Posts Tagged ‘The Gift’

From the Director of 47 Ronin: The Gift Short SF Film

January 15, 2014

With the samurai fantasy epic, 47 Ronin about to hit the big screens here in Britain, I found this fascinating short film by its director, Carl Erik Rinsch. The Gift is set in a future Russia, inhabited by animal and humanoid robots, and patrolled by sinister and murderous robotic cops. A mysterious man travels through Moscow with a gift-wrapped package, containing something so precious people are willing to kill and die for it.

I found it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeve1kJCBlc.

Rinsch himself is American, and the film itself was shown about four years ago in 2010 as part of the Philiips Parallel Lines film festival. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating little film, which certainly makes me wish for a few more, full-length SF films set in Russia. Russia has a long tradition of excellent SF literature, of which the best known in the West is probably the work of the Strugatski brothers. Their novel, Stalker, was turned into a film of the same name by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky had earlier produced Solaris, based on the classic SF novel of the same name by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. Tarkovsky, however, cut out most of the books special effects sequences, leaving the film as a long discussion on evil and human responsibilities by the characters as they roam a devastated, post-industrial landscape in search of something.

It’s very different from the book, where the weird, devastated environment of the Zone is given a rather fuller description. In the book the area has been cordoned off following a mysterious incident, the crash of an alien spacecraft. The area is now a death-trap in which normal, physical laws no longer apply. There can be sudden, massive increases in gravity, which can crush the unwitting traveller. The Zone is also populated by hostile dummies, the zombie remnants of humans caught, killed, and twisted into something not quite dead by the power of the strange forces that created and pervade the Zone.

The book’s hero is rather different too. In both the book and the film he’s an outlaw, venturing into the forbidden environment of the Zone in order to bring back valuable alien artefacts for money in order to support himself and his family. His journeys into the Zone have worked a terrible effect on him. Over time the Stalkers suffer genetic damage due to their exposure to the Zone and its bizarre forces. The Stalker of the novel in his career makes too many journeys into the Zone, with the result that his daughter is mutated. The film, however, makes the character much less morally ambiguous. In the book the character is at times quite ruthless, fully prepared to sacrifice his unwitting fellow travellers to the Zone and its deadly forces in order to get what he wants. Instead of the film’s elevated questioning of the nature of morality in the face of catastrophe, the book has a much darker tone, more Western cyberpunk with its similar amoral, outlaw heroes and noir-ish visions of a decaying or wrecked future.

Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris a few years ago, with George Clooney in the lead role. It was shorter than the Tarkovsky version, but made a few minor changes. There were sex scenes, which certainly weren’t present in Tarkovsky’s presence, one of the characters, the physicist Snow, was changed from a White man to a Black woman. In most other respects, however, the film was almost exactly the same, with some scenes almost shot-for-shot identical to the original. I’d like to see someone remake Stalker, but keeping closer to the source novel and showing some of the terrible wonders and dangers of the Zone.

The Strugatski brothers are only two of the many brilliant SF writers from Russia and eastern Europe. One or two of their other works were also filmed under Soviet rule, including In The Dust of their Stars, in which heroic Russian space travellers try to lead a rebellion against the oppressive rule of a planet’s feudal tyrant. Another Soviet SF film, though one which wasn’t written by them, is Planet of Storms, about a expedition to Venus. More recent Russian SF/ Fantasy films have been Daywatch and Nightwatch, about a secret society protecting humanity from supernatural evil. Seeing The Gift and with its setting in Russia reminded me just how great Russian, and eastern Science Fiction generally could be. It’s at times markedly different from Western SF. Under Communism, it was often written as a parable, in which the authors made coded comments and observations about the state of Soviet society, which they couldn’t express directly in realist fiction.

Stalker, with its depiction of wrecked landscape rendered deadly through a technological accident, became particularly relevant after the Chernobyl disaster. A few years ago a computer game was released, whose creators were Russian, and which mixed elements of Stalker with that of Chernobyl and its similar, horrifically polluted zone. Although it was entertainment, it also had a more serious purpose as it was partly intended to promote ecological awareness about the dangers of the devastating effects of such human activities on the natural world. The Russian film industry suffered catastrophically after the collapse of Communism, as it couldn’t compete with the big budget films from Hollywood, like The Terminator. The success of the Day- and Nightwatch films has proved that Russian film-makers can still produce great SF/ Fantasy films in a global market, so hopefully there will be a few more SF and Fantasy films coming from Russia and eastern Europe. And that will be no bad thing at all.

This is the trailer of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film of Stalker from Youtube:

Here’s an extract from Planet of Storms, also from Youtube :

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