Why do we need to reinterpret classical stories from years ago?
By Valery Pimenov
On January 1st, 2011, Minsk’s Tsentralny Cinema (which only recently gained 3D equipment) hosted a VIP-premiere of Andrei Konchalovsky’s new film: The Nutcracker 3D. No doubt, people were wondering why this film had received negative reviews and had been a flop at the US box office. Apart from interested representatives of the cinema industry, Belarus’ Honoured Artiste Inna Afanasieva and designer Ivan Aiplatov tried to look into the matter.
The film has evident shortcomings, being stylistically indistinct, with rather stale humour and allusions (for a post-modern joke) and excessive narration (especially for a fantasy). Clearly, The Nutcracker 3D aimed high, targeting the American box-office on the eve of the New Year and Christmas celebrations. Such scheduling is really only suitable for true blockbuster releases, or independent films with no illusions of grandeur. If the 40 year old Soviet emigre had shot a B-type thriller featuring Stallone or a drama about asocial elements starring Whoopi Goldberg, the film’s agenda would be clear. However, Mr. Konchalovsky has dared to compete with such giants as Harry Potter and Twilight and American audiences are clearly not ready to accept him in the same way.
Perhaps this is why the film has been trampled down with such furious and, even, sickly satisfaction, with critics searching out its deficiencies. It may be fairer for the film to be judged according to its director’s intention; he originally said that The Nutcracker 3D would be a mixture of styles, ideas and philosophies, revealing the madness and chaos of the 20th century.
In fact, the film is not as bad as reviewers would have us believe; it is even rather fascinating, if you are in the right mood. Every year, Hollywood releases many films ‘weaker’ than The Nutcracker 3D, with few criticised so harshly. Moreover, an impressive $90m was spent on its production — no small amount, even by Hollywood standards. No doubt, many colleagues of Mr. Konchalovsky will feel envious at the sum.
Being a sophisticated man, the director probably foresaw how his film would be received, despite his previous Hollywood successes: 1985’s Runaway Train (scripted by Kurosawa) received two ‘Oscar’ nominations.
It seems Mr. Konchalovsky has chosen fantasy in his desire to explore different styles. No doubt, he has professional ambition and personal passion behind him but has never before shot a fantasy film.
It’s true that the actors in Mr. Konchalovsky phantasmagoria perform exclusively decorative functions, seeming to step carefully around the set as if concerned that something may fall on their heads. Hollywood star John Turturro plays the Rat King with fervour but it is hardly a great professional achievement for the man who played Barton Fink and chess player Luzhin. Elle Fanning plays her role sincerely but her charming, empty face is forgotten as soon as the film ends. Yulia Vysotskaya — the director’s wife — appears in cameo roles: as a New Year glaze-covered fairy and a nervous lady.
“I loved the costumes, the appearance and visual imagery,” says famous designer Ivan Aiplatov, adding, “However, it seemed disjointed: a mere demonstration of costumes. It was rather like those films which look better in the trailer!”
As for myself, I felt that the film was overly drawn out and that it targeted adults rather than young children. If we compare The Nutcracker 3D with famous films such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia (each touching on philosophical matters while indulging in fantasy) the comparison is not to Mr. Konchalovsky’s advantage.