Film Fridays: Ilya Muromets / The sword and the dragon

The painting by Viktor Vasnestov that inspires the costumes of the film. In fact, the film basically is a live-action cartoon of a Russian fairytale, with art direction by Vasnestov’s ghost.

Ilya Muromets (1956)

Back when I was working at a video store and watching pretty much anything, I stumbled upon a film I’d heard about but figured I’d never see. It was called The sword and the dragon, and the box boasted that it had cast of over 100,000 (!) and 11,000 horses. I suppose that is possible (this is a Soviet era film, after all) but I think it is more likely hyperbole.

Couldn’t find a decent image of the VHS box but here is a lobby poster!

Anyway it tells the story of a legendary Russian folk hero who drives the Tartars out of the motherland. Along the way he defeats various monsters, including a wind demon that must have inspired the Minifigs Valley of Four Winds wind demon, and a gigantic Tartar on a palanquin borne by Russian slaves, which I fancy inspired this GW monstrosity.

The less said about the dragon the better.

The bad guys, the “Tugars,” seem to stand in for the Tartars/Mongols and in fact are also pretty obviously a propaganda caricature of the Red Chinese. We in the US don’t think about the USSR-China rivalries of the Cold War era, but here it is, in some rather ugly, jingoist clothes.

Still, the movie never really aims for realism, and should be seen as a fairytale come to life, and a fairly gorgeous one at that. The badly dubbed and chopped up English version, The sword and the dragon, is quite entertaining, especially if you can overlook some of the limitations of special effects (although the wind demon is still pretty cool looking).

Also, this film has its own fairytale logic which is very surreal and bizarre. I’ve seen the dubbed version, and six years ago a restored version was released by a Russian firm which I tried to watch but the language tracks were hard to make out (you could choose from a dozen or so languages of “dubbing” which consisted of someone reading the film script in the given language OVER the Russian audio track, which is like having someone sitting next you in the theater translating). I’ve since learned a version with subtitles is also available, which should be more tolerable.  I’ll check that out.

Ilya Muromets was statted out in a Dragon Magazine article (“Boyars of legend” or something like that), FWIW, but they did not include any of his foes from this film.  A pity.  I’ll see if I get a chance to look for it this weekend.

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Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 10:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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