Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ilya Muromets

Ilya Muromets; fantasy adventure, Russia, 1956; D: Aleksandr Ptushko, S: Boris Andreyev, Shukur Burkhanov, Andrei Abrikosov, Natalya Medvedeva, Ninel Myshkova

Middle ages. Kievan Rus' is terrorized by Tugars of the Mongol Empire. One man, Ilya Muromts, helplessly observes them since he cannot move his legs. Until some travelers give him a magic potion that gives him great strength, and also Svyatogor's sword. Ilya marries Vassilisa and goes to Kiev in order to defend it from Tsar Kalin, the leader of Tugars. Due to an intrigue, the Kiev prince Vladimir thinks that Ilya wants to take over his throne and thus puts him in the dungeon. Still, he later releases Ilya, who defeats the Tugars and kills Kalin and his three-headed dragon.

Aleksandr Ptushko's "Ilya Muromets" was an attempt at creating a fantasy spectacle with special effects outside the US, similarly like other audacious European films from that time, like von Baky's "Munchausen" and Nanovic's "The Magic Sword": in that adaptation of the Russian eponymous mythical hero, several folklore legends of that nation were incorporated into a rather clear narrative that tried to give rudimentary-simplistic visual effects (two that stand out the most are "bending" trees caused by Nightingale the Robber's blowing and a rubber-stiff three-headed dragon appearing some last five minutes into the film, which seems as if it came from the "Mothra" series) yet achieves far bigger effect with proportionally high production values evident in good costumes, opulent castles and landscapes (melting ice floating on a river) as well as impressive use of masses (in one good take, the camera makes a 360 degree turn from a post on top of a castle in order to show how many Tugars have surrounded it on the meadow). Kitschy, pompous, artificial and with too many theatrical dialogues, a rushed ending, but with a few examples of extravaganza (Vassilisa singing to the birds while a stork is using a spinning wheel!), this is a cult 'guilty pleasure' that does not have as much artistic value as sheer enthusiasm that allowed it to stand out from the standard fare produced back then.


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