Colorful Russian folk spectacle finally seen in its original
Brian Camp | Bronx, NY | 09/26/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD of ILYA MUROMETS is long awaited by fans who've seen the film in its English-dubbed U.S. release version, SWORD AND THE DRAGON. This 1956 Soviet spectacle, based on the legend of Ilya Muromets, a Russian folk hero who defended Kiev from the Tartar hordes, was released in the U.S. in 1960 and has come out on VHS in various full-screen versions, including one framed by a badly-shot tacked-on prologue and epilogue involving a little boy who finds a book in a library that tells the story. It's also been ridiculed on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Here we finally get to see it in a restored print in its proper widescreen dimensions and in Russian with English subtitles.
It follows the rise of Ilya Muromets from his helpless status as a crippled onlooker who watches Tugar raiders invade his village and kidnap his devoted wife, Vassilisa, to a hero of the people who, upon being awarded a magic sword by traveling minstrels, finds he can walk and ride and sets out to capture a wind demon who's been robbing passersby and thus prove to Prince Vladimir at Kiev that he deserves a special place in court. He rescues his wife, but is discredited by a traitor at court and imprisoned only to be called on when the Tugars, under their chief, Kalin, prepare to invade Kiev. Meanwhile his wife has been recaptured by the Tugars and gives birth to Ilya's son, who will not meet his father for several years. It all culminates in a big battle with the Tugars outside of Kiev (employing thousands of extras) and a final showdown with a flame-spewing, three-headed dragon.
This is not SPARTACUS or BEN-HUR or BRAVEHEART. Or even TROY. The Russians call it a fairy-tale film. The whole thing is painted in very broad strokes and the filmmaker, Alexander Ptushko (SADKO), keeps the characters at a distance from us. It's like a storybook come to life, less of an epic and more of a pageant. The characters and their relationships are deliberately dwarfed by the spectacular production design as seen in a series of magnificent locations, lavish indoor sets and massive outdoor sets representing old Kiev and the immediate environs. With the exception of a couple of miniatures and double exposures, all the special effects are created in real time on camera with life-size props. The wind demon, "Nightingale," is particularly grotesque and--dare I say it?--looks real. The dragon is a giant mechanical model sharing the space with the actors on the battlefield outside the castle walls of Kiev. It's none-too-convincing, but it comes at the tail end of an otherwise satisfying large-scale battle and doesn't hurt the film too much.
Fans of SWORD AND THE DRAGON will want to see the full glory of the widescreen imagery for the first time since its theatrical release. The original cut is also about four minutes longer than the American release version, which shaved bits from various scenes in the interest of speeding things up. (Nothing really important is missing.) Fans of epic fantasy will at the very least enjoy the beautiful production values, even if the story offers less action and fewer narrative twists than such beloved Hollywood counterparts as THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940 version).
4 stars for this fairy tale that keeps on giving...
Andre Villemaire | Canada | 02/11/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you ever saw this movie on TV decades ago and you liked it, just remember
that most of the time it was not in widescreen and after comparing both
versions...you missed a lot.
Now after viewing the film on vhs which is cropped to fit the tv screen, i
got mad and finally found this version. Restored and beautiful musiccal
numbers that were deleted and now available for your enjoyment.
I am now smilling...A great tale for young and old.
Wonderful Fantasy Epic
Toshiro | 11/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ilya Muromets is the most famous of the legendary heros of Russia. The acting in this film is stilted, but it is not intended to be a realistic depiction of early Russia. The film is retelling an old legend, and it does so with energy, beauty and imagination. This film will be enjoyed by those with an interest in Russia, folk tales, and good old fashioned heoric adventure."