Late Soviet Science Fiction Film Production


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Kin-Dza-Dza!

“Kin-Dza-Dza!” was written by Georgi Daneliya and Revaz Gabriadze that tells the comedic story of two guys who are unwillingly transported to the desert planet Plyuk in the galaxy Kin-Dza-Dza after an encounter with an alien on Earth. The movie continues to show the characters’ hilarious trials on trying to find a way back home and their encounters with the natives of the planet, the Plyukians.

It was released in 1986 and is considered to be one of Russia’s best cult classics, many of the lines of the film still quoted by Russians today. However, this space travel story is little known anywhere else in the world. The film is a satire about the Soviet Union, a dystopian comedy and a prediction of what Russia would be like after the break up of the Soviet Union.

The director Georgi Daneliya, also co-author, won a Nika (the Russian Academy Awards) for his directing. Daneliya was often the author or co-author of scripts to a lot of his films. The main characters of the story, the Earthlings stranded on the foreign planet, are Uncle Vova, played by Stanislav Lyubshin, and Skripach (“Violinist”), played by Levan Gabriadze. Also notable is two of the Plyukians, played by two famous Russian actors, Yury Yakovlev and Yevgeny Leonov, the latter doing the voice for the Russian Winnie the Pooh.



Heart of a Dog

The made for TV film “Heart of a Dog” is based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. This version, directed by Vladimir Bortko, is considered to be the most successful adaptation of the story. It stays true to the novel, not changing any of the details but only adding a few differences when needed for the film. The story is a satire of the Soviet Union politics, denouncing the Soviet regime. The novel was originally written in 1925 but was banned until the perestroika era, at which point the film was also released in 1988.

The story follows Professor Preobrazhensky, played by the actor Yevgeni Yeustigneyev, a surgeon who implants the pituitary gland and testicles of a criminal into a dog. The dog then turns into a human, played by Vladimir Tolokonnikov. But in human form, the dog is incredibly mean, taking on all the bad characteristics of the original person. This dog-human hybrid then proceeds to make the professor’s life terrible. Although it may not seem like it, this black and white film is a very popular comedy and a Russian classic. All the actors in the film are noted for their great performances, particularly the two main actors.



To Kill a Dragon

The film “To Kill a Dragon” was released in 1988, based on the play “The Dragon” by Evgeny Shvarts. It tells the story of the knight Lancelot, from the Arthurian Legend of King Arthur, who goes to a village only to find that a terrible and tyrannical dragon is ruling it. Lancelot kills the dragon but the city doesn’t change because, as Lancelot discovers, the dragon is in everybody, and it must be killed in everybody’s souls in order for change.

The film and the play follow each other quite closely except for a quite significant change at the end of the film from Shvarts’ original story. Also in the film, there is a heavy emphasis on philosophy, providing additional meaningful dialogue scenes.

The film was highly critically acclaimed and won two Nika awards, the Russian Oscar equivalence, in 1990 and won best film at the International Fantasy Film Awards. The director, Mark Zakharov, is well known for his made for TV films, particularly the very popular films “Twelve Chairs” (1977), “An Ordinary Miracle” (1978), “Formula of Love” (1984) and his contribution to the making of “White Sun of the Desert” (1970). In “To Kill a Dragon,” Zakharov employs famous Russian actors staring in most of his films, like Aleksandr Abdulov, who plays Lancelot, and Oleg Yankovsky, who plays the dragon.



The Ugly Swans

The film “The Ugly Swans” was released in 2006, directed by Konstantin Lopushansky. It is considered to be a more philosophical science fiction film rather than a horror one, although the director classifies it as a “mystical thriller.” “The Ugly Swans” is very loosely based on the novel of the same name written by the Strugatsky brothers, with Boris Strugatsky’s consent on the differences. Some of the differences between the two include the film being set more in the near future than the original story and the change to the ending in the film. There were also been a number of references to the Strugatsky’s other works added to the film, like the use of character names from their other novels.

The film tells the story of Viktor Banev, a Russian writer living in America who returns to his home country in search of his daughter who has been taken into a special school for gifted children run by human-like aliens, living in a ghost town. Ukranian actor Gregory Hlady, who lives in Montreal, Canada, plays Viktor Banev.

Lopushansky, the director, is a follower of the famous Russian director, Tarkovsky, having helped him with some of his films. “The Ugly Swans” is often compared to Tarkovksy’s “Stalker” and “Solaris,” some harsh critics even accusing Lopushansky going as far as to plagiarize Tarkovsky’s vision. The film is aesthetically pleasing with a very moody quality, requiring constant attention while watching it, characteristics of a Tarkovsky film.



Inhabited Island

The film “Inhabited Island” is based on the Strugatsky brother’s novel “Prisoners of Power.” It was made for a two-part release, the first part being released in 2008 and the second part released in 2009. Fyodor Bondarchuk, who had great success with his first film “The 9th Company,” directed “Inhabited Island.”

The film had mixed reviews, having many similarities with other science fiction movies such as “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner.” Bondarchuk seems to refuse in some ways the convention of the philosophical approach to Russian science fiction films laid out by the famous director Tarkovsky. Bonderchuk’s science fiction films are more fast-paced with a lot of action and futuristic technology.

The story of “Inhabited Island,” set in the distant future, follows Maxim Kammerer, played by the young and new actor Vasily Stepanov, who crash-lands on the unknown planet Saraksh. After becoming stranded on the planet with no way back to Earth, Maxim decides to try and help the natives of the planet who are ruled under an unknown dictatorial control known as the “Unknown Fathers,” falling in love in the process. The film is praised for its faithfulness to the novel, Boris Strugatsky himself commemorating Bondarchuk on doing a great job.



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