Sunday 21 January 2018

Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)

Klaatu Barada Nyet-to

Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)
2017 Russia Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk
UK cinema release print.

I had to go to this one because, frankly... when was the last time my local cinema was playing a foreign movie with subtitles? The answer... next to never. So when it came to the prospect of a new Russian sci-fi movie on a big screen, I was well up for it. Now, obviously, when I hear the term Russian sci-fi I immediately associate that with one of my all time favourite directors, Andrei Tarkovsky, who directed stupendous genre adaptations such as Stalker and the original version of Solaris. However, when I took a quick look at the trailer for this film, which did huge box office in its own country, it looked more like a modern day, Hollywood spectacle blockbuster of a film. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Now, when I looked at the run time on my phone for this movie, I became fairly enraged because I learned that there’s a European cut of the movie which runs for just under two hours... but there’s also a full length version for Russian cinemas that runs 13 minutes longer and that really annoyed me. Why do distributors insist on cutting these things down for us foreign audiences? However, because these films are so rarely screened in UK cinemas anyway, I decided to give it a look and then, if I liked it, to try and find a full length version from whatever country puts it out in that form in Blu Ray. However, I’m happy to report that when I saw this at my local and noted the exact time the actual print of the movie itself started playing, that it ran for just over two and a quarter hours. Now, I don’t know if there’s any difference in running time between the 3D and 2D versions over here but, the IMAX 3D presentation (of sorts, I’ll get to that in a second) seems to be the full length cut so... you know... catch it while you can.

The first thing that struck me about this movie when I went to see it on its opening night, aside from it being the smallest (in single figures) audience to any IMAX 3D movie I’ve seen... was the warning up front where the people from IMAX have tried hard to disassociate themselves from it. Seriously, before the usual IMAX stuff comes up, there was a warning that the film had not been processed by IMAX for 3D and was therefore not a reflection of ‘The IMAX Experience’, which left me wondering just one thing.... why the heck had the audience paid out extra cash for premium tickets to an IMAX film which, in large bold letters at the front, belligerently stated that it was no such thing? Especially since this then went into the whole IMAX Experience spiel after this statement had been displayed. I think people need to have a little talk with Cineworld, adding this to a number of problematic policies inflicted on the general public by this particular chain. If it’s not made for IMAX, don’t charge me for IMAX.

An equally curious thing I saw, though, was that, just before the opening credits started properly, the film warned the audience that this would contain images of people smoking tobacco. What the what? Um... so would that be the scenes where people are smoking cigarettes then? Especially, since in this film, one of the characters makes it clear the harm smoking does to the human body? I mean... do the distributors think we’re so stupid that we can’t work out that people are smoking cigarettes? What the heck is going on here? Can we have a warning that, I don’t know, some people in the film are wearing non-matching sweaters or something too? Or that the dog in the film has fur on it. I don’t understand the reason for this warning at all. It's completely ridiculous.

Anyway... now that’s out of the way...

Attraction is an astonishing movie and, in terms of blockbuster type films, has a lot of things that the Americans could learn from when it comes to putting these kinds of big screen spectacles together. Where to start...

The actors were all amazing and their characterisations were great. And the script, while quite clich├ęd throughout, really did some things out of left field that I didn’t see coming. So from the start, I was pretty sure the main protagonist was going to be one specific person of two school girls who were best friends. However, when she goes to the roof of a building to watch the much publicised meteor shower (along with the rest of the world) and sends her best fried Yulia (played brilliantly by Irina Starshenbaum) and her ‘maverick boyfriend’ Artyom (played remarkably three dimensionally by Alexander Petrov) to her apartment to take advantage of their ‘alone time’, it soon becomes apparent, for reasons that I won’t go into here, that she is not the main protagonist after all... that it's clearly Yulia. I’m not going to spell out why though.

After an observing alien starship is knocked off course by one of the asteroids, over zealous military types shoot it down and it crashes into several city blocks with devastating consequences (for the people living in those blocks). After a high ranking military officer called Colonel Lebedev, who happens to be Yulia’s father (as played by an actor called Oleg Menshikov who has a very striking screen presence), talks to an alien, the devastated city blocks are locked down under military protection while the alien tries to repair the ship. Meanwhile, tensions are brewing in the hearts and minds of the local residents and it’s not long before Yulia is torn in her loyalties between wanting to make the aliens pay for the deaths they have caused and her new loyalty to Hijken, an alien who saves her life and who is played by Rinal Mukhametov. So we have all that going on while at the same time, the writers take the opportunity to indulge in some of the ‘fish out of water’ comedy that comes from the clash of two different cultures and, I have to say, the comedy and chemistry between Yulia and Hijken is very well done and brings a lot of heart the film.

Another thing that impressed me was that the characters are not, for the most part, one dimensional. They evolve and change over the course of the picture. One of the characters leads a mob of proletariat against both the aliens and the military forces and I couldn’t help think that, if Sergei Eisenstein had been able to see this, he would have approved of the Russian propaganda machine so well illuminated in these kinds of scenes here. The character I’m talking about (I’m treading carefully so as not to give anything away) starts off as somebody who I thought was going to be the male lead hero of the piece but, by the end of the film, has metamorphosed quite convincingly into moving into the role of lead villain and... it’s so subtly done that you have to take your hats off to the writers and actors here.

The other thing which impressed me here was, for once, the spectacle of the special effects. Especially when the starship crashed into the Russian streets. Obviously, the director and writers know the value of not crowding one action sequence on top of the other and give their action set pieces room to breathe but, honestly, this sequence single handedly tops anything Michael Bay did in any of his Transformer sequels and, at the same time, with all the billowing smoke and dust, it all looks so achingly beautiful. Russian filmmakers are still, as far as I am concerned, a nation of visual poets.

Also, the attention to detail in the streets in the wake of the craft as Yulia and her friends walk the abandoned buildings thick with floating debris and unbelievable set dressing to highlight the destruction is densely packed and astonishing. Not to mention little details like the brainy friend, nicknamed Google (presumably after the search engine... unless that’s a Russian name) having a Creature From The Black Lagoon poster in his bedroom. Nice.

All of this is coupled with a truly fantastic and, sadly unavailable (which is a crime) score by composer Ivan Burlyaev. Seriously, this score puts a lot of Hollywood movies in a similar vein to shame and it really demands to be heard as a stand alone listen away from the movie it ably supports and enhances. I would love to be able to grab this one.

As I watched the film race towards its, somewhat inevitable conclusion, it became clear that what I was actually watching was a roundabout remake, with details shifted and more action and political shenanigans, of the remarkable 1951 movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still and, while the intentions of the alien race depicted were different, the message they give is exactly the same, in essence. I guess if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Attraction is a truly cool film that, while it maybe drags a little in the last quarter, is well worth the time of anybody in love with the genre of science fiction to see. I can’t imagine this will be in UK cinemas for more than a week so try and catch it in the next few days if you are able to. And, despite the bizarre warning up front, the 3D on this is pretty good and that spaceship crash is well worth seeing on an IMAX screen, I can tell you. This may well be a shoe in for one of my best of the year list and it’s only January. I hope this film gets the international recognition it deserves... it’s already done very good business in Russia, by all accounts. Don’t miss this one.

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