The Film Behind The Poster - Voyage To The End Of The Universe (1964)
Many of us in the English speaking world have heard of H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, but, if asked to name another science fiction author, few of us are likely to reply “Stanislaw Lem…”
Which is a shame, as, in the mid 1970s, he was acclaimed as the most widely read sci-fi author in the world.
In this, a “The Film Behind The Poster” blog post, we take the superb poster for “Voyage to the End of the Universe” and discover how Stanislaw Lem helped inspire Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
Stanislaw Herman Lem was born on the 13th September 1921 in Lwów, Poland, now Lviv in Ukraine. (Due to superstition the date of 12th September was registered on his birth certificate!)
Stanislaw Lem in 1925 - Image courtesy of the Lem Estate (https://english.lem.pl)
Whilst he was an atheist, Lem’s family had Jewish heritage. During the Nazi occupation of Poland they survived with false papers, avoiding the ghettos and concentration camps that claimed so many. Lem worked as a mechanic and stole German munitions to pass to the Polish resistance.
At the end of the War, he lifted the pen, writing poetry, reviews and science fiction. His first sci-fi story, ‘The Man from Mars’ was serialised in 1946. This was followed in 1951 by his first book, ‘The Astronauts’.
1955 would see the publication of his second novel (of particular interest to this blog post), ‘The Megallanic Cloud’.
Stanislaw Lem in 1955 - Image courtesy of the Lem Estate (https://english.lem.pl)
Over the course of the next 50 years, Lem wrote a further 13 sci-fi books and over 20 non-fiction works. His most famous science-fiction work ‘Solaris’ has been adapted for the cinema three times, most recently by Steven Soderbergh (2001), in a James Cameron produced film starring George Clooney.
Stanislaw Lem died on 27th March 2006. His works have now sold over 30 million copies and been translated in to more than 40 languages.
Stanislaw Lem in 2005 - Image courtesy of the Lem Estate (https://english.lem.pl)
It is however to 1955 and ‘The Megallanic Cloud' that we return…
The Megallanic Cloud
The Megallanic Clouds are two dwarf galaxies visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Well known to man, they were referenced within Islamic literature as early as the 9th Century.
A ’thirty something’ Stanislaw Lem borrowed their name for his second book, published in Polish as ‘Oblok Magellana’.
Set in the 32nd Century, humanity has populated the solar system and an intrepid group of men and women are travelling aboard the starship ‘Gaia’, bound for Alpha Centauri and searching for intelligent life.
En route, the crew encounter a ‘marie celeste’ spaceship “Atlantis” (a dangerous NATO remnant from the twentieth century Cold War) and discover an advanced alien civilisation inhabiting a planet in orbit of Alpha Centauri.
Lem’s ‘The Megallanic Cloud’ was the basis for Czech director and screen-writer Jindrich Polak’s 1963 film “Ikarie XB-1”.
Based on a screenplay by Polak and Pavel Juracek, the movie was shot in Prague at Barrandov Studios (later used for James Bond’s “Casino Royale”).
Set in 2163, the 40 strong crew of the starship “Ikarie XB-1” are travelling to the “White Planet” orbiting Alpha Centauri.
On their way, the film explores the impact of interplanetary space travel on human kind, including the age related affects of relativity (the ship’s engineer bemoans that although the trip is 2 years for him, his unborn daughter back on earth will be 15 when he returns), the inevitable relationship problems between those confined together for years together, and, even the affects on an en voyage pregnancy.
The crew encounter a number of trials and tribulations, including the abandoned spaceship of the novel, a radioactive star and the resulting psychological problems of a crew member who threatens to sabotage the mission.
The ship and its crew are eventually saved from radiation by a shield projected from “The White Planet”. As they descend to its surface, the clouds part, and a bright futuristic world awaits them.
Few sci-fi films of the era had better technical accuracy, special effects or stronger production and design values. Aired at the inaugural International Science Fiction Film Festival in Trieste, the film scooped the main prize, taking home the ‘Golden Rocket’ award.
Voyage to the End of the Universe
Formed in the mid 1950s, American International Pictures (AIP) was the vision of James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. Focussing on low low-budget films for the teenage market, they targeted the ‘nineteen year old male’ as their perfect customer.
Initially successful, by the late 1950s AIP had begun to struggle. To reduce costs the company began importing films from Italy and the Eastern Bloc. One such film was Ikarie XB-1.
Renamed “Voyage to the End of the Universe”, the film was heavily edited, and, redubbed in to English.
To provide a more fantastical story, the ending of the story was also changed. In the final scenes, we do not see a futuristic new world. As the clouds part, we are greeted by scenes of New York, including the Statue of Liberty (note that “Planet of the Apes” wasn’t released until 1968). The space travellers were not human after all, but, had been journeying from their home, to the “Green Planet”, Earth.
Legacy and Influence
While the English version of the film made little critical impact, the original Ikarie XB-1 is now widely regarded as one of the finest science-fiction films of its time.
Its strong design, such as the portrayal of a huge space-ship with a command bridge and living quarters for a large crew, still influenes sci-fi movies and television today (think of “Star Trek”).
Stanley Kubrick was famous for exhaustive research in preparation for his films and there is little doubt that Ikarie was a visual and thematic influence on “2001 : A Space Odyssey”.
As American film director Joe Dante has commented, Ikarie even has its own ‘star child’.
In fact, selected for the Cannes Classic selection at the 2016 Festival de Cannes, their citation stated that Ikarie was “… among the most important sources of inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’…”
The Cannes trailer goes on to state…
Whilst Kubrick had been born in New York and lived the later years of his life in England, his heritage was Jewish and included Polish blood. There was more than just two fantastic films to link him and Stanislaw Lem.
Whilst Ikarie was shot in black and white, AIP’s movie poster for “Voyage to the End of the Universe” is a riot of interstellar colour.
In order to give the film an American feel, as well as changing the title, AIP anglicised the stars names. As the poster shows, Zdenek Stepanek became "Dennis Stephens" and Frantisek Smolik is billed as "Francis Smolen".
The poster composition evokes a real ‘boy’s own adventure’ theme with a true 1960’s vibe – in fact our 12 year old son says it’s his favourite movie poster, and, there’s no higher praise than that!
We have unearthed an incredible version of the poster for this special film. It has been professionally linen-backed and restored. It must be one of the best for the film in existence. It really is quite beautiful.
You can find it here.
A new blu-ray version of the movie, taken from the 4K restoration of the film shown at Cannes was released on March 25th 2019.
If you are interested in movies, we recommend getting hold of it.
(We’ve already pre-ordered our copy!)
Adam and the Art of the Movies team.