The image above tells you all you really need to know about the Russian film Salyut 7: visually it’s quite astonishing, throwing images such as that above, depicting the rescue mission launched into space breaking out of the clouds, up onto the screen with as much gloss and sophistication as most of the visual effects of Gravity, the previous high-water mark for space visual effects. Its really quite astonishing how the quality of visual effects is getting so ubiquitous- I remember when there was a huge difference between the effects work of, say ILM or EEG, and everyone else, back in the day. Computer imaging and the presumed use of the same software packages has been quite a leveller, and no longer do films necessarily have to boast huge budgets to get premium visuals.
Salyut 7 was something of a surprise discovery for me, just stumbling upon it on Amazon Prime. Curiously, it even appears there in two formats- as a two-hour movie, and also as a two-part drama of two one-hour episodes. Imagine showing BR2049 as a two- or three-part miniseries. I don’t know why, must be some vagary of the films financing and distribution- I see it has recently turned up on blu-ray in some territories (Germany even getting it in 4K). I think it would be a pity if here in the UK the film is relegated to an almost VOD release rather than the more prestigious limited-theatrical or disc-based release that would get it wider attention, and which it deserves. That said, kudos to Amazon for picking it up. This thing feels like it came from nowhere and I lapped it up.
Based on true events that occured back in 1985, in which a daring mission was launched to rescue the Salyut 7 space station that had suddenly suffered a fatal malfunction, this film is, literally, like a Russian version of Apollo 13 complete with Gravity-level visuals. If that doesn’t wet your appetite then this is not for you. Its a riveting and powerful film of human triumph over adversity. Those Gravity-like visuals really intensify the you-are-there feeling, greatly enabling the tension of the events and hinting at the possibilities for other spaceflight dramas in the future. I have always maintained that a definitive film about the Apollo missions would be spectacular and cannot fathom why such a work has never been made up to now, other than the superlative HBO series From The Earth to the Moon (a series oddly overlooked these days which really deserves a HD release).
Salyut 7 is also, alas, perhaps too slavish in its attempt to mirror the success of Apollo 13 as a dramatic work, suffering from the same faults that Ron Howard’s film did in its targeting of drama and emotional involvement, and following too closely the narrative structure and tropes of the earlier film. I noticed that the surnames of the two cosmonauts launched on the rescue mission are different to the real men, as if to excuse the dramatic license used to ramp up the tensions and their soap-opera backgrounds (arguments and conflicts that likely never really happened, a ‘sin’ that Apollo 13 committed also). That said, I guess you have to forgive dramatic license- these are films, dramatisations, rather than documentaries, afterall. At its best, this film actually recalls the successes of The Right Stuff.
The cast is pretty good, the film is naturally in Russian with English subtitles, I’m certain some nuances of performance escaped me, but the language certainly enables the sense of time and place, that, say, a European movie with an English cast could never capture. The music fits awkwardly, however, part ambient noise (another nod to Gravity) and part overly-bombastic orchestrations that feel rather OTT- indeed the score is one of the films few stumbles. The Russian source music (rock songs etc) used in a similar way to the songs in, say, The Martian, really feels amusingly amateur too, maybe it’s all a bit too Eurovision for my tastes. I suppose that raises thoughts about the localisation of films, the dubbing/subtitling/use of music licenses. Most people will likely have no issue with it.
On the whole though, this is a great space movie. And two days ago I’d never even heard of it. I thought this was the Information Age. What a strange, strange world- the Russians should hire another publicity company, maybe. In any case, anybody who enjoyed either Apollo 13 or Gravity will likely really enjoy this film, and I’m sure many will be surprised at just how technically adept the film is too. If only the script could have been quite as authentic as those visuals are, with less of the hyperbolic dramatics that cinema so often demands. I’d certainly like to see a disc release here in the UK, I’d be tempted to pick it up as I’m sure it would only improve on a blu-ray presentation.
At the very least it’s a pleasant experience not being assaulted with explosions and aliens in a modern space movie- I’d love to see more like this, and it’s nice to see Russian cinema demonstrating its ability to measure up to Hollywood and give us a different flavour. I wonder if the time has come for Russian cinema to return to Solaris?