and recommend about it. The CGI is really impressive most of the time. Even though it’s not in 3D, there’s not much of a drop-off in compared to Disney’s $250 million disaster John Carter – especially when you take into consideration that it cost 33 times less. You can’t argue that the actors are less impressive than in the more expensive blockbuster, either.

Of course, Iron Sky is silly, cliché, and over-the-top, but that’s exactly how a trashy parody is meant to be. It’s not to be taken seriously, and fans of the genre likely wouldn’t want to have it any other way, anyway. Yet because the film wasn’t produced under the umbrella of a major studio but with the help of Finnish, German, and Australian state sponsorship, it doesn’t have to many nearly as many concessions as Hollywood movies must.

In most cases – including this one – that’s a good thing. Iron Sky is a classic B-movie in the best sense and definitely worth to be seen. It’s not quite in the same league of other deliberately trashy products we’ve seen in the last decade – the Grindhouse double-dip of Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror comes to mind as well as Eli Craig’s hillbilly horror-comedy Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil – but it certainly tops most computer game adaptations. So, put on Iron Sky, crank up the volume of Laibach’s soundtrack, and feel the Götterdämmerung invade your screen.

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