To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

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Yakushima
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To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

#1 Post by Yakushima » Tue Oct 28, 2014 9:36 pm

After adding “To the Stars by the hard ways” to the Arrow wish list I searched the forum and found no other mentioning of this film, so I thought I’d write a little bit about it, since it is one of my all time favorites.

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When this picture is mentioned, many Russians, especially those in their 40s instantly become misty-eyed. For those like me who watched this SF epic at impressionable age, it has never faded from memory.
One of the handful of Soviet SciFi films that actually delivered on its promise, it captivated minds and found something close to cult following within Russian cineaste community.
Scripted by one of the best Russian SF writers of the 70-80s, Kir Bulychev, the film portrays a rather utopian future where people learned to live in harmony with Nature and in peace with each other. But dangers and challenges are sill lurking in deep space. When a space patrol finds a derelict alien spacecraft and the cosmonauts decide to investigate, they discover remains of cloning facility inside, with many dead bodies floating in zero gravity. One survivor is found, though, Niya, an artificially created person. The crew brings her back to Earth to try to establish contact and learn about her origins. At the same time Earth is visited by diplomats from a dying world, Dessa, a planet abused and exploited to the point of complete environmental collapse. The emissaries are pleading to send immediate help. Niya ends up on board of the ship sent to help.

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The film’s director, a talented filmmaker Richard Viktorov made this picture truly “by hard ways”, undermined at every turn by hostile Soviet bureaucrats and censors. The budget has been cut several times. With this in mind, the integrity of vision achieved in the film is nothing short of a miracle. The limitations created a peculiar mixture of campy effects, like inflatable robots.

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Director was even denied his wish to end the movie with title “The landscapes of dying planet Dessa were filmed entirely on our planet”. Nevertheless, a brave environmental statement came through loud and clear, something that was unheard of in USSR of 1981.

But more than the special effects, it is a special atmosphere of the film, the romance of the space exploration, poignancy of the environmental message and charming aura of the recognizable science fictional trappings, the humane and human characters that make it so memorable. And of course, a star of the film, unforgettable Yelena Metyolkina, a model turned actress, who created character of Niya.

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In the US the film has been released in the 1980s but apparently butchered and poorly dubbed by distributors, renamed into “Humanoid Woman” and failed miserably.

In Russia it remained a beloved classic, and was re-released in theaters in mid-2000s by Richard Viktorov’s own son. Sadly, the son took decidedly “George Lucas” approach trying to “improve” it by adding unneeded digital effects, cutting the film by more than 20 minutes (allegedly to make it more watchable, but in fact, ruining the pace and logic) and re-recording sound-track completely to a huge detriment to the movie. The only good thing about the “new” version was a realization of how beautiful and organic the film originally looked and reminder that the themes tackled in the picture are still (if not more so) relevant to this day.

I would love to see this masterpiece rescued by Arrow or any other house, that manages to secure rights and track down decent film elements.

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feihong
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Re: To the Stars by Hard Ways (Cherez Ternii k Zvezdam) 1981

#2 Post by feihong » Tue Oct 28, 2014 11:53 pm

I saw this movie earlier this year. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the environmental devastation message came through quite clearly in the ambience and the design of the film. Not sure whether I was seeing the "Star Wars Special Edition" or another version. I'll have to double-check that. This would make a very nice addition to Arrow's collection.

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solaris72
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Re: To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

#3 Post by solaris72 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 2:55 pm

I saw this film at the National Gallery during a glorious time (I think 2007?) when a retrospective of Soviet scifi films was touring the country (in Baltimore I got to see Cosmic Voyage from 1936 and The Heavens Call from 1959, and I saw Stalker in Philadelphia. Eccentric space opera is one of my favorite genres; Starcrash, Message from Space, Planet of the Vampires, Barbarella (I think it all stems from watching Yellow Submarine over a hundred times as a kid- that movie is itself basically a space opera)- and so I greatly enjoyed To the Stars By Hard Ways. It definitely had some arresting images that stick with me. One that comes to mind is a scene where characters arrive on a planet at one point and are greeted by a dozen men in gas masks, standing around a victrola that is playing music. Sadly, the version I saw was the revisionist cut of the film- I could tell some of the effects were CGI. I think it was limited to the
SpoilerShow
giant blob at the climax of the movie.
Would love to see this get a blu-ray release- the original cut would be preferable, of course. There's a lot of neat Soviet scifi movies which, while not reaching the heights of Tarkovsky, are nonetheless quite striking and deserving of greater attention.

Yakushima
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Re: To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

#4 Post by Yakushima » Wed Oct 29, 2014 11:04 pm

Solaris72: Thank you for your comment! The greeting party on Dessa was a memorable scene indeed. The victrolas were playing some eery tune, like a distorted dance music from the 1940s, a local anthem, perhaps? In the reedited version (at least on the DVD I watched) that tune was gone, the victrolas played silently.

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A Blu-ray release of the original version would be a dream come true. The original 70mm negative in all likelihood is still stored in The Gosfilmofond vault. At the moment, sadly, the original can be seen only on fan-made DVDs, assembled from elements of re-edited version and very poor pan-and-scan version of the original.

Here is a few more images of Yelena Metyolkina as Niya:

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Yakushima
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Re: To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

#5 Post by Yakushima » Fri Oct 16, 2015 12:51 am

Apparently the long believed lost negatives of the "To the Stars by the Hard Ways" have been found in The Gosfilmofond and were restored for an eventual Blu-ray release, according to Richard Viktorov's son (who has attempted a disastrous "upgrade" of the film in 2001).

http://www.russiangap.com/2015/10/fil-m ... r-luchshe/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

This is an extremely important and enjoyable film, one of the Russian SF classics. I hope Arrow and/or Criterion will jump on this opportunity without delay!

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solaris72
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Re: To the Stars by Hard Ways (Richard Viktorov, 1981)

#6 Post by solaris72 » Fri Oct 16, 2015 10:33 am

Great news!

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