Deaf Crocodile and Seagull Films are pairing up to release a trio of celebrated classic titles, all new 4K and 2K restorations, in select theaters, on digital and blu-ray starting this summer, and first on the roster brings us a trailer for Aleksandr Ptushko’s 1956 epic, Ilya Muromets (The Sword And The Dragon) which you can view above.
The move is part of an ongoing “Russian Fantastika” collection, with Deaf Crocodile’s partner Grasshopper Films shepherding digital and OCN/Vinegar Syndrome for Blu-ray release. The other two titles set to arrive this year, in collaboration with Russia’s Mosfilm, are Ptushko’s mystical 1959 Finnish/Soviet co-production, Sampo (The Day The Earth Froze), restored in Finland by KAVI National Audiovisual Institute, and director Karen Shakhnazarov’s 2K-restored 1988 Kafkaesque satire, Zerograd (Zero City).
“For us today restoration is more of a cultural action than a commercial matter. But I think that it is very important that the masterpieces of world cinema, the classics, are now in good quality – this in itself is very important for the preservation of this heritage.” said Shakhnazarov who also serves as director general of Mosfilm.
The first CinemaScope film produced in the Soviet Union, Ptushko’s Ilya Muromets is based on one of the country’s most famous oral epics (or byliny), is billed as “one of his most enchanting achievements: a stunning CinemaScope ballad of heroic medieval knights, ruthless Tugar invaders, wind demons, and three-headed fire-breathing dragons, all set against a mythic landscape of pastoral, unspoiled Russia.”
The film stars Boris Andreyev as Ilya, a warrior waging a decades-long battle against the Tugars who threaten his homeland, kidnap his wife, and raise his own son to fight against him. Deaf Crocodile’s handling marks the latest re-release of the film since a previous truncated and dubbed version of the film was released by Roger Corman and Valiant Pictures in 1960.
Based on the Finnish national epic “Kalevala,” Ptushko’s Sampo centers on sinister witch Louhi (Anna Orochko) who covets the Sampo, a magical, rainbow-colored mill that can produce endless salt, grain, and gold. When the hero Lemminkäinen (Andris Oshin) attempts to stop her, Louhi steals the sun, plunging the world into eternal darkness.
A Finnish/Soviet co-production and also shot in CinemaScope, Deaf Crocodile’s treatment of Sampo also marks an updated re-release in the years since a dubbed, butchered version of the film then titled as The Day The Earth Froze from American International Pictures, and subsequently roasted in season 4 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which you can currently stream over at Shout! Factory TV as of this article’s write up.
Shakhnazarov’s Zerograd, released in 1988 and featuring a soundtrack by Eduard Artemyev, is described as Kafkaesque surreal Communist satire, with other parts Agatha Christie and Monty Python to its tone. Starring Leonid Filatov, the film follows an Everyman engineer named Varakin who arrives in a remote city where nothing quite makes sense— but everyone acts as if it does. He’s quickly drawn into the investigation of the suicide (or possibly murder?) of a local restaurant chef, Nikolaev, who may (or may not) be Varakin’s missing father.
The more complex and absurdist the mystery becomes, the more poignant and plaintive Varakin’s predicament. Along the way, the film treats you to a bizarre and wonderful sideshow of non sequiturs that seem as if out of a Wes Anderson film, including an underground museum filled with a thousand years of real and imagined Russian history Frozen in time, frozen far beneath the surface, the waxwork figures are strangely beautiful and forlorn, like Shakhnazarov’s marvelous and enigmatic satire of Soviet bureaucracy.
“In my opinion, the essence of the film ZERO CITY is that a person mythologizes history, distorts it,” says Shakhnazarov. “And, constantly distorting history, he distorts his own life. In essence, we do not know history – it is, in principle, unknowable for us. We constantly use the past to achieve some goals in our modern life. But in this way, by distorting our past, we also distort our present. This concerns not only the USSR and not only Russia. This also applies to the United States, and France, and China, and Brazil, and in general everyone. This is common. For me, this topic is related to the very existence of man. This is the main theme of ZERO CITY for me.”
“Russia has such a rich tradition of fantasy filmmaking, and these are absolute treasures,” says Dennis Bartok Deaf Crocodile co-founder and Head of Acquisitions & Distribution. “I worked in the early 2000s with Alla Verlotsky of Seagull Films on bringing Ptushko’s magical films and other Russian Fantastika titles to U.S. audiences through touring retrospectives we organized. Now, working again with her and her partner Victoria Belopolsky in Moscow, we’re thrilled to be introducing the original full-length ILYA MUROMETS and SAMPO and Shakhnazarov’s wicked, surreal ZEROGRAD to audiences here, with much more to come.”
Craig Rogers, Deaf Crocodile’s co-founder and Head of Post-Production and Restoration added: “Ray Harryhausen fans are going to be blown away by the imagery and real fire breathing dragon in ILYA MUROMETS and the stunning poetry and visual F/X in SAMPO. ZEROGRAD comes from the same D.N.A. as Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. Surreal, wild fun. I’m so glad these films will finally be seen by a North American audience!”
“Soviet cinema is an indisputable treasure trove of gems, many of which are rarely known to American audiences,” said Seagull Films’ Founder & President, Alla Verlotsky. “Seagull Films’s and Deaf Crocodile’s commitment to making world cinema’s unknown masterpieces restored and widely available is an act of not only cinematic but cultural preservation.”