The Oscars are less than a week away and I wanted to see something as high concept and ridiculous as possible to celebrate. It’s a strange reaction, I will admit, but can you blame me? It’s nice to take a break before delving into the great Hollywood self congratulations ritual.
So I found Iron Sky on Netflix. I had heard of the concept before, but little else. Then I found out that it was apparently financed based on its premise. I do like this trend – it feels purer than having Jerry Bruckheimer sign off on something guaranteed to make money. I can’t blame him -his stripper expenses alone probably cost the GDP of Burkina Faso.
But it also raises something interesting – can cult classics and movies famous for being “so bad they’re good” be manufactured? That almost seems to be the norm these days. People recruit the internet to turn their slightly outlandish project into a cult item without going through the proper channels. It also gives them an excuse not to try in some aspects. Plan Nine From Outer Space was the best film someone like Ed Wood could make. The Room was the best Tommy Wisseau could do based on his passions and feelings. Iron Sky could have a bizarre plot but still be a well executed adventure film. Or, it could be an ineptly made film that is never boring for a second. But simply saying “space Nazis” is not the end of the matter. It’s the beginning.
Well, the filmmakers chose to make the best Nazis on the moon movie they possibly could. It’s a comedy, yes, but the reviews I saw on Rotten Tomatoes attacked because it never descended into outright camp. There is a Fred Williamson character (who is turned into a white man), but he’s not treated as a punchline. The casting of Udo Kier (because this movie had to have Udo Kier) works because Kier believes in what he is doing. Even the special effects, though completely unbelievable, are not chessy. They would have passed muster in an episode of Battlestar Galactica. It almost makes me wonder why President had to be a stand in for Sarah Palin. That’s probably what throws people off – surely that had to be a joke. But it never goes anywhere and really is just a distraction from the swashes and buckles. The use of The Great Dictator is far funnier – the Nazis have created a ten minute version which they claim shows how Chaplin loved Hitler. OK, so that’s a touch too obvious but it’s a reference that actually shows some thought was put into the script. So, Iron Sky is far better than you would believe. Oh sure, it’s still completely ridiculous and rather inept in its storytelling. But it does us the courtesy of at least believing that moon Nazis could exist.
That’s probably all I need to say about the film, but I think that it ties into the larger discussion well. More specifically, I think that the last sentence of the preceding paragraph is all that needs to be explained about how “so bad it’s good” can work.
The film has to believe in its own premise and not have the expectation of comedy. Tommy Wiseau believed that The Room would be a serious Tennessee Williams-esque drama. Y.K. Kim expected Miami Connection to be a huge blockbuster and a classic kung fu film. Timo Vuorensola wanted to make a great adventure film that paid tribute to the Z-grade Roger Corman films of the past.
But everyone treated Sharknado as a joke that could never be good. Even the tagline of “enough said” demonstrated that they felt snark was the height of wit. There was no need to try to make it good. People would be drawn in by the ridiculous premise. And you know what? Their film was not enjoyable on any level.
I hear there is a sequel to Iron Sky in development. I’ll watch it, if it’s as good and fun as this one. And I view that as a challenge to every filmmaker. No matter how ridiculous your premise, you can still make a good movie if you care. Irony and snark are not the same as quality. It’s really that sort of defeatist attitude that kills a project – someone who draws badly cannot turn around and say that he meant to draw a bad picture.