Russian alien invasion film 'Attraction': If it succeeds, it is likely to usher in a brave new era of Russian sci-fi blockbusters

The Russian film, which is being billed by distributors as Russia’s answer to 'Independence Day', is the first time invaders from outer space have landed in Moscow, says its director Fedor Bondarchuk

Fedor Bondarchuk's film 'Attraction' has aliens invading Moscow in 3D
Fedor Bondarchuk's film 'Attraction' has aliens invading Moscow in 3D

No, Fedor Bondarchuk insists, his new 3D alien invasion sci-fi movie Attraction, which opens in Russia and China later this month, should not be seen as an allegory about the currently vexed relations between Russia and the West.

There have been plenty of movies in which UFOs land in Los Angeles, London or even Cape Town but Bondarchuk is confident this is the first time that invaders from outer space have decamped in Moscow - and it is certainly the first time they have been filmed in big screen IMAX doing so.

“There was everything in this script!” Bondarchuk says of Attraction. He points to the "very emotional" love story at the centre of the film, in the form of two attractive young Muscovite protagonists from the suburbs, and the CGI action possibilities. However, he says that the film is about “humanity and tolerance” and about how we see the ‘other.’ It is, he explains, a story about immigrants. Attraction is being billed by distributors as Russia’s answer to Independence Day but that’s not the comparison the director reaches for. He cites Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films as more of an inspiration than anything made by Michael Bay.

Russian director Bondarchuk behind the camera with some of the cast of his alien invasion film 'Attraction'

The director’s 2013 film Stalingrad was also about Russians dealing with invaders. In that Second World War epic, the first ever Russian movie shot in IMAX, the unwelcome visitors were the Germans. The film, made with substantial Government support, was one of the biggest home-grown box office hits in Russian film history. It tapped into an episode that has huge emotional resonance for Russian audiences: the city’s stand against the German army which caused untold suffering and bloodshed but helped change the course of the war. The aliens, though, are a slightly different proposition.

Bondarchuk acknowledges that there have been so many other space invasion movies over the years that he and his collaborators at his company Art Pictures Studio had to work very hard to come up with an original concept. Their idea is for a spaceship created by “molecular water.”

“Believe me, it [Attraction] is not a symbolic theme about the western invasion of Russia,” Bondarchuk re-iterates. “It is a worldwide story. It is not about our Russian problem. It’s about the theme of the immigrant - different people, different colour of skin, different sexual orientation, different religion. Let’s try to hear each other. This is the main message for me as a director.”

In other words, the film is intended as a plea for tolerance and has nothing at all to do with what Bondarchuk calls “the Trump selection and the changes in Europe.”

It’s a moot point whether western critics will see Attraction in this light. Stalingrad was a magnificent film which drew heavily on the parts of Vasily Grossman’s novel Life And Fate dealing with the Battle of Stalingrad. Nonetheless, outside Russia,many regarded it as nationalistic in the extreme. “Viewed as cinema, it’s an unstable and almost surrealist combination of Soviet-style war propaganda film, Zack Snyder-style action flick and sentimental fairy tale,” Andrew O'Hehir wrote in Salon.


Attraction is likely to provoke similar questions. This isn’t just another sci-fi movie: Bondarchuk’s attachment to the project is bound to lead viewers to look for hidden meanings in the story. After all, he isn’t just the director of Stalingrad; he is also the son of Sergei Bondarchuk, director of War And Peace, a seven-hour epic based on Tolstoy's literary masterpiece and one of the most celebrated Soviet films of its era. It was a foreign language Oscar winner in 1969 - and is also notable for being one of Vladimir Putin’s favourite movies. The American poster for the film hangs in a prominent position in his office. Bondarchuk is at the heart of the Russian filmmaking establishment; his new film has again received substantial state support.

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Fedor, 49, began his own filmmaking career direction commercials and pop videos. He was 38 when he made his first feature, The Ninth Company, about Russian veterans of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s (Putin praised the movie, which was a big box office hit).

The director and this team have already started writing a sequel to Attraction. If the first film is a hit, they aim to create a franchise. They’ve already sold the film all around the world (including to China) but are yet to secure US or UK distribution. They’ve also embraced western-style marketing techniques. These include the so-called “Mannequin Challenge,” in which a flash mob is filmed posing as if they’ve been turned to stone.

Three years ago, Bondarchuk almost defected to Hollywood. He signed a deal with Warner Bros to direct a movie about Odysseus. “But three years ago, it was the peak of the economic crisis in Russia. It was impossible to spend a year and a half or maybe even two years abroad…it was a very hard time for Russian cinema.” He ended up doing the patriotic thing, staying at home and making Attraction instead. The film’s budget was a fraction of your typical Michael Bay blockbuster. (The figure given by the producers is around $5 million.) “Compared to a Hollywood production, it is nothing,” the director admits. Nonetheless, it is being given a huge release in Russia, where it is very big news. If it succeeds, it is likely to usher in a brave new era of Russian sci-fi blockbusters.

Attraction opens in the UK on 19 January.

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