- Camera movement is rare. Most
scenes involve a static camera, fixed on a mounted location, with
no pans or zooms, and many of the set-ups seem to go on forever.
People act in front of it as if it were a filmed record of a stage
play. In fact, you would see far more activity in a modern stage
play than you will see in many of these scenes. People seem to be
posing. My girlfriend, who is Russian and could at least figure out what
was going on, kept asking me why everyone was just standing around
posing and doing nothing. Yeah, like I'm going to explain a
Russian movie to a Russian.
- Characterization is almost
non-existent. There is only one person in the movie (a strong, but
loveable Russian warrior) who we get to know.
- Plot can be summarized in about
three sentences. Germans are coming. Russians in Novgorod call for
the legendary fisherman-prince, Nevsky, to be their leader. He
gets the Germans on a frozen lake, and kicks their butts.
- There really isn't much in the way
of dialogue. People make speeches until it is time for somebody
else to make a speech.
- Although it was a Russian guy (Stanislavsky)
who invented the modern style of acting popularized by Strasberg's
Actor's School, that school of acting had no influence on this
movie. The actors here recite their lines as if in a 19th century
version of Macbeth. (Elya tells me that they also speak very
stilted old-fashioned Russian, something like Shakespearian
English, making the artificiality even more pronounced)
- Although the musical score is
magnificent (Prokoviev), it sounds like it's playing on some old
78s from your grandfather's basement. I read in the IMDb that
some guy saw the film with a live performance by an orchestra and
chorus. I'll bet that would be stirring, and I would go to see that,
but it's a weak audio on the DVD, and Sergei Eisenstein knew nothing
about sound. (He was a famous silent film director, and this was
his first full-length sound film)
- The portrayals are completely
romanticized, even more than in Hollywood films. For example, all
the peasants have good boots, good teeth, and clean clothing with
no rips or tears in it.
- The Germans are cartoon bad guys
with Satanic head gear, who twirl their moustaches and throw Russian babies into the fire!
Pure propaganda. (Remember this was made in 1938. Stalin
reportedly had this film playing in EVERY Russian theater in 1941,
after the German invasion)
- The special effects will make you
laugh, unless you're really impressed by the realism in Captain
Scarlet. The Germans who drown are obviously wrestling with
styrofoam ice floes that flip around and around like air
mattresses, even though they are supposed to represent ice a foot thick!
- The famous battle scene, although
impressive in scope, is something like 30 minutes long (about 20
minutes too long)
So why is this film so famous, and so
highly respected? A few reasons:
- The Russian people love it as
their epic. Nevsky is to Russia as George Washington is to the
USA, a mighty warrior, a great leader, a founder. This film
brought to life the struggle of Russians to form Russia in a time
when they were in the midst of a pincer attack between the Germans
from the West, the Swedes from the North, and the Horde from the
East. Alexander Nevsky defeated two of the three, and symbolizes Russia's
survival as a nation against seemingly hopeless odds.
- Just as important, the film is
just as much about the Germans of 1938 as it is about the Germans
of the 13th century. If you look carefully, you'll see that the
German bishops are even wearing crosses that look like swastikas.
Apparently the director, Eisenstein, had included some actual
swastikas on their battle flags as well, with Stalin's full
approval, but that footage was cut when Hitler and Stalin signed
their non-aggression pact in the 30's, and was no longer available
for a 1941 restoration. With or without that footage, the
propaganda message was that anybody who comes to the Russian soil
with a sword will die by the sword. Unless he dies of boredom
when forced to watch classic Russian movies.
- The visuals are very impressive
and very strange. For example, the German bishops set up a tent in
the snow, complete with stylized crosses, choreographed
ceremonies, outré costumes, and an organist who looks like
Nosferatu and moves like Lon Cheney in the Phantom of the Opera.
Really weird stuff, striking, and dramatic. (Elya tells me that it was
normal in the Stalinist era to portray foreigners in Russian
movies as being far stranger than they really are, and it was
politically necessary in the official atheist state to portray all religion as ritualistic
mumbo-jumbo. I have to say that they certainly succeeded on both
I think I've mentioned before that the
cinematic tradition of many countries came out of the stage legacy, but the greatest Russian filmmakers came from the ranks of poets and
painters, not dramatists, and these Russian movies are very much like
paintings that move.
And they move slowly.
- With their
votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters
score it 7.8. Way too high. This score is in respect to
the legacy of Eisenstein, but is not merited by the movie.
It might be that high if you considered just the visuals
and Prokoviev's score, and if they were both represented
guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of
excellence, about like three and a half stars
from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm
watchability, about like two and a half stars
from the critics. The fives are generally not
worthwhile unless they are really your kind of
material, about like two stars from the critics.
Films under five are generally awful even if you
like that kind of film, equivalent to about one
and a half stars from the critics or less,
depending on just how far below five the rating
guideline: A means the movie is so good it
will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not
good enough to win you over if you hate the
genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an
open mind about this type of film. C means it will only
appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover
appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you
like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if
you love the genre. F means that the film is not only
unappealing across-the-board, but technically
inept as well.
Based on this
description, this film is a C+. Almost unwatchable. Only for