To the Stars by Hard Ways

Director: Richard & Nikolai Victorov

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

To the Stars by Hard WaysA film I first watched at a Russian film festival in Seattle in 1982 affected me as a fine work of science fiction, an artfully surreal work that held me rapt.

It appears that it never had an official release except as a ruinously dubbed re-edit & was for years unavailable on dvd in the United States.

Then in 2001, the director's son made a stab at restoring the film, which in so short a time had become badly damaged with large sequences missing, so it's a slightly different film than the one that premiered originally.

It's weird to think such a fine film as the subtitled 70 millimeter cinemascope To the Stars by Hard Ways (Cherez ternii k zvyozdam, 1981) was not better cared for & preserved.

A version called Humanoid Woman (1982) I've not seen, though it is reportedly ruined by amateur dubbing with story changes & condenced re-edit, rendering it no longer recognizable as a work of art. Thus Mystery Science Theater 3000 ripped it a new one.

To the Stars by Hard WaysCosmonauts discover an alien space craft dead in space. When they investigate they find an acrobatic, beautiful, artificially created female.

She was apparently made to survive even in space, but during her "shut down" estivation after the shop lost atmosphere, she seems to have lost most of her memory, & can't help out in the mystery of her origin.

Her name is Niya, played by Elena Metelkina (or, Yelena Metyolkina), a weirdly beautiful actress perfectly cast as an alien being.

Elena received the Silver Asteroid in 1982 for Best Actress, the award given by the Triest International Science Film Festival. Her eyes are so bush-baby-big that i worried she might have a thyroid condition & would go blind if it weren't treated. She had the creepy beauty of Keane paintings of big-eyed street urchins & puppies.

To the Stars by Hard WaysNiya is brought to Earth & placed with a model Russian family where she had some trouble adjusting, & over time reveals amazing powers.

Simple things are hard for her to figure out. Even grass or a day at the beach going in the water are strange things to her.

She's never played "catch" during her existence, so when someone tosses her a watermelon, she is alarmed & instead of catching it uses her power to repulse the watermelon before it can strike her.

She may be in telepathic communication with her race (or, rather, the race that created her). When she begins to regain some sense of having had a mission, she wants to guide an environmental clean-up crew to her horrifically polluted planet.

To the Stars by Hard WaysRussian scientists have a method of world-wide atmospheric scrubbing, & the folks on this planet really need it.

The special FX are very simple but always adequate, & sometimes have the beauty of a Dali painting. On the adequate side are the space craft interiors, believable enough.

Or the domestic household robot, an ugly cheap looking thing, yet it's very convincing that in the future people will be able to buy totally crappy robo-slaves down at Big Al's Discount Robotics.

On the Daliesque side, the cosmonauts & Niya are greeted on the polluted planet by a "band" sitting along the upper ledge of a ruin, wearing gas masks due to the blurring toxic smog, playing their musical "instruments" which are hand-crak record players. It's one of the half-dozen most beautiful images I've ever seen in a science fiction film.

One problem with America's commercial science fiction films are their sameness, & though they might take place on other worlds, those worlds tend pretty much to resemble one another, increasingly cartoonified with CGI, all of which resembles video games, as they're all part of a genre with a look & attitude that has nothing whatsoever to do with other worldliness. We watch the genre convention & go with the flow, but it's in no way an "alien" experience.

Whether it is only because of the cultural shift to Russia or the director's actually distinct vision, with To the Stars by Hard Ways I was convinced by the authentic-feeling alienness of Niya, & impressed by the legitimate otherworldliness of her planet.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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